Greatest Generation

From Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Greatest Generation is an American term for a generation of people. They were born from about 1901 to 1927.[1] They are also called the G.I. Generation and the World War II generation. Members of this generation were born after the Lost Generation and before the Silent Generation. They were affected by the Great Depression. Most of the enlisted military members in World War II were part of the Greatest Generation.

Date and age ranges[change | change source]

Pew Research Center defines this generation as people who were born from 1901 to 1927.[2] Strauss and Howe use the birth years 1901 to 1924.[3] The first half of the generation, born between 1901 and 1913, are sometimes called the Interbellum Generation.

United States[change | change source]

Youth[change | change source]

Buckler family, 1914
Portrait of Australian female children, circa between 1910 to 1920

In the United States, members of this generation were born and became adults during the Progressive Era, World War I, and the Roaring Twenties. This was a time of economic prosperity with distinctive cultural changes. People who lived between 1918 and 1920 also experienced the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic. During their youth, they saw the invention of many new technologies. These included radio, telephone, and automobiles. Income inequality was growing around the world.[4][5][6] The economy was also growing quickly.[7][8][9] After the stock market crashed in 1929, this generation had deep economic and social problems.

Despite the hard times, literature, arts, music and movies of the time period flourished. This generation had the "Golden Age of Hollywood." It began in the 1930s. Many popular types of movies, including gangster movies, musical movies, comedy movies and monster movies, attracted large audiences. The Great Depression also affected literature. During the Depression, the first modern comic books were published. Comic books were popular with members of this generation with characters such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, Superman and Batman. The Greatest Generation often listened to jazz, blues, gospel and folk music. Swing jazz became very popular with them. This has caused them to be described as the "Swing Generation".[10] The popularity of the radio also had a large effect in their lives. Millions of people listened to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "fireside chats" (or radio programs). They absorbed news in a way like never before.[11]

World War II[change | change source]

American G.I.s land on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944
A woman working in a military aircraft factory in Fort Worth, Texas in 1942. Millions of American women found work in the defense industry during the war.

Over 16 million Americans served in World War II. Most of them were members of this generation. 38.8% were volunteers, and 61.2% were drafted into the military. The average length of their service was 33 months. 671,278 Americans were killed and wounded during the war.[12]

After the war[change | change source]

Two members of this generation embrace on V-J Day

After the war, this generation produced many more children than earlier generations. Over 76 million babies were born between 1946 and 1964.[13] The G.I. Bill helped the many veterans in this generation. The government paid for their education in colleges, universities, and trade schools. It gave them loans for many purposes, and helped them buy houses. Because they were richer, many people in this generation moved their families into the suburbs. They largely promoted more conservative ideas as the country faced the threat of the Cold War and a Second Red Scare. Some were again called to serve in the Korean War together with the Silent Generation. The first member of their generation to be elected president, John F. Kennedy, began a Space Race against the Soviet Union. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, promoted a controversial "Great Society" policy. Research professor of sociology Glen Holl Elder, Jr., an important figure in the development of life course theory, wrote Children of the Great Depression (1974), "the first longitudinal study of a Great Depression cohort." Elder followed 167 people born in California between 1920 and 1921 and "traced the impact of Depression and wartime experiences from the early years to middle age. Most of these 'children of the Great Depression' fared unusually well in their adult years".[14][15] They came out of the hard times of the Great Depression "with an ability to know how to survive and make do and solve problems.”[16]

Relationship to later generations[change | change source]

This generation faced chaos in the form of the Vietnam War, civil rights movement, Watergate scandal, and the counterculture of the 1960s.[17] Attitudes shaped during World War II clashed with those of the Vietnam era. Many struggled to understand the general distrust of the government by the younger generations, while some supported anti-war protests.[18]

Later years and legacy[change | change source]

U.S. Navy veteran Ruth Harden sings as "Anchors Aweigh" is played during the dedication ceremony of the World War II memorial at Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware, November 9, 2013.

According to a 2004 study done by AARP, "There are 26 million people aged 77 or older in the United States. These people are largely conservative on economic (59%) and social (49%) issues, and about one-third of them say they have become more conservative on economic, social, foreign policy, moral, and legal issues as they have aged. Over 9 in 10 (91%) of this age group are registered to vote and 90% voted in the 2000 presidential election.[19] The last member of this generation to be elected president was George H. W. Bush (1989–1993), and as of 2023 the last surviving president from this generation is Jimmy Carter (1977–1981). In its later years, this generation was introduced to continued technological advancements such as mobile phones and the Internet.

As of 2019, approximately 389,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II remain alive.[20] Living members of this generation are either in their 90s or are centenarians (over 100 years old).

The lives of this generation are a common element of popular culture in the Western world.[21] Media related to this generation's experiences continues to be produced.[22] Some people have criticized the romanticizing of this generation.[23][24] However, some also praise the traits and actions of this generation, and say that their sacrifices should be a lesson for current generations.[25]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, living members of this generation have been impacted by the pandemic, such as Lee Wooten, who was treated in the hospital for coronavirus and recovered just before his 104th birthday in 2020.[26]

Britain[change | change source]

In Britain, this generation became adults, like most of the western world, during a period of economic difficulty as a result of the Great Depression. When the war in Europe started, millions of British citizens joined the war effort at home and abroad. 2.9 million members of this generation served in the war, and 384,000 were killed or wounded.[27] At home, The Blitz killed thousands of people and destroyed entire British cities. The men and women of this generation continue to be honored in the U.K., particularly on V-E Day. In 2020, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson compared this generation to current generations, and indicated his desire for current generations to show the “same spirit of national endeavour”, in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.[28] Queen Elizabeth II, a member of this generation who lived through World War II, said many of the same things.[29]

Germany[change | change source]

Members of the World War II generation in Germany became adults after World War I and the German Revolution of 1918–1919. They faced economic difficulties related to the Great Depression and Treaty of Versailles, as unemployment rose to nearly 40%. Adolf Hitler then rose to power, and many of this generation joined groups such as the Hitler Youth. In 1935, Hitler started military conscription. During the war, nearly 12.5 million members of this generation served in the war and 4.3 million were killed or wounded.[30] By the end of the war, 5 million Germans were dead, including civilians. German cities and towns were ruined or destroyed by Allied bombing attacks. 12 million Germans were refugees and many were forced to live in the Soviet Union. In addition, the Holocaust killed millions of German Jews and others. After the war, the Allies began the denazification and demilitarization of Germany. Returning German veterans found their country divided into four zones of occupation; later becoming West Germany and East Germany. In the west, the Marshall Plan resulted in the "Wirtschaftswunder", an economic boom that caused 185% growth between 1950 and 1963.[31] Surviving members of the German World War II generation would go on to experience the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the creation of the European Union. Unlike the Western allies and the Soviet Union, Germany did not honor its veterans, as the association with Nazism continues in Germany today.[32]

Soviet Union[change | change source]

Members of this generation became adults during Stalin's rise to power. They lived through the Holodomor famine, which killed millions. The World War II generation of the Soviet Union was further decimated by the war. Stalin's scorched earth policy left its western regions to be destroyed by the advancing German army. The USSR lost 14% of its pre-war population during WWII. This decrease in population had huge long-term consequences. Huge numbers of people were used as forced labor. Between 10 and 11 million Soviet men returned to help rebuild, along with 2 million Soviet dissidents held prisoner in Stalin's Gulags. Then came the Cold War and the Space race. Even in the mid-1980s, around 70% of Soviet industrial output was directed towards the military. This was one of the factors in its eventual economic collapse. Members of this generation are known as "Great Patriotic War" veterans. Today, former Soviet countries celebrate an annual Victory Day in honor of these veterans.[33]

Japan[change | change source]

The World War II generation of Japan became adults during a time of growing imperialism. One member of this generation, Hirohito, became Emperor in 1926, when Japan was already one of the great powers. Nearly 18 million members of this generation fought in World War II. Approximately 3 million, including civilians, were killed or wounded. Japanese cities, towns, and villages were ruined or destroyed by Allied bombing campaigns. In an effort to prepare for the assumed Allied invasion, the Japanese government planned to use this generation for "Operation Ketsugo", in which the Japanese population would fight a war of attrition.[34] This generation is one of the only generations thus far that have been killed by an atomic bomb; as hundreds of thousands lost their lives when the United States dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Returning veterans found their country occupied and received little support or respect. Surviving members of this generation saw Japan become the world's second-largest economy by 1989.[35] Surviving veterans visit the Yasukuni Shrine to show respect for their fallen comrades.[36]

Even after defeat Japan's economy became more successful than ever before, through businesses, such as Sony Corporation, and cultural influence, as in movies by Akira Kurosawa.

References[change | change source]

  1. "Is It Time to 'Pass the Torch?' The Generational Dilemma of the 2020 Democratic Primary". 2019-07-30. Retrieved 22 December 2019.
  2. "Americans Name the 10 Most Significant Historic Events of Their Lifetimes". People Press. 15 December 2016.
  3. Howe, Neil (30 July 2014). "The G.I. Generation and the "Triumph of the Squares"". Forbes. Retrieved 26 November 2016.
  4. "Striking it Richer" (PDF).
  5. "U.S. income inequality, on rise for decades, is now highest since 1928". 5 December 2013.
  6. "5 facts about economic inequality". 7 January 2014.
  7. Granados, José A. Tapia; Roux, Ana V. Diez (13 October 2009). "Life and death during the Great Depression". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (41): 17290–17295. Bibcode:2009PNAS..10617290T. doi:10.1073/pnas.0904491106. PMC 2765209. PMID 19805076.
  8. "Economy in The 1920s".
  9. George H. Soule, Prosperity Decade: From War to Depression: 1917–1929 (1947)
  10. "Timeline: American Generations since 20th Century". Southern California Public Radio. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  11. "Culture in the Thirties". Lumen Learning. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  12. "Research Starters: US Military by the Numbers". Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  13. Pollard, Kelvin (16 April 2014). "Just How Many Baby Boomers Are There?". Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  14. "About Glen H. Elder, Jr". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  15. "Lives in Changing Times". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  16. Zernike, Kate (13 March 2009). "Generation OMG". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  17. "GI Generation". LifeCourse Associates. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  18. "The World War II Generation and Vietnam". Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  19. Love, Jeffrey (July 2004). "Political Behavior and Values Across the Generations" (PDF). AARP. p. 3. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  20. Brunell, Don (11 November 2019). "The Greatest Generation is quickly slipping into history". Courier Herald. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  21. Kenny, Glenn (30 May 2016). "World War II According To Hollywood's Greatest Generation". New York Post. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  22. Ringel-Cater, Eleanor (28 July 2017). "The Movie Biz: The Greatest Generation's war". Atlanta Business Chronicle. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  23. Palaima, Thomas. "Consider War Stories Without Romanticizing Them". The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  24. Klinkenberg, Kevin (4 September 2019). "Dangerous Nostalgia: Why Romanticizing the 1950s and 1960s Won't Get Us Anywhere". Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  25. Hanson, Victor (1 January 2018). "What Millennials Can Learn From the Greatest Generation". Newsweek. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  26. Jackson, Amanda (6 December 2020). "A 104-year-old World War II veteran from Alabama has survived Covid-19". CNN. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  27. "The Fallen". Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  28. Hall, Macer (8 May 2020). "Boris Johnson hails Britain's 'greatest generation' as he thanks WWII veterans on VE Day". Express. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  29. Holden, Michael (7 May 2020). "Queen tells Britain 'never give up' in tribute to WW2 generation". Reuters. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
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  31. Davis, Mark (5 May 2015). "How World War II shaped modern Germany". euronews. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  32. Barkin, Noah (9 August 2019). "Where Veterans Aren't Thanked for Their Service. Because of Germany's tortured 20th-century history, its struggle to forge policies to support its veterans is in many ways unique". The Atlantic. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  33. Davis, Mark (5 April 2015). "How World War II shaped modern Russia". Euronews. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  34. Frank, Richard (4 August 2020). "There Are No Civilians in Japan". Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  35. Maddison, Angus, Contours of the World Economy, 1–2030 AD. 2007, p. 379, table A.4.
  36. Smyth, Tony (22 October 2014). "Yasukuni Shrine". Retrieved 6 January 2021.