REQUIEM FOR A VANISHED GENERATION
By Lee Levin
Recently I read an article titled ‘Whatever happened to humility?’ (Roland Kidder, Observer, October 8, 2020) It was excellent, and it got me thinking other words that have also disappeared. Words that once had real meaning. Honor. Respect. Duty. Civility. Chastity. Courtesy. Sportsmanship.
Manners. Integrity. There are many other words that now are relics, consigned to the obscurity of dictionaries.
I am in my nineties, way past my life expectancy expiration date, one of the few remaining of what Tom Brokaw called the Greatest Generation. And I can no longer recognize my country.
We were Great Depression kids. We know what real hardship is. And I mean real hardship. We know what real poverty is. We know what despair looks like. We know what it is to try to exist with no job, no food stamps, no Medicaid, no Section 8 housing. We did not burn down buildings. We did not loot stores. We went to schools. Safe schools. Those of us lucky enough not to have to work graduated high school, but few were lucky enough to go to college, and if we did, we worked our way through. Then we went to war. We loved America passionately, and still do, spilling oceans of blood defeating the horror of Nazism and the expansionist drive of the Japanese Empire. We came home, but some of us were called back to war, to Korea, to halt the spread of communism. And then we returned home once again, to build the mightiest, most affluent nation the world has ever seen. We desegregated schools. We passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Then we grew old, and turned the country over to the next generation. What a catastrophe!
I can remember when women never swore. Never. I can remember when men never swore in the presence of women. I remember when schools were safe, and teachers respected. I remember when you could go to movies and not be inundated by gratuitous, unending obscenities, graphic violence, pornography, and gross bathroom scenes. I remember when ladies—yes, there were ladies in that era—would dress up and wear gloves before going downtown to shop. There were gentlemen, too, for that matter. I remember when girls were smart enough to demand the security of marriage before before giving their bodies away, and then having to face raising their children alone, dooming themselves to a lifetime of poverty. I can remember when drug addiction was a rarity. I remember when a handshake was more binding than any written contract. I can remember when police were respected.
What went wrong? Well, we did. We vowed that our children should never have to go through what we did, so we over-pampered them. All of the good things we had worked all our lives to provide for them were simply taken for granted. Our high standards of personal conduct were sneered at. Was my generation perfect? Did we cure all the world’s ills? Hardly. But in order to make whatever improvements remained, was it necessary to destroy our highly civilized ethos, replacing it with the crudity, sloth, violence, and disrespect that mars America today?
In a very few years the last of our Greatest Generation will be gone. Born in the depths of poverty, we left as our legacy the finest nation the world has ever seen. One can only weep at what has become of it.
Overland Park, Ks
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I have a Master’s Degree in history from the University of Missouri, have been a lecturer on history for nine different major cruise lines, have been an insurance broker on a first name basis with CEO’s of some of the largest insurance companies in America and have dined with them in their executive dining rooms. In retirement I have authored five historical novels and have been published by St. Martin’s Press, NY and republished by Ullstein GmbH, Berlin, Germany.
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