Learning from the past

I have something to say about the Greatest Generation, and I'm going to warn you, you might not want to hear it, but it needs to be said. They are dying off at a rate of thousands per day and the 11th hour is fast approaching and they have still not passed on to us what it is they know and what it is they have learned--of from what they went through that was able to transform and save a world on the brink of destruction and insanity which is exactly where we find ourselves today. If we are ever going to break this cycle of darkness, we must change. The first thing we need to do is to acknowledge that there is a pink elephant in the middle of the living room of America that grandpa brought back from World War II. The second thing we need to do is to recognize what is really called for in the world today. The third thing to do, of course, is to stand up and be great ourselves.


In all of the stories and books about this group, the fact that they never discussed and expressed their greatness is always touted as a good and honorable thing. Their "humility" is seen as an attribute of a long dead tradition of selflessness and right living. While I totally agree that they did great things, their inability and unwillingness to pass on what they knew is part of what has created the mess we are in right now. We are a people who have no idea how to rise to greatness; a people full of fear and uncertainty; a people turning to elected officials who have no idea either.

After WWII, they had done their duty and they just wanted to enjoy the freedom and abundance they had helped make possible. I understand that. I have compassion for that. We just celebrated the anniversary of D-Day--a horrific, waking nightmare that anyone would want to put behind them. The war was long, brutal and terrifying at home and on the warfronts. I too would want to forget. I too want to forget 9/11. But, I can't because it won't go away. It pervades our political system and our very lives from the Patriot Act to traveling to filling up our gas tanks.


Am I saying that the Greatest Generation was derelict in its duty? Partly. Generations of misfits do not just rise out of nowhere anymore than the "greatest" generations rise out of nothing. Now the children of the Baby Boomers--my generation--are even more clueless! We, Generation X, have rebelled against the overindulgences of our parents , or at least think we do, and we are not really sure why. We know a lot, oh we know a lot, and yet we have no kind of container in which to mold that knowledge into greatness. Our world is without heroes. Our parents and leaders are torn down before they even open their mouths (and let's face it, when they do it just makes things worse) and we find ourselves once again on the brink in an out of control situation, and we respond like Colin Powell (who should have run for president, but could not and would not step up to the political plate).

The situation we face today is actually much worse than the threat faced in WW II. Hitler could be removed. But terrorism is an emotion that pervades the world, creeping into everything we do and think and does not respect geopolitical boundaries. George Bush stumbles so frequently because he has no idea what to do. His father obviously never passed on some critical information either! And so he--and we--just keep roaring forward turning our hatred into policies which only end up hurting us and alienating us more and more from the world. And so we bitch and bitch and bitch and nothing changes and we are horrified at the images from Iraq and the fears of a draft or another attack and we just wish it all would go away.

I recently attended a meeting for the Wood River Peace Coalition which held the Community Walk for Global Peace on June 19 in Ketchum. There was a self-described "old geezer" there who said he came because "we need to take America back." Yes, we do--and we would not have to take it back if we never gave it away in the first place. This is not a statement of blame but of responsibility. We are responsible for the world we are creating and we are so much more powerful than just our one vote in November. Our power was ensured by our enlightened founders who made sure that freedom was institutionalized.


After WWII, our grandparents created a baby boom. Well, we are all sexed out, played out and as well fed as anyone who has ever lived. But we are not healed. We have voices that we use to bitch. We have power that we use to purchase and compete, and we have an individualism that is yearning for community. The only remedy is opening our mouths and directing ourselves, our nation and our world in a new direction. We need to ask and plan for what we need and not simply outline what we no longer want. If we cannot define what we want and need, we will never achieve it, for we will be traveling an ambivalent road and will never know if we take a wrong turn.

Maybe what we need is to create our own world, with new definitions, new leaders, and a new sense of greatness. Maybe all the Greatest Generation did was buy us time until the world was really ready for change.

--Angela Earle,

Wood River Valley

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