A Brief History of the Boomer Generation

(Note: This essay was written in 2009 as a WordPress “page.” It’s become buried and hard to find, so I thought it time to republish it properly as a “post,” complete with categories and tags.)

MY PARENTS were born in 1920, which seems now to be in a different historical era. They were children in the Roaring ’20s, teenagers through the Great Depression, young adults at the beginning of World War II.

They are the Greatest Generation. They put off everything to fight the war. Then the boys came home — the ones who survived — and started making up for lost time. They attended college in greater numbers than ever before, under the GI Bill, married and bought brand new ticky-tacky houses with VA loans. And they had children. Did they ever.

The Greatest Generation shared hardship, service, accomplishment, victory. Then they settled down and didn’t look back much. As they had devoted themselves to country in the 1940s, they devoted themselves to work and family in the 1950s and 1960s. They created my generation.

We’re the Baby Boomer generation. We are NOT the greatest, not even close, as Garrison Keeler wryly observed.

THINGS LOST-- AMERICA WENT FROM FAMILY DINNER TO FAST FOOD IN ONE GENERATION.  --John Hayden photo

THINGS LOST– AMERICA WENT FROM FAMILY DINNER TO FAST FOOD IN ONE GENERATION. –John Hayden photo

We have shared history from the 1950s — polio shots and “duck and cover.”  The children of the 50s and 60s grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, with an awareness of unseen nuclear danger in the world, as well as a gradual awakening to inequality in America.

Though others see us as a monolithic cohort, the Boomer generation was divided in the 1960s and early 1970s by different, even opposite experiences. Many of us went to college, and many did not. We went to Vietnam, or we opposed the war (some did both).

The country cracked apart, during the 1960s, along social and economic lines. First the Civil Rights Movement, then the Vietnam War and the Peace Movement. The divide deepened and hardened in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Make love not war. Don’t trust anyone over 30.   Continue reading

AMERICAN VALUES — “That Used To Be Us”

From That Used To Be Us, by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum; Chapter 13, “Devaluation:”

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, Wikimedia Commons

“. . . something else that happened with the end of the Cold War and the passing of the baton from the Greatest Generation to the baby boom generation: an erosion of important, traditional American values that long underpinned our public and commercial life. . . .

“A well-functioning political system must be rooted in something deeper than itself:   Continue reading

Memorial Day Thoughts, 2010

SOLDIER AT ATTENTION ON THE BOARDWALK AT OCEAN CITY, MD, MEMORIAL DAY, 2010.

Faith Of Our Fathers

My father was born in 1920. He was a teenager in the Depression, and a young adult at the start of World War II. He was a skinny young man, to tell the truth.  All of 5-foot-7, maybe 120 pounds, and one arm shorter than the other, believed to have been stunted by polio as an infant. He called it, “My bum arm.”

A CLOSER VIEW OF THE SOLDIER. HE IS A REAL LIVE MAN, STANDING IN THE SUN, WITH SKIN AND UNIFORM PAINTED GOLD.

My father’s name is Bernard John Hayden, Sr.  He was drafted and went for the Army physical. Hundreds of young men lined up, buck naked, in an armory, and went from doctor to doctor around the floor. One doc made sure their heart was beating, another made sure they could see, and so on, like an assembly line. The nation was on wartime footing, and government in those days was efficient.

Last stop on the assembly line was the doctor who made the final decisions. He looked at the reports from the other docs, and looked my father up and down. It must have been painfully obvious that this young man with the bum arm was not promising soldier material.

The head doctor said to my father: “So what’ll it be? In or out?” He was letting the draftee make the decision.

Everyone was going into the Army, and my father didn’t want to be exempted from service.The one-word answer was “In,” and just that fast the choice was made.

In due time, my father was stationed at the Panama Canal. It was possibly the most strategic transportation target in the world. Perhaps surprisingly, the Germans and the Japanese never attacked. Probably they were otherwise occupied in Europe and the Pacific. But I like to think that my father and his friends, on guard in the tropical heat of the Canal Zone, prevented an enemy attack by their willingness to serve. They were America’s “Greatest Generation.”

I CALL THIS LADY IN SILVER “MS. LIBERTY.” SHE IS STANDING ON THE BOARDWALK, SOMETIMES GRACIOUSLY GIVING HER HAND TO PASSERS-BY.

At Holy Savior Church Saturday afternoon, the priest dispensed with his normal homily, but spoke for a few minutes about Memorial Day.  We would not be free this weekend, the priest said, except for God and America’s veterans.

At the end of Mass, the priest asked all veterans present to stand and be recognized.  I have to report that fewer than 20 percent of the congregation stood, and they were mostly older men and women. Times have changed, and in the America of 2010, military service is no longer a universal duty. I don’t know if that is a step forward or a step back, if the goal is peace.

Two widely quoted, relevant statements by great men:

“He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples.  They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”

— Isaiah chapter 2; verse 4 (written about 742-735 B.C.)

“I am tired of fighting . . . Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

— Chief Joseph, Nez Perce Indians, Oct. 5, 1877, at Bears Paw, Montana

So many questions, blowin’ in the wind . . .

— John Hayden