The Greatest Generation
It happened again the other day. Someone mentioned Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation and I could feel the ire rising. I haven't read the book; the title all by itself is enough to start me going.

You see, I belong to a different generation and, while I respect the accomplishments of the generation before mine, I question whether you can make that kind of comparison between generations. I also resent the implied slight to anyone who wasn't born during that period, but I'll come back to that.

So, how do you compare generations? That's sort of like comparing people; it just doesn't work. For example: is Mozart greater than Mother Teresa? Their accomplishments just can't be compared. Even limiting the field doesn't help, is Mozart greater than McCartney?

Even if we have some kind of scale for measurement, you still have to factor in context. I'm not talking about handicaps, I'm talking about the kind of accomplishment that seems to be in the air, and someone just happens to be the first to pull it out. Or the reverse, somebody who theorizes, for instance, the world is made of atoms, but has no experimental evidence to back up the theory and is quickly forgotten until centuries later when atomic theory is actually proved.

The 'greatest' title begins to sound like marketing hype, not worth the paper it's printed on but surely not such a big deal that I should get angry about it.

Well, here's the deal. The 'greatest' generation went to war; so did mine. But the conditions, the context, were very different. Their generation went to war, knowing they were doing the right thing. Knowing they were defending their country and freedom. They are to be respected for making that choice (putting your life on the line is cause for respect), but in at least one sense, the choice was easy; they believed in it.

My generation was Vietnam; everybody had differing opinions on whether the war was right or not. We also had TV so we had a better idea of what it was really like. Most of us made, were forced to make, deeply moral decisions as young men barely out of high school or college. We made them without the support of a unified community, amidst the hysteria of people shouting at us on both sides.

I have friends who went to Canada and friends who were Green Berets. I respect both sets of friends. It wasn't easy. You were either a full scale pacifist (all War is wrong), or the law said you went. What about those who felt that this particular war was wrong?

In the end we made the decisions, some of us went to war and some elsewhere, and when we came back....

The country was ashamed of us. Didn't matter what choice you'd made, the country didn't want to hear it.

We buckled down, most of us, and have made our lives since without too much complaint. Up until recently I wouldn't stand up when they honored veterans: my service wasn't that painful, but it wasn't that much either.

'Greatest' generation indeed.