Generation Y's silent protest

June 16, 2005|By Phill Provance

AS I SAT listening to the 30-or-so kids at my little brother's graduation party talk about their plans for the future, I could tell how much they cared about each other from the way they'd say, "Well, you always did like Miss So-And-So's English class," or, "Sure, we knew you'd make it to the Big Ten."

But then, after about 15 of them had offered up their plans on the altar of their fleeting youth, one kid, Mike, blurted out, "I'm going into the Navy."

And just like that, they dropped the whole thing - like a penny tossed over the edge of a skyscraper.

It was just about the most abrupt thing I'd ever seen: all of them getting up and filing out onto the beach-front deck, leaving poor Mike to play video games all by himself, like the biggest buzz-kill of the century.

So maybe even for the younger members of this '90s generation - who were born to speak Chat, who grew up in the glory years of America's last big boom, when business moved fast and information faster - there actually was something sacred after all.

We've all heard sociologists say our so-called Generation Y or "echo boom" is the largest American generation since the baby boomers, boasting a projected population of about 62 million. So, then, with all these kids (myself included), why can't we seem to find anybody willing to fight the president's "war on terror"? And why would someone saying he wanted to go clear out a whole room?

I'd suspect we're not putting one and one together here.

We can't just chalk this up to a lack of military incentives when the armed forces are willing to shell out something like $70,000 per soldier. With a GI Bill like that, you'd assume that of all the Gen Ys planning on going to college (some 15 million of whom enrolled last year), there'd be at least a few more taking the bait.

But then, we all know what they say about that word assume.

And we also know that with the military's enlistment numbers at an all-time low (down 40 percent in April, for instance), some recruiters have stooped to using underhanded means, largely responsible for the military's suspension of recruiting operations May 20.

So let me floor another possibility: Maybe this isn't a problem the "almighty dollar" can solve. Maybe it's a matter of generational politics.

Consider: As of November, Gen Y made up only 7 percent to 8 percent of the total electorate. That means that those of us who were old enough to vote had to contend with the overwhelming ballot counts of our parents' and grandparents' generations. But it seems that in the face of basically having our political lunches handed to us this go-round, we've made up the difference - not with our parents' wild flood-the-reflecting-pool protests, but with something else entirely: an unspoken civil disobedience.

What better way to shoot down another bad clichM-i - "Old men make wars, and young men fight them" - and replace it with our generational anthem: "Why?"

Or even more to the point: "Why fight?"

If most of Gen Y can ignore older Americans' perceived need for war, just think what kind of progressive force we'll be when we make up an electoral majority.

But even if this weren't enough, tack on what some are calling our "immorality" (or more probably, our rejection of traditional religion), and it's pretty obvious how this equation works out. By the time the last Gen Y comes of age, the strongly moralistic Republican Party (primarily responsible for our nation's New Crusade) won't have a leg to stand on.

So here's a suggestion to all of the outdated models up on Capitol Hill: Chill.

Maybe if you had in the first place, your electoral outlook for the next 20 years wouldn't seem so bleak. For now, enjoy the power you've got with this one little caveat in mind: Since you seem to want to play in your sandbox so much, you will end up fighting the war with something like "an army of one."

Phill Provance will be a senior in September at Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.

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