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Millennials, We Need To Talk About How Terrorism Makes Us Feel

23/05/2017 13:45 | Updated 23 May 2017
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

I have nothing new to add about Manchester. Everyone has said everything that can be said. The North of England is a special place and Mancunians have shown the warmth and hospitality they're renowned for. Social media proved once more to be an invaluable tool and also a really horrible propagator of fake news, used by those with nefarious reasons (or just no moral compass) to spread falsehoods and half-truths. It is evil - pure evil - that killed over 20 people and nothing else.

It has all been said. So I sit here, 4:00 AM in Chicago, hopelessly glued to the BBC News streaming on my phone watching the country I love, and feeling helpless.

I don't want to be that self-indulgent and stereotypical Yank who makes a tragedy all about him and his feelings. I'm so far away from Manchester and, so far as I'm aware, I knew nobody who was injured or killed. Nothing I'm feeling, nothing I'm thinking, can compare to what those who lost loved ones, or were injured, are feeling. It seems like callous and uncouth to discuss how terrorism makes me nervous, makes me scared, makes me sad. How it has coloured most of my life.

So I'm giving you an out. If you don't want to hear about how some pampered writer with a platform and too many feelings feels about something he didn't personally go through, click off this page now. I don't blame you.

But - and I think this is important - if you want to hear about how terrorism has shaped the way one Millennial looks at the world, about the anxiety it's instilled in him, stick around.

Because I bet I'm not the only one who feels this way.

I was 15 on September 11, 2001. I've never really reckoned with what growing up and coming of age under the threat of terrorism has done to my psyche. My generation has gone from watching our parents killed on 9/11 to watching our peers killed on 7/7 to now watching our children killed in Manchester.

When put in those terms, this is unspeakably horrific. But the reality is the senseless murder of our loved ones is just a normal, if frustrating, part of life - like rush hour traffic or Piers Morgan. It leads to long queues at airports, obnoxious announcements on trains ("if you see something, say something"), and frustrating governmental warning levels that are so convoluted and misused they mean absolutely nothing to those of us wanting to know just how likely we are to be killed by a madman with a bomb or even just a lorry.

We should count our blessings that this is, for the vast majority of us, the greatest effect terrorism will have on our lives. Thankfully, whilst these attacks happen far too often (because even once is too often), they are actually very rare. We aren't living in Syria, where bombs are falling on our houses daily, and our children aren't being killed with impunity. It's important to keep that in perspective. Britain is still extremely safe.

Still, that doesn't mean things aren't ways terrorism has affected my day-to-day life. These aren't in crippling ways that make it impossible to function, and they certainly aren't in the devastating way those in Manchester are experiencing. But they are nonetheless everyday things that cause me anxiety and which I wish I didn't have to think about.

Every time I'm on the Tube, or I'm on the Chicago L, I think "what if someone blows this train up? Could I survive?" It's a fleeting thought, and I immediately go back to listening to Hamilton or playing Cluedo on my phone, but it's there.

Whenever I'm boarding a plane, no matter the time, I make sure to have a glass or two of red wine to calm my nerves.

Walking into a nightclub, or a school, or a shopping centre, I look for the nearest exit - just in case some ass comes in with a gun.

I feel vulnerable and helpless, because it could easily happen to me and there's little to nothing I can do to stop it. I feel angry because the sheer evil of a white supremacist with a gun or an ISIS-inspired jackass with a truck could kill so many, so easily, so quickly. I feel frustrated that the government didn't stop this, despite the fact that they continue to crack down on our civil liberties. I feel an overwhelming sadness for the people - especially the innocent, precious children - who lost their lives because of hate. I feel so, so sad.

We're not supposed to admit this, of course, because to say we're scared means the terrorists win. But that's bullshit. The terrorists only win if we cower, and admitting you're frightened or upset isn't cowering - it's brave. And every single time an attack like what happened Monday night in Manchester happens, I'm utterly fucking terrified.

As, I reckon, are many of you.

I'm not trying to be all generation snowflake here. I know previous generations, especially in Northern Ireland, lived through the Troubles and the terror it wrought on the country. I know that nothing we've experienced can compare to the Londoners who survived the Blitz. I'm not comparing our experiences to either, or for that matter to anything.

But the Blitz and the Troubles, as awful as they were, don't invalidate the experiences of Millennials growing up under the spectre of an impending terrorist attack - or negate the effects it has had on our collective mental health. We need to talk about what growing up as our fellow citizens have been blown up has done to us.

We need to talk openly about how this makes us feel, not just in the aftermath of an attack, but on a day-to-day basis. About how even if we're not so scared or traumatised we are catatonic in a corner, rocking back and forth, that living under the threat of terrorism has affected our generation.

It's time we start talking openly about this - no shame, no holds barred. If we must live with the anxiety terrorism induces, the least we can do is acknowledge it.

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