Fixing America – Idea 19 – If We Get It Right – The Next “Greatest Generation”

By August 17th, 2020

Blog No. 121
August 18, 2020 

Fixing America – Idea 19

 Reading Time: 10 Minutes

By Mack W. Borgen, Recipient of Eight National Book Awards. For a “cleaner” / non-email presentation of this and my other blogs, essays, and articles, please go to my website at
Copyright 2020 by Mack W. Borgen. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews, without prior written permission by the author.


Over the last year, I have presented ideas for “resetting” and “fixing” America. This is the nineteenth idea in this “Fixing America” series of articles.

Idea No. 19

– If We Get It Right –

The Next “Greatest Generation”


The phrase the “Greatest Generation” is widely attributed to Tom Brokaw’s 1998 bestselling book by the same name. By rough consensus, the “Greatest Generation” relates to those Americans who were born in the years 1901 to 1927. They endured World War I, the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, and then World War II. After WWII, they returned home and finished building this country into the most powerful nation on Earth. Things were by no means perfect. However, by almost any measure, this generation of Americans were tough, resilient, and hard-working. 

Contrast them with our America. As I write this, more than 170,000 Americans have died from the Covid-19 pandemic – more Americans than were lost in World War I, the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined. We are edgy and frustrated. Our economy is bifurcated and shaky. Many aspects of our lives have become harsh, hostile, and politicized. There are BLM protests in the streets and Me-Too cases in our courts.

But wait.

Let us view our current situation from the longer perspective of America’s own history. This can be encouraging because if we get it right, America may be able to create its second “Greatest Generation.” As I write this, I realize how wildly optimistic this may seem. However, there was little optimism among the men standing in soup lines in the middle of the Winter, 1933. There was little optimism as the Great Depression went on year after year. There was no optimism in the mother’s face in Dorothy Lange’s iconic Depression-era photograph — which was taken next to the fields in Nipomo, California — right outside of Santa Maria, California. There was more fear than optimism as Americans woke to the Sunday morning news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor or as children waved goodbye to their older brothers, their fathers, and their uncles.  

The current generation of Americans in the 2020s are obviously not the same that of the 1920s. However, looking back, who would have anticipated that the tortuous years in America in the first half of the 1900s would have “created” the grit, sobriety, societal wisdom that led to the Greatest Generation.

As noted above, neither America nor the Americans of the Greatest Generation were perfect. Instead, just like now, America remained imperfect even during this era. But perfection is the goal. It can never be the standard.

Heck, looking back at the Greatest Generation, they did some crazy things just like us. We can beat ourselves up about mask or no masks, but the seeming response to watching 675,000 Americans die from the Spanish flu was sober up with the enactment of Prohibition (1920-1933) while, at the same time, kicking up the dancing storm with the Roaring Twenties. If excess and blind optimism describe the 1920’s, those of the Greatest Generation also endured Black Thursday, October 24, 1929 and the following ten long years of the Great Depression. And that was followed by World War II.

Today, we banter about trade wars and tax policies. We get charged up with anger and even pessimism. However, maybe we should rethink our lives; our positions; our conditions. History may not give us the answers, but it can offer us perspective.

So, if we get this right, isn’t it possible that we can again create another “Greatest Generation?” The impact of Covid-19, the hostility in society, and the tribalism of our current politics need not necessarily dampen our children. Possibly, though hard to imagine, it can make them stronger. Our children are intelligent. They watch well. And they learn far more than we teach them.

But hasn’t everything in America changed over the last 100 years? Yes, of course. But there are also strong parallels between the 1920s and the 2020s. Today, for example, Americans are still learning how to live with our many, new technologies – the Internet, social media, virtual living, and the rest. But so did the Greatest Generation. In their own way, they were similarly shocked by the introduction of their own new technologies — cars, radio, movies, and travel. Both the parallels and the dissimilarities are endless.

But aren’t things today generally far worse? The answer is — only maybe. Americans today must deal with the constant presence of fear and uncertainty. But now our country has at least some safety nets, social security, advanced medical capacities, welfare, and unemployment insurance. These things were unheard of during the formational years of the Greatest Generation. And they, like us, had to deal with the constant presence of fear and uncertainty. Americans today might be waiting hours for a Covid test. Americans today might be waiting in long lines at food banks. But the Greatest Generation also stood for hours in soup lines. Their backup plan was to sell pencils on street corners. Some of them went home and packed their few possessions and just moved to the proverbial somewhere else.

But isn’t the world a far more dangerous place? Well, it is dangerous. The entire concept of mutual assured destruction is as disheartening now as when it was first introduced in the 1960s. But America, if it chooses to remember and behave, is now the strongest nation on earth. At the beginning of World War II, America had only the 17th largest Army in the world – slightly smaller than the Yugoslavian Army. Now, America is protected by the greatest military in the world. This author does not under-estimate the tempestuous nature of North Korea or the constant meddling of both Russia and China. Yes, our dangers are real. But so were their dangers — and the Greatest Generation grew up amidst the fresh memories of World War I.

But isn’t there more fear, apprehension, and sadness today? It may seem so. Covid-19. The hostility of our politics. The widespread presence of drugs and gangs. But try to consider the bleakness of the endless Great Depression. Try to appreciate the fear, apprehension, and sadness of watching your father, uncle, or brother getting drafted into the Army and shipped off to fight a war somewhere in the world – far away and without phones, Skype or Zoom. In 1941, the Greatest Generation went to war with an understanding that if they survived, they would come home when the war was over. During the Vietnam War years, the draft obligation was two years. The in-country tour of duty in Vietnam was 13 months. And since 1975, there has been no draft at all.

So, what are the differences that really count?

Just three things:

Our cynicism – which we could reel in;

Our resolve – which we could reboot; and

Our respect for America as a national community – which we could re-build.

If we get those things in line and if we get it right, we may have all the sobering ingredients to create the second Greatest Generation. If we get it right, we could instill in the next generation a level of composure, grit, and determination that has been so missing for decades.

And thus, I encourage all of us to recommit – rather than withdraw. But, with my own great fear of appearing preachy in this article, we must — to paraphrase Crosby, Stills & Nash — “teach our children well.” And this teaching cannot be outsourced to our schools; our neighbors, or even our churches.

It is a shame that DNA does not incorporate the Golden Rule; that our bodies do not repulse at the smell of drugs; that our minds are not pre-programmed for the concepts of duty, empathy, and sharing; that we do not crave knowledge and learning; or that our genetic code does not trigger us awake at 6:00AM ready for work. Instead, we must learn these things. As adults, we must teach these things. And, now, if we get it right, against the backdrop realities of our Modern America, we may have an opportunity to create another Greatest Generation.  One child at a time. One person at a time. One family at a time. One neighborhood at a time.

We need our friends, and they need us. We need our children, and they need us. We need our neighborhood, and it needs us. If out of the tragedies and travesties of our Modern America, we can create the next Greatest Generation, then good will come from all of this. If we can learn not what to say and not how to act and not what to do from some of our current leaders, then – curiously – they will have served us well. America needs another Greatest Generation, and we can build it at home if we take the time and put in the energy.

Right now, this author — possibly like you — finds little reason to be optimistic. I regret that. I am saddened by that. But, as noted above, I also recognize that there was little optimism during the formative years of the Greatest Generation. And possibly, the last contribution to our country by the Greatest Generation may be that it will remind us that we can do it again — if we get it right.



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See Additional Previously Presented Ideas:

Idea 1 –  Consolidated Interstate Database for Reports of License Suspension or Revocation (Blog 106, Oct. 14, 2019).

Idea 2 – Term Limits (Blog 106, Oct. 14, 2019).

Idea 3 – The Media – Report Corporate Settlements, Awards and Fines as Percentage of Annual Net Profits (Blog 106, Oct. 14, 2019).

 Idea 4 – Award of Attorneys’ Fees to Winning Party (Blog 107, Oct. 28, 2019).

Idea 5 – Inclusion of Positive Aspects of American Society as a Distinct Part of U.S. History School Curricula (Blog 107, Oct. 28, 2019).

 Idea 6 – Office of International Comparisons (Blog 107, Oct. 28, 2019).

 Idea 7 – The Need for Climate Scientists to Retain Professions for the Development of an Educational Campaign (Blog No. 109, Nov. 26, 2019).

 Idea 8 – Redefining the Concept of “News” The Need for the Regular Infusion of Positive News (Blog No. 109, Nov. 26, 2019).

 Idea 9 – The Necessity of Mandatory Public Service (Blog No. 109, Nov 26, 2019).

 Idea 10 – Cap or Tie Congressional Pay Increases (Blog No. 110, Dec 7, 2019).

 Idea 11 – Scrutinize (and Possibly Eliminate) the Congressional Health Care System (Blog 110, Dec 7, 2019).

 Idea 12 – Eliminate the Congressional Retirement System (Blog 111, Dec 7, 2019).

 Idea 13 – Cease production and eliminate the use of the U.S. penny (Blog 112, Dec 7, 2019).

Idea 14 – Institutionalized Use of U.S. Military Units in Event of Natural Disasters (Blog 113, February 11, 2020)

Idea 15 – Streamline the Federal and State Penal Codes and Address the Issue of Overcriminalization in American Society (Blog 114, February 25, 2020).

Idea 16 – It’s Time to Reset America (Blog 118, June 30, 2020).

Idea 17 – If They’re Good Enough for Our Capitalism, They’re Good Enough for Our Democracy – Monthly Bonus Payments for Excellence in Citizenship (Blog 119, July 15, 2020).

Idea 18 – Let Us Try – The Simple Utility of Remembering America’s “Good Celebrities” (Blog 120, August 2, 2020)

Idea 19 – – If We Get It Right – The Next “Greatest Generation” (Blog 121, August 18, 2020).

The Fancypants Word of the Day

Redolent (Part of speech: Adjective; Origin: Latin) 1) Strongly reminiscent or suggestive of (something) 2) Strongly smelling of.
Examples of use in sentences: “The small homes are redolent of the initial ones in the city.:
“The aromas of spring are redolent with flowers and freshly cut grass.”
Source and thank to and Shawna Borgen.

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