The Greatest Generation
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.
My dad was a young boy during the end of The Depression. He was picking cotton with the rest of the family when he was only 5 years old and he would keep a peach pit in his mouth to keep from getting thirsty. He enlisted in the Air Force when the Korean War started and was given an honorable discharge after being declared disabled. Back then there was no such thing as non discriminatory hiring laws so no one would hire him, even though he seemed to have recovered 100%. So, being out of options, he opened an auto… Read more »
Hmm. It’s funny how history is coloured so much by who tells it. As I’ve learned more about the stories of the 1930s and 40s, I think how far we’ve come from such awful prejudice, miseducation and treating people worse than animals. I look back at my grandparents and their racist views, the abuse of their eldest sons (on both sides) and think…was it war that did that? I look at the story of Alan Turing, and think…how backward and almost barbaric. I am so lucky to live in a time where I have friends that are a mix of… Read more »
Without a doubt we have come so far in terms of race & segregation. I know there’s still a lot of work to be done but I think we’re on the right track. I’m so glad you brought that up!