Imagine that you are a child born in the first decade of the twentieth century. By the time you reach double digits in age you have buried your mother, grandmother, and an uncle who died from the Spanish Flu; and your oldest brother left for Europe as a soldier in the Great War.
By 1930, not long married, the Great Depression seizes your little town. You, your husband, and your newborn son take to the road looking for any work in order to stay alive. You read about rising European fascism in the big city papers and wonder if war will come again to the continent from which your brother never returned.
The next decade lurches along and you give birth to children. You bury two of them, as poverty and lack of medical care take their toll. You pray that Roosevelt can do all that he says he can do. Hitler invades Poland. By the early 1940s, it is Pearl Harbor, the deadliest war in the history of the world, mushroom clouds, and the advent of the atomic age. You are still younger than some of today’s Millennials.
The Fifties bring some good news: Running water and electricity in your home for the first time; a decent car; a tractor for the farm; but larger events continue to dominate. There’s another war in Korea. Schools are desegregated. The Soviet Union becomes a burgeoning, threatening nuclear power. War is constant in the Middle East.
In 1960, you celebrate your fiftieth birthday surrounded by your children and the first of many grandchildren to come. Nuclear War is narrowly averted just off the Florida peninsula. President Kennedy is assassinated. Astronauts lands on the moon. A son ships to Vietnam. A daughter goes “counter-cultural.” Martin Luther King Jr. both wins the Nobel Peace Prize and is murdered.
As the decades pass, a president is impeached; home computing is born; OPEC cuts off the fuel to the American economy. The Iranian Revolution dominates the headlines for years. A novel violent act is invented – the “terrorist attack.” Chernobyl. The fall of the Berlin Wall. Tiananmen Square.
Rodney King. Space Shuttles. Rwanda. The Balkans. Y2K. And just after your 90th birthday, you who missed the Wright Brothers’ inaugural flight by just a few years, live to see the technological heirs of their invention fly at supersonic speed into two skyscrapers in New York City. All of this and more – so much more – was lived by that extraordinary cohort Tom Brokaw called, “The Greatest Generation.”
No doubt, these are trying times. Today is filled with new challenges, not yet conquered obstacles, and chronic problems that we as a people can’t seem to excise. Yet, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Certainly, our grandparents and great-grandparents did not solve everything that was wrong in their world. In fact, they created some of the issues we struggle with now! But oh the pain they suffered, and the colossal challenges they overcame! They survived. So will we.
(Picture courtesy of CPUSA Archives.)