Tuesday, January 10, 2012


"Nope, we never sold out. We bought in. But we kept the Che poster pinned up forever in our hearts right above the Pier One batik bedspread."

Gerard Vanderleun is a baby boomer. Like quite a few, he's not very impressed with his generation. When he was younger, he thought it was all quite great, all the marches and rebellion and rejection of tradition and the establishment. He describes what it was like to be part of the movement then on his site American Digest:
Our program was quite clear early on and it hasn't changed a jot since those years, it has simply gotten more pervasive and elaborate. After all, we're older now and we're in control. We can finally fund these things. With your money.

Here’s how things went in our Brave New Whirled:

  • God, if he didn't emerge from 500 mikes of pure Sandoz LSD, was just a funny old guy a little bit like Santa Claus but with less of a user base.
  • The Bill of Rights was okay as long as you could figure out someway to erase a few of the amendments involving guns and add a host of new ones involving groups.
  • The Constitution? Too long and too arcane to really read with care. It was a given so what did we care?
  • History? The only really happening history was the future, man. Ours.
  • The United States? They were really "AmeriKKKa" -- Satan incarnate.
  • The US Military? Baby killers and agents of Satan.
  • The Police? Pigs.
  • The Viet Cong, Ho Chi Minh, Chairman Mao, Fidel Castro, and a host of other evil dictators and fascists? Heroes of "The People."
  • The People? Really wonderful as long as you didn't really have to hang out with them.
  • Voting in political parties? Stupid. We were into "participatory democracy" which involved really long meetings. ( This is now known as "emergent democracy" and involves really long online discussion threads.)
  • We believed in sex and drugs and rock and roll.
  • We were determined to resist "the man" on all levels.
  • We were young.
And we were very, very stupid for college kids. Check that. We were stupid because we were college kids.
The hippies and the rallies and the protests were given glowing and supportive reviews and coverage by the media and entertainment industry because they wanted to be part of the revolution, man, and because it was young and exciting and felt like something really big to be part of. Back then, there wasn't an alternative media like blogs to report the other side of things. Back then, if some kid crapped on a cop car or there was an outbreak of dysentery nobody would report it. Today, we do, and that's why the Occupy Movement isn't working as well as the hippies did.

But all this is just introduction to the most important point in the piece. Boomers were brought up by people who had experienced almost inconceivable difficulty, deprivation, and loss. They were brought up by the depression and world war 2 generation, who had faced the greatest struggle the world had seen thus far, and won, at great personal cost. They had experienced the rationing and the terror and the sadness. They had gone through the depression, and they wanted their kids to not have to face that.

It was understandable; parents want better for their kids than they had. They want to spare their children the woes they went through. That's understandable and completely expected. The problem is, what they did was spare their children growth and a proper comprehension of the world. And the results have been pretty horrible to behold.

Rejecting traditional morality and cultural structures, the boomers tore everything down and gave us nothing to replace it with. They took away absolute standards of ethical behavior that are the mortar of a society and tried to replace them with vapid relativism. They took away the standards and traditions that make a culture cohesive and united and replaced them with pop culture and entertainment. They're trying to build a future out of Justin Bieber and "whatever."

A while back I became fascinated with Vietnam. I read books like Vietnam, Perkasie and Brennan's War that totally changed my comprehension of the war. I studied the events, the history, the culture, and even the language of the soldiers. And I began to wonder about something. For years I'd been told and had no reason to question the idea that Vietnam was so horrible no one could ever understand the pain and difficulty. That the war was the worst ever, that it was a meat grinder that destroyed sanity.

But the more I studied the more I came to realize that the war wasn't significantly worse than any previous war in terms of its cost to the soldiers. In fact, it was significantly less lethal than World War 2 had been. The Korean War had been ghastly, and all of the 20th century conflicts pale in comparison to the absolute horror that World War I had been.

Go try to talk to a WW2 vet about his experiences. Chances are he just won't talk about them. Korea was the same way. If there had been any WWI or Civil War vets around, they'd be even more tight lipped. War is hell, sheer hell, and people who experience it see, and live, and do things they couldn't believe were humanly possible. And they have a very hard time talking about it. All of them. The hardship of the men in Bastogne was no less than those at Khe Sahn, and from what I have studied was significantly worse.

Yet the Vietnam Vets were the ones who complained the most, cried the most, were said to be the worst affected. What was the difference? The generation that fought it. This was the generation that didn't understand life, and for the first time began to doubt patriotism, mock tradition, attack the very fabric of American society, and focus only on the bad. Here's how one commenter explains it:
Gerard, you just said everything I ever wanted to say to my own elder siblings, who were born in the 1948-52 time period. I'm a late 1955 baby myself. I was a chid prodigy when it came to things like history and military history, which means I never bought into the boomer spiel about Vietnam and how awful our fathers, who had to contend with a war ten times as lethal as Vietnam, were.

Of course, that is where it all started. Boomers, who were the first generation in history to be spared the terrors of seeing brothers and sisters and friends dying in large numbers due to childhood diseases were finally subjected to a true trial of life, and half the generation panicked. And when they carried on about it in front of their own parents they were met with a stone wall of indifference and even hostility -- and were told to STFU and go do their duty for God and country or be labeled a coward.

And so to resolve this horrible Hobbesian dilemma, a lot of these boomers simply trashed God and country and Mom And Dad and heroism and manliness and every other value that would compel them to either go to war or feel bad about themselves.

And for me, it's just about as simple as that. That is the wellspring for everything you're writing about
It isn't that Vietnam wasn't awful, it was, it was almost incomprehensibly horrible to face, especially for those young men to face what they did and experienced and saw. Its that every war is almost incomprehensibly horrible, but they're the ones who act like it was worse than ever. I have total sympathy for the people who experienced that hell, and I pray I'll never have to. I honor their work and their sacrifice, and I will always support and respect a veteran of that ghastly war.

I am simply pointing out that their reaction was so different not because of the nature of the war, but because of the nature of the warriors. Boomers were the first sheltered generation, the first generation to be protected from the hardships of life. Their parents were rich enough, in a country safe and comfortable enough, with strong motivation to try hard enough to actually protect their kids.

Most of the terrors of previous generations were gone. Most of the pains and difficulties of childhood were erased. Death became something that was shuttled off to a special building with soft music and gentle voices rather than something you saw first hand, for the first time in human history. And when these people were called upon to fight, they were not just soft, but unprepared for difficulty at a very profound and basic level.

Not everyone who went to war was like that. Many had come from very poor, rural places and had very common, personal experience with death, deprivation, and hardship. You don't ever hear from those guys. They faced it like their fathers and previous generations, with the steely determination to get home and stop the other guy from killing them. They fought hard as diamonds and stood up to the pressures and pains and walked through the other side strong and better for it.

The ones we hear from, though. Those are the people who were largely from cities, largely protected by well-meaning parents. Those are the folks who are in the news, at the forefront. They're the ones who cracked when reality wouldn't fit what they insisted it be. And they did it because they were the first really self-indulgent, personally-focused generation of spoiled children who rejected everything that gave them the lives they enjoyed and everything that made it possible to continue.

Its true that every generation thinks it has it all figured out, begins to question and reject the previous generation, and insists the older people are fools. There are exceptions among the generation, but the whole tends to be that way. What was different for the Boomers were these forces, as I see it:
  1. Previous generations had hardship and pain that forced them to grow up and recognize the real world.
  2. The "Greatest Generation" raised their kids in a way to shelter them from these growing up points
  3. Boomers rejected everything that created understanding and continuity between generations because their parents were ill-equipped to teach and carry these traditions on
  4. Gramsci's long march through the institutions finally started to take hold
  5. The McCarthy era totally discredited any attempt to stop marxism and leftist ideology
In other words, their parents have to take some , if not a great deal of the blame. Had they been better at teaching and understanding what was right and how to pass it on, the Boomers would have been less inclined to totally reject the past and what was right. Which in turn indicts the generation that raised the "greatest" generation. Because this failure passes through generations, each one failing the next. And it will take generations to rebuild and repair this damage, if ever.

The Boomers weren't uniformly horrible. They did accomplish some great things, and there always were exceptions. The problem is the damage they did is catastrophic and will endure long after they are dust. And the generations they raised are even worse.


Eric said...

We were at my grandparents on Christmas Eve, and I always try to get my grandfather talking about his childhood (late 30's, early 40's). I'm amazed at how he always tells new stories. Most old people I know have 5 or 10 stories that they repeat endlessly, but my grandfather seems to have an unlimited number of fascinating memories of his lifetime.

Anyway, he started talking about "Hog Killin' Day", which was the day every few months when they'd cull out two or three of their pigs, kill them, butcher them, and salt-cure the meat. He went into a lot of detail about how they'd do it, what a huge and laborious undertaking it was, and how lucky he and his brothers considered all those kids who lived "in town" and could go to the butcher to get their meat.

My mom had apparently never heard this story before, and she was just mortified by the picture he painted of himself and his brothers covered in blood and guts. When he was finished telling the story, she said, "I wish you'd never have told me that one." And I'm pretty sure she meant that.

And it occurred to me as I sat there listening, that THIS is the big disconnect between the Baby Boomers and their parents. They were never exposed to the harsh and disgusting realities of life, which is an understandable thing if it can be avoided, but what's worse is they were never even made aware of them. So they learned at a very young age to pretend like they don't exist. And that mindset has been slowly destroying our nation ever since.

Texas Shooter said...

Awesome post, Christopher !!

Philip said...

Go try to talk to a WW2 vet about his experiences. Chances are he just won't talk about them.

Unless you've been 'there' yourself.