It’s currently 64 degrees Fahrenheit at 945 pm on a Monday night. I’m sitting on my porch; the cloudless and moonless night greets me with its welcoming arms. I have cued up my entire Miles Davis collection on my Zune player and a mild breeze sweeps away my lingering cigar smoke. It has been one ridiculously stress filled day here in the heart of the South and all I’ve wanted to do, through three meetings, two jobs and endless interruptions is get to where I am now to empty my brain of these thoughts.
I don’t know where the idea for today’s blog came from but I can say, it has been stirring around in my mind for a while now. I suppose, and this is not too much of a stretch for me, the formations of these thoughts have roots in the last book sale I went to at the public library. I arrived a few minutes early and since I know most of the volunteers who operate and maintain the sale I was allowed in before most everyone else. Normally I shun this sort of preferential treatment but for the past six months, book dealers and antique dealers have been coming into the sale with their large plastic totes and their ISBN scanners and purchasing every small press book, American literature book, history book and anything else they believe they can make a profit from.
This type of capitalism does not normally bother me, why should it, they are trying to make a living like everyone else. Except they are rude about what they are doing and block the aisles from the regular folks who are trying to find a decent book or two at a good price for their own enjoyment. Also, they leave behind in their wake, bookshelves torn asunder and in a rather embarrassing state of pell-mell. Some regulars whom I’ve seen and spoken with for the past twenty years have even gone so far as to not attending their monthly fix of pulp paper. It is sad really. But I digress…
On with my point…
It was while I was on my solitary journey amongst these tomes that I observed a stack of four books identical in nature. “The Greatest Generation” By Tom Brokaw was emblazoned on the spine of each one of these books. I remember when this book came out. I didn’t have the money for it at the time but I borrowed it from a friend and read every juicy page from cover to cover. I was stunned at what I read and what the men and women of our country did during World War II. So much so that it made me watch a ton of war movies and wishing I could have been part of such a world defining age group.
Seeing these five lonely books sitting there on that shelf made me sad and I picked one up with the full intention of purchasing as I made my way back to the American Literature section. Arrival at this unmarred section brought an instant smile to my face as I saw a large hardback first edition of Hemmingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. Now, if you haven’t read this book. Don’t worry, I won’t judge you. The story is about a man who is fighting during the Spanish Civil War and he is supposed to blow up a bridge. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read it. But as I stood there with a book on America’s “Greatest Generation” and a fiction book on a revolution in Spain it got me thinking about which generation is the greatest. I am no expert in American or World History, but I was in quite a quagmire.
I set the Brokaw book down on a nearby shelf, pulled up a chair and started to page through the Hemmingway book. Prose I’d forgotten leapt out of the pages at me in and made me giddy with excitement. I envy the way Papa was able to construct his sentences. I feel the same way every time I read Vonnegut, Salinger, Huxley, Orwell and even Old Bill. I don’t know how long I sat there tuning pages and reading bits of paragraphs, but I do know the book dealers had been let in because one of them dropped a tote at my feet and started to lean over me with his scanner, he was soon emptying the shelves of their treasures. He caught me looking at him and asked me what I was looking at. I told him, he then offered me twenty bucks for the book on the spot. I told him to pound bricks.
I got up and walked away with my prize. I paid a whopping buck seventy-five for the book and went back to work.
All of this took place two weeks ago, and somewhere in the recesses of my mind I suppose I had not stopped thinking about that one important question.
What is the greatest generation of our country?
Is it the men and women of the mid-twentieth century who fought two separate nations for peace? A generation who came up with nuclear weapons? Fighter jets? Modern warfare techniques all the while asking the civilian population to go on food rations, gas rations, and sacrifice for the greater good of mankind?
Is it the generation of men and women who were the offspring of the returning soldiers and sailors? Men and women who gave us rock and roll? Disenfranchised youth? Recreational drugs? Two wars in foreign countries with no discernible win or lose?
Was it the generation of men and women who built the industrial age and modernized machines in factories across this nation?
Or, was it the generation of men and women who built this country by committing acts of treason against a king three thousand miles away. Men who were full time farmers and part time politicians who took upon their shoulders the burdens of a young upstart nation trying to find a voice in world politics with little or no help. Men and women who sacrificed their homes, families and ancestry so there would be a future for everything else that would follow in their unknown path of what they believed was right.
Yes, I do believe it was men with names like Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Franklin, Revere, Mason, Payne, Jones and many, many more. Men whose names are on the lips of every American and the women who supported them in all of their endeavors.
Yes, I do believe our founding fathers were our greatest generation because without them and the people who supported them and believed in them we would not be the nation who fought gallantly in the many conflicts that threatened the safety of not just our continent but all the continents of our world. Without their sacrifice we would not have had the great writers, inventors and industrialists that formed our country.
Now, I’m not just sitting here waving a flag for Mom, apple pie, truth and justice. There are a lot of things wrong in our country today and we are on the brink of collapse every day. We are fighting more wars for longer periods of time with no foreseeable conclusion. We have poverty, starvation and a generation of people raised to believe they are entitled to have whatever they want and damn the cost or who is going to pay for it. We live in a constant state of struggle but are still better off than seventy-five percent of the rest of the nations in the world. We are far from perfect and we have to maintain due diligence to keep the wolves at bay or bill collectors, take your pick.
Brokaw, you are wrong but your book is brilliant.
Have a great week.
PS. I know I left out some generations but in all fairness, I am writing in broad strokes tonight, besides, Miles is playing “All of You” and it is brilliant and makes me feel good all over.