Recent events in Boston are truly tragic and a grim reminder that terrorism has or has the potential to become a normal way of life for Americans. It is upsetting to consider that you (my students) are growing up in the post 9/11 world and do not know American life before “terrorism” became a common word. When, for example, flying was an afterthought and the only terrorist I was aware of had a terrible temper and wore a silver fish bowl as a mask (See picture). What this changing way of life entails may be a future post.
But, this difference in generational points of view is one of the first “walls” I have noticed that separates me from current students in that although we are living through this era together, I have a different perspective on what the American way of life was and thus what it currently is (and perhaps what it will become). This is not abnormal to experience these differences. If anything it helps me understand those generational walls placed between my Grandma and her Depression era experiences to her perceived excesses of my childhood during the 1980s or my parents who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and its impact on the American way of life during the Cold War.
All that said, I often marvel how assigned readings in class can coincide with current events – even the tragic. For example, in US History this past weekend you were to read Chapter 16, Section 4 about the end of World War I and what this meant for the United States heading into the 1920s. The fact most students answered incorrectly, (True or False) “The GID/FBI was created immediately after terrorists thought to be from Russia exploded bombs in Boston and other American cities in 1919″ shows some of you may not have thoroughly read the text (ahem), while others who did read were shocked at the similarity of current events and still answered False. This couldn’t have happened before… could it? The 1919 bombings actually occurred within minutes of each other in 8 different cities and another 30 bombs sent through mail were intercepted before they exploded! A excellent historical tour and description of an even larger bombing by anarchists in 1920 in New York can be found here.
As a teacher I hope to make historical events relevant by connecting them to current events and there are many directions to take this particular convergence of material. Terrorism in the teens and twenties was considered anarchism – what is the difference between what we call terrorism today and anarchy? What are similarities and differences between the American public/government reaction to the 1919 and 1920 bombers and their ethnicities to those of recent violent acts in 2001 and 2013? In addition, the link above references that the early 20th century bombers may have been responsible for the bombing of a Milwaukee Police Station. You can search this Milwaukee Journal data base for reactions to the November 24, 1917 bombing and determine any similarities to the violence we witnessed in Boston. More questions to discuss… When and why did this earlier era of terrorism end? How do you see terrorism ending in our era? in what ways will 21st Century terrorism be remembered? Discuss any generational walls you have noticed between yourselves and other family members. I look forward to reading your responses.