The First Milestone Of 2011

January 1, 2011 is a landmark date for many Americans as it marks the beginning of the Baby Boom generation’s passage into old age, turning 65. Considering the social changes effected by those born between January 1, 1946 and December 31,1964, it’s an important milestone. For that reason I am posting a re-edited essay I wrote in 2007, “On The Baby Boom Generation.”

The Baby Boom generation refers to those born during the post WW2 population growth of 75 million, from 1946-1964. Steve Gillian, in his book “Boomer Nation” divides that period, and defines those born from 1946-1957 as the “Boomers” and those born from 1958-1964 as the “Shadow Boomers”. Not everyone agrees with his breakdown, and some use 1955 as the cut off point for the “early” boomers.

The Boomers are considered by many to be the instigators of the counter-culture revolution of the sixties, primarily because they reached their mid to late teenage years at the height of the Vietnam War and were the ones who were being drafted to fight what was increasingly considered an illegal and immoral conflict.

The war remains the defining event for this generation although this was also the time when television was maturing and broadcast journalism was coming to the forefront. The early Boomers were the first to grow up on television and it served as a catalyst to unify their social awareness by exposing them to foreign events all at the same time. Visual reports by correspondents assigned to the war were being reported daily and at no previous time had foreign conflicts been so viscerally  experienced with such immediacy.

The Boomers had a direct impact on every political and social issue of the time and this led to explosive debates on university campuses across the country over such issues as moral responsibility, the meaning of patriotism, ethics in government, free expression, and on liberalism, all being fed by and expanding mass media.

Mistrust and cynicism of the establishment emerged, as the accepted philosophy that older means wiser was challenged by children who thought their parents generation were far too complacent with respect to the war and other issues and that they were perhaps in a state of denial and apathy precipitated by the shock of their own experience during world war 2. These challenges to authority proliferated into many different areas that included where the line should be drawn between nationalistic pride and a more expansive geopolitical world view; and individual religious freedom with the more extreme fundamentalism we now find ourselves struggling with. This represented more than just the usual rebelliousness, it was a generational revolution that was also spreading in other countries.

The Boomers disrupted the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon by rallying large numbers of people to protest against the increasingly transparent governmental hypocrisy. Never before had such numbers been seen not only in Washington, but all over the planet. During the 1968 Democratic Convention, Chicago became a major battleground over the legitimacy of the war and one of the most visible signs that social changes in the country were accelerating.

Converging with this cynicism for authority were the other important issues of the turbulent sixties of which the Boomer generation had a direct impact on such as the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, Ecology, Sexual Liberation, Drugs, Music, the introduction to the west of Eastern Philosophy, and the gay movement.

Although some of their political and social positions were later adopted by the older generations, the original message those in power sent to the Boomers was “shut up and do what your told because we, the older generation are in charge and know better.” This kind of answer was not good enough, and it directly clashed with the increased freedoms afforded by mass-media creating a new younger powerful political force. Through their vocal positions and actions, they pointed out that the older generation did not have a monopoly on what was right, simply because they were “older.” The claim that their longer  experience with institutions and life inherently led them to make make better decisions was not being digested as easily as it had been by previous generations.

One of the persons regarded highly for enabling the early baby boom generation to develop as it had was Dr. Benjamin Spock  (1903-1998). A respected pediatrician, a liberal thinker and a revolutionary in child rearing practices, he began a series of popular books commencing in 1946 with “The Common Sense Book Of Baby And Child Care”, in which he used psychoanalytic theories to understand the relationship between early childhood development, family dynamics and children’s needs. He stressed more flexibility and affection with children and changed the focus from the previously held attitude that child rearing should be about building discipline and suppressing displays of emotion because it would spoil them. His philosophy was adopted by many new parents and his principles laid the foundation for a radical change in bringing up baby, allowing for the development of a freer and more individually aware generation subjected to instantaneous communication, and a new political force for the establishment to contend with.

The impact of the Boomer’s  now approaching retirement age is their sheer numbers will place great pressure on the Social Security System and Medicare, both of which they will be eligible to receive. The AIDS crisis can be traced back to the Free Love movement that was a hallmark of their generation and threatens to overwhelm the medical care system. But, many reforms implemented in the government are a direct result of the cynicism first displayed by this generation, a profound legacy.

Perhaps things can be learned by pausing and looking back retrospectively while everything is still contemporary, then letting go, hopefully after being somewhat confident that the mistakes won’t be repeated.

Societal choices can be compared to individual choice; everyone makes mistakes, and one way to anticipate potential errors in judgment that may appear in the future is to develop the instinct to see when similar challenges approach close enough in time to be able to alter the momentum and find better solutions. Many things to reflect on for the generation that will begin its passage into old age on January 1, 2011.

Freedomland, U.S.A.