By: Dennis Bates
Tom Brokaw wrote a book entitled “The Greatest Generation” in 1998. In it he argued that the generation that grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II was the greatest generation that any society ever produced. Coming from nothing, that generation’s sacrifices saved the world as we know it, according to Brokaw, and also rebuilt the United States industry turning it into a military and financial superpower.
He was quick to point out that the generation was not perfect and pointed to racism and other types of discrimination as evidence of those imperfections, but he contended that, those issues notwithstanding, the generation when taken as a whole, was still the benchmark for all past and future generations.
Brokaw’s arguments have their critics. One of the major criticisms has been that his sweeping generalities which are based upon personal observations and interviews with members of that generation are overly simplistic and not based upon a significant scientifically verifiable sampling. Those criticisms probably have some validity. I don’t think he cares. His book was as much a thank you to his parents and their contemporaries as it was an historical treatise.
Another criticism suggests that the Baby Boomer generation’s social values were far superior to the values of the Greatest Generation. As a Baby Boomer myself, I would take some issue with that criticism. Granted, discrimination based upon race was and is reprehensible. The unfair treatment of women also needed to be rectified. Take those two topics out of the equation and I wonder just what it is about we Boomers that is so superior. In fact, tell me what Baby Boomer social values really were. Show the value systems that are in subsequent generations too. It’s hard to argue they are either better or worse since their moral basis appears to be ubiquitous at best. Morality, to be worth anything, has to have some basis, some permanence and some redeeming social value.
To put it bluntly, there are absolutes, and any so-called moral system that is built upon a premise that there are no absolutes, only personal opinions, is neither moral nor a system. It is a life driven by who can shout the loudest and pay the most to promote their personal agenda. That’s why Hollywood personalities have such a strong voice today. They have both the platform and the money to see that the platform is marketed to the fullest extent.
So I suggest Brokaw may be right by about half. The Greatest Generation was noble and selfless for the most part, but it isn’t that it was more noble than generations that followed; it’s more that the following generations weren’t as noble. There is a difference.
Our parents knew about the number of hairs on their heads; they knew that the birds neither sowed or reaped; and they knew that the lilies of the field didn’t labor or spin but still dressed better than Solomon in all his glory. Our parents didn’t worry about tomorrow; they merely tried to survive today, and they knew that where their treasure was, there their hearts would also be.
Did they forget. Yes, but not before they showed us in the generations that followed what an open heart and a willingness to go where God leads can do. The biggest pity of all is that after they showed us that, our hearts swelled shut. They need to be opened again so that God can use them and us.