Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Greatest Generation

Since I lost my grandfather last summer, who was a proud World War II vet, I really wanted to read The Greatest Generation in his honor. (I wrote about his and my other grandfathers' service in this post on Veteran's Day). In fact, it was one of the books that I had specifically hoped that the Fall into Reading Challenge would help prompt me to finish. It's the kind of book that I often leave unfinished, for a lot of reasons. A non-fiction book doesn't generally have a compelling flow, or an ending that must be resolved, so even if it's a book which interests me, it often ends up sort of buried in the pile, despite my good intentions. So, I had just barely begun this book last November when I made my list for the challenge. It got put aside more than once. Knowing that my December 21st deadline was approaching, and still wanting to finish this book, I picked it up again. I am really glad that I finished it.

My grandfather (the handsome
Navy man on left with the big grin)

Tom Brokaw tells these stories with interest and true insight into the individual's motives. I would have written him off as just another liberal journalist, but he highlights the issues without bias that were important to many of these soldiers, both during their battle years and throughout their lives, such as faith, family and conservative values. The book is divided into chapters which tell the story of a particular veteran, which are included in sections that focus on a particular theme.

Because of the chapter to chapter format and changes in story, it could be easy to stall in reading this, but I encourage you to continue on if you have any interest in history, the second World War, or understanding your parents or grandparents who were of that generation. I particularly enjoyed the sections called Women In Uniform And Out and Shame, which covered our treatment of minorities, including women and American Japanese citizens who were interred during the war.

Tom Brokaw wrote this book because he wanted to honor the men and women who he consider to be the greatest generation, which include his parents and his in-laws. In the chapter on Andy Rooney in the section on Famous People(which also includes the elder George Bush, Julia Child, and Bill Bradlee), he defends his position that this was the greatest generation that society could hope to produce. Andy Rooney maintained that other generations have the potential to be just as strong of character, but they simply haven't had the chance to prove their mettle as his did in responding to the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War. I think that I side with Tom Brokaw on this. It seems the subsequent generations have been all about what's best for us, not simply what is best, because it may involve personal sacrifice.
Throughout this book, I was struck by the way that the country did without during the time of the second World War--food was rationed, oil was rationed, silk and nylon stockings weren't available, women raised families alone, and filled positions in the factories that were left by men (famous and well-to-do as well as poor and common) who volunteered to serve the country. I don't think that our generation would have that in us--to give up our rights for the greater good.

By the way, if you are an Xer, as I am, and want to understand your own generation better, I encourage you to read Generation NeXt Parenting. It gives a lot of insight into our culture and values and why we do things the way we do, as well as delving a bit into the way that our parents, the Boomers, raised us, who were responding to this Greatest Generation, who raised them.

This is linked to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. Check over there for more weekly book reviews, or link one of your own.


Tammy said...

This was interesting, Jennifer...I've heard Brokaw speak of the greatest generation, but haven't yet read this book. I have always been facinated with the WW11 era...the movies, the music, everything.
My dad was denyed fighting in the war, but his best buddy died on the shores of Iuo Gima.
I'm right on the cusp, myself...on the borderline between Baby Boomer generation and GenX. And I agree...I think it was more than just oppertunity that made them the greatest generation.

Oh- and your grandfather was indeed a handsome young Navy man!

(Hope you can stop by again sometime...missed you around the place!) :)

Susanne said...

Your review was very good, Jennifer. I just might pick up this book after Christmas.

Malissa said...

I really enjoyed this book.