Dear Kacee and Your Generation Y:
You were born into Generation Y. I was born into the Y Generation. Big Difference. You’re young and full of yourself, just as we were forty years ago. We were just as ignorant, naïve and inexperienced as you are now. Only the world we were born into was far different than the one that exists today. There was no Internet, no cell phones, text messaging, 24 hour news, no microwaves and no instantaneous anything. You wanted the news, you bought the paper for 7¢ in the morning and the evening addition at night. Then you turned on Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, or Walter Cronkite when you arrived home at night. At dinner, the entire family, sat around the dinner table and talked about what went on with everyone during the day and what was going on in the country and maybe the world. You have to remember, the world was a much larger place back then. Going to Hawaii was a very big deal! Going to Europe, Russia, Africa, South America, Asia was huge! (Well, for everyone except my adventuresome Mom!)
But allow me to explain how we became the Y Generation. We grew up on Ozzie & Harriot, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, and a host of radio shows before that. We grew up with Super Man who promoted Truth, Justice and the American Way! And, not only did we believe it, our parents believed it. After all, they had just come out of the real Great Depression and World War II. They knew what it was like to have to survive both in an incomprehensible economic downturn and a war. And the beauty was that they passed those stories of what they went through down to my generation, because, in my case, my parents wanted me to be prepared.
Ok, so maybe you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, “Do I puke now or later?” But there’s more. Hiroshima may have ended the war with Japan, but it began a whole new era called the Arm’s Race. In grade school we had to learn and practice a drill called Duck and Roll. It may sound like an old Rock N’Roll dance step, but it wasn’t. It was what we practiced in case of nuclear attack. Someone had the bright idea that if we hit the floor and ducked under our desks, we might be saved from a nuclear explosion should Russia decide to attack us. At the same time, there was a Senator from Wisconsin named McCarthy who was off his rocker and a drunk, but because he was a US Senator, had a voice that started McCarthyism. Basically, he created a nationwide witch hunt to find Communists everywhere throughout the United States. And by gum, he did! Whether they existed or not. It was a pure case of guilty until proven innocent and a lot of good people had their lives ruined because of it. It took the likes of Edward R. Murrow and others to finally stand up to this maniac, but by then, it was too, late. He had done his damage, including helping to get us into the Korean War. There was this imaginary line called the 34rd Parallel and we determined that NO COMMUNIST was ever going to cross it! But then, things went wrong. Actually they went very wrong. President Truman forgot a very important rule of war called the Munich Analogy. This is where you are only suppose to go so far in war and no further, but further he went. Our troops crossed the line and invaded deeper into Korea which resulted in our awakening the Chinese who didn’t like it at all. But that was Ok, because while we were in a Cold War with Russia, and Eisenhower (I Like Ike) trounced Adlai Stevenson for the presidency, there came another raucous in Southeast Asia in a country called Viet Nam. You may or may not know this, but Eisenhower, the General of the Allied Forces in WWII, and the key person in charge of D-Day, was known for playing a lot of golf during his eight years in office. But, he was a crafty, old S.O.B, because it was a ploy. He figured that if the nation saw him playing golf and looking relaxed, then all must be right with the world. Well, it wasn’t. Because first and foremost the Russians decided to take the Arms Race up a notch and add in the Race for Space. Which, by the way is another thing you have to keep in mind. At the end of WWII, there was this guy named Werner von Braun who was Hitler’s number one scientist for creating missiles and weapons of mass destruction like the V-1 that was notorious for destroying building and killing Brits. Von Braun had other things he’d been working on, but fortunately, VE Day came before he could produce them. But, when the war ended, it was a big deal as to who would get von Braun and his fellow scientists.. the USA or Russia. Fortunately, von Braun was smart enough to know NOT to go with the Russians and surrendered to the United States where he was taken to Alamogordo and White Sands Missile Base to do his thing. But, that’s another story.
Oh, did I mention that while all of that was going on, some guy name Fidel Castro, a lawyer from Cuba, teamed up with a Guerilla fighter named Che Guevara to overthrow Batista in Cuba. Cuba was that little country, much like Puerto Rico, full of fun and a lot of poverty and not that far from Miami. Like right next door!
Jumping forward, we had another presidential election in 1960 with Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard M. Nixon versus the upstart new kid, John F. Kennedy. It was one helluva time and the vote was damn close. Mayor Daley of Chicago handed the election to Kennedy on a platter by delivering Chicago and much of Illinois, in spite of a good part of Illinois being very Republican back then. Then Kennedy, brand new in office, started making some very bad decisions, like the Bay of Pigs. Invading Cuba and trying to overthrow Castro sounded like a great idea at the time. But it ended very badly. But that was soon forgotten about because things then got worse. Kruschev, in between pounding his shoe on the table at the UN saying Russia was going to bury the United States, suddenly had the brilliant idea to establish a missile base in Cuba. You know, Cuba? That little country, kind of like Puerto Rico only even closer to Miami!! Well… let me tell you.. EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE was scared shitless. It was the first time in my short life that I could ever remember seeing fear in my parents’ faces. Because President Kennedy, now smarter and a little more experienced in these matters since the Bay of Pigs, called for a blockade around Cuba, causing the entire world to hold its breath. (I can still remember my brother and I trying to dig a huge hole in our backyard to build a bomb shelter to protect us from the impending nuclear war. That old duck and roll stuff was out. Bomb Shelters were in! Only in our case, our house was located so close to the DesPlaines River that every time we dug down more than six feet, the hole would fill up with river water!)
Well, whistling in the dark, scared to death, every one breathed a sigh of relief when Kruschev pulled out his missiles from Cuba and went home. The concessions he got out of Kennedy were never completely determined, but on paper, Kennedy looked great. In reality, Kruschev won the stare down.
Jumping forward again I take you to November 22, 1963. I was in gym class in the wrestling room in high school when the announcement came over the PA system. Everyone was to go home immediately. The school is closed. President John F. Kennedy has been shot in Dallas, Texas by a lone gunman. Just writing this still gives me the chills. We were glued to our television sets. We watched it all. We even saw Jack Ruby step up and kill Lee Harvey Oswald live on national television. We saw a blood splattered Jackie Kennedy standing next to Lyndon Banes Johnson as he was sworn into office. Then came the presidential election of Barry Goldwater, the first Conservative Republican going up against the now incumbent, Lyndon Johnson. Johnson actually ran ads of nuclear explosions implying that Goldwater’s plans for Viet Nam would lead to just that. (Keep in mind that this is 1964, not 2010. Keep in mind that we just came off the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy Assassination. Now we’re watching nuclear mushroom clouds on our television sets!) Johnson won and ended up escalating the Viet Nam War calling for more troops each month. Simultaneously, America is experiencing major racial problems and the Race for Space continues. Johnson was being spread very thin and the country was now prepared to give up the Race for Space in order to deal with RACE. Negroes were no longer Negroes. They were now Blacks. The Black Muslims, lead by Allejah Muhammed rose up, and Cassius Clay suddenly became Muhammed Ali. Muhammed Ali made a stand and said he would not serve and not be drafted and gave up is Heavyweight Title. (By the way, he won that title as Cassius Clay by knocking out a guy named Sonny Liston who was virtually incapable of being knocked out. The fact that he owed a lot of money and his life to the mob and had an occasional drug problem, may have had something to do with the outcome, but no one will ever know. Liston was certainly not going to talk, since he showed up dead not much longer after that.)
Next came February 21, 1965 in New York City when Malcom X, the militant Black Muslim was gunned down. Then in August of 1965 racial tensions exploded in Watts, a section of Los Angeles that came to be known as the Watts Riots.
Again moving forward… the Viet Nam War was in our living rooms and on our television sets from 1963 to 1972. In 1968 President Johnson, on national television, announced he would not seek a second full term of office. Chances are, he would not have won anyway. Johnson was a lot of things, but what he was BEST at was being a politician. And he had learned from the best. Sam Rayburn, the Speaker of the House. Although, in spite of political skills and craftiness, he was outfoxed by a craftier John F. Kennedy back in 1960. Johnson wanted the presidency, but Kennedy outmaneuvered him for the candidacy. Then turned around and named him the vice presidential candidate. But that, too is another story.
With Johnson out of the race, the 1968 Presidential election became a free for all. But, I have to have you hold that thought for a moment, because something else occurred on April 4th of that year. James Earl Ray, a white man in Memphis, Tennessee shot down Martin Luther King, Jr. and the country went riotous! The Martin Luther King riots were nasty nationwide and you had to see them to believe it. I was in Chicago when Mayor Daley and Fire Commisioner Quinn, in a helicopter over the West Side of Chicago gave the Shoot to Kill Order. It was scary. So scary that my dad would not allow our factory employees to go home. He brought in cots and food for everyone rather than try to get back to their homes on the West Side and South Side of Chicago that night.
Getting back to the political race, Bobby Kennedy was the Democratic Frontrunner with Nixon going in for the Republicans. But then in Los Angeles, after winning the California Primary on June 5, 1968 on live national television, we witnessed Sirhan Sirhan gundown Bobby Kennedy as he went through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. This was just four months after Martin Luther King’s assassination. Simply stated, the country was in a state of emotional and psychological shock. But wait, there’s more. In August of 1968, the Democrats held their national convention in Chicago where Mayor Daley decided to hold court. It turned out to be a riot. Literally. The SDS (Headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin and known for blowing up things like buildings) and the Chicago Seven showed up with umpteen thousand of their closest friends to protest the Viet Nam War. Turns out that Mayor Daley didn’t care much for that idea and didn’t like hippies in the first place, so he had his cops beat the helloutta them in Grant Park. I was in Chicago at the time. The Democratic candidates, McCarthy (not the Communist baiter, but a different one) was expected to stand up for the kids and their protest but did nothing. Humbert Humphrey, the Happy Warrior from Minnesota, received the nomination, but did nothing either. The kids got their asses kicked. Dick Gregory, a well known Black comedian of the era, may have done more. When approached by an army of Chicago Police and asked where he was going with an army of protestors behind him, Gregory said, I’m taking all these kids over to my house for a beer! It was ugly. It was brutal and it was what caused Humphrey to lose the election, narrowly, to Nixon. (Oh, I forgot to mention that in 1964, Humphrey, a presidential candidate, was shown in Life Magazine, standing in front of his campaign bus that had run out of gas, looking frumpy with his pockets turned inside out because he was broke. Between 1964 and 1968 there was a thing called the Milk Scandal in Minnesota and suddenly Humphrey was a multi-Millionaire. Oh, well. I digress.)
On August 15, 1969 as fighting raged in Vietnam, a group of 400,000+ converged on a dairy farm in New York State for three days of frolicking in the spirit of peace, love and music. It was called Woodstock. I didn’t attend, but I certainly knew about it. And I am proud to say I just recently visited the museum in Bethel. It was a very emotional experience that brought back far more memories than I ever thought it would. Again, I digress.
I graduated from college in May of 1971 with a draft number of 147. There was a major recession going on and I found myself competing with PhD.s for jobs. Plus, the first question I was always asked was, “What’s your draft number?” I’d tell them and it would be the end of the interview. So, long about July, I was drafted and took my physical, which I passed. About two weeks later, they no longer wanted my draft number and I was told the government would not be needing my services. In the meantime, I had a brother (who had won the Silver Star) on his second tour of duty and friends coming home in body bags.
Well, Nixon, in a sense, finally had the good sense to declare the War over, announced that we won and brought everyone home. We didn’t win and we knew it. It was a stupid war because it was fought with our hands tied behind our backs. Friends and family lost their lives and so many others were never quite right after that war that it just wasn’t worth it. Even dumber is the fact that the French, who had been there before us, told us not to go there. But, because of the Communist Hunting McCarthyism Era, Eisenhower encouraged Kennedy to pursue Viet Nam and Johnson took it to a whole nother level.
Moving forward again, I take you to 1972. Governor Wallace of Alabama, well known for his segregationist thinking, decided to make a run for the presidency. But on May 15 of that year, his dreams and aspirations came to an end when a 21 year old kid shot him. Wallace ended up paralyzed and in a wheelchair thereafter and that was pretty much the end of him. But there’s more…
I now take you to June 17, 1972 and the Watergate Break In. Did Nixon do it? Was he involved? Could he have done it? The hearings went on and on. Everyone was glued to their television sets in disbelief. People lying, people going to prison, Liddy threatening to kill Dean with a pencil to the forehead on behalf of the president. The missing tapes, the undermining of America. “I am not a crook!” The wave with the both hands up in the air holding the victory sign as he departs the presidency on a helicopter. It was unbelievable.
Gerald Ford, Nixon’s second VP (his first one, Spiro T. Agnew ended up in prison) replaced Nixon and immediately pardoned him. Ford was pretty much a do-nothing president, and his claim to fame was probably making SNL’s Chevy Chase a household name. Next came a peanut farmer and nuclear physicist named Jimmy Carter who was beyond inept. With him we had the Russians invading Afghanistan, for which we boycotted the Olympics that year. But, the biggest thing happened on November 4, 1979. Well it actually started in October. The Shah of Iran came to the United States for cancer treatment. (Did I mention that the CIA basically put the Shah in office? Well, that too is another story. Anyway, when the Shah came to America for his cancer treatment, the Ayatollah incited Iranian militants to attack the U.S. On November 4, Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and took approximately seventy Americans captive that lasted 444 days. The exiled Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran in February 1979 and whipped popular discontent into rabid anti-Americanism that went on for a long while. Actually it went on long enough to make Ted Koppel a household name because he seized upon the situation to start his own show called Nightline covering the hostage situation. Oh, yes. Carter also gave the Panama Canal back to Panama. I’m sure that didn’t sit too well with Teddy Roosevelt, but then again, he had been dead for a very long time.
So, what’s my point with this historical journey I’ve just taken you through? My generation is not a very trusting lot, especially when it comes to the U.S. Government. Which explains why we are truly the Y Generation. We question everything and believe very little. Nothing is as it appears to be. We have lived through and experienced things that have caused us to be circumspect, cynical and downright suspicious.
Another thing I wish to point out is this. Like you, I sat in college with my peers and we were all in agreement on what was wrong with the world. The problem was that not only were we short on life experiences, but we were all the same. There was no other voice of reason to tell us we were flat out wrong or too naïve, or too one-sided. But, at least we had seen things going on this country that caused us to question everything. We had seen and lived through racial violence and riots. We had seen presidents, candidates and major figures shot and killed. We lived Viet Nam from eighth grade through one year after graduation from college. But, at least we were involved!
So far, from what I’ve seen of your Generation Y, I can foresee that you are winning and my generation has lost the good fight. You don’t want to do anything, you want to be paid for doing nothing, you have entitlement issues, you believe in nothing, you have no true loyalty to the United States and feel you can flee the country at the drop of a hat. You don’t want to commit to a job or a company because it will interfere with your social life and you want to be vice presidents with no experience while making $100k right out of school. And that is exactly the direction this country is headed. Personally, I am glad I am at the head of the Boomer Line and on my way out.
And when the time comes when your generation takes over, all I can say is Good night, good luck and you’re on your own. I hope there is something left for you to take over.