I’m Miffed at Tom Brokaw

I didn't look inside.

I don’t think Tom Brokaw meant to tick off other generations when he dubbed a very tiny segment of Americans “The Greatest Generation,” but he sure got my dander up. Yes, the brave men and women who eagerly participated in WWII deserve recognition for their sacrifices. But elevating them to the Greatest Generation means what? That all the rest of us are mediocre, even if we’ve done eager and brave things? I don’t think that’s fair. Every generation has had its challenges and its triumphs. Is fighting Hitler greater than fighting for civil rights?

I haven’t read Brokaw’s book because:

  1. I’m a woman.
  2. I’m not turned on by war–past, present, or future.
  3. I resent Mr. Brokaw for his omniscience and cock-surety that one generation (that he made up) is the greatest one of all. I mean, he’s a news personality, not Nostradamus.

Social scientists who study generations a bit more objectively than I do, tell us that generations only got named when the Baby-Boomers came along. Take that, Tom! Every other generation is defined by when they arrived: before or after the Baby-Boomers. Keep in mind these social scientists disagree about a lot of things–dates and names being two of those things–so these are approximations:

  1. The Silent Generation (1925-1945)–who mostly had hangovers from the Roaring ’20s and were too poor and depressed from the Great Depression to be chatty, except for Mickey Rooney in the movies.
  2. The Baby-Boomers (1946-1964)–my generation–one massive population explosion that’s been shaping the culture since we popped out of our Silent Mom’s poor and tired wombs. We’re often thought of as the “Me Generation” and responsible for both shaping and ruining the future–but we did it bravely, eagerly and for us.
  3.  Generation X (1965-1980)–a mysterious, but thankfully, smaller bunch who are often seen as the “What About Me? Generation.” They seem pretty lost in the shadow of us Baby-Boomers and wonder if they’ll live to collect Social Security.
  4. Generation Y (1981-1994)–this bunch was brought up on the Internet. They’re live-in-the-moment types–figuring someone/something will solve all their eventual problems. Being their parents, we don’t understand them. We just give them lots of stuff in the hopes that everyone makes it through the day unscathed.
  5. Generation Z (1995-?)–I’m worried about these young-uns. They’re at the end of the alphabet, and that’s not a good sign for future generations being around to taunt this group’s music and fashion when they get older. They’re today’s teens–brought up with terrorism and bioengineered food. What must they think of their world? When I was their age, my worries concerned where I could find the right colored tube top to go with my bell-bottom jeans.

Tom created his “Greatest Generation” from the subset of people who were part of the WWII war effort (the Silent Generation). He cites people like JFK, Walter Cronkite, Joe DiMaggio, Charles Shultz, a whole bunch of war heroes I never heard of, and Ronald Reagan as examples of the greatness that came from that era. I’m assuming he doesn’t mention Dick Cheney, Bernie Madoff, or John Gotti.

What about Barak Obama, Bill Gates, Princess Diana, or John Lennon? They all made their mark on the world. Are/Were they great?

  • Who are some of the great people in your generation?
  • Who gets to decide which generation is the greatest?
  • Is anyone else miffed at Tom Brokaw for this or any other reason?

~ by Lorna's Voice on June 28, 2011.

16 Responses to “I’m Miffed at Tom Brokaw”

  1. Well, that settles it! Thanks. I love learning new things.

  2. Wikipedia says the phrase was popularized by Hemingway:

  3. Was the Lost Generation named before the Baby Boomers were named, or were they named only after demographers started paying closer attention to population trends? Just curious…

  4. Good point. He might have been intentionally throwing down the gauntlet…Thanks for shifting my point of view. I really don’t want to be miffed at anyone!

  5. Gotta correct you about saying that generations weren’t “named” before boomers came along. There was the “Lost Generation”. As many great stories as our parents can tell, it was their own parents, who were adults during the Depression and really had to deal with it, who might deserve a greater title. Scarred by the Great War, responsible for raising kids through Depression, maintaining life while their kids went off to WWII, was that easy?

    I rant a little about the Great War and its status as a watershed event in one of my own entries:

  6. I do agree this “Greatest Generation” that Tom speaks of were much harder workers than the easily accessible computer babies of today. However, to call an elite group the best before he leaves this earth is sort of like saying, “Good luck, try and top that future people.”

  7. Agreed!

  8. I can’t say the whole generation was the greatest; however, the people who gave their lives for this country are.

  9. Not taking anything away from the sacrifices these women and men made, how does one compare the impact of their contributions to the efforts of young people in the 1960s and 70s advocating for civil rights? Or what about the information technology revolution and how that has changed the globe? I understand all too well the sentiment of those people whose fathers and grandfathers sacrificed so much, but there is a tendency to glorify the Old Days as the Good Old Days.

    I guess I should read the book the book–you’re right!

  10. I guess you’ll have to read the book to find out why Tom feels this was the Greatest Generation! I haven’t read the book yet, but from the reviews it would seem like the people of that generation overcame immense obstacles in order to build the countries we enjoy today. No generation since then has had to go through what they did. We all live a pretty cushy life in comparison!

  11. So true. I never gave consideration to the idea that this may be a marketing thing…I’m a pathetic capitalist!

  12. And thanks for the thought-provoking comment! I appreciate your perspective.

  13. I’m not sure whether the title “greatest generation” aptly describes this generation or not, but I do think though that WWII was the most defining time yet in human history, if only because of its scale. By default, it gave birth to one of the most intense periods of innovation and invention since the dawn of man. Jet engines, rockets and atomic fission continue to affect our lives today.

    I’m not sure who said “Great men need great events” but I think it was Sir Edmund Burke, who also authored the phrase “for evil to triumph, good men need do nothing.”

    Certainly, the events of WWII were the “greatest” in the sense of how far-reaching and destructive they were. Many great men and women (both those whose names are now enshrined and those who served and suffered in relative obscurity) stepped forward to take up the fight in numbers theretofore unseen. Those who lived during that near apocalypse can certainly be forgiven for their tendency to “hype” up the history of that momentous time.

    Thanks for this thought provoking blog. This is one of my favorite subjects.

  14. I get confused when authors make bold statements like this. It only makes for a flashy title on book that the intended audience will purchase, people born between 1946 – 1964. A little flattery will get you everywhere when it comes to book sales.

  15. My point exactly–it’s all relative. You can’t take a thing away from any generation, but somehow certain people with celebrity status get away with lifting only certain segments of the population up for admiration. And most of us, in our dulled-down states, just accept the “authority” of the celebrity who got the book published.

    I really like your last line. I wonder, though, how we tally up the mistakes…

    I wrote it tongue-in cheek, but this “Greatest Generation” thing has been bothering me for a while (as you probably could tell)! Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and comment on this post.

  16. Lots of food for thought there Lorna. Mmmm having listened to stories from relatives who survived the blitz in Glasgow or who fought in the trenches I cannot imagine the enormity of what they went through and I remain in complete awe of them. On the other hand every generation is presented with challenges and produces evidenced achievements that make their mark on the world. I guess it all comes back to how we measure success, individually or collectively and, as things are now, globally. I guess every generation has to believe it is the greatest, otherwise nobody would rise to the challenges they have inherited from the previous generation – who interestingly enough probably thought they were also the greatest. Maybe the ‘greatest’ generation should be judged on making the fewest mistakes rather than just the greatest contribution.

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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