Editor's note. As may be apparent from Mr. Neff's opening, this 1999 piece originated as a comment on another article. It was one of my very early "Strakon Lights Up" columns, which is no longer on the site. I may eventually restore it and link to it from this article, but it is more discursive and less pointed than this essay by Mr. Neff. Nicholas Strakon, Memorial Day weekend, 2008
What was the "greatest generation"?
By RONALD N. NEFF
You bet I have an observation or two about the greatest generation. But before I begin, I want to stipulate that many of us owe a great deal to individual members of that "greatest generation" they raised us, or paid for music lessons, or sent us to college; they taught us right from wrong and they taught us how to read; they were our parents, our benefactors, our teachers. Many of us owe them a debt of gratitude that we can never repay.
And of course, when one speaks of an entire generation, one must especially in an age of such collectivism as our own acknowledge that there were many who were exceptions to the generalizations, both for good and for evil. And that to speak of "the greatest generation" is to merely make use of a convenient shorthand.
That said, our gratitude should not blind us to the facts about that "greatest generation."
They sold out what remained of their liberty to Franklin Roosevelt. One might forgive the 1932 vote, but once Roosevelt showed what he was made of, and even though his disdain for liberty and reason were manifest, they voted for him again. And again, and again. He told them they had a right to money earned by others, and they endorsed his lie by reelecting him. He told them their well-being depended on enslaving whole sectors of the economy, of society, and they endorsed his lie by weeping when the tyrant died plotting more and greater evil against them and their children. This is not to say that his adversaries were tribunes of liberty, but it is to say that men who would drain liberty from a people's blood must be punished at the very minuscule least they must not be rewarded with term after term in office, with accolades, with memorials, with profiles on the coins of free men.
They sold out what remained of the liberty of Europe, when they turned it over to Stalin at the end of their "good war." Stalin's crimes have been recounted often enough, but let us not forget that a vigorous Communist state also made possible the advancement of communism and totalitarianism in the political contingencies and eventualities of states it did not rule, including those of the West. And I am not referring to conspiratorial infiltration, though that took place in some cases too. Rather I am referring to the intellectual milieu that must of necessity follow an alliance with tyranny: since communism was the victor in the War Against the Singular Evil of History, it couldn't be so bad after all. At the end of the war, only fascism at least in rhetoric was discredited, not communism, though it should have been.
Then they sold out the little bit that remained of liberty in the rest of the world by creating the United Nations and the World Bank. They even paid for them and heaped scorn on those who later opposed them.
And when they were no longer in danger, they never looked back to reconsider what they had done. They continue, unto this day, to justify mass bombings their own fathers would have recoiled from because in the absence of those bombings their own skins would have been jeopardized. It never occurs to them to ask what sort of leaders they supported and obeyed, who would allow that the only set of choices for them was a mass grave for Japs or a mass grave for American soldiers.
They continued long after the anxiety and hardship of the Depression were past to extort handouts from their neighbors, from their countrymen, from their own children. They have made no effort to recover their lost honor by spitting on their Social Security checks. Rather, like some lynch mob, they threaten anyone who even suggests that maybe participation in that program should be voluntary.
In exchange for discounts in restaurants and motels, they are glad to support lobbies that stand as guardians of their continued servility to the welfare-warfare-regulatory state.
And when they had the opportunity, in 1964, to vote for a man who might have made some small difference to the political culture, they joined the mass of their juniors and voted for a crook, the likes of which had not been seen in the White House for many years, a man who gave them more, yea ever more, handouts and precipitated the collapse of the health-care industry in this country while they cheered him on, so that now all they can do is whine that they need more handouts again, from their neighbors, from their countrymen, from their own children and grandchildren.
The greatest generation? They made the world a haven for tyrants and tyranny.
But the saddest thing of all about "the greatest generation" is that not one of their number has risen to reject the accolade.
When Americans really believed that theirs was a free country, and when they really tried to believe the things they said they believed about individual liberty and government, what was their idea of the greatest generation?
Wasn't it the generation that wrote the Declaration of Independence, that fought a revolution against the greatest empire in the world, that wrote first the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution? Flawed though those attempts were for the defense of liberty, are we really supposed to believe that a generation that can't give up its Social Security is a greater generation than that one? Are we really supposed to believe that the generation that elected Franklin Roosevelt and later Lyndon Johnson was greater than the generation that elected George Washington?
Answer: Of course we are. And most of us do. Such is the extent of the corruption of liberty and reason in this country.
October 23, 1999:
slightly revised, May 25, 2008
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