The Next Greatest Generation

Will there ever be one?

For those of you not familiar with Tom Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation”, I’ll give you a short review. It’s great. It’s about the generation of people who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, built this country, and gave birth to the Baby Boomer generation.

I’m not part of the Greatest Generation (I’m a Baby Boomer) but I get to spend my Tuesdays with some of them. When I first meet them, I am able to learn about their early life and the character they possess that made them who they are. I don’t get to know them much beyond that because they are all afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. I do get to know some of their spouses who are still in good health and that helps me to further understand how different they are than my generation.

One of the gentlemen, that I got to know well, was a Navy officer in WW II. He commanded one of the landing craft that was in the first wave to land on D-Day. He had a written commendation from the French government documenting the fact that he was one of the first to reach France. He could not show me that document without crying. I tried several times to get him to tell me about what it was like, but the combination of the disease and emotion prohibited him from being able to do that.

In his book, Brokaw details the lives of many of the men and women from that generation. Since Brokaw wrote his first book about them, we have been losing them at a rate of more than 1,000 per day. We are approaching the time when there will be very few of them with us. That leads me to the question – have their values been passed on by my generation, the Baby Boomers?

That question really has two subparts. Did we (the Baby Boomers) recognize and subscribe to their values? Are any of their beliefs even regarded as “values” by our children and their children?

Probably the best way for you to understand my answer to the first part is to tell you what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful that none of today’s technology, today’s news media, and today’s politicians existed when the gentleman I spoke of earlier was guiding his landing craft to the Normandy shore. Had it been, the scenario might have been quite different. There would have been representatives from ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC … present with cameras rolling and real-time shots of the carnage that followed. Seeing first hand the horror of war, one Hillary Clinton might have instantly motioned for the termination of the landing and immediate withdrawal of all troops. That would be simultaneously seconded by Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy and passed by acclamation.

Probably a far-fetched scenario, but remember we were only entering the war to save Europe from being taken over by an ideologically crazed leader named Adolf Hitler. Hitler had not yet attacked American soil. He was just committing genocide of a group of people he felt did not meet his standards.

Basically, I believe my generation lost sight of the courage and conviction it took to land at Normandy and to run out of the landing craft onto that beach. We gave the world Woodstock, Haight-Ashbury, Chappaquiddick, Oval Office frolicking, and perfection of the concept of tax and spend – just to name a few of our accomplishments (I know, one of us invented the Internet but I’m going to ignore that for this blog). I suspect, in our haste to take advantage of the country and way of life that we inherited, we truly lost sight of the cost of that inheritance.

So, have we passed on the values of our fathers? I doubt it. I believe we have fostered a “next generation” that cherishes prosperity but does not want it to be difficult; a generation that looks to politicians to tell them want the country will do for them and not want they must do for themselves; a generation that is intoxicated by “feel good” speeches without a foundation or plan; a generation that wants everyone to be happy as long as someone else pays for it.

Is there hope? Of course, it springs eternal. You must have heard that as often as I have; but, I actually believe it. Crisis brings hope. Values can be created or at least recaptured by a crisis. There was amazing hope for this country in the days and weeks following 9/11. There are amazing young men and women in our Armed Forces in the Middle East. They are volunteers and they are fighting the fight they have been asked to fight. With luck, they will never regret their decision – no matter how their fight gets recorded in the history books. With more luck, they will return home as heroes and go on to lead amazing lives, much like the Greatest Generation.

Will there be another crisis to bring us hope? We seem to have a lot of possibilities at this point. We are about to decide to lose the “War on Terrorism”. That may lead to a “Safety Crisis” or even a “Loser’s Crisis”. It will certainly give added momentum to an “Energy Crisis”. We are about to commit to spending billions of dollars to fix all of the known problems of this country. That will further exacerbate the “Economic Crisis” that we manufactured out of the “Mortgage Crisis”. With some very bad luck, we may even have more frolicking in the Oval Office. That will lead to a “Moral Crisis”. Strike that, surely the voting public won’t let that happen.

So, will there be a “Next Greatest Generation”? Let’s hope so.

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