BRITANNUS (shocked): Caesar, this is not proper.
THEODOTUS (outraged): How?
CAESAR (recovering his self-possession): Pardon him Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.
Caesar and Cleopatra, Act II
– George Bernard Shaw
I know a place where there is no smog and no parking problem and no population explosion. . . no Cold War and no H-bombs and no television commercials. . . no Summit Conferences, no Foreign Aid, no hidden taxes – no income tax. The climate is the sort that Florida and California claim (and neither has), the land is lovely, the people are friendly and hospitable to strangers, the women are beautiful and amazingly anxious to please –
I could go back. I could –
It was an election year with the customary theme of anything you can do I can do better, to a background of beeping sputniks. I was twenty-one but couldn’t figure out which party to vote against.
Instead I phoned my draft board and told them to send me that notice.
I object to conscription the way a lobster objects to boiling water: it may be his finest hour but it’s not his choice. Nevertheless I love my country. Yes, I do, despite propaganda all through school about how patriotism is obsolete. One of my great-grandfathers died at Gettysburg and my father made that long walk back from Chosen Reservoir, so I didn’t buy this new idea. I argued against it in class – until it got me a “D,” in Social Studies, then I shut up and passed the course.
But I didn’t change my opinions to match those of a teacher who didn’t know Little Round Top from Seminary Ridge.
Are you of my generation? If not, do you know why we turned out so wrong-headed? Or did you just write us off as “juvenile delinquents?”
I could write a book. Brother! But I’ll note one key fact: After
you’ve spent years and years trying to knock the patriotism out of a boy, don’t expect him to cheer when he gets a notice reading: GREETINGS: You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States –
Talk about a “Lost Generation!” I’ve read that post-World-War-One jazz – Fitzgerald and Hemingway and so on – and it strikes me that all they had to worry about was wood alcohol in bootleg liquor. They had the world by the tail – so why were they crying?
Sure, they had Hitler and the Depression ahead of them. But they didn’t know that. We had Khrushchev and the H-bomb and we certainly did know.
But we were not a “Lost Generation.” We were worse; we were the “Safe Generation.” Not beatniks. The Beats were never more than a few hundred out of millions. Oh, we talked beatnik jive and dug cool sounds in stereo and disagreed with Playboy’s poll of jazz musicians just as earnestly as if it mattered. We read Salinger and Kerouac and used language that shocked our parents and dressed (sometimes) in beatnik fashion. But we didn’t think that bongo drums and a beard compared with money in the bank. We weren’t rebels. We were as conformist as army worms. “Security” was our unspoken watchword.
Most of our watchwords were unspoken but we followed them as compulsively as a baby duck takes to water. “Don’t fight City Hall.” “Get it while the getting is good.” “Don’t get caught.” High goals, these, great moral values, and they all mean “Security.” “Going steady” (my generation’s contribution to the American Dream) was based on security; it insured that Saturday night could never be the loneliest night for the weak.