The “Greatest Generation”… One Old Girl’s Opinion
Prologue I expect that there may be some disagreement with some of these observations. But let me state at the outset that I have no desire to enter into a debate. We have been asked for our thoughts on what made the “Greatest Generation” great. These are mine. *** From my perspective the American “Personality”, if you will, of today is far different from that of the generation that grew to adulthood during the 1930s and 40s. It would take a book to contrast the differences between “the then” and “the now”. And there have been many written – some are reportedly quite good. But for the sake of brevity, and without going into detail, I shall touch on only a few of what I consider to be the pertinent background reasons that led to the sobriquet “The Greatest Generation”. 1. Faith America was founded on the Judeo-Christian ethic. Up to, and including the 30s, 40s and even the 50s, religion and/or faith were considered to be part of the “American Way”. Churches, synagogues, mosques or meeting houses were part of the family life of the majority of citizens. Partly because of religious belief, and partly because man I s asocial being and is most comfortable being and is most comfortable belonging to a group – a family – a pack – a tribe. In the early days of our country’s history there were few opportunities, outside of churches, for congregations to gather for the comfort and support afforded by an “extended family”. All houses of worship set forth a remarkably similar ethical and moral code – a standard by which the congregants were measured, and upon which they modeled their own behavior. 2. Education Schools used to teach students to strive for excellence. Academic achievement was honored and hard work was rewarded. Students were made aware that not everyone can win every time, but that winning is important, and worth the effort. The lesson was “life is not easy and that’s the way it is. Work as hard as you can and do your best all the time. That’s all you can do.” 3. Media Stage, screen and song writers gave us role models of decent people to emulate and gave us goals to strive to attain. News media promoted our country and were great flag-wavers. Although they may have disagreed with political decisions made by our leaders, they did not question their motives. Although there have always been scandals, reporters did not ferret out, nor publish, the salacious details of personal lives. Newspapers did, quite frequently, report stories of heroism and bravery. Hard news was reported, and opinion left for the editorial pages. 4. Patriotism There was not a doubt in the minds of most citizens up through the 50’s, that America was the greatest country – that we were lucky to be Americans – and we would fight for our liberty and freedom. After Pearl Harbor, men and women, whether enlisted or drafter, proudly went off to fight a war. They came back home to housing shortages, job shortages and financial difficulties. There was no talk of PTSD, or were there any job retraining programs. What there was was a GI Bill, so they could work hard to get an education. Many took advantage of that benefit and were grateful for it. Those returning veterans were the product of every previous generation throughout the history of America. They were the progeny of the pioneers, the patriots and the immigrants who built this country. So, the generation that had experienced the meanness of a depression, the brutality of a war and the cold indifference to the emptiness of its aftermath, once again worked hard to surmount a host of difficulties and went on to contribute to the growth of the country – and eventually became known as “The Greatest Generation”. Why? What was it that made that generation “great”? I think it was courage, pure and simple. Bona-fide, against-all-odds, no-kiddin’-around John Wayne grit. Good old-fashioned American guts. *** Epilogue Yes, there are good and bad, brave and weak people in every generation. And each generation feels that the succeeding one is going to hell in a hand basket. But can we all at least agree that courage, reason and civility have become more difficult to find in today’s culture, and that good taste, class and couth are gasping for air and going down for the third time? I for one, am afraid that the “LCD Theory” is fast becoming the norm. But… I hasten to add, thankfully and with gratitude in my heart, that there is still a small segment of our populace that believes in the old-fashioned philosophy of “I am my brother’s keeper”, and who feel that we who are living in a powerful America have a responsibility to those who are not as strong nor as free. And I pray that these brave young men and women of this new “Greatest Generation” will be safe and back home soon. May they live long and prosper.