A few years ago, Tom Brokaw made himself a bunch of money publishing a book praising the generation that fought WWII and grew our economy into what it is today. Dewey and sentimental, it praised the men and women of that age for their silent adherence to American values and their uncomplaining sacrifice. He summed up his views in a remarkably unqualified “it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”
This week, we learned that the Greatest Generation thought it might be interesting to infect a bunch of Guatemalans with syphilis. So they used prostitutes to infect people in prison, in the army, and in asylums. Just like those morally inferior Germans conducted medical experiments on people they considered inferior.
My point is not that the Greatest Generation is the Worst Generation. We are all Morally Flawed Generations – it’s just that the Greatest Generation benefited from a market-savvy PR huckster with an inflated media profile by the name of Tom Brokaw.
As proof of the futility of generational analysis, look at the eerily similar Tuskegee Study, that started in the 30s and ended in the 70s, where the black population was used as lab rats in a study that Hitler and Roosevelt could both smile upon.
Wasn’t that just the Greatest?
The danger of profitable silliness like Brokaw’s is that it leads to a false nostalgia for a better time when morally elevated people (who happened to be white men) ran the country and could be trusted to do what was right. It provides a stark artificial contrast with the challenges of today, when a black man is in the White House and we’re in morally uncertain wars. It is this false god of a morally clear and earnest America that the tea-baggers are worshiping.
When you hear them talk about “Taking Our Country Back”, this is what they have in mind.