I welcome today guest essayist C.J. Morrissey, huge history buff, a very “smaht” guy. He has written a deeply considered essay with great relevance on this particular day, June 6.
June 6, 2019
With Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book so named, many Americans were re-awakened to the efforts of that special generation of Americans who contributed to the defeat of the Axis powers, whether they participated directly in combat or acted in military support roles or worked in domestic industry. As a history buff and a son of two veterans of World War II, for a couple recent decades I had wondered why so few Americans woke up on June 6th each year and didn’t think of the striking significance of the date.
With the passage of time, it seems the media has heightened attention to the significance of the date, the dwindling numbers of World War II veterans, and an increasing presence of, to paraphrase late Senator John McCain, an almost overblown respect for the role of the military. For example, McCain’s feelings, among other concerns and related statements, that taxpayers funding orchestrations of military pomp and circumstance at sporting events seemed inappropriate.
Let’s revisit whether we think the circa World War II aged citizens should indeed be held above and considered “The Greatest Generation”. It was very clear that the Axis powers represented a threat to democracy and freedom all over the world. While early sentiment such as the America First movement reinforced an isolationist strategy, ultimately it was not hard for that generation to get behind the Allied effort after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The threat was clear and present.
Consider other generations or time periods where American citizens needed to contribute in difficult environments or made special efforts in support of their fellow citizens or mankind. For example, Civil War regiments mustered in support of the cause that the Union was an ideal that must be saved. This was done in the face of draft riots, early on bungled military leadership, inconsistent provisioning and other resources, racial overtones, and a fully divided country. An argument can be clearly made to propose that generation of Americans as the greatest generation. Millions of Americans led by Abraham Lincoln contributed in every sort of way to preserve the American experiment.
Separately, by focusing on a “generation” of Americans as the greatest, we leave out the great Americans who contributed greatly to building our country in the absence of the motivational clarity provided to the World War II generation. Several events and personal contributions come to mind. We can cite original participants in the founding of this country, not just specifically the Founding Fathers, but the farmers, merchants and laborers who for a brief few years, became their own incarnation of the citizen soldier. We can cite the contributions of those veterans who served in Vietnam who came home to an unappreciative, and in many cases, hostile reception. We can think of the waves of Chinese, Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants who came to this country in the late nineteenth and early 20th century and whose labor built the modern America. We can think of the Freedom Riders and other civil rights activists and causes of the 1960s who sought to fight back against the ingrained practices of Jim Crow in the southern states.
My parents were part of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”. I consider that generation everything about our America; apple pie, John Deere tractors, hard working, VFW halls, big families, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Marlboro cigarettes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, Ted Williams, non-fat dry milk, sun burns at the beach and so on. What does not come to mind about the “Greatest Generation” are the moral, cultural, direct and indirect challenges of preserving and maintaining the best things about America that arise out of less obvious challenges to freedom and moral growth. Here’s to hoping that the Millenial generation rises to the occasion and participates in today’s substantial challenges and, can therefore potentially supplant Tom’s “Greatest Generation”.