In Our Time

Lost Generations

“You are all a lost generation,” Gertrude Stein is said to have told Ernest Hemingway when he and his first wife were living in Paris after the Great War.  Since then, the generation that was born in the 1890’s and reached maturity to fight in the terrible conflict that came close to exterminating both it and Europe and created the first truly modern society during the “Roaring Twenties” has entered the American imagination and gone down in American history under that sobriquet, as if it would own it forever.  In fact, Hemingway’s and Scott Fitzgerald’s generation was only the first in a sequence of progressively lost generations stretching from their own down to the present one, and which includes the so-called Greatest Generation that the original Lost Generation sired and raised.

The Greatest Generation, so named for its stalwart endurance during the Great Depression, its victorious prosecution of the Second World War, and its postwar success in building the richest and most powerful country in history, was rediscovered by sentimental patriots a dozen or so years ago and has subsequently been represented as the heroic model for American youth to imitate, though the high esteem in which it is viewed today charitably ignores its sins.  The Greatest Generation gave the country President Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex,” C. Wright Mills’ “power...

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