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Letter to the Editor

BY DI READERS | AUGUST 21, 2009 7:07 AM

The Silent Generation

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa — currently receiving criticism over their leadership on health-care reform — are representatives of my generation: the Silent Generation born in the depths of the Great Depression that came of age watching the Greatest Generation do great things in war and peace and serving as our leaders.

We had a mannerly capacity to fit in and stay out of the way of these GI movers and shakers and a silent-but-obliging capacity of heroic jumping, without even having to ask how high. This prompted a 1949 article in Fortune to ask if we might prove to be “so tractable and harmonious as to be incapable, 20 years hence, of making provocative decisions?”

It is now twice more than 20 years hence, and during the passing time, we have produced no leaders of our own but have been magnificent followers of leaders such as FDR, Truman, Ike, JFK, LBJ, and the last leader of any noted achievement (but of great flaw), Nixon.

We are still great followers, but now find ourselves urged by a community organizer to step up and lead the way. Being politely intractable, we insist that chief executive, head of state, and Commander in Chief Obama should go first.

As Frank Conroy said of our generation, “We [members of the Silent Generation] had no leaders [of our own], no program, no sense of our power [that damn A-bomb made us feel very puny], and no culture exclusively of our own.” But we easily spotted a leader when we saw one, and right now we find ourselves looking and looking and looking.

We also loved and learned history and don’t recall that when rebellious Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, Abe Lincoln dashed down to Charleston Harbor and held a town-hall meeting with all of the interested parties — Abe being the guy that took the country to war to ensure “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people did not perish from the Earth.”

Sam Osborne
West Branch


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