Tom Brokaw, being widely recognized as having coined the title: “The Greatest Generation” and this commentator, a bona fide member since his enlistment in 1942, was glad to see him as a guest on a recent public affairs TV program; although the host did seem, somehow, to be more excited about the fact of this, than why its members were. It would have been helpful for the current, younger TV audience, for Tom to have had an opportunity to explain the ‘why’ of the generation’s origin.
The answer is both simple and yet, of overwhelming importance (especially now). On the cusp and then, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of World War II, American men (and women) of every nationality/ political belief/ religious faith/ educational and cultural background/ … most of whom had never handled or cared about weapons of any kind… still were able to surmount all these differences, to attack and overcome the most fearsome coalition of enemies ever assembled; to free those who were enslaved and establish a mechanism for pursuing and achieving self-determination for all those desiring it, in a world-wide climate of mutual understanding and accountability.
In the resulting process, they were also able to reconstitute a nation, devastated by a combination of natural disasters and economic and financial depression, into the world’s most enviable and prosperous behemoth and also provide the economic wherewithal to salvage a major portion of the nations of the European continent, saving them from enslavement, as unwilling satellites of the Soviet Empire.
In truth, not all of this was the result of untrammeled agreement; nor was it free of its own lesser share of residual basic prejudice. Mostly, this occurred among those Americans from remote areas of the country or populous ghettoes; both influenced by poverty, suspicion of strangers and a lack of worldly sophistication. All were also inheritors (to a degree) of parental intolerance. It must, too, be honestly added, that ours was kept from becoming the truly ‘Greatest Generation,’ by a lack of political leadership which either retreated from or skirted the grievous fact of race and gender prejudice. This, alas, has continued over the span of several succeeding generations and though not nearly as obvious, still bedevils even the current generation, though in much more subtle but still heinous and unacceptable ways.
In his historic Lincoln Address to a Joint Session of Congress, on February 12th, 1959, the great poet, Carl Sandburg, said this: “Not often in the history of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, who is hard as a rock and soft as a drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect."
For the Oath of Office, sworn at his Second Inaugural, President Barak Obama will hold the same Bible held by then-President, Abraham Lincoln, for his. In retrospect, the description of Lincoln, given by Carl Sandburg, might well also apply to President Obama. As he prepares for his second and perhaps most important term, the crucial battles against racial and gender prejudice still need to be fought and won. What a great gift for those of the ‘Almost Greatest Generation, ‘still with us, to be able to share these sweet victories. And what truly poetic justice, that Carl Sandburg’s most poignant description, might also apply here, as well.
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