Monday, March 14, 2005

Black mark for the "Greatest Generation" 

I will confess that I am more than a little tired of the recent public adulation of the "Greatest Generation," the American cohort born roughly between 1905 and 1925. I know, I know, they fought and won World War II, built the greatest economy in the world, and ushered in the civil rights era. All important stuff for which we should be greatful. But their successful application of federal power in a time of crisis also made them the most statist generation in American history, saddling their successors with the "legacy debt" of Social Security and forever opposing any reform that might stand in their way of sucking up every last bit of any federal entitlement that ever issued from the mouth of FDR.

And if you wanted to be churlish, you would observe that it was the Russians who won the war in Europe, suffering 60 dead for each American KIA, and that building the most powerful economy in the world was no mean trick when everybody else was either bombed, Communist, or both, and that the real credit for the civil rights movement belongs to the blacks who finally said "enough," and the "Greatest's" younger brothers and sisters -- the "Silent Generation" that came of age just after World War II, the only generation in American history never to give us a President -- who demanded change.

Yes, the Greatest Generation did a lot of great stuff, but there is no getting around the fact that it has also benefited from some excellent press coverage. Every time somebody writes a hagiography of the generation's accomplishments in World War II, for example, you can't help but feel that its successors are damned by implication. Vietnam veterans must certainly feel this way, but what does this generation worship say to the kids today who are fighting for freedom overseas? Every time I hear Tom Brokaw lick the boots of this generation on "Imus," I can't take it and actually switch to CBS.

So now that you know that I'm burned out on the fawning over the most statist Americans in history, I now confess that I read this story with at least a bit of schadenfreude.
Lifting the veil on one of the least advertised and least edifying scandals of the Second World War, the US government has settled a complaint that American army officers requisitioned an entire train loaded with valuables seized by the Nazis from Jewish families in Hungary and then kept much of the contents for themselves....

According to the complaint filed in the lawsuit, US army officers not only failed to secure the goods, most of which went into a warehouse in Salzburg, Austria, but turned a blind eye when US soldiers made off with many of the items. It was also alleged that the US government auctioned off remaining treasures in New York in 1947 to help cover some of the refugee costs at the end of the war.

The legal filings in the case offered startling snapshots of what transpired and of the shamelessness of some of the looting. It described, for instance, one US general making a virtual shopping list of valuables he wanted to take back home to America.

The unidentified general, the complaint said, asked for "chinaware and fine silverware sufficient for 45 people; water, highball, cocktail, champagne and liquor glasses sufficient for 90 people; 30 sets of table linens; and 60 sets of bedding". His request noted that "the general desires that all of the above listed items be of the very best quality and workmanship".

This story was barely reported in the American press, which bleated endlessly about the contemporary American "failure" to prevent looting in Iraq. Why are we protecting the identity of this general and the soldiers who stole these things? Certainly if an American general today were guilty of such a revolting crime we would splash his name across the front page and parade him on the evening news. There can be only one explanation: he fought in World War II, and is therefore untouchable. The Greatest Generation is not even permitted to have feet of clay.


By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Mon Mar 14, 08:26:00 AM:

It just goes to show you that in the history books, only results count. The details of the mistakes of the period disappear into footnotes and eventually the air.

Look, the tragedy of WWII is so immense; the mistakes made which landed us there so spectacular, second guessing is not so hard. Of course there were blunders. So too were there awful blunders and atrocities and mismanagement in the Civil War, The Spanish American War and WWI. Yet each of the leaders of that epoch are ultimately memorialized principally thru rose colored glasses. Reagan won't be remembered for Iran Contra - he'll be remembered for the fall of the Berlin War and victory in the Cold War. Similarly, Bush will ultimately be remembered for the power of his response to 9/11, the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq -- perhaps the entire Middle East. More to come.

Just as we have to prevent intelligent policy from being held hostage to daily sniping from the media, so too we need to remember that there is always ugliness in war, there are always forces of opposition who don't see the intelligence of policy so clearly and all humans act badly on occasion.

The truth remains that those who willingly swam to shore at Omaha Beach or Okinawa were enormously brave and heroic. So were those at Inchon and Hanoi, Gettysburg and Antietam, Baghdad and Fallujah...the list is long...  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Mar 14, 11:00:00 AM:

I couldn't agree more.  

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?