Saturday, March 30, 2019

Thinking About Generations

Three weeks ago my wife and our daughter and I were in Moscow to celebrate her mother's 90th birthday (which was on March 10).  Somehow when I woke up today it occurred to me that a man born on the same day could have joined the Soviet army and participated in the final push into Berlin for the defeat of Hitler.  Likewise in the US a man born on the day could probably have gotten into the US military and participated in the final actions in Europe or the Pacific of the war. But probably few born much after then could have had that experience. So, whatever the sociologists or demographers say, this was the tail end of the "Greatest Generation," with Americans born then having some experience as young people of the tail end of the Great Depression as well as of WW II, the signature events of that generation.

Next came the Silent Generation, whose front end includes the veterans of the Korean War, now in their mid-80s, more or less.  In contrast with the Greatest and their unabashed victory, the Korean War was ulitmately a stalemate, and its veterans have long complained with some reason of not getting much attention, even as as many died during it roughly as the later and longer Vietnam War. But then maybe that is because the Silents just did not make enough noise.

Which brings us to the Boomers, who got Vietnam, at least the front end of the generation.  And this one was a loss after it became very unpopular and tore the nation apart.  For the record, I got out of it through having a high draft number, 346, not through  having my father pay a doctor to make up phony bone spurs for me as someone else did, someone who had the nerve to say he did not respect John McCain for getting captured during the war.

The later stage Boomers would get to see the US win the Cold war, even as the president was a Greatest Generation guy when that went down.

Gen-X got the unfortunate Iraq War, with it being instigated by a Boomer president.  And now the Millennials have all sort of fun and games happening with another Boomer president in place, Mr. Bone Spurs.  ISIS may have just been defeated on the ground, but the situation in Afghanistan looks set to get bad, not a victory.

I am not sure there is a bottom line to this post.  It was triggered by thinking about my mother-in-law and how much people in the USSR suffered during the Great Patriotic War as they call it and how the Greatest Generation is now all in their 90s or above, what is left of them.  Somehow that was the last unadulterated victory the US had in a war, with the rest since either stalemates or outright defeats.

Regarding that generation in Russia, I note that in the past one would see the men of that generation, the veterans of that war, walking proudly in the streets with their medals on, with people treating them with great respect, both in the Soviet period and afterwards as well.  The women would become the babushkas who would order younger people on the streets around for whatever they thought the younger people should be doing or not doing.  But now what is left of that generation is not on the  streets any more.  I did not see a single one of those vets with his medals this  visit, although I know many are still alive, and no babushkas were ordering young people around on the streets, for better or worse.

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

Someone born 80 years ago March 10 would have been born on March 10, 1939. that person would have been five for the assault on Berlin. I very much doubt this five-year-old would have been in the ranks of the RKKA.

And don't overstate the respect vets received. The "superfluous man" much noted in 19th century Russian literature returned to light after the Great Patriotic War. said...

90th. Thanks for catching the typo, Anonymous. Now fixed.

marcel proust said...

Some nitpicking about arithmetic: Someone born on 3/10/1929 would have been 16 on VE and VJ days: too young for an American BOY to serve during WW2 unless he lied about his age. The Red Army, for obvious reasons, was less discriminating about such details, so yes, it was likely not unusual for boys that age to be in the army, but unlikely that many saw combat, much less were part of the final push on/into Berlin . The situation appears to have been different in Germany and parts of Japan.

2slugbaits said...

Barkley I get your point, but the Boomers and Millenials did see some war victories. The 1990 Gulf War was a short but pretty definitive victory, with victory being defined as ousting Saddam from Kuwait. And the Kosovo and Bosnian wars more or less accomplished an important goal; viz., staunching what could have been widespread warfare across the entire Balkan region. But none of those wars were prolonged in terms of active US combat involvement, so we tend to forget about them. Is forgetting about them a good thing? I dunno, I can see both sides of that argument. And speaking of forgetting, I suppose we could include the ironically named Operation Just Cause invasion of Panama under Bush 41. Right up there with Reagan's invasion of mighty Grenada.

2slugbaits said...

Oops. Just reread. Should be Boomers and Gen-X.

Anonymous said...

Terrific essay. said...


Actually a lot of US males did lie about their ages and enlisted in WW II. It was a very different world then.
old Bush having a91%
2 Slugs,

Points well taken, although with the possible exception of the first Gulf warm these others got little attention. And while the first Gulf War was largely viewed as a victory, with older Bush having a 91% favorable rating at its conclusion, some were unhappy that we did not go to Baghdad, which led to the later disastrous Iraq invaion.

On USSR, I note that the WW II vets were indeed not always viewed as favorably as later. Stalin sent all of those who had been captured by the Germans to the Gulag because he suspected they had been tainted by their captivity. There was celebrating on May 8, the Victory Day, and May 1-8 remain a big vaction now with parades still on Red Square on May 8, but in 1945-46 there was famine. Things were hard. The respected parading around with medals came later.

Anonymous said...

About 14% of people in the Soviet Union died in World War Two. 4% of Japanese people. More than 3% of the world's population were killed according to a paper published in 2012 []