The Next Generation: An Important Force for a Sustainable Future

Over the past century, the youth of the world has become more intertwined in global activities.  Much of this can be attributed to the rise in technology and globalization with travel becoming easier and cheaper and access to information becoming more readily available.  No single medium has been a greater contributor to this trend than the Internet.  People no longer have to wait for the arrival of their morning paper or evening news broadcast with news stories updated hourly on Internet news sites.  This easily accessible form of information has allowed today’s youth to become more engaged in global activities.  They have been able to form opinions not only through personal experiences but also through these easily obtainable news-forms. 

One of the best examples of young people forming strong opinions has arisen during the last eight years.  Statistics have shown that large numbers of young Europeans do not have a positive image of the US largely due to the actions during the Bush administration. Young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five have not grown up with the positive image of the US as a friend and ally as previous generations did. Their impressions are formed against the backdrop of the recent war in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and more recently, the financial crisis.  The historically close transatlantic relationship could be in jeopardy if Europe’s next generation continues holding these strong anti-American views.  The activities and opinions of the youth from the past century have had the capability not only to influence local society but also globally.  German youth has been no exception. If this relationship is not improved, we could have a huge problem for future sustainability.

Germany – The Next Generation´s Views on the US

The increasingly interconnected world of the past century has allowed cultural influences from different parts of the world to cross-pollinate. The rise of America’s role in the world, has led to a compilation of commonly held European views about the US.  The German youth has been very active in forming and upholding their own views about America which may not always be those shared by the older generation. They have expressed themselves in a multitude of ways which have been heard worldwide.  Although they lack influential power on the government level due to age and lack of experience, the voices  of the ‘next generation’ cannot be ignored because they will be the ones who will lead their country in the near future and participate in global conversations which will shape relationships for years to come. 

The influence of young people is not a modern realization.  Before and during World War II the youth was undoubtedly recognized as the next generation of Germans.  Although not a great example of independent thought by young people to influence the present and future, as attendance became compulsory with the strength of the Nazi Party, they were recognized as the ones needed to uphold the ideals of the Nazi Party.  Although the separation of Germany following the war led to further impressionable situations, they were once again able to reclaim a voice more independent from the years before.

At the end of World War II and the collapse of the censoring Nazi Party, Germans regained the ability to express themselves.  However Germany’s cultural and information infrastructure was nearly nonexistent.  With the establishment of American Reading Rooms, which soon turned into Amerika Häuser, Germans, young and old, gained access to American culture.  Although the USA was aiding West Berlin in 1948/49 through the Air Lift and setting up plans to assist Germany’s recovery through the Marshall Plan, not all Germans saw Americans solely for their good intentions. Some viewed their powerful presence as an sign of impending imperialism.  The youth, however, saw American culture as liberating expression. Although much of society did not perceive the expression of Germany’s youth as respectful and dignified, the youth used it as a tool to express their own desires in order to feel liberated from the confinement of their parents and schools.

Although a desire by the German youth to experience American culture whether in Germany or the USA continued to grow, negative opinions among German students were being fostered because of the Vietnam War.  The USA increasingly became seen as an imperialistic force. The late 1960s and early 70s not only consisted of internal resentment, but the continued combat in Vietnam brought outspoken opinions against the USA.  Amerika Häuser around West Germany became a target for protests. Students protesting against the Vietnam War and the USA became common scenes outside Ameika Häuser across Germany.  Similar to the many students throughout the USA during these years, German students believed in the power of their words and actions.

The feelings of Germany’s youth have been continuously fluctuating.  Although many do not agree with the current war in Iraq, Germany’s youth grieved for America’s loss on Sept 11, 2001 along with people across the world. The war in Iraq began in 2003 and has engendered negative views among many young people in Germany.  However, similar to the tone of young Americans, young Germans perceive US President, Barak Obama, as a spark for change and hope.                     

During an era of highly publicized Hollywood actors and overly marketed fast food chains, the global youth has to consciously make efforts to rediscover a truer image of the USA. Of course this can be said about any culture. The prominent expressions of the world’s cultures are convened through mass media and the free market. The more highly demanded or most lucrative images are the most influential. How well do young people really know the various sources of world cultures?  If this is solely judged on the overly marketed images abroad, then it is highly unlikely.  Cultural establishments like the Amerika Haus Berlin are a means to cultivate various aspects of a culture so the next generation can move past the easily obtained stereotypes and aid in creating an accurate perception of the world around them.