Generations That Keep Going
Today is a day for reflection: what does “greatness” mean?
United States journalist Tom Brokaw, former anchor for the NBC Evening News, called those of the World War II era the “greatest generation.” Yet today, on the Task & Purpose website, author, former soldier, and Iraq War veteran Matt Gallagher provocatively entitles his article, “The Greatest Generation Wasn’t Always That Great.”
Now let me say this: in no way does Mr. Gallagher cast doubt on the motivations and actions of those who served both this country and others during that war. His point is not that they were not the greatest generation.
Rather, his point was the even those service members, coming home after clear victory in a well-supported war, found that the world—the “generation”—they encountered upon their return was certainly not always the “greatest,” and certainly not unified in the views of what should happen to and for combat veterans.
Ultimately, his claim is one of both encouragement and challenge for modern service members returning from War. He encourages his fellow veterans not to assume that service members of the 1940’s were somehow immune to the pains and the pressures now faced by those of the 2010’s. When Gallagher recently read a war/post-war memoir by the famous newspaper cartoonist Bill Mauldin, for example, he found evidence that by no means was return to civilian life easy after all those ticker-tape parades of the newsreels were long past.
Yet he also wants to challenge veterans—including himself—never to forget what I also urge them (and you all) never to forget: the same drive, the same sense of mission that underlay their military service (that underlay your military service, for those of you who served) can still be used to forge an identity that includes both veteran and civilian within it. Being a veteran of combat is not just saying something about the past, about “back then”: it is also saying something about the future, about what can be brought into that future, about all those missions and connections that are still there to be looked for, striven for, lived for.
I think Mr. Gallagher and I would agree: You, today’s combat vets, like those of the “greatest generation,” had what it took. But even more, you still have what it takes. And both he and I encourage each of you—each of us—therefore to do what needs to be done.
That’s a definition of greatness that all of us can affirm. And even better, live.
No matter what our generation.
Until tomorrow, be well,
To learn more about Matt Gallagher’s work