What Patriotism Means to Millennials

I just spent a fantastic 4th of July vacation at two historic American cities: Washington DC and Boston. Between fireworks on the Charles river and a tour of the US Capitol, it got me thinking–what does patriotism mean to my generation?

Wearing ridiculous red, white and blue outfits obviously.

Since millennials will make up at least one-third of the eligible voter electorate in 2016 elections, it’s certainly a question worth asking.

The 9/11 Generation

Millennials cite 9/11, along with the rise of the internet, as one of the most important events to shape our generations’ attitudes and beliefs according to a 2009 research report by the Center for American Progress.

Just as Baby Boomers can always tell you where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated, 9/11 imprinted a shared memory across a generation. For example, I was coloring a map of Egypt with yellow colored pencils in my 6th grade Social Studies class. It was my friend Anne’s 11th birthday. That snapshot, just like the others, will stay with me for life.

The repercussions of 9/11 go far beyond simple memories. Millennials came of age in a time of national unity that follows a national crisis, only to reach voting age in a time of intense political polarity. Growing up in the age of color-coded security measures and airport security lines has scarred us–84% of millennials can’t envision a day where terrorism won’t be a threat (according to a national survey of student leaders).

Patriotism and Wartime

Approaching adulthood during wartime impacted millennials. They are less likely than previous generations to think it unpatriotic to criticize leadership during wartime. This change in values could be due to increase of information dissemination from the internet, the lengthy and criticized wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or just the youthful tendency to question those in power.

Although this generation has lived most of its life at war, their attitudes towards the military seem more disillusioned than previous ones. Even though this generation considers itself patriotic,  70% of millennials polled in 2007 say they would be unwilling to join the military. So far, millennials have a significantly lower number of military veterans than GenXers and Baby Boomers at comparable stages.

US & World

Learning about the world is an important aspect of millennial patriotism. University study abroad rates are increasing. After 9/11, they rose 8.8% with an 127% increase to Islamic countries in the years 2002-2006. Religious studies and non-Romance languages has also risen during this time.

As a generation brought up in wartime, finding alternative solutions to military involvement abroad is an important partt of patriotism for millennials.  They disagree more than previous generations that the best way to ensure peace is through military strength according to a 2010 PEW Research report based on 50 million millennials aged 18-29. According to multiple of the referenced studies, over half of millennials think that the US is too involved in other countries’ affairs.

The belief of American exceptionalism isn’t as essential to young Americans’ patriotism as previous generations. Only 32% of millennials say that US is the greatest country in the world, compared to 64% of the Silent generation.

A majority of millenials view themselves as patriotic, but the word takes on different meanings depending on the which generation you ask.  As we are changed by current events, such as the Great Recession, no doubt the definition will continue to change for our generation

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2 thoughts on “What Patriotism Means to Millennials

  1. […] them well. Millennials also more likely to criticize or question the government in wartime, and the majority thinks, “that the US is too involved in other countries’ […]

  2. […] well. Millennials also more likely to criticize or question the government in wartime, and the majority thinks, “that the US is too involved in other countries’ […]

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