Here’s my contribution to the coming edition to the “casual” section of The Weekly Standard:
For some reason yet to be fathomed, the 50 million Americans born between the greatest generation and the baby boomers were never assigned a name—at least not one widely recognizable.
I’m in it, and that’s just fine by me.
Living in demographic obscurity is one of my generation’s virtues. Sure, those marketers, journalists, and, ugh, sociologists who coin generational labels tried to tag us the “silent generation.” But it hasn’t stuck because, well, who cares? Besides, the moniker is so insulting that I prefer “no name.”
As if to prove our irrelevance, the presidency skipped over us, going directly from George H.W. Bush of the greatest generation to baby boomer Bill Clinton. But who has noticed our absence in the White House?
According to the Center for Generational Kinetics (I’m not making that up), my generation’s birthdays run from 1925 to 1945,
the end of World War II and the official beginning of the baby boom generation, which concluded in 1964. (Mine is in 1942.)
The impulse to hang names on generations is just another form of stereotyping, the goofy obsession with herding each and every one of us into clusters of sweeping clichés. Baby boomers, for example, are described variously as goal-oriented, hardworking, self-assured, individualistic, rebellious (in a positive way), open to change, idealistic, etc., etc. All good stuff.
We no-namers, on the other hand, are said to be risk-averse. We kept quiet when growing up because children should be seen and not heard. We are (overly) respectful of authority. As adults, we also keep our mouths shut and refuse to rock the boat. We believe hard work gets you ahead in life, oblivious to the current dogma that privilege and whiteness are determinants of advancement. We’re traditional and conventional, more likely to want to work within the system than to overthrow it. We supposedly took to heart the warnings that we shouldn’t do stuff that will leave a black mark on our permanent records.
An unsigned, oft-cited Time magazine essay labeled us the silent generation in 1951, before we even had an opportunity to show our stuff. It called our generation “a still, small flame.” Historian William Manchester piled on: “Never had American youth
been so withdrawn, cautious, unimag- inative, indifferent, unadventurous— and silent.”
Gee, what a pathetic lot we must be, deservedly bumped aside by boomers, millennials, Gen Ys, Gen Zs, and whoever else is about to follow. By the way, some might be inclined to assign President Donald Trump to my no-name generation, which would be wrong on two counts: He’s never silent, and he was born in 1946, which makes him all yours, boomers.
Right about now, you might expect to hear me plead that someone should do something about our generation’s deplorable state: government grants to behavioral and social scientists to study how to end the victimization of the no-names. Inclusion in a protected class to provide a boost up and out of our sorry condition. New programs to meet our desperate needs.
But that’s not us. We don’t whine. We’re content to be ignored. We don’t need approval to be proud. We’re unlikely to talk about our achievements, but I’ll make an exception, just this once.
Early members of our generation survived the Great Depression and many fought in Korea (the forgotten war) and a few of us latecomers in the Vietnam war. We helped grow America’s economy into perhaps the most productive and prosperous ever. We set the stage for an unprecedented explosion of creativity in the arts and technology—otherwise known as the ’50s. We saw the free world through the Cold War. Despite all the credit given to the boomers for the civil rights movement, we no- names started it.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Gloria Steinem were no-namers, but they were hardly silent. Elvis Presley ushered in the age of rock and roll. No-name Beatles advanced it. Jimi Hendrix redefined it.
Our Neil Armstrong was the first man to step on the moon and 11 of the 12 astronauts who walked on the moon were no-namers. There’s Dustin Hoffman and Muhammad Ali. Robert and Ted Kennedy. Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., Warren Buffett and Michael Eisner. Liz Claiborne.
I could go on, but the point is made. If people can characterize us as buttoned-up and mousy, we could peg boomers as the most coddled American generation ever. Or are the most coddled ones the generations just arriving? Broad brushes can sweep many ways.
But who needs this? If we’re to generalize about generations, con- sider some other words for silent: reserved, placid, modest, serene, and we don’t give a flying fig. Ignore us, please. We’re content without a name. As John Updike, also a member of my generation, said, we’re quietly grateful.