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Thread: Greatest Generation?

  1. #1
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    Default Greatest Generation?

    With all due respect and glory to the vets of WWII (whichever side they fought for), but does anyone else, especially the Civil War and WWI bufs, think that the title “The Greatest Generation” may not be not warranted?

    Those guys in the US Civil War, marching by the tens of thousands into what was almost certain death, and yet doing it again and again; and the French, Commonwealth, German, Russian and, to a lesser degree, American, doing the same in WWI seems to me to be pretty impressive.

    We make a great thing of the D-Day invasion - yet US causalities weren’t really that great. The truth is that most of the US servicemen and women really didn’t know much about world affairs and were simply doing what they thought was expected of them. My own mother, who is an educated woman, was a teen during WWII and constantly amazes me as to how little she knows of how world events related to cause and fight the war.

    I’m sure others can add to my examples (the Napoleonic Wars?). It seems to me if you put it all in perspective “The Greatest Generation” was any generation that went to war, which is pretty much any human generation.

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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    I don't think you can compare those generations by using solely their sacrifices in battle. Taking your examples into account, my reasoning is that during the US Civil War the nation was divided so that generation was unable to solve its problems and preserve unity, no greatness there, WWI was a war barely felt by the common man on the street, the US came out of it unharmed and barely different, society wise.

    The US WW2 generation was quite different in a sense that it started with the World in a great economic depression, was attacked by a foreigner nation in their own territory, managed to vanquish their enemies and emerge as a superpower. Everybody pitched in during those years, not only the soldier at the front. Of course, if you asked a non-white or a house wife with ambitions beyond the kitchen if that generation was great, opinions would probably vary greatly.

    As a foreigner, I see that generation not only in the US but also in the UK, as the greatest mainly because no other generation achieved so much in so little time with so much sacrifice involved.

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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    I believe you are missing the point of the sobriquet. IIRC, Tom Borkaw titled his book _The Greatest Generation_ not because they paid a price so much greater than other generations, but rather because the stakes where so much higher: the moral and ethical future of mankind. The greatest comes from having "saved" mankind. Personally, I think that's a premise that is *slightly* overblown, as other generations surely faced great bloody tyrants as well. But without question, today's world would be a much, much darker place had Axis won. The technology and global reach of a triumphant Axis would have transformed the world in a way that Napoleon, for example, could never have achieved.

    Nor do I believe Brokaw meant for the "Greatest Generation" to apply only to Americans: rather, it would include all of those who opposed the Axis vision of the future.
    Last edited by Ardee; 08-31-2012 at 11:17 AM.
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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    I think like someone else said here the fact that they also came up through the depression era, having to work hard for everything they got. Not only that, but when they came home they didn't complain about this or that, what disabilities they migh have received from the war, but just went on with their lives. Not only did they continue with their hard work, building up the nation in an economic sense, but also in increasing the population dramatically. I think the term "The Greatest Generation" was highly appropriate. Certainly a better bunch of folks that those who came after them. ( People like me, a person who grew up with just about every modern comfort). Thanks Dad!

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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    I think the discussion misses an important element.
    The focus should include the homefolks and their great efforts and sacrifices.
    I was among the initial wave of baby boomers and spent my childhood and later life hearing tales and seeing examples of this.
    The entire society rolled up its sleeves and went to work.
    It took a lot to send the guys to fight and feed and supply them.
    Rosie the Riveter appeared.
    At the same time daily affairs at home were maintained in their absence.
    It was a very big deal and required massive effort on all levels, dwarfing any prior events.

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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    I would also like to add, as a US Civil War buff. The casualties by regiment were not always that great. You were by no means walking into "almost certain death". In fact using the 51st VA as an example, it fought from 1862 till the end and lost five men killed in action. My father told me about his mother trading her meat ration cards for gas or other things. Can you imagine the society we live in today getting ration cards? What do you think would happen?

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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    It's funny how we call them the greatest generation while shitting on everything they ever did that didnt include dying en masse. Media likes to look back to the 1950's and early 1960's -the era that saw the greatest generation back home living life -as an era of backwardness, where all those awful people looked down their noses at unwed mothers and welfare, "paranoid and backwards crazies" believed that communists and the Soviet Union were a danger, black people weren't given proper deference, and everyone was a simpleton rube who saluted the flag and watched dumb *** Westerns.

    Each and every year at least one critically hailed movie looks back on the postwar era through the eyes of some poor put upon minority, or repressed women whose ******* husbands believe they should stay home and do laundry, or it tells the story of some great newsman who heroically stamped out the evil anticommunist menace

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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Washout View Post
    It's funny how we call them the greatest generation while shitting on everything they ever did that didnt include dying en masse. Media likes to look back to the 1950's and early 1960's -the era that saw the greatest generation back home living life -as an era of backwardness, where all those awful people looked down their noses at unwed mothers and welfare, "paranoid and backwards crazies" believed that communists and the Soviet Union were a danger, black people weren't given proper deference, and everyone was a simpleton rube who saluted the flag and watched dumb *** Westerns.

    Each and every year at least one critically hailed movie looks back on the postwar era through the eyes of some poor put upon minority, or repressed women whose ******* husbands believe they should stay home and do laundry, or it tells the story of some great newsman who heroically stamped out the evil anticommunist menace

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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Washout View Post
    It's funny how we call them the greatest generation while shitting on everything they ever did that didnt include dying en masse. Media likes to look back to the 1950's and early 1960's -the era that saw the greatest generation back home living life -as an era of backwardness, where all those awful people looked down their noses at unwed mothers and welfare, "paranoid and backwards crazies" believed that communists and the Soviet Union were a danger, black people weren't given proper deference, and everyone was a simpleton rube who saluted the flag and watched dumb *** Westerns.

    Each and every year at least one critically hailed movie looks back on the postwar era through the eyes of some poor put upon minority, or repressed women whose ******* husbands believe they should stay home and do laundry, or it tells the story of some great newsman who heroically stamped out the evil anticommunist menace
    I must at this time warn you against the further use of profanity on the Forum Boards. "them the greatest generation while shitting on everything they ever did " Most folks use asterisks, or some other device to get the point across, and you will as well. this is a Moderator warning.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Washout View Post
    It's funny how we call them the greatest generation while shitting on everything they ever did that didnt include dying en masse. Media likes to look back to the 1950's and early 1960's -the era that saw the greatest generation back home living life -as an era of backwardness, where all those awful people looked down their noses at unwed mothers and welfare, "paranoid and backwards crazies" believed that communists and the Soviet Union were a danger, black people weren't given proper deference, and everyone was a simpleton rube who saluted the flag and watched dumb *** Westerns.

    Each and every year at least one critically hailed movie looks back on the postwar era through the eyes of some poor put upon minority, or repressed women whose ******* husbands believe they should stay home and do laundry, or it tells the story of some great newsman who heroically stamped out the evil anticommunist menace
    It's a shame that you used profanity in your post because you raised excellent points. Other than the war, that generation is also held in high regard for constructing the suburbs, highways and interstate as we know them today, the economic boom that followed the war and the post-war baby boom. I'm not sure where the conservative and sterile image of the 50s came from but you are correct - the popular image of that era is exemplified by very popular movies like Back to the Future, Pleasentville and Dirty Dancing (that was the early 60s but still the same image). I wonder where that image came from and when it started? Importantly, the PEOPLE who fought in the war are heralded while the 50s is an IMAGE...

    My first guess is that it could be a response to the depression in the 30s and the violence of the 40s. People might have just wanted to relax and get on with their lives. It's also possible that since everyone was having children at the same time, everyone wanted to maintain a "safe world" for their children. Of course, the 50s was NOT nearly as peaceful and sterile as it is made in most films...and not all films do show that era in that way...The Outsiders is a good example of that.

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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Washout View Post
    It's funny how we call them the greatest generation while shitting on everything they ever did that didnt include dying en masse. Media likes to look back to the 1950's and early 1960's -the era that saw the greatest generation back home living life -as an era of backwardness, where all those awful people looked down their noses at unwed mothers and welfare, "paranoid and backwards crazies" believed that communists and the Soviet Union were a danger, black people weren't given proper deference, and everyone was a simpleton rube who saluted the flag and watched dumb *** Westerns.

    Each and every year at least one critically hailed movie looks back on the postwar era through the eyes of some poor put upon minority, or repressed women whose ******* husbands believe they should stay home and do laundry, or it tells the story of some great newsman who heroically stamped out the evil anticommunist menace
    What Nick said.
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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    Quote Originally Posted by flyerhell View Post
    ...I'm not sure where the conservative and sterile image of the 50s came from but you are correct - the popular image of that era is exemplified by very popular movies like Back to the Future, Pleasentville and Dirty Dancing (that was the early 60s but still the same image). I wonder where that image came from and when it started? Importantly, the PEOPLE who fought in the war are heralded while the 50s is an IMAGE...
    ....
    T.V. and peoples nostalgic, sanitized memories that white wash the 1950's even though in many ways it was nearly as a turbulent time as the "60's" (a period generally recognized as about 1964-1975)...

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    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    Quote Originally Posted by muscogeemike View Post
    With all due respect and glory to the vets of WWII (whichever side they fought for), but does anyone else, especially the Civil War and WWI bufs, think that the title “The Greatest Generation” may not be not warranted?

    Those guys in the US Civil War, marching by the tens of thousands into what was almost certain death, and yet doing it again and again; and the French, Commonwealth, German, Russian and, to a lesser degree, American, doing the same in WWI seems to me to be pretty impressive.

    We make a great thing of the D-Day invasion - yet US causalities weren’t really that great. The truth is that most of the US servicemen and women really didn’t know much about world affairs and were simply doing what they thought was expected of them. My own mother, who is an educated woman, was a teen during WWII and constantly amazes me as to how little she knows of how world events related to cause and fight the war.

    I’m sure others can add to my examples (the Napoleonic Wars?). It seems to me if you put it all in perspective “The Greatest Generation” was any generation that went to war, which is pretty much any human generation.
    I agree entirely.

    I haven't read Brokaw's book, nor am I likely to, but I understand that his thesis is that the American generation which went through the 1930s Depression, WWII, and post-war achievements was uniquely 'great'.

    The grand scale of WWII and America's military and industrial mobilization makes that thesis understandable, but if grand scale in pre-war poverty, losses during WWII and post-war achievements are the basis for the greatest generation then the Germans, Soviets, and Japanese have their own claims to be the greatest generation in that era, not least because in the case of Germany and Japan they rebuilt their nations (albeit with considerable support from America under the Marshall Plan in Europe and other arrangements for Japan) from something close to utter ruin while America never had even mild damage on its own land apart from Pearl Harbor.

    As for the Civil War, it too was preceded by a long economic depression 1837-45 or thereabouts which affected many of those who fought in that war, although not as close to the Civil War as the 1930s Depression was to WWII. The Civil War American deaths exceeded the total of those of WWI; WWII; Korea; and Vietnam, from a very much smaller population than the later wars, while American towns and property were razed and civilians displaced and mistreated in ways at times comparable with the experience of Russians under the Nazis. Andersonville was far, far worse than the experience of Americans in most German POW camps in WWII. The American POW death rate in German camps WWII was about 1%; in Japanese camps about 30 to 40%, depending upon source and classification of POW in camp as distinct from pre-camp deaths such as Bataan Death March; and in Andersonville camp approaching 30%. The commandant of Camp Sumter at Andersonville, Henry Wirz, was tried after the war by a federal (i.e Union) military tribunal and executed in a forerunner of the post-WWII war crimes trials by the victors dealing with treatment by their enemy of their POWs.

    One could argue that the greatest American generation was the one which endured and followed the Civil War and, despite the deep divisions and horrors in that war, managed to build the United States of America against all the odds into a unified nation of immense strength in the succeeding one and a half centuries which laid the necessary foundations for Brokaw’s 'greatest generation'.

    From the American perspective, it could be said that the achievements of the Pilgrims in the face of considerable adversity; the resolution of the colonists against Britain’s vastly superior resources in the War of Independence; the Civil War as already mentioned; and the settlers who opened up the West were equally ‘great’ in their time, for they all faced various forms of adversity; overwhelming odds against success; and triumphed in the face of all that.

    Without any disrespect to Americans who fought in WWII and who mobilised its industries for war, America’s contribution to victory wasn’t a surprising achievement given America’s supremacy as an industrial power immune from attack on its industries. As Yamamoto, Churchill and others who understood America’s potential knew before the war, once America unconditionally entered the war its industrial supremacy assured victory against Japan and probably against Germany. The measure of America’s supremacy is that not only did it raise and supply its own land, sea and air forces but it alone among the Allies supplied its allies with substantial amounts of materials of every kind necessary for victory against the Axis.

    One of the problems with the claim that the Depression / WWII generation was the greatest is that it ignores the fact those involved were responding to circumstances beyond their control. Contrast that with the War of Independence where the colonists had a choice about taking on a superior enemy or just buckling under to a stronger authority, but chose to take a principled stand without being energised by something equivalent to Pearl Harbor.

    There is no question that America’s achievements in WWII were great, and that that greatness filters down to everyone involved , but to claim that the WWII generation was ‘the greatest’ seems to me to diminish unfairly the achievements of previous, and subsequent, American generations. Not to mention conveniently ignoring a whole host of other great generations from the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks to the British who built its Empire and plenty of other nations and cultures which were great in their time.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nickdfresh View Post
    T.V. and peoples nostalgic, sanitized memories that white wash the 1950's even though in many ways it was nearly as a turbulent time as the "60's" (a period generally recognized as about 1964-1975)...
    You're correct about the 50s being a turbulent time, as evidenced by things such as the uniquely American and uniquely hysterical McCarthy hearings and the wider fear of communism in other Western countries and, drifting in to the early 1960s, the Cuban missile crisis.

    I was educated by the Christian Brothers during that period. By Grade 6 in the early 60s I knew that the Jews would be the first lot herded into the cattle cars and lined up on the graves they'd dug at gunpoint and we Catholics would be next under the commies. I even knew the names of local commie union officials to be feared, courtesy of the Christian Brothers who drummed those fears into me with more force and success than conventional primary education.

    During the Cuban missile crisis I remember sitting in the schoolyard with another kid as we discussed whether we'd see the nuclear missiles coming or if there'd just be a blast and that would be the end of us. At that time our city's phone book had on the inside front cover a map of our city with rings radiating from the centre of the city showing the effects of a nuclear weapon exploding over the city centre. Total annihilation in the centre radiating to paint melted off buildings in the distant hills. I lived a lot closer to the centre, but not guaranteed to be vaporised. Maybe just burnt very badly before dying a while later. I was rather relieved when JFK stared the Russians down and won.

    Contrast that real fear of Armageddon at the hands of the commies with the popular culture of the times as evidenced by wholesome but noxious little stereotypes like Beaver Cleaver in your photo. (At the time, none of us down here knew what ‘beaver’ could mean in America, but since we found out many of us reckon that the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ producers or writers were laughing up their sleeves. Conversely, you have no idea what wonder and hilarity was induced by our discovery from American TV that you had ‘root beer’. ‘Root’ here is a synonym for sexual intercourse, so you can imagine our admiration as a serious beer drinking nation for your nation as the inventors of a root beer, and the surprisingly uncensored lyrics by Elvis which we heard as ‘Tutti frutti, I wanna rooty’.)

    I suspect that the wholesome family and suburban ideals embodied in shows like ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and ‘Father Knows Best’ (despite the older sister Betty being an unattractive, sour bitch) which I grew up with were a projection of the desire to replace the miseries and horrors of the recent WWII past with a nice world, which after all was the idealised world for which the West supposedly fought and, to a fair extent, more or less achieved in the economic boom which followed WWII in America and certainly Australia, and perhaps elsewhere.

    But not poor bloody Britain which largely destroyed itself fighting the good fight for a couple of years on its own and had to repay America its Lend Lease debt while the Germans and Japanese who lost the war they started got massive economic support from America to discourage them from going to war again while Britain still had rationing years after the war, giving rise to the book ‘The Mouse that Roared’ and the Peter Sellers film where Fenwick goes to war with America to lose the war so it can get massive aid http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053084/ .
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

  15. #15

    Default Re: Greatest Generation?

    Great posts! Growing up in the United States, it's always interesting to see how people in other nations dealt with the Cold War.

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