The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 3, 2011

Greatest Generation has spawned the Gutless Generation

Zachary Hubbard

— The Americans who led the world in defeating the Axis powers in World War II have been called “The Greatest Generation.” They were truly phenomenal. Answering their country’s call to duty without hesitation, they marched to war against a determined enemy and, after years of blood and sacrifice, finally succeeded in pounding Germany and Japan to their knees. 

After the war, these humble warriors returned home and did their best to resume the lives they had left behind. 

They led our nation through an unprecedented period of prosperity and growth, where American industry was the envy of the world and Americans shared tremendous confidence in the future. At the same time, the United States took the unprecedented step of rebuilding the countries of the vanquished nations, transforming former enemies into strong allies.

Look closely at the key American leaders of that generation, politicians such as Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower, and generals such as Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton, and you will find a common thread. Each was fearless in his own way. Moreover, they could instill courage in others. 

Roosevelt became the 32nd president in the midst of the Great Depression.

These words from his first inaugural address in March 1933 resonate today,

“I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impels. This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” 

Things have certainly changed. Enter the baby boomers – my generation.

Collectively we’re a bunch of spoiled whiners, many of whom have never experienced sacrifice or deprivation in any form. Relatively few boomers answered the call to serve their country, as did their fathers and mothers. 

Consequently, today the ranks of those on Capitol Hill who have served in uniform are dwindling. National political leaders who served, such as John Kerry and John McCain, are growing scarcer each year. Leaders such as these understand the meaning of honesty, integrity, sacrifice, selfless service and, most importantly, the horrors of war. They do not take a decision to go to war lightly.

Too many boomers, on the other hand, are focused on serving themselves. They fight to maintain personal entitlements, unwilling to give up even the slightest benefit to help ensure the nation’s future. Meanwhile, they allow weak politicians to drag the nation toward the brink of bankruptcy, destroying everything for which our parents sacrificed so selflessly.

Boomers help elect and re-elect deceitful leaders who use false promises of endless prosperity to remain in office, all the while squandering the nation’s treasure to maintain illusions of progress and avoid making tough fiscal decisions.  

Now that these illusions are crumbling, the same politicians use fear to retain a feeble grip on power, skillfully manipulating those they are sworn to serve. The new culture of fear enables these so-called leaders to employ simplistic election strategies that need only convince the public their opponents are scarier than they are.

Their common themes will sound familiar. The other guy will privatize Social Security; they’re going to take away your Medicare; medical death panels are going to decide who lives and who dies; they’re going to take control of your retirement accounts; the country will be in a perpetual state of war; and, you have to sacrifice some personal freedoms to guarantee protection from terrorists. Most of today’s candidates offer voters little more than a choice between the lesser of two evils.  

Consequently, fear permeates modern American society. The spawn of the greatest generation have borne the gutless generation, afraid of their own shadows and led by gutless politicians who fear losing an election more than they fear destroying the republic.

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar said, “Cowards die a thousand deaths. The valiant taste of death but once.” If Americans are to avoid dying a thousand deaths as we passively watch our nation decline, then we need to elect a new generation of politicians with backbone.

We need leaders who can put our collective fears to rest and rekindle the indomitable spirit that characterized the first two centuries of our nation. But where can we find them?

Americans need only turn toward today’s new generation of combat veterans to find the right type of future political leaders. This group of citizens values truth and personal integrity. They understand the meaning of selfless sacrifice and know how to make hard choices. They won’t quit and they won’t abandon those in need. 

The number of new veterans in the United States has not been so high since the end of World War II. Collectively, these men and women have the numbers, brains, honesty, determination and demonstrated leadership abilities needed to put our nation back on the right course. Today’s band of brothers and sisters must continue answering the call to duty after hanging up their military uniforms. Their next objective should be taking Capitol Hill from the many deadbeats that currently occupy it.

We boomers must encourage the best of them to answer the call to public service once again, but this time in a battle to save our nation.

Zachary Hubbard is a  freelance writer residing in Upper Yoder Township. He is a member of The Tribune-Democrat Reader Advisory Committee.