World War II was a calamity unlike any other. It was a six-year conflict that left none of the world unscathed: it spanned forests, deserts, cities, oceans, seas and skies, ultimately culminating in the death of over 3% of the world’s population at the time, according to History on the Net. Despite the horrors it wrought, such a cataclysm could’ve been far worse had it not been for the men and women who demonstrated unceasing courage and valor in the face of global adversity. As a result, veterans of World War ll are often idolized in the modern day.
This idolatry for Americans who grew up in the Great Depression and brought down the Axis powers has lead to them being labeled “The Greatest Generation,” a term coined by Tom Brokaw in his book of the same name.
“It is, I believe,” Brokaw writes about World War Ⅱ era Americans, “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”
While Americans who put their lives on the line seventy years ago are unequivocal heroes and should be revered for centuries to come, officially classifying them as the greatest generation can be seen as a bit of a fallacy in the grand scheme of things.
The biggest issue with this statement is how culturally biased it is. The claim that Americans who fought in World War Ⅱ are the greatest generation ever seen is incredibly nationalistic, as it disregards every other country that fought tooth and nail to prevent the spread of fascism in the early twentieth century. Americans demonstrated some truly astonishing heroism in the second world war, but countries like Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union should also be taken into account.
The British went through the Great Depression just like the Americans and took up arms against the Nazis two years before the United States even joined the fight, yet they’re omitted from what America classifies as the Greatest Generation. One can’t also forget the Soviet Union, which spilled the most amount of blood to end the conflict, suffering 21% more casualties than Americans, according to National WW2 Museum. One also needs to acknowledge the 1,355,000 in Africa who fought for the allies, according to AllThat’sInteresting, and yet are never talked about.
Even if one completely took other nations out of the argument and merely acknowledged that World War Ⅱ era Americans are the greatest generation in the context of the U.S., this still detracts from the good that came from others. Individuals from the Civil War generation brought our nation back together in the midst of its greatest schism, while the Lost Generation fought through the horrors of World War Ⅰ and kicked off the Progressive era, yet using terms like the Greatest Generation makes these other innovative generations seem inferior or lesser than World War Ⅱ era Americans. Each generation has had its own unique impact on the way things are today.
Every generation has its flaws, and calling World War Ⅱ era Americans the greatest generation takes attention away from the more negative aspects of the United States in the ’40s. Americans did some truly incredible things in the war, yet at the same time, they confined 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps less than 48 hours after Pearl Harbor, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Thirty years later, President Gerald Ford even said it was a “setback to fundamental American principles.”
In addition to this, the United States continued to discriminate against African Americans. Even though one million African Americans fought for the United States, according to Military Times, they were still forced to endure grisly discrimination and segregation in military towns, according to History.com. Despite this, these atrocities seem to be eclipsed by the unwavering love modern Americans have for the wartime U.S. of the ’40s.
While World War Ⅱ era Americans most certainly possessed courage and bravery that should never be forgotten, modern Americans shouldn’t be taught that a generation who participated in a war is the greatest, since itsuggests that military heroism is the highest form of honor one can achieve in our country. The peaceful heroism that was seen in past efforts to promote acceptance and unity, like the civil rights movement, are equally important. Americans should be taught about the incredible things each generation has done, avoiding the implication that if a generation fights in a bigger war, they stand above the others.
World War Ⅱ era Americans were truly heroes, and their courage, sacrifice and bravery probably won’t be forgotten in the centuries to come. Nevertheless, it completely deprives other nations of their valor and sacrifice in the second world war when only the Americans are lauded as the Greatest Generation ever produced. Every generation has its highs and lows, and a bold title like the Greatest Generation shouldn’t be reserved for any individual one. The United States has truly developed over the years, and every generation has had a part to play in its progression.
Ian Welfley is a junior communications/media arts & design double major. Contact Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org.