Before Tom Brokaw bestowed the title of The Greatest Generation on them, they were just our parents. They had grown up in a period of great adversity when depression and unemployment was wide spread, and there was no government safety net for the poor. It was a time where our agriculture had turned the land into a barren waste that blocked out the sun in Washington DC when the wind blew the dust of Oklahoma through it. Their heritage stands in sharp contrast to the generation known as the millennials. For our parents, racism was far more extreme and public with organizations like the Ku Klux Klan reaching national prominence and a power in the politics of the democratic party where its membership grew to almost 4 million. As they turned 18 they faced a global conflict, which had almost brought the democracies of the world to their knees, and saw (at its height) over 12 million men and women in uniform. Finally, they saw the dawn of the nuclear age, where the threat of global destruction from nuclear war was an everyday possibility, and communism was the enemy of the day.
Today, we have the luxury to talk about appropriation of culture, the choice of gender, or the equality of the sexes because our parents and grandparents not only survived the dark days of global depression and war, but rebuilt a world from the ruins.
Writing to his wife Abigail, John Adams said, “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”
Perhaps it is the inevitable way of the life? The struggle of today, to create a better tomorrow, keeps the desired utopia always just out of reach, but why have we become a generation so different from our parents and grandparents? Today we don’t have a grand vision of a better world as the survivors of the world war had, and we cannot agree on even a simple definition of progress. Is it because we are studying the esoteric too much, and the reality of politics and conflict not enough?
John Adams lived in the time of enlightenment where the educated came from colleges and universities founded to educate the ministers of the church. They studied far more than politics and war, and the idea that government was the problem, not the solution, was far more likely to be the political leaning.
Today our most prestigious institutions remove God from the discussion, and seem to focus so narrowly on social problems and solutions that we don’t allow the young to see beyond a single answer.
For those who don’t go to college, and like it or not that is the majority, they increasingly see the government not as an enabler of a better life, but as the force that restrains them to their role with little hope beyond survival. It seems our politicians have taken the lessons of Marie Antoinette to heart. “If there is no bread, let them eat cake.”