Talkin' 'bout My Generation

The Greatest Generation is just one of many generations that scholars have identified. The following is a list of 20th-century generations proposed by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book, "Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584-2069."

  • G.I. (The Greatest Generation) -- 1901-1924
  • Silent -- 1925-1942
  • Boom (Baby Boomers) -- 1943-1960
  • Thirteenth (Generation X) -- 1961-1981
  • Millennial (Generation Y) -- 1982-2004

[source: LifeCourse]

Characteristics of the Greatest Generation

In "The Greatest Generation," Tom Brokaw argues that the World War II generation's perseverance through difficult times is a testament to their extraordinary character. Their remarkable actions, during times of war and peace, ultimately made the United States a better place in which to live. Born and raised in a tumultuous era marked by war and economic depression, Brokaw asserts, these men and women developed values of "personal responsibility, duty, honor and faith." These characteristics helped them to defeat Hitler, build the American economy, make advances in science and implement visionary programs like Medicare. According to Brokaw, "[a]t every stage of their lives they were part of historic challenges and achievements of a magnitude the world had never before witnessed."

Brokaw credits the Greatest Generation with much of the freedom and affluence that Americans enjoy today. "They have given the succeeding generations the opportunity to accumulate great economic wealth, political muscle, and the freedom from foreign oppression to make whatever choices they like," he writes. Despite these achievements, however, Brokaw believes that the Greatest Generation remains remarkably humble about what they've done. He concludes, "[i]t is a generation that, by and large, made no demands of homage from those who followed and prospered economically, politically, and culturally because of its sacrifices."

In an effort to personify these lofty accomplishments, Brokaw profiles a few dozen members of the Greatest Generation, including some who gained significant notoriety in the years following World War II. Andy Rooney, best known for his segment on television's "60 Minutes," was a young sergeant reporting for the Army's newspaper, Stars and Stripes, during the war. Another notable member of this generation was Julia Child, an American chef who spent the war years working for the Office of Strategic Services (a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency). Several prominent politicians also served in World War II. George Bush, the 41st president of the United States, was a Navy Air Corps pilot who survived after being shot down during a bombing run on a Japanese target. Another was 1996 presidential candidate Bob Dole, an Army lieutenant who was gravely wounded as he led a charge against a fortified German position.

Brokaw is passionate in his favorable assessment of such people and the ideals they represent. Click over to the next page to learn what moved him to write about this generation and how others criticize his nostalgic viewpoint.