But before I get to those, let’s set the record straight regarding the Greatest Generation. While the men and women who were called to arms to defeat fascism deserve our unending praise and gratitude, almost immediately on returning home from the war the Greatest Generation launched the “Red Scare.” A paranoid government ran roughshod over the First Amendment via star-chambers like the House Un-American Activities Committee, loyalty oaths, and blacklists that deprived innocent people of their livelihoods. It also gave us Senator Joe McCarthy, who cowed politicians (presidents included) and the public with his wild accusations about Communists under every bed.
Also, we must give discredit where discredit is due to four consecutive presidents—Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon—and their advisors, all proud, card-carrying members of the Greatest Generation who themselves had served in World War II. They perpetrated the most disastrous foreign policy mistake in American history and then persisted in needlessly sacrificing thousands of young American lives and millions of Vietnamese lives long after they knew that the Vietnam War was a monumental blunder that never should have happened.
Large polling majorities of the Greatest Generation avidly supported the misguided Vietnam policy all the way to the last months of the war. In contrast, Baby Boomers were the loudest voices opposing the war and its carnage and led the effort to bring it to a halt and stop the killing. This alone should elevate the Boomer generation to a position at least equal to the Greatest Generation.
But there is more. It was the Baby Boomers who were the champions of civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and human rights in general. Much of the resistance to these positive advances came from members of the Greatest Generation.
The Baby Boomers are not, however, free of blame for some of the worst and most shameful failures of our times. Our four Boomer presidents—Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, Trump—have a lot to answer for with respect to calamitous policies and horrific outcomes.
- Clinton and Bush did not take jihadist terrorism seriously enough despite what their government experts were telling them. The consequences were the African embassy bombings, the USS Cole attack and 9/11.
- Bush pushed the second most catastrophic foreign policy bungle in our history, the invasion of Iraq, based on false premises that the president and his advisors knew were false. He also botched the response to Hurricane Katrina and did much to launch The Great Recession, the worst economic calamity in almost 80 years.
- Obama spoke eloquently about red lines in the Syrian sand, but turned out to be “all hat and no cattle” when Syria resorted to chemical weapons to kill thousands of its citizens. His inaction regarding Russia’s aggression against Georgia and Ukraine emboldened Vladimir Putin to initiate his current war to annihilate Ukraine.
- Trump? I don’t have sufficient space or time to list the hundreds if not thousands of lies, misbehaviors and generally evil conduct and initiatives that rendered him the worst president in US history by several parsecs.
Both Boomers and the Greatest Generation have much to answer for. But assigning all virtue to the Greatest Generation while denying any to Boomers and blaming them for their stumbles to the exclusion of any credit for the immense good they have done is unfair.
June 18, 2022