As a tweener generation, neither baby boomer nor greatest generation, I am always interested what people’s views are of both. I had the privilege of watching and listening to Tom Brokaw this morning here at Chautauqua. You may know that he wrote a book called, “The Greatest Generation,” in which he talks about the people who were nineteen or twenty some at the outset of World War II.
The most interesting question asked of him, and really not answered, was would any of the subsequent generations be ready to sacrifice what that generation did. The answer really lies in the subsequent happenings. The generation that fought Korea and Vietnam were never told what they were fighting for. Sure, the spread of communism was on the banner. However, not sure that our fighting people really believed it. Then, at the end, we were told that it was all for naught.
How would the greatest generation react to that statement? True, they came out of the Depression with fewer hopes and needs. When they sat down to their first army meal, it may have been the best meal that they had ever gotten. Many of the rural kids (and they were kids) never had new boots or maybe even new clothes. Their idea of what they could expect was folded into their rifles and other armaments.
The Boomer generation had no such feelings (in the majority). We were coming off the greatest economic boom in our history. There were jobs for all and even more when men were conscripted into the military. What did they think when they got to Vietnam? Maybe, “What a shithole.” The people in that country did not even seem human to them. What the heck were they doing there? Why are so many second looies dying every day? Who is in charge here?
These were not wars of common understandings. They were fought in specific countries, rather than a world war. Even our allies were not sure why they were there. The world began to look at us as interlopers. We even had our own Tokyo Rose by the name of Jane Fonda. Why was she consorting with the North Vietnamese? Why wasn’t our carpet bombing working? So many questions and so few answers.
The greatest generation never had to face the new way of reporting news, right from the front with mangled bodies in many pictures. We had never seen such pictures. Then we find out that this whole Vietnam thing was cooked up by the politicos in Washington, much like our invasion in Iraq. There was no real transcendent reason for being there.
Now we have an all-volunteer army. Is that going to change our way of doing things. History does not show us the volunteer armies are such a good idea. What would the greatest generation think of that? Not much, I think.