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With Pearl Harbor Day upon us (75th anniversary), Bruce Kent sent me a link to an Atlantic.com piece claiming, by inference, that we little munchkins from The Fifties were members of the “Greatest Generation”…!
Like Bruce and probably everyone else in the class, I never considered myself a member of that special generation—the men and women who fought in World War II! It was our parents who fought the Great War. It was our dads who went off to fight on foreign soil. It was our moms who went with them as WAC and WAVE auxiliaries or who worked in munitions factories. Clearly it was the generation before us who so heroically fought and died to save the world from tyranny.
How could the authors of this piece come to such an errant (my opinion) conclusion…? Naming the generations (“Greatest Generation“), et. al., has no official standing with the U.S. Census Bureau (“We do not define the different generations,” according to a spokesperson), except for the “Baby Boomer” generation which began in 1946. Allied fighters returning home at war’s end served to “punctuate” traditional demographic growth by making a historic number of babies rather suddenly. The article goes on to name ensuing generations (“Generation X”, “Millennial”, etc.) up to the present time based on their research:
- Greatest Generation 1906 – 1925 (“These are the people that fought and died in World War II for our freedom…”)
- Baby Boomers 1946 – 1964 (“It began when the Greatest Generation got home and started having sex with everyone…”)
- Generation ‘X’ 1965 – 1984 (Harvard U.)
- Generation ‘Y’ mid-70s – mid-2000s (a “made-up” generation according to the article)
- Millennials 1982 – 2004 (independent researchers)
- No Name 2005 – 2024 (unnamed as yet)
To Bruce’s point, where the hell are we in this classification? Are we the “Forgotten” generation…? It wasn’t we who fought and died to make the world safe for democracy! At three years of age I was sucking my thumb, not a german bayonet! In other words every living U.S. citizen (and unborn till 2024) over the past 100 years is accounted for in this scheme except for us!
The reference to “Greatest Generation” is attributed to the title of a well-known historical work by Tom Brokaw—formerly an NBC news commentator. As mentioned, the Baby Boomer generation began when our soldiers returned from the war in 1946. And the remaining generations mentioned in the article come roughly in 20-year consecutive brackets until today.
This oversight in the article began tweaking my ulcer(s) to the point where I did a little research, myself (a hazard of having no life to speak of…). Have a look at wartime conscription by birth year:
|Draft Eligibility Birth Years|
|Selective Service eligibility by law (9/16/1940): 21 – 36|
|Amended eligibility range (11/11/1942): 18-37|
|V-E Day: 5/8/1945|
You can readily see from the table what a disproportionately huge contribution our parents’ generation made to the World War II effort. And by comparison how small a total from our generation: 14 months of eligibility in 1944 and 1945 (18- and 19-year olds) compared to 56 months on our parents’ part.
In search of a proper name for our generation (1926 – 1945), we need to ask what was the defining historic event that took place during our lifetime. Was there any?
Sure there was. Discounting The Great Depression (which we had no part in causing and were late arrivals to the party, anyway), we are the Rock ‘n’ Roll generation, are we not? From Wikipedia.org:
It was larger than a music genre. It spread to Europe and around the world. It became part of the Civil Rights movement. C’mon, people: it was a whole damn culture! And we helped create it…! :-)
While elements of rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until the 1950s…
Beyond simply a musical style, rock and roll, as seen in movies and on television, influenced lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language. In addition, rock and roll may have contributed to the civil rights movement because both African-American and white American teens enjoyed the music.
So, Bruce, here’s how the past century (five generations) might be redefined. At least in my overworked cranium. Maybe yours, too:
- Greatest Generation 1906 – 1925 (the vast majority of men and women in uniform during WW II)
- Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation 1926 – 1945 (that’s us!)
- Baby Boomers 1946 – 1965
- Generation ‘X’ 1966 – 1985
- Millennials 1986 – 2005
Any other suggestions…? Comments, please…
P.S. A couple of ex-classmates recalled in comments (see below) that we already have a name: the Silent Generation. Amen to that.