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Public Enemy #1: Baby Boomers

April 28, 2019

Enough is enough.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’re well aware that I’ve been pretty critical of Baby Boomers and included myself in that criticism. However, there’s a limit to stating just how evil, self-centered and foolhardy we Boomers have been. We don’t have pointy tails.

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 Occupy Wall Street movement, which mushroomed for a short time to over 900 cities worldwide, underscored, once again, the damage that Boomers have wrought upon the world.

Screeeeech!!!

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 72 to 90) and the Greatest Generation (90-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?

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?

Gens X and Y (especially the latter, aka Millennials) are clueless when it comes to sacrifice, not just for country but for family.

In his 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.”

The November 21, 2011, issue of TIME had the cover story “An Army Apart.” Journalist Mark Thompson presented a compelling story about the growing gap between the U.S. military and the civilian U.S. population. As he eloquently put it: “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 profiled 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 (29 to 39 years of age). Despite a decent government salary and Sue being out of the labour 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 we were sandwiched for many years with aging parents and “kids” who still called us with their issues and, now, with a seventh grand kid on the way.

Male friends with much younger children used to ask me if it got better as kids get older. My response was: “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 were 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.

Howeever, 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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