The “Silent Generation” Speaks Up - After 66 Years Re: Politics & Society Today
by Paul Steinhacker
The idea of giving names to succeeding generations based on their attitude or defining relation to overall American society came about towards the end of the 20thcentury. Generally, the first generation to be referred to in this way came to be known as “The Greatest Generation” due to their contribution, perseverance and unity during World War II and the great depression. The following societal division; their younger brothers and sisters was given the name “The Silent Generation” partly as a result of the low birth rates during the depression; and they followed in rather natural unquestioning fashion the values of the preceding generation. Coming of age during the Korean War era they generally did not make too big a deal of accepting the course of events and hardships and had been taught not to make waves and to be un-complaining, hence the title, “The Silent Generation.”
In fact, as a cohesive voice, they have been a group little heard from since, and they seem to have been a skipped generation as to political leadership, as the major leaders seem to have come from the WWII generation and then the 1960’s “baby boom” generation. What they did contribute was a generally effective pursuit of their lives, beneficial to society in being grounded in efficiency and self–responsibility.
It might be considered that American society during the ten year period from the end of the Korean War to the assassination of president Kennedy reached somewhat of a peak in its substantial prosperity, an increasingly settled and pleasant lifestyle and considerable unity & shared values among all segments of society including the less prosperous. There was a certain optimism related to the expanding economy, increasing opportunities, assimilation of immigrant groups to the overall society and an enlarging civil rights movement. Albeit, some over-conservative viewpoints were common, but a fine ethic of self-responsibility that inspired society was predominant.
After president Kennedy’s death, from the mid-1960’s to the present, much of American society changed, so how might an older person, approaching the end of their days, a member of the Silent Generation and veteran of the Korean war look at the status of American politics and society today? Noting that human society has a weakness in tending to forget the lessons of the past, perhaps we can, rather late in the game, in the ninth inning of our lives, so to speak, provide some input. Living now in Seattle, a city which combines some aspects of the 1950’s with a long time left-wing influence; perhaps we can use Seattle as a focus point, which it is, in discussing issues affecting American society today.
I have just finished reading an interesting article in this publication, a reminiscence of the mood of “Woodstock” which to me would be a keyword encapsulating the spirit and philosophy of the 1960’s generation ideological movement and counter culture. Although there was a valuable idealism inherent in this movement, unfortunately it also contained concepts which were a negative to the progress of American society such as a promotion or acceptance of drug usage, a certain down-grading of self-responsibility ideals; and other impractical or counter-productive ideas. The origin of these negative aspects will be further referred to but unfortunately they have been accepted into the context of the predominant political thought in Seattle and the West Coast. The mood of political discourse in Seattle has become so divisive, combined with Seattle’s inclination not to create waves (except for the left) that people have become hesitant to express opinions.
Being a Democrat for most of my life and having had a position in the advertising field in 1964 and 1968 of organizing Robert Kennedy’s print media political advertising, and being a strong supporter of president Obama, I would unfortunately have to say that for years the policies of the city government in Seattle, though idealistically intended, pretty much represent the mood and thought of the 1960’s generation movement’s disorganized thinking at that time, including its negative aspects. My approach is that the judgement of political success should be based on results. In Seattle the results have been:
The greatest homeless population per capita in the U.S., in total numbers second only to L.A. and NYC. This has largely been a self-created expansion of the problem due to acceptance of all kinds of irresponsibility, a tolerance of drug use and an effective subsidizing of homelessness as a way of life; rather than instituting self-responsibility requirements in all city housing, shelter and social programs, city provided jobs and training, emphasis on drug treatment rather than “harm reduction.” Such more positive and proactive policies might have been a good start in reducing dependency and improving lives. Currently and for years past, the number of homeless in Seattle has increased in direct proportion to increased amounts of money spent on the problem.
A huge drug addiction problem has developed, possibly one of the highest per capita of big cities in the U.S. resulting in increasing homelessness, dependency, developing crime on the streets and destroyed lives.
Somehow a negation has developed of the most successful aspect of American immigration policy which was cultural assimilation, represented by the phrase E Plurbus Unum(Out of Many, One). Starting about in the 1970’s an idea called the “Salad Bowl” approach (Multi-Culturalism) started to be promoted as predominate, an approach which is divisive by nature and prevents immigrants from fully partaking in the benefits of American society. The ideal should rather be respecting and fostering one’s past culture for maybe 1/5 of one’s values and American culture for the rest, which worked so well in the past. Spoken as a person of minority ethnic background.
The promotion of illegal immigration on the west coast could well be having the effect of reducing job opportunities and potential financial advancement of minority groups.
Encampments of homeless, traditional transients & vagrants and addicts all over the city living in primitive and unhealthy conditions has been allowed, when funds for shelters with self- responsibility requirements and livable conditions are available.
The approach by the political party in power in many of the large cities does not emphasize the opportunities available for minority groups who have been long time citizens, and instead emphasizes primarily the negative, difficult aspects of their relation to society, thus undermining initiative, rather than encouraging staying in school, job training including tech, staying away from drugs and gangs and the over influence of negative hip-hop music. They should rather be encouraging seeking jobs, such as construction which are well paid and plentiful-maritime jobs, etc. In general, an ideal for all groups might be developed—Get high on life-not drugs. One of president Obama’s oversights was not getting out more in the neighborhoods to promote and inspire these types of concepts and opportunities
The programs of “The Great Society” instituted from the mid to later 1960’s throughout the country; greatly increased welfare, etc., were idealistically intended. Unfortunately some also had the corollary effect of greatly increasing long-term dependency because they did not have built in well thought out and managed self-responsibility requirements. This increased dependency became a set-back to advancement of minority groups at the very time opportunities were arising due to the successes of the Civil Rights movement.
Getting back to how the 1960’s generation intended idealistic movement which was an attempt to lighten up on some perhaps overly-strict moralities and promote love and peace (though some aspects of the movement became violent and revolutionary) was infiltrated by the negative aspects we are still living with, might be explained in that the movement was not thought out in the difficult practical manner necessary for progress. Thus it became susceptible to the negative influence of our Cold War adversaries who desired to negatively impact the progress of American society, partly through the introduction of counter-productive concepts, and used the American left as their implement, which at that time was quite under the influence of Russian communism, sometimes unknowingly.
Russia’s influence in this regard in efforts to de-stabilize American society is certainly not a new thing and has been going on for very many years. Some of these negative ideas were the promotion and glorification of drugs, e.g., “tune in drop out” and the promotion of homelessness & drugs as a rite of passage for youth—and a great deal of the context and results of that thought still prevails. There was no overwhelming drug or homeless problem before that era. Also the downgrading of certain past accepted moralities and self- responsibility concepts perhaps represented by the 50’s era, the church and particularly organizations such as the Boy Scouts was a negative to society.
The election of Donald Trump and his unfortunate erratic, off the cuff, impulsive and quite crude approach to societal and political issues, which need to be addressed, was likely a gut reaction of the electorate to their frustration in not seeing a common sense approach to the various problems and issues mentioned above.
His time in office will pass and the country will move on and re-think, but currently both parties are contributing to a great lack of societal unity which has become dangerous. In that sense we probably need a new party based on common sense, practicality as well as compassion, that would cherish all people and represent in a realistic but creative fashion the probably 75% of the electorate who tend to be middle of the road and are not being represented.
In reflection does it really make sense that our representative political system currently has come to electing either one or the other of two parties which have become completely polarized, verging to extremes of their viewpoints, causing any attempt at progress to develop into a quarrel or worse? Amidst the hectic arena of politics, we might forget that the logical basis of politics ideally should not be a constant drum-beat—"We’ve got to get elected. We’ve got to get elected” or re-elected, or that person has to go, or this ideology we follow has to prevail, regardless of whether it works and actually is helpful to society, or is counter-productive. The decision of the electorate ideally should be based on which policies actually work and can in practice be of the most benefit to society, rather than asking: which party do I follow?
The mind-set of both parties has become rather locked and non-productive. Just the very basic idea of building a party around what makes the most sense for society in total, not set ingrained thought, can clear the mind and lead to better more productive policy. Hopefully the approaches developed would combine some new enlightened perspectives with a reasoning, rational explanation of positions, which in their basic good sense would foster a renewed unity.
Paul Steinhacker served in Korea, 1953 - 7thInfantry Division -- at the time the “Silent Generation” came of age. Later, Paul Steinhacker was in the advertising agency business in New York and California for 16 years and worked on Robert Kennedy’s political advertising in 1964 and 1968. Changing careers in 1968 he owned a gallery of antique Tribal Art in New York for 30 years. This work took him to Alaska yearly for 25 years, where he also had a sideline in gold mining, eventually staking out 1,300 acres of gold claims with a cabin in the bush north of Nome. He is currently retired, living in Seattle and is interested in the local politics.