A few years ago I heard a speaker talk about how terrible the 1960s were; his contention was that it was a period marked by immorality, crime, and vice; sure, those things took place as they did in the 1920 or the 1950s — two decades often thought to be a period of morality and righteousness. Moreover, the premise of those two decades was constructed around a sense of myth and falsities. Why not address the lynchings of blacks or the domestic oppression of women? How about the wage earner? Those who were exploited for their labor much like many Mexicans continue to be. I do believe that the 1960s was the greatest decade ever; it allowed for a transformation that inculcated a belief in true liberty and civil rights. The construction of the constitution failed to do this for the obvious reasons I have stated before:
Democratic ideas are most likely to take root among discontented and oppressed classes, rising middle classes, or perhaps some sections of an old, alienated, and partially disinherited aristocracy, but they do not appeal to a privileged class that is still amplifying its privileges. With a half dozen exceptions at most, the men who had considerable position and wealth, and as a group they had advanced well beyond their fathers.
One of the things Hofstadter writes about in his many works is that of economic elitism. He described the framers as men who created an oligarchy via the Constitution only as an instrument to protect their wealth and status; he questions the democratic nature of the founders and the Constitution. Moreover, he discusses history as an entity protected by the very men who used it to enhance their status.
Howard Zinn writes in his piece on the Greatest Generation:
I would propose other choices if we are to educate the young people of our time in the values of peace and justice.
We might take the generation of the American Revolution, another generation almost universally considered “great.” I would not choose the Founding Fathers to represent it. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Madison have had enough adulation, and their biographies clog the book review sections of the major media.
The Founding Fathers did lead the war for independence from Britain. But they did not do it for the equal right of all to life, liberty, and equality. Their intention was to set up a new government that would protect the property of slave owners, land speculators, merchants, and bondholders. Independence from England had already been secured in parts of the country by grassroots rebellion a year before the battles at Lexington and Concord that initiated hostilities with Britain. (See Ray Raphael’s A Peoples History of the American Revolution, New Press, 2001.) It is one of the phenomena of modern times that revolutions are not favored unless they are led by people who are not revolutionaries at heart.
Zinn goes on to state:
Those who saw combat in World War II, whether they lived or died, are celebrated as heroes. But it seems clear that the degree of heroism attributed to soldiers varies according to the moral reputation of the war. The fighters of World War II share a special glory because that war has always been considered a “good war,” more easily justified (except by those who refuse to justify any war) than the wars our nation waged against Vietnam or Korea or Iraq or Panama or Grenada. And so they are “the greatest generation.”
What makes them so great? These men-the sailors of Pearl Harbor, the soldiers of the D-Day invasion, the crews of the bombers and fighters- risked their lives in war, perhaps because they believed the war was just, perhaps because they wanted to save a friend, perhaps because they had some vague idea they were doing this “for my country.” And even if I believe that there is no such thing as a just war, even if I think that men do not fight for “our country” but for those who run our country, the sacrifice of soldiers who believe, even wrongly, that they are fighting for a good cause is to be acknowledged. But not admired.
I refuse to celebrate them as “the greatest generation” because in doing so we are celebrating courage and sacrifice in the cause of war. And we are miseducating the young to believe that military heroism is the noblest form of heroism, when it should be remembered only as the tragic accompaniment of horrendous policies driven by power and profit. Indeed, the current infatuation with World War II prepares us-innocently on the part of some, deliberately on the part of others-for more war, more military adventures, more attempts to emulate the military heroes of the past.
I think Zinn presents a few pointos to ponder and think about, though I do not wholly agree withh all of his conclusions; however, he does give me something to take and wrestle with.