Public Enemy #1: Baby Boomers
Udated October 3, 2012
If you’re a regular reader of my blog (in addition to my e-books and white papers) you’re well aware that I’ve been pretty critical of Baby Boomers and included myself in that criticism (I’m 57). If you haven’t already, read my recent post Are You a BSer! Words of Wisdom from a Crotchety Boomer.
But there’s a limit to stating just how evil, self-centered and foolhardy we Boomers have been. The last time I looked I didn’t have a pointy tail.
Sure, blame us in part (okay, large part) for the explosion in consumer credit, the housing bubble, the financial meltdown, the Great Recession, greedy CEOs, selfish politicians, bad government policy, etc. Holy crap, it doesn’t look terribly bright for Boomers!
The recent Occupy Wall Street movement, which mushroomed for a short time to over 900 cities worldwide, has brought out, once again, the damage that Boomers have wrought upon the world.
Stop the bus!!
Enough of that crap. Let’s get a realistic grip.
If we’re going to play that game, other generations are fair game. It’s time to get out the whacking stick.
The Vietnam War, with its 50,000 dead young Americans and an estimated 300,000 injured, was brought to America by the Silent Generation (those 65 to 83) and the Greatest Generation (83 plus), an expression coined by retired NBC anchor Tom Brokaw. To add further insult to those who served and survived (most were drafted for the most part) their country turned its back on them when they returned home. Soldiers were spat upon and insulted by their civilian peers. Virtually no treatment existed for those suffering from PTSD.
Contrast that to the much greater recognition and support systems present for America’s now volunteer Armed Services. It’s not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than in the 1960s and 1970s.
How many Gens X and Y have a clue about the horrors of the Vietnam War on young people, notably males?
How many Gens X and Y know that many of their parents as young adults protested vehemently against this war? (Therein lies the contradiction of being against an immoral war while spitting on those returning soldiers who were forced to serve because of the Draft).
If you’re a young person and haven’t heard about the Kent State shootings, please enlighten yourself.
And even in the current context of more supportive populaces in Canada and the United States when it comes to Afghanistan (Canada took a pass on Iraq), with the thousands of soldiers killed and wounded, the horrors of PTSD, amputees, etc., our two countries blindly went on with their consumer-driven rage? How many Gens X and Y were reflecting on the atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan while casually sipping a latte at Starbucks?
“Hey, want to see my new BMW?”
Gens X and Y (especially the latter) are absolutely clueless when it comes to sacrifice, not just for country but for family.
In his new book That Used to be Us, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recounts a visit he made to Afghanistan in 2009 with Admiral Mike Mullen, (former) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen and Friedman stopped at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province to visit the troops. Here’s Friedman’s account in the 115 F heat:
“Let me see a show of hands,” Mullen began, “how many of you are on your first deployment?” A couple of dozen hands shot up. “Second deployment?” More hands went up. “Third deployment?” Still lots of hands were raised. “Fourth deployment?” A good dozen hands went up. “Fifth deployment?” Still a few hands went up. “Sixth deployment?” One hand went up.
Admiral Mullen asked the soldier to step forward to shake his hand and to have a picture taken with him.”
Friedman recalls his disbelief at that event, wondering how the United States could deserve such young people. As he cogently states: “Never have so many asked so much of so few – and never have those few delivered so much for so many and asked for so little in return.”
Take a moment to reflect on this story. While we civilians fret about our daily worries, whether we’re young or old, we’ve done so since 911 almost in a vacuum, all the while American and Canadian soldiers were getting killed and injured half a world away.
The November 21, 2011, issue of TIME has the cover story “An Army Apart.” Journalist Mark Thompson presents a compelling story about the growing gap between the U.S. military and the civilian U.S. population. As he eloquently states: “Think of the U.S. military as the Other 1% – some 2.4 million troupes have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq since 911, exactly 1% of the 240 million Americans over 18.”
One former soldier he profiles is 32 year-old Marine Sergeant Alex Lemons who returned home in July 2008 following three tours in Iraq. Suffering from PTSD and having had 14 operations on his feet, which were badly damaged because of a fall, Lemons bluntly explains the gap between his civilian friends and the military: “It’s hard to think of my war as a bizarre camping trip that no one else went on.”
One compelling statistic is that when you remove those Americans who are physically unfit to serve their country, have criminal records or are in college, you’re left with only 15% of Americans between 17 and 24 who are eligible to sign up! As retired Army major general Dennis Laich puts it: “The all-volunteer force is a mercenary military made up of poor kids and patriots from the third and fourth socioeconomic quintiles of our country.”
To my fellow smug Canadians, we’re no better north of the border – maybe worse, when it comes to really paying attention to the needs of our troops when they return home. Indeed, horror stories abound which the media has picked up to a limited extent.
When you have professional Armed Forces, such as our two countries, it’s easy for the population to get pumped up for the troops with contrived patriotism. As the saying goes, “Old men crave war; young men fight it.” (Memo to file: add “women” to this saying).
And what about Gens Y and X? Sure, they “support” their peers fighting and dying half a world away, while sipping a Cappuccino with one hand and texting on their iPhone with the other.
Back to the main story…
Sue and I successfully raised four kids to adulthood (22 to 32 years of age). Despite a decent government salary and Sue being out of the labor market for 12 years while she stayed home with the kids, we never went consumer crazy. No trips. No fancy crap. Just worked, raised kids, did community volunteer work, and (in my case) earned two Masters degrees.
And now we’re sandwiched, with aging parents (my mom’s 92) and “kids” who still call us with their issues. And there are several grandkids to boot.
Male friends who have much younger children ask me if it gets better as kids get older. My response is: “Are you kidding? It gets way worse. Wait till they start driving.” Or in our case with three daughters, check out some of the asshole boyfriends who are brought home.
Gen Y and its older cohort Gen X are the instant gratification generations. They see something they like? “I want it now!”
Gen X has gone consumer crazy, buying into monster-sized houses for one or two kids. When I grew up in Montreal there was just my brother and me. We were fortunate to have a two-story house and our own bedrooms. However, many of my friends were from homes with four-plus kids. Some lived in little bungalows with two or three kids packed into a tiny bedroom.
Granted the U.S. housing market took a shit-taking of late. Gen X, however, was busy taking advantage of the feeble lending rules. Here in Canada, Gen X is rocking strong when it comes to buying McMansions. They’re on the climb up the corporate ladder, both in government and the private sector.
Yet little is written about Gen X. It’s only of late that “angry” Gen X has resurfaced in the media. It isn’t called the excluded generation for no reason.
It’s about the bad Baby Boomers and the poor, exploited Gen Y and the excluded Gen X.
Rather than looking for scapegoats, a more constructive approach would be to collaborate across generations to find solutions. There are plenty of problems to go around. Stop the finger-pointing. After a while it’s no longer cool.
Blame is destructive.
What’s your solution to this mess?
Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.
– Laurence J. Peter (“The Peter Principle”)
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