The events that unfolded after the tragedy at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been truly fascinating: the survivors of this shooting responded to tragedy by making their voices heard. It was amazing to watch these teenage students use their unwanted fame to jump start a political movement. They have had an impact across the country, if not the world. They have challenged norms and brought a new focus to the debate about gun control.
Sadly, we have also seen these young people harassed, threatened, and demeaned. A few such incidents stand out. Internet trolls accused some of them of being “crisis actors.” Some have dismissed them as the “Tide Pod” generation: somehow the weird internet fad of biting into laundry pods diminishes the legitimacy of the survivors’ voices. Just recently, Senator Marco Rubio lamented the “arrogance” we handed down to this next generation (apparently daring to question the senator’s allegiance to the NRA makes one arrogant).
It is not my intent to wade into the gun control debate, but rather to reflect on the importance of these young people who are making us all sit up and take notice.
I write historical fiction. My protagonist, his significant other, and much of the supporting cast of the Gideon Hawke Series, are teenagers. When, in A Glorious Cause, I introduced sixteen year old Gideon Hawke, and followed his adventures as he took up arms in rebellion, none of my readers protested that he was two young to fight for his freedom. I think that was partly because the story was believable, but more importantly because IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.
When one reads accounts of the American Revolution, one is struck by the youth of many of the actors. Many of the foot soldiers were in their teens. While the Continental Army preferred the “men” toting muskets to be at least fifteen or sixteen, it accepted drummers as young as twelve or thirteen; some probably lied about their age to get in early. Many of the junior leaders were in their teens or early twenties. For example, Alexander Hamilton was only twenty in 1775 when he led New York volunteers in the capture of British guns at the Battery on Manhattan. Henry Knox was only twenty-six when he assumed command of Washington’s artillery. The bottom line: the American Revolution was a young person’s war. It was young people who were the enforcers of the Declaration of Independence: they are the ones who fought for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
It has been the same in all of our wars since. Fortunately by the Twentieth Century we got away from enlisting below the age of eighteen; in World War II the average age was twenty-six. In Vietnam it dropped again (there is debate as to whether the average age was nineteen or twenty-two). Nevertheless, fighting for freedom remained a young person’s activity.
Now, in the Twenty-First Century, we shield our children from the horrors of war. For nearly seventeen years we have been sending nineteen and twenty-year-olds to Afghanistan and Iraq—I had the incredible privilege of leading a few of them—but we keep our children out of the combat zone.
Until the combat zone comes to their school. When that happened in Florida, our children took action.
It was young people who gave legitimacy to the Declaration of Independence: when the British tried to crush the fledgling United States of America, the young people made their voices heard through the barrels of their muskets. Today the fight is different. These young people are, like their forebears, fighting for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The tools are different, but the spirit is the same. Do not discount them.
In the Eighteenth Century they ground down the most powerful military in the world for eight years until they secured Independence. In the Twenty-First Century they have their sights set on a safer, more peaceful future. And they have only just begun to fight. Gideon Hawke would be proud of them.
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