What “World War III” teaches us about the next generation

Michael Grovier, Co-Managing Editor

On Jan. 8, 2020, President Donald Trump held a televised address in which he signaled no further strikes and claimed that Iran is finally standing down. This comes after President Trump, on Jan. 3, authorized a drone strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani. In a series of 29 reactionary tweets, Journalist Yashar Ali expressed that Soleimani reports directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran and that “he is more powerful than Iran’s president.”
Outside of the ongoing threat from Iran, there are a few things that the situation teaches us about the new decade. The first lesson is that, in 2020, Americans will likely be made more readily aware of international conflicts than in previous years. Immediately after the drone strike, “#wwIII” and other related topics began trending on nearly every social media site. CNN’s Amir Vera reported that the Selective Service website crashed due to high traffic volume. The International Committee of the Red Cross even reported that 54 percent of those between the ages of 20 and 35 believe that “a nuclear attack would occur in the next 10 years.” Through the odd mix of humor and anxiety that we typically see on social media following large-scale events, it is clear that young adults around the world are always ready to react.
The second lesson, coming from Iran, is that students are learning to take their own positions. On Jan. 19, Suzanne Maloney wrote that after the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 by Iranian Air defenses, Iranian citizens were quick to “castigate their own leadership as liars and heap scorn on the security forces.” This comes less than a week after American news outlets showed us videos of the Iranian government-orchestrated “death to America” protests. The call of unrest comes from students, who are allegedly beginning to take the belief that Iran needs to place some of their priorities in its people, not just in the ideas that the political elites represent.
Finally, we are led to see that young people are beginning to lead a different narrative. Nick Fouriezos of OZY claimed on Jan. 12 that four-fifths of American college students oppose military action against Iran, despite a USA Today poll showing a near-even split among American adults. Rather than focusing on reaction from professional analysts when faced with conflict, media outlets turned to the next generation. Molly Roberts of the Washington Post explained to her readers that the “memes” and artwork created by today’s college students portrays an honest look at American culture not found in many other formats. “The kids are joking about what many adults have deemed unjokeable,” she writes, before calling social media “a way to distill this emotion into a ready-made tableau.” In today’s America, students have the power to tell our story. How they use this power remains to be seen.

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