Cassandra Olson

A New Generation of Leaders: The Ideological Influence of September 11th on Naval Academy Graduates and Their Perception of Leadership and Ethics

The personal recounts of the initial years of service of the 2002 graduates of the United States Naval Academy provide an intimate picture of a "call to arms" within America in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. In this paper, I analyze the recollections of these individuals (as illustrated in the book, In the Shadow of Greatness) concerning their time at the academy and in the subsequent decade of war. In contrast to Bruce Lincoln's analysis of the political rhetoric of President Bush and Osama Bin Laden in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, I focus on individual processing through personal storytelling of this traumatic event. In particular, to what extent this event defines these Naval Academy graduates as leaders in wartime. In this radical shift from peacetime to war mobilization, these leaders had to internalize this event for their personal leadership. The "othering" of the enemy becomes more acceptable and necessary for the rationalization of combat. However, within the majority of these personal recounts and reflections, the zealous language within the political rhetoric and Lincoln's "symmetric dualism" is markedly absent. This paper explores the limits of the influence of the "vengeful response" to 9/11 and the degree of individual commitment to this idea through the book's subjects’ experiences as junior officers.