Brokaw: Anchor Away Few people have the good sense and resolve to retire while they’re still doing their job as well or better than they ever did, and as well or better than anyone else is doing the same job. Even fewer retire while they’re still physically able to pursue other pleasures denied them because of the time it took them to do their work.
Tom Brokaw is the remarkable ex-ception. He has all his marbles and most of his muscles. He is as good or better today than he ever was as an anchorman and reporter. His “NBC Nightly News” is the most watched news broadcast and he is widely liked and admired. Dan Rather and Peter Jennings have loyal viewers but they each have detractors who can’t stand them. Dan and Peter would agree that Brokaw doesn’t have what they have.
Seven years ago, I was sitting at my desk, fiddling with an idea when Brokaw called and explained that he was writing a book to be titled “The Greatest Generation.” He had read a book I wrote called “My War” and wanted some comments on his proposition that mine was a generation superior in character to previous or subsequent generations because we fought and won World War II.
Because my role in life seems to be as a critic and naysayer, I said “nay” and thus became a chapter in Tom’s book. I told him I was proud of how members of my generation fought WWII but did not believe that it was a sign that we were in any way “greater.” I pointed out that the present generation has not distinguished itself with bravery in winning World War II be-cause it did not live during the years the war was fought. If the present generation had been faced with Adolf Hitler, it would have pulled itself to-gether, risen to the occasion and fought the war as mine did.
My history isn’t good, but I know that the rise of Greek civilization was unique. There had been civilization in Egypt but nothing like what developed in ancient Greece in art, literature and mathematics. The Greeks who lived around 500 B.C. were their country’s “Greatest Generation.”
But then what happened? Future generations did not build on the great start those early Greeks gave them. There were centuries when things fell apart and civilization deteriorated.
Human progress — or lack of pro-gress — has occurred to me 10,000 times over the years. Are we better people than people were 100, 1,000 or even 10,000 years ago? I always think of the Romans who fed Christians to the lions. Are we better to each other than they were? If we are, how did Abu Ghraib happen? Does accomplishing more and making more of the good things of life contribute to the betterment of the human race? Are we better or just happier because we have cars, airplanes television, computers? I can’t decide. We have more mechanical aids to help us do things — wheels, gas engines, electricity — so we get more done and go more places than generations past but are we better people because of them?
There’s a terrible and inexplicable disparity in the state of civilization in different parts of the world. The people of many countries are living in the Dark Ages by our standards. They have none of the appurtenances of modern civilization in the United States, Europe, the Far East, or even much of the Middle East. They need a greatest gen-eration of their own.
As long as Tom asked me the question, I’d like to ask him one. If my generation was greater than yours and greater than this present generation and also greater than past generations, how do you account for the fluctuation in quality? If you said mine was simply better than past generations, we could conclude that progress had been made, but if you argue that my generation was superior to past generations and also superior to the present generation, you suggest that civilization has regressed.
It was a good title for a good book, Tom, but I question your proposition that mine was a greater generation than either my father’s or your own.