I'm reminded of my old college friend Brad, the "ranger," talking about B.F. Skinner's book "Beyond Freedom and Dignity." Most of us had already read Skinner in high school or early in college. The book piqued our interest, or the title did anyway. We'd buy "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" with its title appealing to the philosopher in us. Then, six months later, we'd discover the book "with the receipt still in it," Brad chortled.
I suppose many copies of "The Greatest Generation" went through the same thing. It was heartwarming just to see the book with that endearing title lying around the house. Like a paperweight.
We all know the story of the "greatest generation." These were the folks born when destiny would take them through all sorts of travail. First it was the Great Depression. These folks learned to watch every nickel they had. They kept that habit even when times improved. My late father was always keen on the price of every little thing. Dave Nelson noticed that and commented on it to me once.
My father Ralph was a 1934 high school graduate (in Glenwood). Those were the John Dillinger years. Men became gangsters because they couldn't stand "the grind" of trying to get by legitimately. You know, some of that feeling is hard to resist today. Seriously, in the 1930s the adversity and heartbreak could be intense. The economy was still somewhat staggered when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Daily life in 1940 was absent so many of the conveniences and luxuries we take for granted today. Uncle Sam would begin taking care of a whole lot of young U.S. men. We had to go fight the Nazis and Japanese. When all that was over, "the greatest generation" settled into ordinary life, most thankfully, and created the great U.S. middle class. Their children became the boomers with traits so different from their elders.
Our pastor at First Lutheran recognized that "the greatest generation" answered its challenges. It was nudged along by draft notices, of course. So many of the young men didn't make it back. I recently wrote a post for this site about Floyd Lange, who lost his life when Japanese kamikaze pilots attacked the USS Luce.
The young men had to be terrified entering the service and facing the prospect of combat - guns and the other hardware of war designed by the devil to destroy human life.
Courage vs. trepidation
Post-war the survivors spoke proudly of their service. That's wholly understandable and commendable. But I'm reminded of "The Great and Powerful Oz," who, when addressing the cowardly lion at the end, said "back where I come from, men march in parades with their (accoutrements of war service) and they have no more courage than you." The lion needed a "testimonial."
Brokaw's book was like a testimonial for a whole generation. The generation climbed past adversity, never mind they would have given anything to avoid that unpleasant stuff.
Our church pastor suggested there was an element of hyperbole in the book title: "The Greatest Generation." An obscure blogger suggested that Brokaw might have been author in name only, at least to an extent. I remember a panel on the old Don Imus morning show on MSNBC discussing this. A mini-firestorm erupted. Brokaw was, after all, a member of the media elite "club" of the time. The club had the kind of primacy it no longer has (due to media fragmentation). Its members were sort of a pretentious fraternity. They watched each other's backs. They pounced on that blogger who did have some rough edges in his writing - a couple minor factual errors for example. But the essence of his critique was probably spot-on.
In publishing circles, a big name gives "cred" to a book. It propels sales. Brokaw was a network news anchorman. He is a well-read and hard-working person. But in reality, many books like "The Greatest Generation" are produced by a team. There are young researchers and interns who perform what might be called the "grunt" work. The celebrity author is too busy with other commitments to get buried in that tedious stuff.
Mark Levin of the radio airwaves has pointed his finger at Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly "doesn't have time" to write these books that bear his name, Levin argues rather pointedly. I find these book titles rather odd, always talking about "killing" someone. "Killing Jesus" etc.
We can overlook how much very hard work goes into producing successful creative products. That includes music. "The Monkees" of my generation were assailed in some circles because they didn't produce all their own music on records. They were assailed because they were conspicuous and popular. Fact is, "studio musicians" were enlisted to enhance the recordings of many popular groups. The Beach Boys did it. However, the Monkees were not just a popular music group, they were clearly an extension of my generation with their irreverent image. Thus they were a target for criticism. I wish the four souls in that group had just come out and said "we're primarily actors." Honesty is the best policy. They did know how to play their own instruments.
Our Al Franken, U.S. Senator, showed total honesty when disclosing he had a "team" behind one of his books. He even had a group photo! He of course was the primary member of that team. But he acknowledged in effect that a major non-fiction book is best done with input from several people. Kudos to him.
I remember Joe Scarborough laughing one morning about how whenever accusations of plagiarism are made, the reaction from the author is to "blame an intern!"
Brokaw discusses demographics
Brokaw is a sincere person who often talks about the decline of what he calls "The Great Plains states." He talks about the courthouses that are 20 miles apart, each with its own auditor, and how the system "probably made sense in the horse and buggy days." Not so much today. Counties are doing lots of consolidating, according to frequent media reports. The process will only accelerate.
I question the substantial renovation of our Stevens County courthouse. Infrastructure is becoming less important in government. The change is irresistible. You can either go along with it or be dragged.
Each generation is challenged to keep up with what's going on. "The greatest generation" was aghast when rock 'n' roll music started coming to the forefront. The movie "Mars Attacks!" had "grandma" listening to Slim Whitman records. Those older folks also liked Mitch Miller and Lawrence Welk. The Welk thing became kind of a stereotype. My generation propped up that stereotype when trying to argue that older folks were too detached, living in sort of a bubble. We can forget how true that was.
We are all human and have human weakness. Yes, even that "greatest generation." Those older folks had power that they could have exercised to try to get our troops home from Viet Nam. The kids protested en masse but we just didn't have the power. Our parents did, along with their mainstream religious denominations that were all too complacent. Us youth became indifferent about religion, many of us anyway. Religion wasn't doing enough to straighten out flaws in our world.
The word "irrelevant" entered our vernacular in the 1960s. We began to see the mainstream Christian denominations as "irrelevant." Young men were getting gunned down in Viet Nam. We became idealistic with the issues that really seemed to matter.
"The greatest generation" seemed consumed by their own parochial world. But we must understand: those people were just thankful having their amenities. They never wanted to shake things up. Beneath their steady veneer, there was still insecurity. We must understand what shaped them. They were a great generation in so many ways. But they were simply human. They wanted what we all want. We can say each generation has those qualities.
Transformation always lies ahead. It's how we react that reveals our character.
The pastor at my church, incidentally, is Paul Erdal. Our First Lutheran church served a great many people at "Luther's Eatery" at the 2014 Prairie Pioneer Days. Pastor Erdal gets his points across articulately. He could easily be a "TV pastor." I think he's too sincere for that.