In 1998, Tom Brokaw wrote the book, “The Greatest Generation,” and that title managed to weave it’s way into the language. There are Boomers, Gen-X-ers, Millennials, and then there is “The Greatest Generation”.
So, speaking as a card-carrying member of one of the apparently lesser generations, what exactly makes them any better than us? Or, for that matter, the generations preceding them?
Generational Dynamics provides a very clear answer if you want to dig into the generational theory. As a side note, that is a very sound theory and an amazing predictor of world events. If you’ve ever wondered why history seems to repeat itself, your answer is on the other end of that link, go look it up!
However, I’m going to discuss another approach to the answer. It doesn’t conflict with Generational Dynamics, either. It has to do with an entire generation of men, women, and children having a very single vision; preserve America from the tyranny of both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Following that success (which at some points seemed very improbable) the next goal was security and prosperity. In addition, they also began a preemptive movement to preserve the Free World (No longer just America) from the encroachment of Communism, in the forms of the USSR and China.
Prior to WWII, the US had been promised and denied a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. They went about fixing that. In terms of security, we built the Interstate Highway system. General Eisenhower noted that the German Army was able to roll over whatever they wanted, and the country being invaded had no way to rapidly mobilize resistance. The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways was funded by the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. That gave us all someplace to drive all those shiny new cars. Most of us “lesser” generations had no idea those freeways are part of the homeland defense plan.
The Boomers didn’t really have that specific fear of tyranny; it was history, although it was still close. They didn’t need to build roads; they were already there. We did not understand the Cold War because we did not actually experience tyranny up close and personal. My father was a bomber pilot in WWII , and didn’t speak much of it until much later in his life. By then I had also worked for a Navy Seabee who drove the bulldozer to the top of the hill on Iwo Jima, with the Marines behind him, using the bulldozer as a shield. Later still, I met and talked with a survivor of the Bataan Death March. The worst I got was nearly freezing to death in an Arctic Survival exercise. It dropped to -51°F that night; they were supposed to postpone if the weather were to drop below -20ºF. Oopsie.
They had some very clear ideas about national security. What I got out of it was that I wasn’t risking my life in a freaking Army Issue Mummy Bag ever again.
Then, of course, us Boomers grew up — truthfully, I don’t think a lot of us did — and had our own kids, who would not be denied all of the things our totalitarian parents denied us. Of course, our Gen-X offspring hated us for that.
Anyway, the Greatest Generation as a society had one mission after another thrust upon them by global events. There was a strong unity (not 100%, but very strong) in the accomplishment of each mission. In the subheading “Cooperation” in Chapter 14 of The Physics of Success, I discuss the mathematics behind two or more people with a common vision. I believe The Greatest Generation accomplished so much in so little time as a direct result of that kind of cooperation on a massive scale.
No generation since then has had such common goals and clear understanding of why they were necessary to achieve. They weren’t really any greater, they simply had the same goals.