By BILL YEE
Horse’s possible retirement prompted these additional observations from me the other day.
I had a Spanish teacher at Lowell High School in San Francisco who would devote a day to having a “rap session” on politics. He would point out to us “young people” that we were critical of the “establishment” and our parents but that one day we would be the “establishment” and then we would begin to trust people over 30. When we became the “establishment,” how would we change society?
The World War II generation was “the establishment.” Unfortunately they are slowly leaving us. Most are in their late 80s and early 90s. The Greatest Generation survived the Great Depression, saved the world from fascism, fought the Cold War, and was responsible for the prosperity of post-war America. They also gave birth to the Baby Boomers. This was a generation of 76 million Americans born between 1946-1964 and is one of the large generations in American history.
Members of the Greatest Generation were modest to a fault. They seldom based their self-esteem on verbalizing their accomplishments. As they fade into history, we Baby Boomers are inheriting the mantle of senior citizens. Hard to imagine that Boomers are senior citizens, but remember that ’60’s icons Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan are 72 and 73, respectively.
Baby Boomers are retiring in great numbers and will surely be a burden not only to their children but also to the Social Security and Medicare systems. So did Baby Boomers earn a well-deserved retirement?
In taking inventory, what can Baby Boomers say as a generation they accomplished? Did they leave a legacy as great as their parents? The answer to that question is somewhat mixed.
For example, because of their numbers, Boomers did have a huge demographic impact on American society. As they grew up, they increased demand for everything from diapers to classrooms. They were the first generation that grew up on television. Our taste in music not only changed the music industry, it influenced a “counterculture.”
We were massive consumers, yet in our youth we rejected materialism only to embrace it with a vengeance as adults. Hippies became yuppies in the ’80s and traded in their torn Levis for designer jeans. Finally, in our old age, we will still have an impact on American society. Taking care of senior citizens will become a major industry in the coming years.
We did bring about a second American revolution in the ’60s. Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, the Free Speech Movement, opposition to the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution were part of the social change in America that was inspired by the idealism of Baby Boomers. They questioned authority and our treasured institutions, which really shocked our parents and led to the term “generation gap.”
Who remembers that living together before marriage was referred to as “living in sin”? I knew friends in college whose parents would not speak to them after they moved in with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
We voted for Eugene McCarthy in ’68 and McGovern in ’72 while burning our draft cards and going braless. The Baby Boomers generation bought about the greatest social change to American history since the Progressive Era.
In the area of technology, where would we be without Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, both members of the Baby Boom generation? In entertainment, who hasn’t seen a George Lucas or Steven Spielberg movie? Boomers also have influenced the food we eat. In California, Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck were major players in creating a new American cuisine.
The contributions Boomers made were not all positive. We divorced at the greatest rate in American history. The single mom became a part of the American landscape. In a more negative vein, Boomers introduced recreational drug use to American culture, which plagues American society to this day. It is something unfortunately we passed on to our children.
We were a very narcissistic generation. We were about finding ourselves and at times self-absorbed. And because of our numbers, we demanded society’s attention and bullied our way in every decade of our existence.
My purpose in stating the above is not just to praise or denigrate my generation, but also rather to celebrate our accomplishments and be honest about our failures. In old age we tend to look at events with rose-colored glasses, remembering the good times and letting the bad times fade.
Boomers did leave their mark on American history. As witnessed by recent events, there is much still left to be done. How will our children and grandchildren make things better for future generations?
Bill Yee is a retired teacher living in Alhambra. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.