Generations

Once upon a time there was a generation of people who lived in North America who had experienced a lot of terrible things. There was an economic collapse and people didn’t have enough to eat and jobs were scarce. Then came a huge bloodbath that touched every family. Loved ones were killed, maimed, or simply disappeared. Families were torn apart. They lived in a period of uncertainty, genocide, atomic bombings. . . .

Having been through all those terrible things they were determined to give their children better lives than they had. They built great institutions to care for their children and educate them and provide them with the skills and resources necessary to make their lives a little bit easier, a little bit happier, than they had it. They built excellent public schools, public libraries, public parks, public television, public health care, and wonderful public colleges and universities. And they paid taxes to try to give their children a leg up in the world. It’s no wonder that Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg and Ken Burns and Tom Brokaw and others have created celluloid monuments to that generation that is sometimes called “The Greatest.”

But their grandchildren see a much different world than they did. In some ways it’s far worse. They can’t get a decent education. They’re largely consigned to low-wage jobs working for Olive Garden, Blockbuster, Starbucks, or a movie theater. The public schools, public libraries, public parks, public television, public health care, and the once great public colleges and universities their grandparents built lay in disrepair after years of cutbacks, layoffs, and privatization. No one seems willing to pay taxes nowadays to try to create a better life for their children, the grandchildren of “the Greatest” generation.

The Boomers have contributed so much to the world and transformed it in so many amazing ways — technologically, sociologically, emotionally, etc. (made possible by the investments in education of their parents) — Yet they’ve decided to let their children fend for themselves. They’ve so failed us. The Boomers have made more money collectively than any generation in human history but they appear intent on hogging it all.

Sadly, the “Greatest” generation also gave us huge stockpiles of thermonuclear weapons, DDT, Jim Crow, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, and back-alley abortions. But they were fallible human beings just muddling along. At least they left a better world for their children than their children are leaving for theirs.

Joseph Palermo

Republished with the author’s permission.

Published by the LA Progressive on March 15, 2010
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).