9.11.01: Understanding

By Jonathan Kim ’88 / November/December 2001
September 8th, 2011

Like many college graduates of my generation, I'm spoiled. By spoiled I mean indulged in the best sense of the word, by parents with the best of intentions and elders who, for the most part, wanted me to have more than they did. More opportunity. More prosperity. More of the things that matter in a life well lived. And none of the suffering and want that they've had to face.

Being spoiled doesn't make my peers and me incapable of empathy or self-sacrifice. But we do tend to take for granted many of the advantages we've had as a result of being born in the United States or brought here at an early age. We've never wanted for food, shelter, or clothing. If we've been lucky, there has been a friend, a relative, or a teacher who has inspired us to make the most of our intelligence and talents on College Hill and beyond. Senseless violence on a mass scale hasn't been a part of our existence.

On September 11 all that changed.

When my brothers and I were young, we never understood why my father used to instinctively duck whenever a low-flying airplane passed overhead. Only years later did we learn that the reason went back to the early days of the Korean War, when he was a teenage civilian hiding out in the mountains around Seoul. While trying to take that city back from the North Koreans, United Nations forces regularly bombed suspected North Korean troop positions. All too often, though, their bombs inadvertently hit civilians. My father was nearly killed one day when a U.S. plane dropped a bomb that did kill a handful of people around him and caused him to lose his hearing for a week. Then, later that month, Communist forces shot and killed his aunt, a Catholic nun, because she refused to renounce her faith. I still can't quite conceive of those events or the causes behind them, just as I still can't quite conceive of the destruction of the giant towers that loomed daily outside the window of my old office across from Battery Park--never mind the killing of the thousands of innocent people trapped inside. 

But my understanding of these things is growing. On September 10 my younger brothers and I were one or two generations removed in time from the wars and atrocities that have defined the world of our father and the many men, women, and children from so many countries who have suffered through so many similar experiences. Hatred on a vast scale was always such a distant thing to us--at least an ocean away. Suffering meant starving children in a Third World country, whose pain we professed to feel, yet who still seemed so far away.

Then, the next morning, we began to comprehend. We experienced the sudden death of at least 3,000 men, women, and children, and with it the death of an idea: that we can all be safe and sound, whether in a beautiful, grand mosaic of a city or in our own neighborhoods and small towns. We felt what it was like to be victims and what it was like to try to escape the hate and suffering through something called--tritely, we thought before September 11--the American Dream.

Now I recognize that, yes, we have been a spoiled generation. And it has made me even more committed to spoiling our own children and our children's children and all the children after that.

Jonathan Kim lives in Norwalk, Connecticut.

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November/December 2001