30 September 2010

The "Greatest Generation" vs. "The Boomers"

In an essay in this month's The Atlantic, Michael Kinsley compares the "Boomers" to their parents:
The indictment against the Baby Boom generation is familiar, way oversimplified, and only partly fair. In brief: the Boomers’ parents were the “Greatest Generation,” a coinage by Tom Brokaw that looks as if it will stick. Toughened by growing up through the Great Depression, the GGs heeded the call and saved the world in 1941–45. Then they returned home to build a prosperous society. They forthrightly addressed the nation’s biggest flaw (race relations), and defeated Communism on their way out the door. The GGs’ children, the Boomers, were “bred in at least modest comfort,” as the Port Huron Statement of 1962, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society, startlingly concedes. They ducked the challenge of Vietnam—so much smaller than the military challenge their parents so triumphantly met. They made alienation fashionable and turned self-indulgence (sex, drugs, rock and roll, cappuccino makers, real estate, and so on) into a religion. Their initial suspicion of the Pentagon and two presidents, Johnson and Nixon, spread like kudzu into a general cynicism about all established institutions (Congress, churches, the media, you name it). This reflexive and crippling cynicism is now shared across the political spectrum. The Boomers ran up huge public and private debts, whose consequences are just beginning to play out. In the world that Boomers will pass along to their children, America is widely held in contempt, prosperity looks to more and more people like a mirage, and things are generally going to hell.
Then he offers the counterpoint:
This same story could be told with a different spin, of course. The so-called Greatest Generation came back from World War II to create a bland, soul-destroying prosperity, unequally shared, and then mired us in Vietnam, a war that should never have been fought. It was the Boomers, not the Greats, who forced the nation to address civil rights. And it was the Greats, not the Boomers, who got us addicted to debt. The GGs’ willfully blind sense of entitlement turned the government—and many private companies, too—into machines for taking money from working people and giving it to “seniors” (in amounts far in excess of what they had contributed). The collapse of the Soviet Union happened on their watch, but this victory was devalued by McCarthyism, the blacklist, CIA misbehavior, and, ultimately, Vietnam and Watergate. The Greats were the ones who got us into Vietnam and the Boomers were the ones who got us out. They did this by convincing a majority of the country that it was a mistake, which it was. (Their disinclination to kill and die for a mistake was, if not noble, certainly not cowardly.) Even as they “sold out” and eased into middle-class life, they changed it for the better. They made environmentalism, feminism, gay rights so deeply a part of middle-class culture that the terms themselves seem antiquated. They created an American popular culture—particularly music—that swept the world, and still dominates. They created the technological revolution that revived capitalism. And they did their share of sacrificing: they paid for their own schooling with student loans—becoming the first generation to enter adulthood already burdened by large debts. They also paid, publicly and privately, for their parents’ generation to retire in greater comfort than they themselves can reasonably expect. And now—talk about selfishness—many Boomers are supporting their children, too, into their 20s and beyond.
It's a very interesting article, which you can read in full at The Atlantic.


  1. They made environmentalism, feminism, gay rights so deeply a part of middle-class culture that the terms themselves seem antiquated....

    I'll agree with the feminism, but in no way can I allow environmentalism or gay rights to be an asset belonging to Baby Boomers.... and while they created the business model for the technology revolution, it's on the labor and skill and creativity of the Xers that this revolution has been carried out.... booh hoo.... what a load of bologne......

  2. Environmentalism too started in the early 70s. I'll give Gen X gay rights though. it may have started in the 60's and the boomers mostly accepted Gays, but the push came later.

  3. Giving Gay Rights to Gen X? No way! Before Stonewall, police routinely locked up people for just being homosexual. The basically ceased with the Stonewall Riots in circa 1969 when gays finally turned against the police after they raided a New York City area bar by the name of Stonewall, hence the name of the riots.

    That's some groundwork.


  4. I am glad we did something right! But where was I when all this was going on? Oh yes, I remember, I was working my butt off!
    "And now—talk about selfishness—many Boomers are supporting their children, too, into their 20s and beyond".
    Well he got that bit right!

  5. Amen anonymous! The chathoray tube, transistor, TV, Radar, Radio, Light Bulb, Toilet, plastic and toxic chemicals ect were all invented by the greatest.


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