I’m not so sure I like being a Baby Boomer, but I can’t do much about it. Considering that the age group preceding us is known collectively as the Greatest Generation, it seems to me that by comparison the Baby Boomer moniker is quite trivial.
It’s a bit demeaning, isn’t it, that we are named after the “boom” —make that bada boom—emanating from the flood of heroes who returned from saving the world from the Nazis and the Nips? I’m not trying to be insulting here, but that’s what we called our enemies in the last global conflict. Our enemies believed they were the superior race and that some of us were disposable, subhuman and chaff for extermination. If you think the Nazis were nasty, with their death camps and obsession with world domination, the Japanese war machine may have been even more evil. The death toll of American POWs under Japanese care—make that abuse— was about 37 percent, and many who survived torture and starvation would never feel the bloom of good health again.
All I’m saying is that this was serious stuff, the likes of which we have yet to face again. So I’m not resentful that they are regarded as great and we as the fruits of their loins upon returning from the war. Yes, Boomers are the products of another generation and not even regarded as worthy enough to claim our own accomplishments. It’s like always living in the shadow of an accomplished older sibling.
Baby Boomer is cute and non-threatening, I suppose, but it is also insipid. It was my peers who fostered political correctness and formed a governmental system that can’t get anything accomplished because we haven’t the character to work together and treat each other with respect.
The Greatest Generation returned from saving the world and went about making us the world leader in commerce, science, statesmanship and just about any other attribute of consequence that you can think of. The one bad thing they did was spoiling us.
Most people in small town and rural America where I grew up had never been to college, and one thing they wanted for their children, with postwar prosperity seemingly endless, was that we would have it better than they did. We got to vie for college diplomas and were often, as was my case, the first in the family to do so. There were all kinds of good jobs, comfortable salaries and access to the American Dream when we became adults. One black mark was our big war—the last one subject to a draft. That didn’t turn out so well, but we could apparently afford to lose that one, though the cost was almost 60,000 lives and five times that wounded. Turns out it was good for the economy, if not for our self-esteem.
So our parents got to work 40-hour weeks, collecting overtime if they toiled beyond; take several weeks of vacation every year and retire in comfort while they were still young enough to enjoy it for a few years. We, their offspring, not only expected that kind of lifestyle—life had apparently become about style, not substance—but felt we were entitled to it.
Of course, our kids got to go to college and become homeowners just a few years out of high school. My generation, despite our advantages, had to work our way up to owning the home of our dreams. You’d get married, rent an apartment and then, after a few years, buy a starter home with affordable payments. We’d live in that for a while, fix it up and then sell it for considerably more than we paid for it. By that time, with our families started and with a few breaks, we were in the house we would live in until retirement.
When I was in my forties and fifties, I began to notice that young people were buying or building homes that we, the Baby Boomers, hadn’t been able to afford until much later in our adult lives. But that was good, because, like our parents before us, we saw that our kids had it better than we did. Successive generations were having it all and having it right away.
Then something happened. Those college degrees were putting people in debt for decades, and those plentiful houses were becoming unaffordable. We’re fight more wars with no victories and our enemies are lurking among us, hungry to give their lives to take a few of ours.
And so it goes, as Vonnegut reminded us. The Greatest Generation is dying off at a dizzying rate, as my father did this spring, and we, the Boomers they brought forth for a better life, are marching with some trepidation into retirement—our entitlement. Some of us pause to wonder what we have left our children and grandchildren, but too many are more intent on keeping what we have and making sure nobody takes any of it away.
You could say we have become the Babied Boomers.