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Baby Boomers: The Ungreatest Generation

this is a repost from commondreams. I've thought much about the legacy my parents generation has left us, ranted one father's day. What upsets me most... not their affection for trinkets and "wealth" because they worked their 40 hours to get it... but the hands and the hold they have allowed the game to fall into. There was no "system" in 1850. This was designed.
Published on Sunday, July 16, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Baby Boomers: The Ungreatest Generation
by Gregory D. Foster

The United States today is in a dismal state of affairs—as far perhaps as it is possible to be from the mythical American Dream of peace, prosperity, security, and unity without fomenting open rebellion in the ranks of the citizenry. If you're in doubt about why this is, just stop to ponder who's running the country these days and what that means. In virtually every walk of American life—certainly in government, business, and academe—the Baby Boomers are fully in charge, and it isn't a pretty sight. In fact, it's downright ugly.

In the interest of full disclosure, I herewith admit to being a card-carrying Boomer myself and not especially proud of it. Not completely ashamed yet, not altogether embarrassed, but certainly not proud.

Just look at the "leaders" we've put forward over the past fourteen years to represent us—as president and vice president, as Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials, as party front men on both sides of Capitol Hill. To put it charitably, euphemistically, they've given new meaning to the concept of leadership. I needn't name names; you know who they are. And though some of them, and others like them, had already shed their diapers by 1946, Vietnam was their formative life experience, and they have been card-carrying practitioners of the Boomer ethos ever since.

These individuals aren't the brightest or best, nor the most virtuous or competent, among us. Quite the opposite in most cases. But they're clearly the most ambitious; as such, they define who we are and how history will remember (or forget) us.

Whatever we Boomers may have been or done in our individual capacities, on the big matters that legacies are made of we have been outclassed, out of our depth, unable to offer the strategic leadership that would leave something of value to posterity. Most importantly, we have shown ourselves singularly incapable of greatness.

Maybe there's something to former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw's claim that the World War II generation was "the greatest generation any society has ever produced." We'll overlook the fact that they bequeathed the Cold War, nuclear weapons, and McCarthyism to the rest of us. What defined that generation (and supported the claim to greatness), Brokaw notes, was sacrifice, selflessness, modesty and, most of all, signal achievement.

By contrast, Boomers have, for the most part, never had to make significant sacrifices. We didn't live through crippling depression, and we didn't have to wage a grand, glorious, unifying war against regnant evil. Ours was a pointless, prolonged, desultory (and did I say pointless) war that divided the few who served from the many who didn't and left a permanent scar on the psyche of a generation.

Boomers are anything but selfless and modest. In the main, we are totally selfish—self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-serving. Our most visible members are unrepentantly shameless self-promoters, intent on being someone rather than doing something. Given the choice between mingling with celebrities and bettering the human condition, we'll take the former every time.

During our coming of age, when inexperience and unworldliness should have made us the most modest, we were the most impatient and intolerant. We had all the answers, even if we didn't understand the questions.

Hypercritical then, we are hypocritical now. Those who refused to serve when it was our turn are now among the most strident, hawkish flag wavers around. And most of those who were vehemently anti-establishment then have now sold out to (or bought into) "the system."

Most notably, there's the matter of achievement. Remember the famous lines from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night? "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em." Given the improbability of being born great and the random infrequency of great events, true greatness is almost all about achievement.

So, have we Boomers achieved anything worthy of the ages? The answer, plain and simple, is no. We've been too busy getting ahead. Greatness requires vision, courage, and boldness, none of which we have to offer. We're reformed malcontents turned myopic creatures of convention, perpetuators and exploiters of the status quo, technocrats posing as statesmen. Opportunism is our motive force, rhetoric our métier.

From us you've not gotten, and won't get, sweeping new ideas, institutions, or initiatives that can live in perpetuity and inspire future generations. We still don't have a clue how to get beyond the Cold War (much less how to extricate ourselves from the Iraq debacle with the country's dignity intact), or how to achieve comprehensive health care, reform education, or rid politics of the corrupting influence of money. Surely you don't expect us then to live up to the rhetoric of our youth and eliminate poverty, injustice, or war, craft an enduring post-millennial ideology, or create futuristic global institutions. What's in it for us?

There's a verse of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's that is relevant here:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us,
Footprints on the sand of time.

How regrettable that my generation, oblivious to what it takes to achieve sublimity, seems destined to leave no imprint—no positive imprint, that is—on the sand of time.

Gregory D. Foster is a professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, Washington, D.C., where he previously has served as George C. Marshall Professor and J. Carlton Ward Distinguished Professor and Director of Research. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at  fosterg@ndu.edu.

looking for signs in puke 17.Jul.2006 00:19


Well, Bush may have been born in the age of aquarius, the age of the boomers, but he's just a bummer. This repost from a disillusioned and bitter boomer is inaccurate and self-defeating. What boomers did...wait a minute...really, I suppose I'm thinking of liberals or idealists associated with the boomer era... was challenge the status quo that's always attempted to be cemented in by self-serving repubs.

The class struggle is what liberal and liberal idealists of the boomer era drove in a way that it had never been driven for a long time. So the present situation doesn't reflect glowingly on that legacy? Tough Titties. Ya gonna let this Foster dude be your guru? Not me.

Don't Blame Boomers 17.Jul.2006 08:33


Definitely, the world is complex and no one group of people is all one thing or another. Keep in mind that the "hippies" of the'60s who resisted the war only made up about 1% of the population. They made a big splash because their parents were so shocked at their behavior--the kids who had everything weren't happy.

Now let's look at their parents who were largely racist, sexist, and extremely hierarchical in their beliefs. The believed in corporal punishment, God, and ostracizing single mothers.

So you can't blame boomers. Those who are disillusioned (me included) are those who believed we could create a new world rather than the trickle down culture shift that resulted.

By the way, I once knew someone whose mother asked him, "What has your genertation ever done for the world." And he replied, "We brought the world drugs, and I think that's enough."

Baby Boomers: The Ungreatest Generation 17.Jul.2006 10:41


As a boomer myself I have to take issue with some of this article. There are those who still live according to the ideals we grew up with. The apathy which defines the North American political landscape is something which has grown over the years. When I was teenager and in my 20's there was a lot of idealism among my generation. Yet, I look at the younger generation now and they, as well as some of my fellow boomers, are spoiled, self-centered, etc. Yet these are the children of more enlightened parents. There is no one reason why we have reached this state of affairs, but I do know that it cannot be blamed on one group of people, many of whom fought so hard to create a better world.

yeah, the boomers really did alot 17.Jul.2006 10:46

old crow

yes, the boomers contributed so much... all the plastic culture we complain so tirelessly about was designed by and for them to please and pacify the children of the 70's and 80's.

Most "hippies" maybe like the beatles and grew their hair long. They don't know crap about civil rights or standing up to the man. Half of them are probably todays kenny G christians.

The people who took America from the depression onward, after the so called Greatest Generation built a framework, have completely dropped the ball and are a bunch of clueless dorks. 40 hours for gold. 50 hours for a boat and a name brand umbrella. Let the rest shop Wal-Mart. And don't tell the neighbors.

The reason the administration is trying to instill fascist patriotism is because no one is REALLY proud of America as she stands today, what have we done new since we let black people drink from the public fountain?

you did create a new world 17.Jul.2006 10:49

old crow

and it's called Starbucks. What else did you do? Did hippies think we were all going to walk around hula hooping all day?

Hippies just sell hand made soap on Alberta and drag their feet with a stoney smile on their face.

assassination 17.Jul.2006 15:31


Did boomers kill Kennedy, Malcom X, King, and Robert Kennedy. Did Boomers make sure there would be plenty of dope to pacify protesters.

Our dreams were smashed because there wasn't any profit for the military industrial complex greedy stockholders. Weapons Investment, War ,cold war, war Carlyle Group and Rebuilding. Plenty of hippies got jobs, did not become yuppies, and struggled to make ends meet.

You can't generalize or stereotype people, but if you get hungry, you can EAT THE BLOODY WAR RICH.

the pacified boomer 17.Jul.2006 21:25


dope pacified people not "protesters". As does Wal_Mrt today, and religion is also known as the great pacifier. Soap Opera's pacify the housewife, sports pacify the common man after his work week.

The average joe know's nothing about the powers the consttution guarentees him. He always defers control of his cultures destiny to those he percieves as leaders.

In one hundered years our forfathers have designed a system that we will have to play with for (how long?)

exactly 17.Jul.2006 21:38


you're certainly right. Boomers and their hippie brethren certainly didn't kill JFK or MLK. Did they really think that dancing was going to change the world?

But looking at that from another angle... that's exactly the problem- while Rumsfeld and Cheney were establishing themselves in DC and corporate America, a bunch of deadheads were putting daisy's in rifles and oming, and being "freaky". And todays 55 year olds were getting in line at the cheese factory to pay for their white picket trailer home and now are lower middle class, completely beholden to the man, and unsure of how we got here... because as Colbert said to the media on their behalf "when things were going badly and we didn't want to know... you had the courage not to tell us..."

who's speaking here? 18.Jul.2006 09:12


Again, in slightly different words, some people from the boomer era; what you might want to call hippies. And activists, idealists, exerted an extraordinary effort to divert from the same old tired path of human evil manifested by the established infrastructure of our country.

Many basic, self-serving discrimate notions, such as racism, classism, materialism, homophobia, and the notion of war and bloodshed as acceptable means by which to resolve conflict, and so forth, were challenged, and to some degree, thrown aside, at least for some time.

Not ever single person of that era embraced the effort it took to do those things. The world didn't become a perfect place as a result of their efforts, but in some small capacity perhaps, those efforts placed certain accepted conventions in a slightly different light than had in past been accepted without question.

Many people of the boomer era were of, and never could be, or even attempted to be anything other than, members of the ivy league, power holding echelon, went right from their fancy schools to jobs in bureacracy, banking, etc, that counters much the effort involve in accomplishing social change.

Not every person who shared the views of hippies or idealists could be so fortunate to avoid the trap of a soul grinding job in a midwest meatpacking plant just to secure the meager amenities of a mobile home park for a family of some sort.

People are not all the same. People from the boomer era genuinely made efforts that truly affected serious, beneficial change, but for sure, many didn't, and even fought against those efforts. That's human nature.

If some bitter, cynical boomer wants to piss on his own leg, that's his choice. If his gullible listeners want to lick the piss off his leg, that's their choice. Wanting to look at only the failures, is not a formula for success in the future. Good things and great things were accomplished, arising from the boomer era. At the very least, in the absence of a more ideal society in today's times, the inspiration that having worked for these things represents to future generations, is important to protect.

Re: The Ungreatest Generation 18.Jul.2006 10:15


So why aren't the millions and millions of younger-generation people out there putting an end to the carnage that's taking place in the Middle East? Why haven't they put a stop to the war in Iraq? Hell, they've had over three years to do it. Oh, I know where most of them are. They're sitting in their air-conditioned bedrooms playing video games; perhaps the game called "Border Patrol" where they get to pretend kill pregnant Hispanic women. I heard that there's a new game out which revolves around an invasion of Venezuela. Maybe they're playing that one. My point is that indifference stalks the majority of Americans, through all generations. Putting the blame on entire generations of people who do and did care is nonsense.

People of conscience are a minority and always have been since the beginning of time.

Word! 19.Jul.2006 15:02


Good points Manyhats. As a boomer myself, I have been working tirelessly for the past 40 years to make changes, one person at a time and no, I have not modified my views or become a corporate shill. If anything, I am more outspoken than ever. I remember the era quite well. yes, there werre those who were just in it for the party and became boring liberals or part of the corporate power structure. Some are just surviving like anyone else. Not everyone went the route of apathy. So what have we got today to brag about? Britany, J Lo, American Idol, Paris? Sexist popular rap music? I despise those who grew up in the 60's and just didn't get it or those who lost their balls over time. However, what I do know is that many 60's musicians are still rocking away, with a message, and they are still kicking ass. I guess you had to be there. For me it was Vietnam and loss of innocence, music, Black Panther friends, seeing the fallacy of the conservative thought, witnessing people selling out, seeing the 60's culture co-opted by Madison Avenue, seeing those who continue t fight for their beliefs after all these years.

blah blah blah 19.Jul.2006 21:12

old crow

yes yes I know, Jerry was a great musician and Fleetwood Mac was so cool. Chuck Berry... yes yes, people sell out, yes, we know... black Panthers are awesome friends to have, makes everything seem real INTENSE maaan...

But what the hell did it all accomplish other than fun!? The only way it will mean anything is if us nostalgic 20 and thirty year olds who are completly jaded on the whole system look back at it and give it credit for inspiration.

Point is. Rumsfeld and Bush are babyboomers. They rule the world. Cheney came off a ranch in Wyoming and is huge.

While the boomers sang their songs, or got in line to work a mess was made that WE have to clean up. Where did the mess start. Who can I blame :)

At least the older generations were kind of gritty.