Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME
TIME Hong Kong

The Voice of a Generation

Joshua Wong and his fellow students have triggered a youthquake that’s shaking up Hong Kong

Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

Joshua Wong does not want to grow up. He’s a Hong Kong kid and that’s why, just before midnight on Oct. 6, he and his girlfriend (and his girlfriend’s friend, because teenagers travel in packs) have ducked into a barbecue joint in the working-class neighborhood of Mongkok to feast on grilled scallions, roasted pineapple and Chinese egg noodles bathed in cheese and garlic—a classic Hong Kong fusion dish. Wong, who turns 18 this month, sucks down the pasta with one hand and checks his smartphone with the other. Slurp, swipe, slurp, swipe.

The clatter of Cantonese rattles around the restaurant. An overhead TV displays images of the student-led protest movement that has occupied key commercial districts of Hong Kong, highlighting the dilemma of a hybrid city reared on democratic ideals but ruled by an authoritarian China. No one in the eatery, though, pays much attention to the news. This kind of place—fluorescent-lit, Formica-clad, Hong Kong soul food of the cheesiest, noodliest variety—is why Wong, one of the organizers of the protest campaign, says he will never leave his home city, why he, like Peter Pan, never wants to become that most disdainful of species: an adult. “The future will not be decided by adults,” says Wong. “I would like to ask adults, people with capital and power, Why are they not fighting for democracy?”

(PHOTOS: A New Generation Speaks: See Inside Hong Kong’s Protests)

If Wong is wary of adulthood, his beloved home, Hong Kong, is also suspended in adolescence. The city may be the financial heart of the world’s most dynamic region, a collection of 7.2 million people for whom pragmatism and efficiency are a guiding faith. But since its inception as a tiny fishing port plundered by the British from the enfeebled Qing dynasty in the mid–19th century, to the colony’s hand­over back to China in 1997, Hong Kong has never been permitted political maturity. It was always a pawn of empire.

When Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty, the former Crown Colony was given a 50-year adjustment period to mainland rule. The “one country, two systems” policy guaranteed the territory a “high degree of autonomy” from Beijing on most everything but security matters. In 33 years’ time, though, the city will revert to full Chinese governance. Little Hong Kong will be forced to grow up and merge with the masses.

The trajectory toward 2047 is particularly troubling for Hong Kong youth, who will inherit this new political reality. Already, many locals worry that China’s communist rulers are eroding the freedoms—like an independent judiciary and an open press—that differentiate the city from the rest of China. Beijing’s recently announced plan to prevent Hong Kong from freely electing its chief executive galvanized the first batch of protesters who crowded the city’s downtown in late September. But it was the overreaction to this display of civil disobedience—sprays of tear gas from the police and outright thuggery from elements of Hong Kong’s underworld—that led tens of thousands to occupy more streets, a spontaneous, sympathetic outpouring no one, least of all Wong, expected. Umbrellas, unfurled by students against the pepper spray, turned into the movement’s symbol. Hong Kong’s very public struggle now ranks as China’s most consequential protest since the 1989 pro-democracy rallies were crushed at Tiananmen—and young Hong Kong residents have provided the crusade with both its population and its passion.

The student-led siege of prime Hong Kong property is not going to suddenly transform the territory into a full-fledged democracy—certainly not if the Chinese Communist Party remains in power on the mainland. As a government ultimatum to clear the streets expired without incident on Oct. 6, the urge for solidarity against the authorities faded; protest numbers have waned. Nevertheless, the events of the past few weeks have awakened a political consciousness that few, even in the city itself, knew they possessed. Their idealism, not to mention their organizational acumen and communal spirit, is exactly what threatens China’s rulers, who, from the heady days of Tiananmen and further back in the country’s history, know well the transformative potential of students on the streets.

Teen Icon

It was past 1 a.m. on Oct. 2, and the throngs gathered outside Hong Kong’s government headquarters in Admiralty district were starting to dissipate. Protesters had spent days camped on an overpass, sleeping curled around their backpacks, subsisting on crackers and KFC. Throughout the campaign, some had been pepper-sprayed and soaked by rain. The air was growing thick again, and restlessness had set in.

As a light mist fell, word spread: Joshua Wong—who on Sept. 26 was arrested for trespassing and spent 46 hours in detention for the students’ initial occupation—was about to speak. Many in the crowd raised their phones to capture the moment. With his bowl-cut bangs, sparse stubble and thick-framed spectacles, Wong looks like any other nerdy kid in a society where nearly half of youngsters wear glasses. His delivery at the makeshift podium set in the shelter of a pedestrian bridge came in confident, quick-fire Cantonese. The fight for full democracy is not over, he told protesters. “Stay,” he said. They did.

Off the podium, Wong is polite, prone to bringing his hands together in a penitent clasp. He was raised in a Christian family that dispatched him to rural China for volunteer teaching; some of his fellow student activists are friends from church. In 2011, when he was just 14 years old, Wong formed a group of students in Hong Kong called Scholarism to stop the territory from implementing a mainland-designed “national education” policy that ignored the Tiananmen massacre and pushed fealty to the Chinese Communist Party. After 100,000 people joined his 2012 street rally, the Hong Kong government backed off.

Wong had taken on Hong Kong’s bosses in Beijing—and notched a rare victory. Local celebrity followed, with breaking-news reports on his (mediocre) college-entrance examination results. Despite the attention usually reserved for Canto-pop heartthrobs, Wong lacks physical presence. His shoulders are hunched in the kind of phone-tethered posture that annoys mothers everywhere. Yet his rhetoric, often delivered with eyes squeezed shut, is unequivocal. “I don’t want to follow the games of adults,” he says, “handing out business cards that you’ll just put in the rubbish bin, chit-chat. Political reform is not going to come from going to meetings … We had to do radical action because our leaders did nothing.”

Wong has a girlfriend named Tiffany and thumbs picked raw from stress. He wishes he had more time to play mobile-phone games and displays no overriding affection for any particular book. Despite the command his speeches claim over the protesters, Wong says he has no wish to serve as an icon and is still shocked that his arrest last month galvanized so many to join the cause. He doesn’t have any heroes himself, neither Mahatma Gandhi nor Wang Dan, the Beijing university student whose leadership of the Tiananmen pro-democracy struggle made him “enemy No. 1” to the Chinese government. To Wong, the leaderless nature of the territory’s democracy movement is a strength, not a weakness. “If Hong Kong just relies on me,” he says, “the movement will fail.”

Generation Gap

Compared with their peers in mainland China, Hong Kong’s youth are wealthier, healthier and have access to social media like Facebook and Twitter that are blocked by Chinese censors. Wong is often asked if his parents are activists; they are not. There’s an assumption there must be something unusual about his upbringing, beyond his Protestant faith, that makes him care. “People think that every night we were talking about how the government was violating democratic principles,” he says. “[My parents] just gave me the freedom to do what I want.”

Such liberty in China is unique to Hong Kong, and the city’s prospects depend on the whims of a Communist Party led by a President, Xi Jinping, who has shown little tolerance for dissent. Even the local economy is not immune to jitters about the future, especially as worries proliferate that Hong Kong’s reputation for clean governance is being compromised by Communist Party politics. Hong Kong has long thrived as a conduit for foreign investors to China, but growth is slowing, chiefly because of sliding exports. “If Hong Kong is so obviously becoming just another mainland city, why not set up one’s regional headquarters in Beijing or Shanghai?” asks Carsten Holz, an economics professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Income inequality has surged since 1997 and now ranks as the highest in the developed world. The fertility rate is so low that the local population cannot sustain itself. Instead, an influx of mainland Chinese—40.7 million visited last year—has brought with it a flood of new wealth that has made Hong Kong’s homes the least affordable in the world, yet also the smallest, according to one housing survey. “We don’t see good prospects for our future,” says Katie Lo, 21, a university student.

Proud of their heritage—the Cantonese language instead of the Mandarin spoken on the mainland, for instance—locals fear a cultural and economic invasion from the north. “Stand on Canton Road,” frets legislator Claudia Mo, speaking of a major Hong Kong thoroughfare, “and you’ll hardly hear any Cantonese.” Mandarin has eclipsed English as the city’s second language. For her own part, Mo speaks very upper-class British English. She comes from a coastal mainland Chinese family that fled the communists and came to Hong Kong. But like many of her peers, she identifies as a Hong Konger first, global citizen second and a resident of the People’s Republic a distant third.

There’s plenty of chauvinism toward mainlanders in Hong Kong. A nasty local phrase labels them “locusts.” For all the hope that Hong Kong’s struggle might catalyze a similar awakening in the rest of China, where dissent usually earns activists jail terms, many Hong Kong students’ concerns are locally cocooned. “Hong Kong people want to protect our freedoms,” says Hiu Wah, a 19-year-old early-childhood education student. “I am not interested in changing Chinese politics.”

While Britain extended rule of law to its colony, it kept the populace all but disenfranchised. Since the 1997 handover, China has provided the territory with a string of proxies for its chief executive, the latest being the widely unpopular Leung Chun-ying. Hong Kong still boasts competent civil servants and veteran democracy legislators, with their crisp British accents and posh overseas degrees. But the youth at the barricades defending the protest sites wonder what all that conventional activism has done to change Hong Kong’s political predicament. “People always say to me, ‘Oh, if you want to change the world, first you need to go to university, then work as a government administrator or a businessman, then you can make policies,’” says Wong. “No, to affect the world, you go to the streets.”

Backlash

Movements need great men and women, and practical ones too. Already the protests have lost momentum, as the crowds thin. By the night of Oct. 7, no more than a couple thousand people milled around the main occupied zone in Admiralty district, well below the tens of thousands days earlier. So much energy has gone into figuring out how to get the protesters off the streets—endless talk about talking with the government, in addition to the actual talking—rather than figuring out how to turn this movement into practical policy that Beijing might consider. The protest leaders have declined to invite opposition politicians, who are well practiced at negotiating with the central government, into their movement. The same organizational and factional dysfunction that has beset protest movements around the world may undercut the Hong Kong campaign too. “They want to do it on their own,” says Emily Lau, head of the Democratic Party. “But why alienate pan-democrat legislators? Our goals are the same.”

Even for Hong Kong residents who support the students’ ideals, the lengthy shutdown of major roads and neighborhoods is a significant inconvenience. Paul Zimmerman, a district councillor who pointedly carried an umbrella to an official ceremony marking China’s National Day on Oct. 1, says it’s time to withdraw. “You’ve given people a voice,” he says, “now you give them the street back.”

Wong isn’t bothered. “You need to create the rules yourself,” he says. “Students have more time, more energy, so they should stand on the front lines.” Whenever Wong is spotted shuffling through any of the protest sites, he’s mobbed by dozens of news cameras and fans requesting snapshots with him. Hollywood actors might be used to the attention, but Wong is a student who, as he likes to point out, attends the ninth-ranked of nine universities in Hong Kong. (He is studying politics and public administration.) The attention, all those demands to explain his political philosophy and smile for selfies, is exhausting.

No wonder Wong is sometimes most comfortable going underground, literally. As he hops onto the subway, almost no one recognizes him. He’s just another teenager, swaying as the train tunnels under Hong Kong’s harbor, updating his Facebook page and WhatsApping madly. Three friends, also in Scholarism, stand next to him, absorbed in their own online lives. Barely a few seconds go by without frantic swiping. “Taking action is more meaningful than words,” says Wong. He dismisses planned negotiations with the authorities as “just an opportunity to show our anger to the government.” Inevitably, his head soon bends over his phone again, just a lone Hong Kong kid connecting with the world.

With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, Rishi Iyengar, Nash Jenkins and David Stout / Hong Kong

TIME World

Leon Panetta: How the White House Misplayed Iraqi Troop Talks

U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta Visits Afghanistan
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks to the troops during a visit to Kandahar Airfield on Dec. 13, 2013 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Getty Images

As U.S. forces return to Iraq to counter the surging al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, President Obama’s former Secretary of Defense and CIA chief recalls the White House debates that led to America’s departure from the country. His new book, with Jim Newton, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, from which this article is adapted, will be published on Oct. 7.

Through the fall of 2011, the main question facing the American military in Iraq was what our role would be now that combat operations were over. When President Obama announced the end of our combat mission in August 2010, he acknowledged that we would maintain troops for a while. Now that the deadline was upon us, however, it was clear to me—and many others—that withdrawing all our forces would endanger the fragile stability then barely holding Iraq together.

Privately, the various leadership factions in Iraq all confided that they wanted some U.S. forces to remain as a bulwark against sectarian violence. But none was willing to take that position publicly, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki concluded that any Status of Forces Agreement, which would give legal protection to those forces, would have to be submitted to the Iraqi parliament for approval. That made reaching agreement very difficult given the internal politics of Iraq, but representatives of the Defense and State departments, with scrutiny from the White House, tried to reach a deal.

We had leverage. We could, for instance, have threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid to Iraq if al-Maliki would not support some sort of continued U.S. military presence. My fear, as I voiced to the President and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we’d seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S. Iraq’s stability was not only in Iraq’s interest but also in ours. I privately and publicly advocated for a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq’s military.

Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy did her best to press that position, which reflected not just my views but also those of the military commanders in the region and the Joint Chiefs. But the President’s team at the White House pushed back, and the differences occasionally became heated. Flournoy argued our case, and those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.

We debated with al-Maliki even as we debated among ourselves, with time running out. The clock wound down in December, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter continued to argue our case, extending the deadline for the Iraqis to act, hoping that we might pull out a last-minute agreement and recognizing that once our forces left, it would be essentially impossible for them to turn around and return. To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them. Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the President’s active advocacy, al-Maliki was allowed to slip away. The deal never materialized. To this day, I believe that a small U.S. troop presence in Iraq could have effectively advised the Iraqi military on how to deal with al-Qaeda’s resurgence and the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country.

Over the following two and a half years, the situation in Iraq slowly deteriorated. Al-Maliki was responsible, as he exacerbated the deep sectarian issues polarizing his country. Meanwhile, with the conflict in Syria raging, an al-Qaeda offshoot—ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria—gained strength. Using Syria as its base, it began to move into Iraq in 2014, grabbing power in towns and villages across Iraq’s north, including Mosul and Tall ‘Afar. These were strategically important cities that U.S. forces had fought and died to secure.

The news from Iraq bothered me to no end. In my view, the ISIS offensive in 2014 greatly increases the risk that Iraq will become al-Qaeda’s next safe haven. That is exactly what it had in Afghanistan pre-9/11. After all we have done to decimate al-Qaeda’s senior leadership and its core, those efforts will be for naught if we allow it to rebuild a base of operations in the Middle East.

From Worthy Fights, by Leon Panetta and Jim Newton, to be published on October 7, 2014 by The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Leon Panetta.

Leon Panetta served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2009 to 2011, and as secretary of defense from 2011 to 2013. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977 to 1993, the director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1993 to 1994, and President Clinton’s chief of staff from 1994 to 1997. He is the founder of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, and has served as professor of public policy at his alma mater, Santa Clara University.

Jim Newton is an editor at large of the Los Angeles Times, where he has worked for twenty-five years as a reporter, an editor, a bureau chief, and a columnist. He is the author of two critically acclaimed biographies, Justice for All and Eisenhower.

TIME Viewpoint

The Indelible Lessons of Auschwitz

A replica hung in place of the stolen infamous "Arbeit macht frei" sign at the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland on Dec. 18, 2009.
A replica hung in place of the stolen infamous "Arbeit macht frei" sign at the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland on Dec. 18, 2009. Jacek Bednarczyk—AFP/Getty Images

The recent increase in attacks against Jews reminds us to stay vigilant against anti-Semitism

From the murderous pogroms of the 1930s to the chanting mobs calling for “death to the Jews” in a slew of European cities today, anti-Semitism and violence have historically gone hand in hand. It’s no surprise, then, that the rise of born-again terrorist groups marching in lockstep with al-Qaeda—chief among them the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)—has been accompanied by an increase in Europe of boycotts, protests, beatings, firebombed synagogues and other attacks on Jews.

That’s unnerving news in more ways than one. For decades, most people in Europe have believed the monster of anti-Semitism to be all but buried for good. Not quite. Across the continent, physical as well as verbal attacks on Jews are shocking the consciences of people who never thought they’d see such displays there again. Against this backdrop, and with ISIS and its supporters rooting openly on social media for a new Holocaust, it’s worth meditating for a moment on a historical milestone just ahead.

Nov. 24 marks the 70th anniversary of Heinrich Himmler’s 11th-hour attempt to hide the Nazi genocide. With the Red Army practically at the gates of Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi concentration camps, Himmler—chief overseer of the so-called Final Solution—ordered the crematoriums at the camp destroyed and the killing of Jews throughout the Reich to cease.

Himmler’s attempted cover-up failed miserably. Seventy years of trials, books, museums, documentaries, memoirs, testimonies and articles have so powerfully borne witness that one can only wonder whether, by 2014, there is anything at all left to say.

The answer from all directions continues to be not only yes, but also plenty.

For one thing, there’s the fact that writers of stature continue to mine the signature horror of the 20th century. Today’s prominent example is British novelist Martin Amis, who grappled with the Nazi genocide in earlier fiction too. Amis’ new book, The Zone of Interest, is a satire set in a fictionalized version of Auschwitz.

The novel has become the object of impassioned—largely positive—reviews in both the U.S. and Europe (though it has yet to secure a German publisher). The sheer amount of international attention goes to show that in literature at least, there’s no such thing as the last word on the Holocaust.

Amis isn’t the only current writer of fiction who dares to take up the subject. British novelist Philip Kerr is the author of a series of Berlin-based noir procedurals in which a Marlowe-esque protagonist, detective Bernie Gunther, is repeatedly enmeshed in major episodes of Nazi history. In addition to fiction written for adults, Holocaust-themed literature for children and teenagers is also flourishing and often assigned in classrooms, at least in the U.S. Among the most popular: Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

This fall has seen two other new commentaries destined to leave their marks. One is the English translation of researcher Bettina Stangneth’s Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer. Already well known in Germany, the book challenges Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” thesis via new documentation from Eichmann’s years in Argentina that reveal him repeatedly as an anti-Semitic braggart, a proud Nazi and a master manipulator. At the same time, a new film called Night Will Fall—about a rarely seen Holocaust documentary created in 1945 by a team including Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein—is playing in theaters across Great Britain.

In September, coincidentally, German prosecutors charged a former member of Hitler’s SS named Oskar Gröning with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. This so-called accountant of Auschwitz is 93 years old. What will happen when the last camp guard finally dies off, the last survivor ceases to tell the tale? Will the world then forget about the death camps at last, and move on?

Even seven decades after Himmler’s attempt to conceal the Nazis’ crimes, that’s impossible to believe. No one can erase the collected, recorded knowledge of what happened. Auschwitz remains what it has been since the Nazis first set boots in the place: the inescapable moral Rorschach test of our time, and of foreseeable times to come. n

Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington and author of How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization.

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