VE Day, 2005 (Fraggin' the Boomers Edition)

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As George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, and other world leaders mark the 60th anniversary of the Allies' victory over Nazi Germany, it's worth asking how the memory of World War 2 is being reconfigured in contemporary America, what current purposes it is being used for, and how it is being co-opted by successive generations–especially the baby boomers, who explicitly set themselves against "the greatest generation" back during the '60s, memorably described by the late great Spiro Agnew as the "longest panty raid in history."

Here are two Reason-related golden oldies on the topic. First is "Virtual Warriors: Nostalgia, the battlefield, and boomer cinema," a January 2002 essay written by Michael Valdez Moses, which argues

The real (though invisible) antagonist of recent WW II films is not so much the German fascist or the Japanese imperialist as the specter of John Wayne, the larger-than-life self-image of "the greatest generation." Just as the epic deeds of Achilles in Homer's Iliad inflamed the envy and hubris of Alexander the Great, so too have the cinematic images of the Duke's heroic feats fed the jealousy and stoked the historical ambitions of the boomers.

The second is a Suck piece I wrote back in 1998, which also tried to grok the boomers' newfound admiration for their once-reviled elders and new calls for "national sacrifice" from young people:

The sudden reverence for the elderly, as with all things related to the boomers, seems overly self-interested and sanctimonious. Things were fishy enough when the same folks who exclaimed, "Don't trust anyone over 30" in the '60s only a few years later offered up Logan's Run, with its revisionist message that even actor Michael York should be allowed to live into a fourth decade. Can anyone seriously doubt that–given the boomers' penchant for sucking up all the shrimp and steak in the buffet line of life–they are setting up the rest of us not merely to fork over ever more generous portions of our wages to fund their Social Security and Medicare (hey, why shouldn't face lifts and Viagra prescriptions be covered?) but to deny us any last crumb of joy that comes simply from being younger than them?

Moses' piece is here and mine is here.

NEXT: The Whopper Tax

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  1. When the Boomers got their first cars, the government built the interstates.

    I’m an older Boomer. I was nine years old when the Interstate Highway act of 1956 was passed. It would have taken a massive act of voter fraud for me and my contemporaries to have voted for it.

    “The greatest generation” were the beneficiaries of the greatest wealth transfer in history. The benefits they voted for themselves from the New Deal thru the 1970s (a period time when Boomers were either not born or couldn’t vote) have resulted in a mountain of debt which will be burdening every future generation and will continue to grow if only though the miracle of compound interest.

    I hate defending the Boomers, who are possibly the most self-absorbed, self-obsessed generation ever, but for the most part the ills you claim for them are the fault of their parents. It’s reasonable to be faulting us for perpetuating the fucked up system our parents created, but we didn’t create it. You really need to get your history straight.

    Every complaint you make is legitimate but none of them except your third paragraph is in any way the fault of the Boomers.

  2. I’m too old to be a boomer; too young to be a member of the “greatest generation,” so maybe I’m impartial?
    The lesson of all this remembering of war dead is that we need to be doing a much better job of avoiding wars.
    Or Dubya Bush needs to not forget the war dead he’s producing every day.

  3. The sudden reverence for the elderly, as with all things related to the boomers, seems overly self-interested and sanctimonious.

    Well, you see what you expect to see, eh? Ho-hum.

    I think it more satisfies Occum’s Razor to simply attribute the boomers’ change of heart towards their elders to an age-old phenomenon: they grew up.

    Maybe someday the boomer bashers will likewise get over their own overwrought antagonism (born of jealousy?) and revert to the more rational stance that the boomers were no better nor worse than any other large group of people.

  4. “given the boomers’ penchant for sucking up all the shrimp and steak in the buffet line of life”

    This is perfect imagery. I imagine myself being near the end of a very long line, and see all the greedy fucks loading up their plates, and the attendants very barely keeping the steam trays full.

    And the funny thing is, once we get up to the front and find nothing left, the previous gluttons, along with the kitchen staff, are well-fed and long gone.

  5. It was tough growing up listening to “you damn kids have it so easy, what you need is a depression and a war then you’d get some character.”

    The greatest generation rocket scientists never wondered who the fucking fuck it was doing the spoiling or if any of them had any real character.

    But then we knew they really loved us when they gave us our own war.

  6. First, let’s remember that generalizations about groups of people are usually silly. That said, let the bashing begin!

    The boomer’s failings are best summed up in their views on drugs. The same people who venerated Timothy Leary now shriek for ever more stringent prohibition. The generation that rebelled against social controls and conformity is now in the process of creating a nanny-state.

    It’s not that they grew up, it’s that they sold out.

  7. It’s not that they grew up, it’s that they sold out.

    Same difference. Only one is analysis, the other is whining.

  8. I’m afraid I don’t follow, Fyodor.

  9. They also ruined the housing market with their speculative bubble in the 80s. 100k for a frigging apartment?

    Don’t forget the Savings and Loan bailout!

    Also, for the rest of my life until the last of the despicable breed is entowmbed where they belong I get to hear about Viet Nam, and how cool everything then was. Thanks for destroying all belief in public govenment but not replacing it with csomething worthwhile.

    Oh yeah, thanks for AIDs as well, you bunch of coke snorting, gold spoon in the chest hair, kooky-hippy bastids!

    Best thing about the boomers is the excitment now that they’re starting to go, such as with that Sontag chick.

  10. “They partied in their youth, but now they push for tougher and tougher laws to punish people who do the same things they used to do. When they were young it was free love- today, they put 15-year old girls on THE LIST for possessing naked photographs of themselves! WHen they were young they’d toke up and talk about how it was consciousness expanding – today they write hypocritical letters to the editor about how pot today is so much worse than it was cause kids get high and pull drive-bys and they all ought to be locked up in jail, not like them”

    I think what happened was when the boomers finally discovered that when they had to make their own way in life, society and the rules were still being written and dictated by their people from their parents generation. People weren’t croaking in their 40-50s like they had in the 19th century. They were living longer and were not about to let old-age wrest the power they had from them.

    In the end, the boomers had to throw out their tie-dye shirts and bell-bottoms and buy Brooks Brothers suits. To get the promotions and the high pay, they had to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk. After all, that rhetoric about “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll” just won’t fly when your 60-70 year-old boss was around. To keep up appearances, they started dragging themselves into church, and parroted back the litany in front of their neighbors and co-workers.

    As the old saying goes, tell yourself a lie long enough and you’ll begin to believe it. In the end, they found that the prosperity they had earned must be the result of their “clean living.” How wants to live in a filthy loft, smoking dope, and not bathing for days when you can live on Manhattan’s West Side or some high-end suburb? Of course, they want what is best for their kids, so they go to huge lengths to prevent their children from going down the dark path of pot, premarital sex, and Andy Warhol.

    There are times I think that the bad guys in Logan’s Run had a point: Better to die young and be able to infuse fresh ideas into society than to eventually become some geriatric fascist spewing bullshit about “morality” and “values,” grinding the world to a halt.

  11. Most of the complaints about boomers are accurate. So were the complaints of boomers about the generation previous to them and so on back to the beginning of time.

    Every new generation inherits and must deal with the BS generated by previous generations. My parents constantly whine about how they had to scrape and scrounge, yet I find myself wondering how that could possibly be considering that the gov’t AND my grandparents both subsidized them heavily.

  12. Number 6,

    Corporation X raised their prices because a change in market conditions allowed them to is analysis. Corporation X raised their prices because they’re greedy bastards who worship profit is whining. Both are true, in a sense. But one tells you something useful while the other doesn’t and is merely sophomoric venting. And the latter ignores the fact that the whiner would likely do the same thing were he to wear the same shoes. Same thing with boomer bashing.

    And to those who justify boomer bashing because it’s fun, you’re just being boring tards yourselves. Maybe you’ll have a little more fun when you move onto the next joke.

  13. fyodor must be a boomer.

  14. Oh, and for all you others defending the boomers, remember: they made The Big Chill. I rest my case.

  15. Fyodor-What rational analysis was it, exactly, that caaused the flip-flop on the drug war, personal freedom, or any of the other things the boomers rejected as they got older? What rational analysis moves from “Do your own thing” to “Obey me”?

  16. Number 6,

    First of all, growing up changes everyone. I bet most every generation has more libertine sentiments when they’re young enough to enjoy them than when they’re old enough to worry about their kids enjoying them. That’s why it’s analysis to say the change results from growing older and mere whining to say they sold out.

    Second of all, you’re making gross generalizations here. Was every boomer against the war on drugs in the sixties? Of course not. Is every boomer in favor of the war on drugs now? Of course not. You prefaced your own remarks by saying it’s all silly, but I don’t think you appreciate your own caveat. Are boomers really no more in favor of lowering penalties on marijuana possession than people who are older? I think there’s a good chance that they are. As far as “obey me” goes, to the extent that the boomer ever really was more “liberal” than other generations (which might just be a myth, anyway), as we all know, modern liberalism includes a heavy dose of “obey me” which goes for younger and older liberals, not just boomers. So sure, go ahead and blame liberals for selectively endorsing liberty, but blaming boomers for the faults of modern liberalism is plain dumb because it only tangientially has anything to do with them.

    But then, as you can see, explaining all this requires a nuanced look at the whole situation. I guess just saying “I hate boomers” feels a lot better. Stupidity is fun. Ignore me, be happy.

    Todd Fletcher,

    Ha-ha! I was wondering when someone would call me on that!

    Full disclosure: I’m 47, was born in late 1957. So, technically, yes, I’m a boomer. In fact, I once heard that 1957 was the peak year of the baby boom in terms of number of kids born. But then, I think boomer bashers are primarily thinking of folks a little older than me, so I don’t really take it personally. In fact, I once read someone trying to give those born in the latter half of the baby boom (which would include me) a different generational name because we had different experiences. And it’s true that the Viet Nam War was over by the time I got to draft age. I was 11 most of 1969, so I mostly missed the sixties. So maybe I’m biased and maybe I’m not. And maybe y’all have your own biases. I just think boomer bashing is dumb. And so I’m saying so. Phhhhtht!!

  17. It’s not so much a matter of “boomer bashing” as it is “disappointment in boomers.” The social movements of the 60s were, for the most part, a pretty good idea. Something had to be done to challenge the social stagnation that was enforced by the earlier generations, not to mention a certain pointless war in SE Asia. Granted, I think the counter-culture could have done without the New Age babble and psychedelic Marxism it preached; I don’t see a contradiction between fee markets and civil rights, free love, and opposing Vietnam.

    However, the Boomers dropped the ball, ran away from their revolution when they found out they couldn’t survive as a folk singer on an organic farming collective, and are now doing everything in their power to be just as reactionary as the adults they mailigned in their youth. Now as the Boomers rally around Dubbya and the theo/neo-cons, the gains they made in the 60s and 70s are being lost in the name of the “War On Drugs” and “family values.”

  18. Are boomers really no more in favor of lowering penalties on marijuana possession than people who are older? I think there’s a good chance that they are.

    Allow to explain that what I meant to say was that I’m guessing, in lieu of knowing any poll results one way or another, that boomers are likely in favor of lower penalties for marijuana possession than their elders. No one here ever seems to cite any polls to the contrary, anyway. And I doubt the majority of them were ever for complete across the board legalization, even in their youth.

  19. It’s not so much a matter of “boomer bashing” as it is “disappointment in boomers.”

    Let the backtracking begin!! 🙂

    Well perhaps that’s how you feel, Akira, and I can understand that. But many here take a much harsher stance, to put it mildly. And to return what prompted this whole conversation, it was the original blog posting that I was originally responding to. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to attribute changing attitudes towards one’s parents’ generation (setting aside that the hoopla about not trusting anyone over 30 was probably never seriously believed by the entire generation to begin with) to simply growing older which cools one’s youthful rebelliousness, enables greater perspective and increases one’s empathy towards one’s parents because you’re parents yourselves? But no, Gillespie sees this (apparent) change as being due to the same generation-wide faults he attributed their dissing their elders to in the first place. One suspects that whatever the boomers are seen as doing (and after all, they’re a bunch of indiviudals all doing different things), Gillespie will always attribute it to their supposed self-absorption. Perhaps the skewed perspective is his rather than theirs.

  20. Boomers may be fucked up, but I don’t know that it’s all their fault. How much sanity can you expect from a generation who, in their formative years, were told by authority figures that if they covered their heads with their arms and hid under a flammable desk then they could survive a nuclear war? This rapidly aging member of Generation X almost feels sorry for them.

  21. I’m not sure how growing up equates to giving up the fight against unjust aspects of the system, or how wearing a suit and tie means that one must uncritically accept the values of those for whom an individual work. Sounds like a cop-out to me.

    And yes, Fyodor, I’m making generalizations, and therefore my argument is weak. I would point out, however, that the boomers have been running things for a while now, and freedom continues to be eroded. If anything, it’s happening more rapidly these days.

  22. I’m not sure how growing up equates to giving up the fight against unjust aspects of the system

    Growing up equates to having other things to do with your time than attend rallies. Like making a living and raising one’s family. Changing priorities as one grows older is hardly limited to the boomers.

    And yes, Fyodor, I’m making generalizations, and therefore my argument is weak.

    At least you admit it! 🙂 But then why do you keep doing it? Such as with:

    the boomers have been running things for a while now, and freedom continues to be eroded.

    You speak as if the boomers were the ruling party in a one party system or something. It’s obviously not as simple as that! As far as the eroding of liberties, as I alluded to before but maybe not as succinctly as I will now, very few of the boomers were ever libertarians to begin with! Sure, they liked to spew about freedom, but again, for most of them they were simply reflecting the contradictions of all of state liberalism. Combined with the eagerness to do stuff they elders told them not to as all youngsters like to do and then reverse themselves when they get older.

    This is getting tiresome…

  23. I usually can’t stand Andy Rooney, but I like his attitude towards the “glamorization” of WWII. He has no use for Brokaw & Co.’s hagiographies of “The Greatest Generation” and is quick to point out that most of the men and women who served in the war weren’t heros, just average people caught up in events far larger than themselves.

    It’s true that the Depression/WWII generation voted for the New Deal, Social Security and a bevy of entitlement programs, but consider the world they grew up in – 20% unemployment for years on end, no social safety net other than private charities, and “one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” That might color your views a bit.

    The Greatest Generation became materialistic as hell, because they had painful first-hand knowledge of what it was like to lack material goods. The boomers rebelled against their materialistic parents, who promptly accused them of ingratitude and worse. The boomers then grew older, began to have children and realized that materialism had its attractions. My guess is that a lot of Generation Xers in turn will find out that they have more in common with their boomer parents than they’re willing to admit.

  24. Fyodor- I’ll leave the boomer arugment aside. As you say, it’s getting tiresome, and I’m only half-serious about it, since I realize that generalizing about groups says nothing about individuals.

    I do want to make one thing clear, however: I’m not talking about attending rallies. I’m talking about uncritical acceptance of the status quo. To put it in boomer terms, I’m talking about becoming part of the establishment.

  25. Mark B,

    Good post!

    Number 6,

    With all due respect, I fail to see how your latest post takes us in any less of a tiresome direction. Seems like you’re repeating yourself with different terminology, and I would have to do the same to respond.

  26. How many more years do we have to kiss the WW2 veterans’ butts?

  27. Fyodor,

    I think you’re dead on correct. The boomers version of freedom was no different than any group’s version of freedom. They wanted freedom to do a few things they wanted at the time and it ended there. So, I don’t see how this is unique to the boomers at all. It seems to me that every generation has their version of freedom with differing priorities. I don’t remember the tune-in drop-out crowd being heart-broken over Nixon’s pricing policies.

  28. Having been born in 1944 I don’t consider myself a boomer and have always had a dislike for them so what should I call myself?

  29. How many more years do we have to kiss the WW2 veterans’ butts?

    Comment by: Vache Folle at May 9, 2005 01:33 PM

    When did you ever start, Frenchman! 😉

  30. I simply must agree. I too, hate the boomers. May they all die soon and save us Xers much money.

  31. and revert to the more rational stance that the boomers were no better nor worse than any other large group of people.

    That, my friend, is the most sobering thing I’ve read in a very long time.

  32. My father was a gunner’s mate on the Ticonderoga during the war in the Pacific. His feelings on the war have always been a mixed bag: while, if pressed, he will say he’s proud he served, he also seems a little embarassed about all the attention given “The Greatest Generation.”
    From what I’ve seen, the guys who actually went through it want nothing so much as to get on with their lives. My father for one has no use for people who talk of the glory of war; “I’ve seen it firsthand,” he said. “People die – nothing glorious about it.” And he and his buddies from the war years are, to say the least, suspicious of the neocons and their military adventurism. Not peaceniks by any means, but certainly skeptical of the Bushites and their gung-ho attitudes.

  33. Jim-I’ve noticed the same thing when talking to WW2 vets. Few seem enthused about the Iraq war.

  34. I’m not sure why it’s taken for granted that Boomers can control everything. At any given time there are several generations that are of voting age. Surely the other generations could gang up and form their own larger anti-boomer constituency or some such thing. I envision something like an Anti-AARP.

  35. Billb:

    How does someone who was 18 years-old in 1962 NOT qualify as a boomer? Sure, you were born in the second year of the Boom, and it is possible that you acculturated to the preceding Silent Generation/Depression Babies/War Babies group. But those born from 1942-1960 (some would stretch that to 1964) are boomers. I’m a late boomer myself (b. 1956). On the one hand, I soaked up some of the 60s frenzy of my older siblings. On the other hand, I was on the other side of the Great Divide of the VietNam war years – by the time we hit 18 Nixon had suspended The Draft. Late Boomers and “Atari Wave” 13ers/Xers have a lot in common, especially if, like me, you identified more with punks than with freaks, and not much at all with Kennedy, Goldwater or Nixon. For those of us who could first cast a vote no earlier than 1976, it was Watergate that was burned into our brains, leaving the meme “all pols are crooked bastids.” I expect that my exploration of libertarianism was a response to the corruption inherent in any system that allows the government to get too powerful.

    You can only generalize about the cultural and political attitudes of groups of folks. Generational theories can’t help you predict the opinions of any one member. There are always going to be outliers and contrarians.

    As for kissing WWII vets’ butts, I only wish my late, veteran Dad was still around to kiss, on whatever part of his anatomy.

    Kevin

  36. dead elvis,

    I’m not sure why it’s taken for granted that Boomers can control everything.

    It feels banal to say it, but it’s obvioulsy a case of the convenient scapegoat. Thanks for bringing that up!

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