Looking Back

Increasingly, I find myself in the position of someone born shortly after the War of the American Revolution when looking back from the vantage point of 1860. Or how someone born in 1870 would feel looking back from 1940.

Let’s define some terms.

Generation cognomen Born from
Greatest Generation 1901-1924
Silent Generation 1925-1945
Baby Boomers 1946-1964
Generation X 1965-1985
Millennials 1986-2004

Those are very approximate. I’m using Tom Brokaw’s definition of the “Greatest Generation” and assigning later generations based on attitudes rather than strict year count. Necessarily, there’s quite a bit of overlap.

Here’s one way of looking at it. If the first president you can remember is Calvin Coolidge, you’re Greatest Generation. If the first president you can remember is Franklin Roosevelt, you’re Silent Generation. If the first president you can remember is John Kennedy, you’re a Baby Boomer. If the first president you remember is Ronald Reagan, you’re Gen X. If the first president you remember is Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, you’re a Millennial.

Here’s another way. John Wayne was Greatest Generation. James Dean was Silent Generation (so is Dustin Hoffman). Madonna is a Baby Boomer although her primary market has been Gen Xers. Will Smith is Generation X. Selena Gomez is a Millennial.

Now we’re beginning to meander towards my point. Although I think that Baby Boomers are justifiably blamed for all sorts of things, I also think they’re given a bad rap about some things. Who do you think of when you think when you of when I say “1960s campus radicals”? The leaders of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and William Ayres were all Silent Generation. Most of those both fighting and protesting the Vietnam War were Silent Generation although they were joined by some of the oldest Baby Boomers. The Haight-Ashbury scene? Silent Generation. Leisure suits? Silent Generation. Disco? For that you can blame Baby Boomers.

Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are all Silent Generation. Chuck Schumer is a Baby Boomer.

8 comments… add one
  • bob sykes

    Born in 43, the first President I remember is Eisenhower. So, I’m some sort of tweener.

    I don’t regard myself as a boomer, and I have no use for any of their “revolutions,” “”marches,” “movements,” etc. However, you do have to give them credit for great music, which more or less petered out in the late 70’s.

  • I would have thought Truman. You’re definitely not a Baby Boomer.

    IMO MTV killed popular music. Dancing became much more important than words and music.

    Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Temptations, and the Supremes were all Silent Generation. Michael Jackson, Jackson Browne, the Bee Gees, the Doobie Brothers, Credence Clearwater Revival, Chicago (mostly) and the Eagles—Baby Boomers.

  • PD Shaw

    As one of the ’68ers here, I remember Ford, though mainly because I recall going to watch him drive through the city on a campaign stop. More recollections of Carter, particularly visiting Plaines during his Presidency on the way to Orlando, and a can of Billy Beer that my uncle bought my dad that went unopened at the back of the fridge for a decade or more. Reagan was the more significant figure though because he was President from when I was in middle school through college.

  • Jimbino

    I was born in 1944, member of the silent generation. I don’t remember Truman. The first President I remember was Eisenhower.

    You have to consider that we didn’t have our first TV until 1948, so it would be hard for me as an 8-year old in 1952 to remember Truman.

  • Andy

    Like PD, I’m a 68’er. I remember Carter as my first President. The first foreign policy thing I remember is the Iran Hostage Crisis, domestically it was gas/oil. My Dad is a very early Silent (’25, WWII combat veteran) and my siblings are all boomers (I’m the youngest by 10 years).

    The Silents are definitely a mixed bag but they also did a lot of good things (which some Boomers like to take credit for). I think a major distinguishing feature, however, is the Depression, something that greatly affected both the Greatest Generation and the Silents and informed many of their political and policy views. The Boomers, by contrast, were born into a time of plenty which took their preferences in a different direction.

    I admit I’m probably the biggest critic of the Boomers here but I do probably go too far in some cases. To be honest, I don’t think my own generation is turning out much better.

  • Guarneri

    “Disco? For that you can blame Baby Boomers.”

    Reason enough for the death penalty……..

  • PD Shaw

    @Andy, I forgot to mention the Hostage Crisis, I can remember the yellow ribbon tied around a tree in the front yard and Ted Koppel on TV just about every night.

  • Andy


    Late last year while cleaning out for a move I found a sketchbook from that time. As an 11-12 yo I drew lots of plane, tank and spaceship battles. In my battle drawings the “bad” side were often Iranians.

    I also remember the yellow ribbons and the counter on the nightly news.

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