The Passing of the Greatest Generation and its Values

Tom Brokaw wrote a book in 1998 called, “The Greatest Generation,” about the American generation that survived the Depression and went on to fight for freedom in WWII.  Brokaw wrote in his book, “… it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.  He believed that the men and women in this generation fought not for fame or recognition, but because it was the “right thing to do.”

We are losing this WWII generation on a daily basis and as they pass the baton to the younger generations, I wonder if this older generation’s values are being passed along or are they being passed over.

Former president Jimmy Carter wrote about this in “Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis” in 2005, which was “dedicated to our children and grandchildren, for whom America’s basic moral values must be preserved.”  Carter wrote, “I am convinced that our great nation could realize all reasonable dreams of global influence if we properly utilized the advantageous values of our religious faith and historic ideals of peace, economic and political freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

What is causing this erosion and endangerment of our former values?  I call it a “creeping extremism.”  You see it increase every day as extremists throughout the world are committing egregious acts without significant consequences from moderates who used to be in the majority.  Extremists have begat extremists, so that they are becoming the new majority.  This is polarizing our world, removing the moderates, who in the past made our world a better and safer place to live.

What is happening to the generations that follow the Greatest Generation?  Well, they have not had the same moderating influences.  Going through a depression will significantly influence your value system.  I remember my father and mother both believed in “doing the right thing” no matter what the consequences might be.  They were selfless and made moral decisions based on how their actions would impact others.  Today’s generations, without the moderating influences of major economic and wartime pressures, are selfish and their moral values are based on how their actions will impact them.  It’s all about me and not you.

Now, these are generalizations.  Clearly, there are some members of younger generations who are wholly committed to serving society and not themselves.  But it is a matter of percentages.  A great majority of the younger generations have not gone through economic deprivation and therefore have placed themselves on a high pedestal.  They believe that “greed is good.”  If these individuals were asked to give their lives for their country, I suspect I know what most of them would say.  And their question would be, “What is in it for me?”

The problem with extremism and fundamentalism taking over the world is that it will lead to worldwide totalitarianism.  There are those in powerful positions today who believe that they should control the world for themselves, not for the benefit of others.  There is a big difference between philosophical Marxism, which is designed to benefit the working class, and the real-world communism, which controls and subjugates the working class.  The new world leaders will want the rest of us to be completely under their control.  When “freedom” is no longer important to the masses, it will be replaced by “free” government entitlements.  The masses will become addicted to the government and just like drug addicts will give up their freedom for a fix.

So as we lose the Greatest Generation, I pray that moderates within the following generations can maintain some modicum of control to protect our children and grandchildren for a few more years.  However, I think the most we can hope for is to preserve democracy for the remainder of this decade.

Generation Gaps

I remember a song in the movie/play “Bye Bye Birdie” when the father sings, “What’s the matter with kids today?”

Here are the lyrics:

Kids!  I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!
Kids!  Who can understand anything they say?
Kids!  They a disobedient, disrespectful oafs!
Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers!
While we’re on the subject:
Kids!  You can talk and talk till your face is blue!
Kids!  But they still just do what they want to do!
Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?
Kids!  I’ve tried to raise him the best I could.
Kids! Kids!  Laughing, singing, dancing, grinning, morons!
And while we’re on the subject!
Kids!  They are just impossible to control!
Kids!  With their awful clothes and their rock an’ roll!
Why can’t they dance like we did, what’s wrong with Sammy Caine?
What’s the matter with kids today!

The reference to Sammy Caine was probably a reference to Sammy Kaye, who was an American bandleader and songwriter whose tag line, “Swing and sway with Sammy Kaye” was one of the most famous in the Big Band era.   The classical big band sound contrasted with the rock ‘n roll sounds of the 50’s and 60’s.  It depicted a musical generation gap between the parents and children during those decades.

The song stuck with me all these years because it says a lot about how each generation thinks their children have gone to the dogs, while the parents had a spotless record growing up.  That’s not true, of course.  However, there are differences between generations and sometimes differences noticed in children every four to five years.

I have been watching football games in December and January and find it interesting that some coaches are lamenting that the younger players do not have the same work ethic that the coaches had when they were playing ball.  One coach indicated that he even had a generation gap between his junior and senior players and the freshman and sophomore players.  He stated that the older players were more mature and played as a team, while the younger players played as individuals.

Quarterbacks are a good study because they control much of the offense.  I noticed that some quarterbacks would constantly go for the “long bomb,” always hoping to get the touchdown pass that would bring them glory.  However, the teams fared better when quarterbacks made certain that they made first downs, marching consistently down the field.  This involved play-option passes and screen passes and short slants across the middle, which aren’t as exciting as touchdown passes, but they are best for the team.  It’s really not rocket science.  If you pass within the first two to three seconds of the play, you are more likely to avoid a sack or pressured pass by a three-hundred-pound lineman who is trying to crush you into the ground.  Gambling on a long pass down field may be good for your personal career, but it is not good for the team.

However, these decisions were made by quarterbacks from the same generation.  So why did some quarterbacks choose to take the more difficult passing road in an effort to win the game, while others selected the easier path of throwing photogenic, break-away touchdown passes?  My guess is that those quarterbacks who think about the team before themselves had experiences in life that taught them to share and work with others, while the publicity hounds probably had experiences that made them greedy for individual fame and glory.

Typically, the generation gaps and generation skipping also occur because of differences in how the generations were raised and what they experienced.  The generations that went through the Great Depression and WWII were very conservative because they had gone through tough times during that period.  The Vietnam War generations were less conservative as they broke away from the power of their parents to change the world and do things differently.  The generations today are given much more without having to work as hard, so they do not seem to be as motivated.

Generations will continue to evolve in America.  I believe that immigrants will make our country stronger as long as we have a reasonable system for allowing immigrants into America.  Immigrants will be more motivated to make a better life for themselves and, in some cases, may energize others to work harder through competition for better paying jobs.

I talked to one immigrant from Pakistan and asked him why he came to America.  He didn’t hesitated telling me that he knew that he would work harder than Americans and would be successful because of his work ethic.  I smiled because I knew that he was correct.

So, parents have always been concerned about their children and asking, “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?  What’s the matter with kids today?”  But sometimes children will try to break away from the mold of their parents, many times creating generation skipping.  And occasionally the children will mature and return to the fold.  Other times, a child will follow in the footsteps of the parent and pattern themselves after that parent.  There is no magic formula that will shorten the generation gaps.  However, generations are representative of their experiences, so that if a generation experienced a common disaster, this would impact the personality of that generation, separating it from other generations that did not have that experience.

I believe that parents will always worry about their children.  But I wish parents would worry about themselves first and clean up their acts.  If parents worked on their marital relationships, that might keep their children from going through a nasty divorce.  If parents stopped smoking, that might keep their kids from smoking.  If parents spent more time with their children instead of focusing entirely on their jobs, that might bring the generations closer together.