This past week we observed, with gravity, the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as well as the passing of Senator, Professor, Marine Aviator, Astronaut, Engineer and devoted family man John Glenn.
In listening to the few remaining survivors of the USS Arizona, as well as the eulogies of John Glenn, I am overwhelmed with a sense of awe and ineptness. I fully believe in the hazards of comparison, but I keep circling back around to “Why?” Why hasn’t another generation, since what has now become known as “The Greatest Generation” been able to produce the necessary alchemy of hard work, selflessness, honor, integrity, decency and civility to inspire another generation of citizen heroes like those who lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build our modern America?
I remember first thinking about this years ago when I read Tom Brokaw’s fascinating book “The Greatest Generation.” In it, Brokaw interviewed countless individual men and women that lived through the first half of the 20th century and chronicles their stories. As the book I just finished “The Geography of Genius” reveals, social an economic climates have fostered pockets of Genius in our world’s history; it appears obvious that the difficulty of daily living in the Great Depression and World War II cultivated men and women of superior substance, resilience, honor and grit or as the book written about John Glenn states, men and women of “the right stuff.”
Do we Americans really need to go through the atrocities that our nonagenarians (those between the ages of 90 and 100) lived through in order to develop a pervasive national sense of pride, duty and honor? It’s obvious that there is currently no common cause that we all equally rally around that encourages our consistent deeper humanity.
Perhaps I have this wrong. Maybe we only focused on the best of people in the past whereas today we have a more complete picture of society we can all see. It’s said that journalism is the first draft of history; and perhaps the second draft of history is written by those who won, as Winston Churchill famously pointed out. My guess is that if you asked Japanese Americans during WWII if they thought that was the Greatest Generation they’d have a different answer–or at least include a few caveats. Maybe the LGBTQ community considers today’s generation the greatest. Our nation’s viability today might very well be owed to those of the Greatest Generation–and specifically to those who answered the bell of Pearl Harbor and All-American heroes like John Glenn.
Our current climate of citizenry might be more fractured in unity, but progress continues to be made. It must be acknowledged that every generation has warts that appear through challenges and successes so long as we’re willing to look. While current generations haven’t faced such obvious hardships, you only need to view the response of 9/11 to see how quickly Americans can become great.