A Reflection on the Greatest Generation

Yesterday I served as a pallbearer at the funeral of my wife’s aunt, who died at the age of 83. Of her four siblings, only my wife’s father survives — hearty and healthy at the age of 85. My wife’s mother was one of eight children, of whom three survive, aged 89, 84, and 80. My father and his sister have passed from the scene. My mother, who was one of 10 children, still lives alone at age 88; her youngest brother is edging toward 82.

That’s it: six survivors from a generation of 25 children born between 1903 and 1924. All of the members of that generation lived through the Great Depression. Half the members of that generation served in World War II. All of them grew up poor — some of them “dirt poor” — but by dint of hard work, all of them went on to live comfortably, if not lavishly.

Like many other members of the Greatest Generation, they tended to spoil their children, many of them born after World War II in the Baby Boom generation. The Greatest tried to compensate for their own privations by giving their children what they, the parents, had never had in the way of material possessions and “fun”. And that is where the Greatest Generation failed its children — especially the Baby Boomers — in large degree. A large proportion of Boomers grew up believing that they should have whatever they want, when they want it, with no strings attached. Thus many of them divorced, drank, and used drugs almost wantonly. Those traits seem to have passed to the next generation (Generation X), but that generation’s children (the Millenials) may be sobering up — without any help from their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.

The Greatest Generation — having grown up believing that FDR was a secular messiah, and having learned comradeship in World War II — also bequeathed us governmental self-indulgence in the form of the welfare-regulatory state. Meddling in others’ affairs seems to be a predilection of the Greatest Generation, a predilection that the Millenials may be shrugging off.

We owe the Greatest Generation a great debt for its service during World War II. We also owe the Greatest Generation a reprimand for the way it raised its children and kowtowed to government. Respect forbids me from delivering the reprimand, but I record it here, for the benefit of anyone who has unduly romanticized the Greatest Generation.