The reality is that each successive generation must deal with the mistakes made by the generations that came before. In particular what I am referring to is the decisions they made while in power that impacted generations that followed. For instance my great-grandparents generation, those born between the Civil War and turn of the 19th century, were in power from 1920 to 1960, encompassing Presidents Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower. Their legacy was not only the Great Depression and recovery from it, but also WWII, Korea, the atomic age, Israel and the beginnings of the Cold War. These events shaped the lives of my grandparents’ generation, who were coming of age in this time period.
My grandparent’s generation, born in the time period between 1900 and 1925, were in power for 32 years. This includes Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George HW Bush. Just like the generation before, this generation had to deal with events already set in motion before its time. This includes Jim Crow/separate but equal, the Cold War, and the rise and fall of the US as the only industrial power. This group, though, also set events in action that shaped the next generation. Abortion rights, Vietnam, the rise of the Religious Right, the Kennedy assassinations, and The Great Society legislations, just to name a few. These are all events that shaped their children, the Baby Boomers, who are now in power.
It is easy to demonstrate these burdens. For example the US policy, in the time of my great-grandparents and grandparents, was to win the Cold War by playing god in other countries. We toppled leaders all around the globe, inserting our own favorites, even if those people were despots. One famous example, of course, is Saddam Hussein, who we armed in the fight against Iran. Another is Afghanistan, who we armed and trained in the fight again the Soviet Union and then abandoned as soon as “we” won. That war destabilized the country and led directly to the rise of the Taliban. In both cases, we ended up fighting wars to topple those we made powerful.
Iran, of course is another example. We directly disposed of a leader, inserted our own, who was later disposed by religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, which led to the Iran hostage situation that the movie Argo portrayed. These events, while dealt with by Carter of my grandparent’s generation, were set in motion by great-grandparent generation leader Eisenhower when he helped the Shah come to power in 1953. The Baby Boomers in power now (and likely the generations to follow) will still be dealing with this fateful decision put in motion 60 years ago.
Of course not all burdens remain. I was born in 1973. Just a few years before, Rosa Parks refused to move, the march on Birmingham occurred, Selma happened, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were shot, Watts burned. But these events didn’t encompass my generation; they are the burden of my parents generation and grandparent’s generation. I only know these events because of what I’m told and what I’ve read. They are not apart of my psyche. I’m not certain that the guilt over slavery, the guilt of “separate but equal,” hangs over my generation as it burdens my parents and shapes their politics and world views. The same is true of abortion and gay rights.
The Baby Boomers have now been in power for 24 years now (or rather will be when Barack Obama’s second term is complete). We are likely to see one or two more Baby Boomers elected president before us Generation Xers and Yers get our shot. What burdens will we carry forward? And which will roll off our backs?