Tags: Staff Editorial
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December 04, 2012 | 01:05 PM(World War II) bred caution and sensitivity among Silent children, lending them a persona that produced a lifelong preoccupation with process, fairness and artistic expression.
— from "The Fourth Turning,"
William Strauss and Neil Howe
I am a member of that generation which came of age from just before the end of World War II up to about 1960. Born between 1925 and 1942, we found it impossible not to be influenced mightily by the Depression and the war, which took so much of our national enterprise and strength to overcome.
The heroes of the "Civic" generation, who provided that strength, were more than we could emulate. We had a war, too, in Korea, and it paled in the shadow of WWII. People hardly knew there was a war. We grew up adapting to the world the heroic generation created. In fact we are called the "Adaptive" or the "Silent" generation.
We provided society few heroes in the traditional sense of that word. We will never have a president, for example. The two adaptives who did run will give you an idea of our plight: Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis.
All the presidents after WWII and until 1992 (that's two generations of time) were from the Civic generation. All were veterans of the war — all nine of them. Theirs was truly a dominant generation.
So, as a recessive generation, ours has been a different lot. We grew up respecting and caring, and being careful. For example, another of our generation who has sidestepped the challenge of running for president is Colin Powell. Yet he is respected and has many of our generation's strengths.
Other well-known Silents are Woody Allen, Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley, James Dean, Andy Warhol, Gore Vidal, Clint Eastwood, Phil Donahue, Andrew Young, Marilyn Monroe and William F. Buckley Jr. Today, we Adaptives are between the ages of 70 and 87. And a good question: how many of us are still alive?
We are not so much defined by what we did as we are by those who preceded and followed us. We are stuffed between the over-achieving GI (Civic) generation and the self-absorbed Boomer generation. We were too late to help win "the good war" and too early to have had our adolescence celebrated.
We have helped to document what the heroic generation did. For example, Tom Brokaw in his "The Greatest Generation." We were instrumental in founding organizations of dissent that the '60s boomers would turn radical.
It is interesting to note what was going on when we were at various ages, and how those events influenced us.
For instance, we were between birth and 13 years when "Snow White" and "The Wizard of Oz" appeared.
When WWII ended and the first atomic bomb was dropped, we were 3 to 20 years.
When the Korean conflict came along, we were 8 to 25. The climax of the McCarthy period found us 12 to 29.
We were 15 to 32 when Sputnik orbited the earth and rock and roll was oscillating. We were 19 to 36 when John Kennedy inaugurated the Peace Corps in his first year as president.
When JFK was assassinated and "The Feminine Mystique" was published, we were 21 to 38. In 1968 when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (both Silents) were assassinated, and the Vietnam war was at its climax, we were 26 to 43. When Neil Armstrong (also a Silent) set foot on the moon, we were 27 to 44.
When Watergate forced President Nixon's resignation, we were 32 to 49. The Carter "malaise," the energy and Iran crises found us 37 to 54. When our second candidate for president lost in 1988, we were 46 to 63 — and pretty much out of luck.
Entering our elder period, we know affluence, but our reputation is indecision. Some of our cultural milestones should convince any doubters about our nature and contribution: "Portnoy's Complaint" (Phillip Roth), "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Ken Kesey), "Unsafe at Any Speed" (Ralph Nader), "Cosmos" (TV series, Carl Sagan), Ms. magazine (Gloria Steinem), Playboy magazine (Hugh Hefner), "Future Shock" (Alvin Toffler), "Megatrends" (John Naisbitt), "Fatherhood" (Bill Cosby), and Sesame Street, (PBS, Joan Ganz Cooney).
Midlife was a major crisis for us. We were buffeted by unpredictable and defeating changes. At the very time our power should have been greatest, we observed the fragmenting of families, cultural diversity, institutional complexity, widespread and messy litigation.
How history will see us is not for us to decide. Also, part of the wisdom of age is recognizing that we are partly responsible for what the generations that follow become. The idealism of our juniors needs the discipline we were forced to develop, and it is a helpless feeling to realize we cannot simply bequeath it to them. Heaven knows they need it.
As is all too evident, the idealist Boomers are not exactly producing the ideal society. Yet by their idealism and sheer numbers they are a dominant generation.
So we Silents will continue to do what we do so well — be the observers, share our wisdom when the younger will listen, and we wish we had inherited better.