6 Essential Differences Between the Greatest Generation and The Ones That Followed

C. Davis
By C. Davis October 26, 2017 07:17

6 Essential Differences Between the Greatest Generation and The Ones That Followed

By Claude Davis

Nostalgia is nothing new, and it applies to people as much as to anything else.

Whatever generation we belong to we’re probably used to hearing people say we’re not a patch on the one before us – and most of us, if we’re honest, have probably muttered a few unflattering things about younger folks, too. Baby boomers think Generation X lack focus. Generation X think Baby Boomers are stuffy and don’t like to share their money. Boomers and Gen Xers think Millennials are weird. Who knows what Millennials will think of what comes next (if anything does?)

There’s one thing everyone should be able to agree on, though. If there’s one generation that should be beyond criticism it’s the one that grew up during the Great Depression then, as adults, confronted Nazism in the Second World War and communism in Korea. Journalist Tom Brokaw called them “the Greatest Generation” in his book of the same name, and it’s pretty hard to argue with that description.

Those born between about 1914 and 1930 didn’t have it easy. Their childhoods were blighted by the economic collapse of 1929, which left a quarter of the American workforce jobless and made hundreds of thousands homeless. For those in the agricultural Midwest, worse was to come; a long-running drought devastated farmland through the 1930s, turning independent farmers into starving nomads. Almost four million people were forced to leave the Plains States as agriculture collapsed. And then Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Before you could say “Tora Tora Tora!” the country was thrown into a brutal, four-year struggle against an alliance of fascist dictatorships across two continents and three oceans. The dust from that had barely subsided when a third of a million young Americans – many of them already veterans – had to go and fight a new totalitarian enemy in Korea.

Just imagine the response of the current generation to this. How would people who need a “trigger warning” before reading Shakespeare, and who think their rights are violated by someone else’s hairstyle, react to what the Greatest Generation faced? Can you imagine Millennials, more used to rioting against free speech or arguing that there are more genders than Heinz varieties, picking up a rifle and marching off to save civilization? Me neither.

So what made the Greatest Generation so special? Are there any lessons we could take from them that might help us lead better, more satisfying lives? Yes, I think there are. Let’s look at the top six things we can learn from our remarkable ancestors.


How frustrating is it, when talking to people, to hear them blame all their misfortunes on someone else?  Sure, there are injustices in the world, and some people have problems through no fault of their own. But, usually, if you’re having problems it’s because of a bad decision you made. If you can’t afford a house, is that because Baby Boomers are greedy? Or is it because you ran up $75,000 in debt doing a gender studies degree, and now you sit in expensive cafes all day eating avocado toast at $9 a plate and tweeting from your brand-new iPhone about how you can’t afford a house?

When the Greatest Generation made a decision, they accepted the consequences of it – good or bad. And if the consequences were bad, they looked for a solution instead of someone else to blame.


That over-priced avocado toast? Walmart will sell you a bag of avocados and a loaf for under seven bucks, giving you a week’s worth of toast for less than a dollar a day. You can save another $2.50 by replacing the avocados with less fashionable grape jelly.

Look at what you spend money on. Is it really necessary? Is the benefit it brings you really worth the price tag? And do you need to replace things so often? If you’re worried about money – and most of us are – then why buy a new stove or cellphone when your old one still works just fine?

The Greatest Generation believed in make do and mend. If something was good enough, they wouldn’t even think of replacing it with a more fashionable, but unnecessary, model. If a pair of pants got ripped they would patch them rather than throw them out. Keeping up appearances was important – but people would rather wear older, repaired clothes than get into unnecessary debt to buy new ones.

When something broke, the Greatest Generation fixed it. They didn’t throw things away because it was too much trouble to repair them, and they didn’t spend money when they could make or modify something themselves.


The Greatest Generation had a simple attitude to aspirations: If you wanted something, you worked until you’d earned the money to buy it. Taking on unnecessary debt was irresponsible; expecting others to pay your way was lazy. For these people, grinding poverty might be bad; going on welfare was far, far worse, because it was humiliating.

Self-reliance, for the Greatest Generation, didn’t stop at repairing and repurposing their possessions when they broke or wore out. It was also a way of life. If you hadn’t worked for something it wasn’t truly yours, and if you couldn’t afford something yourself you had no right to expect others to pay for it.


Nowadays it’s common to hear people boasting about how important, well-paid or creative their job is. The Greatest generation weren’t like that. They would take quiet pride in a job well done, but work was a serious business, not just a status symbol.

A frequent complaint about Millennials is that they lose interest quickly. It’s not uncommon to hear about them starting a job, then six months later they’re moaning that it isn’t challenging enough for them. Those who grew up in the Great Depression had different ideas. A job wasn’t something you did to feel challenged or fulfilled; it was something you did because it needed to be done. If you weren’t happy with it, that was tough; you gritted your teeth and got on with it. Even if your job wasn’t challenging and creative, you had to stick with it to put food on the table.

This determined attitude to work paid off when a really big job had to be done – defeat Japan and Nazi Germany. The Greatest Generation didn’t march against American foreign policy or pose for photos sitting on a German anti-aircraft gun; the task was there in front of them, and they just got on with it. Because it needed to be done.


When the Greatest Generation were faced with a challenge, they didn’t give up and feel traumatized. They looked for a way to overcome it. The farmers whose lands were blighted by the Dust Bowl didn’t sit back and wait for the government to help them; they moved to look for new jobs, even if that meant heading for the coasts.

To these people, challenges were a part of life. You just had to face them and do the best you could. Today’s young people have no idea of how easy their lives really are; wars are fought by small volunteer militaries, and the risk of being drafted is basically nil. What would they say if they were told they were going overseas to fight – and wouldn’t be coming home until the war was won?

The Greatest Generation didn’t say a word. They just picked up their rifles or riveting guns and did what needed to be done. Then they came home and got on with their lives.


People today love to talk about their trust issues – and, when they’re not doing that, they might be talking about their open relationship. A lot of Gen Xers and Millennials live in a complex web of half-truths and fake identities, so it’s probably no surprise that they don’t trust each other.

To the Greatest Generation promises were something to be taken seriously – whether that promise was an employment contract, a marriage vow or a loan agreement – and a big part of someone’s image was how trustworthy they were. If people couldn’t rely on your word, you could forget about getting any respect. If your colleagues couldn’t rely on you doing your job properly you wouldn’t have that job for long. And if you were a soldier, and you walked away from your post in the middle of the night, you wouldn’t get media interviews and tributes from the president like Bowe Bergdahl did; you’d be tied to a post and shot.

All the most valuable lessons the Greatest Generation have for us are about taking life seriously. That doesn’t mean they didn’t enjoy their lives, because they certainly did – look at the movies, music and literature they created if you have any doubts about that. But they did know that you have to take the rough with the smooth, and that simply giving up when things got difficult wasn’t an option.

They also didn’t get stressed over things they couldn’t change. They didn’t obsess about trivial problems. And they didn’t over-complicate their lives. They found something that worked – a car, a style of dressing, a relationship – and then they stuck with it. Someone’s image depended on their ethics and reliability, not their possessions. Someone who lived modestly but worked hard and kept his word would earn a lot more respect than a flashy show-off.

And, most of all, the Greatest Generation were modest. They didn’t feel the urge to share every aspect of their lives with everyone they met (and social media would have horrified them!) They didn’t boast about their accomplishments, and shunned those who did. That’s all the more remarkable because their accomplishments were so great. They made the world we live in today; we owe it to them to learn from their way of doing things.

You may also like:

house-bph 21 Lost Tips from 100 Years Agowith Illustrations

You Will Not Survive An EMP Strike Without This (Video)

How A Senior Citizen Prepares For SHTF

Dipping Candles the Old-Fashioned Way

How To Make Ash Cakes The Ultimate Pioneer Food

Please Spread The Word - Share This Post
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
C. Davis
By C. Davis October 26, 2017 07:17
Write a comment

36 Comments

  1. Gen.x October 26, 15:23

    Well written and so true.

    Reply to this comment
    • William Glass October 26, 19:03

      I remember when I was a kid, I ask my father what he did in the War (North Africa and Italy). His response was “I just did my job.” My fiends said that was what their fathers said also. We did not appreciate at the time that “the job” was SAVING THIS COUNTRY! These men came from civilian “jobs” and took on the most dangerous and challenging “job” in history. They were humble and unassuming about their service . They were “just doing their job”. This 70 yr old “Boomer” thanks God that my father’s generation was the one that fought World War Two.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Dion McInnis October 26, 15:52

    Excellent piece! It honors one generation and schools the rest of us. My mom and dad were born in ’16 and ’13, respectively, and I watched their display of the characteristics you cited until the days they passed away. Your article is an outstanding tribute and education.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Ktcarpentry October 26, 15:53

    If welfare was an abomination and making someone else pay your way in life was lazy, why did the “greatest generation” vote for an avowed communist for four straight terms, creating the modern welfare state, and condemning the nation to debtor status?

    Reply to this comment
    • wa2qcj October 26, 18:38

      Short answer, we did not know any better. He held out the hope for a better way of life, an end to the staggering hardship of the great depression. The people were primed and ready for that help. Roosevelt was held in high esteem and the country was very unhappy when he died. He had put the country back to work, helping thousands of people to support themselves, and their families. Most people did not know he was a communist, nor would they have known just what that meant, anyway. One thing people forget, America is VERY isolationist. What we have at out finger tips today, for knowledge and insight, simply did not exist, then. We, America, were self sufficient, then. We were a big country, travel away from where you lived was rare. Most people never left the city they grew up in, much less the county. We did not know, we looked at the results and used that to decide, as well as the yarns spun by the politicians. If we are going to point fingers at what was done then, try to remember what the country was like, then. Do not use our now, as a basis for criticism, of then, without considering the circumstances of then.

      Reply to this comment
      • Necrophage October 26, 19:55

        Roosevelt did not “put the country back to work.” The war did that. The war also postponed the effects of the welfare state that Roosevelt created for about thirty years. Do some reading about this. The left has been lying to us all for decades.

        Reply to this comment
    • Submariner October 26, 20:22

      I doubt anyone thought, “Hey this guy’s a communist, I’ll vote for him!” What they did say was, “I want my children to have things better than I did,” (an overgeneralization) which is understandable, but they failed to see that what built their character and made them great was the adversity they faced. Their children got everything they wanted (another overgeneralization) and “poof” the 60s corruption exploded.

      Reply to this comment
      • Ktcarpentry October 26, 20:32

        That may very well be true. Everyone wants better for their children. However, I’ve seen political cartoons from the 1930s calling him a Stalinist or Marxist or whatever. Communist perhaps. At least some of the media called him out on it. As far as wanting better for their children, you are absolutely correct. They loved their children, so they GAVE to their children. They wanted life to be easier for the next generation. But life is hard. When you don’t work for something, you don’t value it. You become entitled. The kids became horribly spoiled. I want my children to have a better life than I had, or have, so I try to teach them responsibility and work ethic. Remember, when you get something for nothing, you usually get what you pay for.

        Reply to this comment
    • No Time for Fools October 26, 21:13

      Like all systems, they will be abused and exploited. The 14th amendment to the constitution was passed to make slaves citizens, not for illegal aliens to have babies here to be gateway citizens. Doctors bill higher to insurance companies because they can. Populations abuse the public assistance because they can. And yes…the current welfare system is an abomination.

      Reply to this comment
  4. A.C. October 26, 16:11

    That generation didn’t “go into debt” to buy a replacement, because there were no options to “borrow” money, or “go into debt”… If you did not have a nickel in your pocket… you were broke…… BROKE…..no credit card, no “payday loans”… broke!!!

    Reply to this comment
    • A.C. October 26, 16:13

      Oh… and also:
      there was no “welfare”…
      there were no “umemployment benefits”….
      you were on your own!

      Reply to this comment
    • megan October 26, 21:23

      Agreed. I remember my parents using charge cards in the 1960s, and these weren’t credit cards, but charge cards, where you used them and then paid off the balance when the bill came in. Most dept stores had their own charge cards and accepted only those cards if you weren’t paying by cash or check.

      I think it was 1973 or 1974 when MasterCharge changed its name to MasterCard, and what had once been a charge card became a credit card.

      Around that same time, BankAmericard became VISA, to show you that it could be used the world over.

      I worked in the banking industry for the better part of 9 years late 1980s to mid 1990s and saw more than one person in over their head with credit card debt. Sad to say, many from the greatest generation who wanted to buy now and pay later.

      It was amazing to me to see people who’d been brought up during the Depression and rationing in WWII to be so divergent financially speaking. Some were spendthrifts, as if to make up for those lean years, and these were the folks I saw who were in over their credit card heads. Others were very, very careful with every penny, wanting to make sure they could repay any amount they owed.

      More than one customer brought money in with dirt on it. Yep, they’d buried the money in a safe place in case of hard times.

      Reply to this comment
  5. A.C. October 26, 16:13

    Oh… and also:
    there was no “welfare”…
    there were no “umemployment benefits”….
    you were on your own!

    Reply to this comment
  6. A.C. October 26, 16:19

    In the 1030’s my father got on a bicycle (not a ten speed, a hard to pedal bicycle), and he biked 18 miles to earn $4 per day working at a saw mill.

    He left at 4 a.m., and he got back home after dark!
    He pedaled on old country roads, with rocks, and potholes, and bears!

    I don’t know anyone today who would do that… but he was determined to feed his family!

    And like I said previously,,, there was no “welfare” to help out.
    No government benefits of any kind.
    No phone, no electricity, no calling in sick!

    You worked, or you went hungry.

    Reply to this comment
    • wa2qcj October 26, 18:24

      AC, in your father’s time, he might well have been considered a well off man to have that good of a job. My step mother told me of a time when her father worked for 50 cents a week. We hear a lot about a “living wage”. In parts of the world, $2 a month is their living wage. Think about it, little wonder why so many want to live here, but why so many see us a scourge on the well being of the world.

      Reply to this comment
      • A.C. October 29, 18:07

        I do not think they were “well off”… they lived in what would be called a “cabin” these days… or even a “shack”.

        Reply to this comment
  7. Graywolf12 October 26, 16:20

    Folks just read the 1963 communist goals, Rules for Radicals, and the Communist manifesto, and see the blue print to destroy the USA, Capitalism, and freedoms world wide. Agenda 21 & 30 are a part as is global warming.

    Reply to this comment
  8. wa2qcj October 26, 18:17

    Part of our problem is their desire that their kids have a better life. They meant well, and we have prospered from it. That said, things have gone to far. Where does equal rights stop, and personal responsibility begin. Where does help for the jobless end, and the concept of providing for myself begin? The younger generations have been listened to, and changes made to allow for what they think should be. This is not unlike letting a child eat all the candy they want before dinner, and expecting them eat a full dinner with the rest of the family. It doesn’t work. We have forgotten what discipline, and doing without, for good reasons, does mean. Telling the child no, is for their best good. Today, it has to be yes, or else. We have done this to ourselves. I grew up on the ideals of the Greatest Generation, and feel very blessed that those ideals were instilled in me. What causes me the greatest concern is that if we get into a situation, such as the great depression, the loss of life will be staggering. The youth do not know how to fend for themselves, because they have never had to do so. Despair will be the biggest killer. Our cities will become mass tombs, because we have forgotten how to stick with it, and to make the situation the best it can be. Now our kids cry out for social justice, and for the government to save them. Paper printed with some design on it is still just that, printed paper. It has no value, except what we say it has. If there is nothing of value backing up what we say the paper is worth, then it becomes fuel for starting a camp fire with. The values and fortitude of the Greatest Generation is something all of us should embrace, NOW!

    Reply to this comment
  9. Pappy October 26, 21:40

    As a son of “The Greatest Generation”, I was and still am proud of what My dad did, Is does rub a raw spot however. I served 2 tours in Nam, My Daughter just before Desert Storm her kids just got out! My father used to get so mad at the way we were treated by those who didn’t go! The VA is full of guys still trying to cope with this after almost 50 years!! We all swore those after us would NEVER get disrespected like we did! The kids now are deployed back to back to back!!! Not right! Get in get it over with and come home or don ‘t go!
    Maybe Tom Brokaw didn’t consider us having hardships to content with (I won’t go there!) but he needs to wake up!

    Reply to this comment
  10. Bj October 26, 22:32

    How far today’s Sick Socialist Society has fallen; falls short of the goodness, Greatness that prevailed in the Greatest Generation who fought for Liberty and Freedom; built this Great country. Degenerates Today to not appreciate, expect, want everything given and provided to them; no work ethic. PC Parental Culpability; PC Public Culpability.

    Reply to this comment
  11. TGruffydd October 26, 22:45

    How many of the young men and women of today would commit sue-aside if we had a 3rd WW. Their whining would be unceasing. It would just be to much to bare for them. The first time they got shot at they would surrender. Not to say all, but the Nancy’s that have that have been turned into socialist would just give in.

    Reply to this comment
    • RJ October 26, 23:55

      I wonder how many young men and women of today that live in Italy, Germany, and Japan would blindly follow a resurrection of Hitler,Mussolini, or Hirohito. The young people in those countries in that time period were part of the “greatest generation”,also. A hypothetical question….no disrespect intended….

      Reply to this comment
    • MMG October 27, 17:13

      @TGruffdd I respectfully disagree. I feel that the men and women serving in our military today are as brave as any who have ever served.

      Reply to this comment
  12. TGruffydd October 26, 22:54

    How many of today’s men and women would whine if they had to take care of their patient’s because there wasn’t money for their elderly parients to live on. This is coming soon. If you think socialism is great, go live in a socialist country for 2 years then tell me you love paying 90% of your income to share with those that don’t work or wont work,

    Reply to this comment
  13. RE October 27, 01:13

    You do have to admit though that life was a lot simpler back and so were the everyday things they used. Many things today do not have user repairable parts and it isn’t cost effective to have them repaired. Life is a lot more complex now. But I do love the part about doing a job because it needs to be done not because it is fulfilling. That’s so true.

    Reply to this comment
  14. Homesteader October 27, 02:19

    There will never be another generation like our parents’ generation. It was a perfect storm of events that made them what they were. All we can do is strive to be like them. Also, let’s hope and pray that there never will be another generation like the Millennials. Let’s hope we’ve learned our lesson with them. Sparing the rod definitely spoils the child. From what I hear, Generation Z – those born 1995 to 2015 or so – are nothing like the Millennials. They are interested in starting business, hate tattoos, are very conservative, etc. Maybe there’s hope for this old world yet.

    Reply to this comment
  15. Old-timer October 27, 04:44

    Very interesting article and comment section. I agree with most of the comments but different with some of them. Yes life was easier back then but the people didn’t require a lot either. Just the essentials to survive. They also took pride in themselves and did an honest days work for an honest days pay. And didn’t expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. But earned what they got. The par of today is to whine as loud as you can. If they put that same energy into getting a job and trying to improve their lives this country would be better off. Todays technology has made them lazy. Granted we need it to make thing better or at least easier to get the job done. But they still need to have some pride in themselves and their work to put quality back in what they do. I’ve worked several different jobs just to be able to put food on the table and provide for my wife and family and have gone without for myself. But I’m willing to put my name on anything I’ve done and proud to say I did that or build that. You might say I’m a baby boomer with the thinking and live style of my parents and grandparents. We the people of this country,and I mean AII no matter what race or gender you are, need to learn from our ancestors. We also need to get rid of the crooked politicians who are only interested in themselves along with the freeloadering illegal citizens draining the system. If we can do that this country would not only survive but it’d thrive and grow. Otherwise we’re doomed to another civil war and chaos beyond what we already have. Which is scary as it is.

    Reply to this comment
  16. Old-timer October 27, 05:01

    I hope your right homesteader. And I agree sparing the rod was a bad decision on our behalf. But hopefully the next generation will be better. Theirs always hope. But it will take a lot of work and time to get this country back on track again.

    Reply to this comment
  17. MMG October 27, 16:01

    The challenges faced by the generation that fought in WW2 were unparalleled, and I don’t agree with the author that any generation should be ‘beyond criticism’. With the exception of the Spaish/American war, my family has fought in every conflict the US Army and Navy has ever fought. While certainly no one is saying that Americans in WW2 were braver than their previous countrymen in other conflicts, the stakes for the world were an order of magnitude higher in WW2 than ever before. And, we may look back with envy at some of the social norms that were held in those days.

    It should be remembered that literally up until the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Hitlers declaration of war on the US, American sentiment was not to resist Nazi Germany or intervene in Asia. Even as German tanks were rolling across Europe, there were mass, pro- Nazi Bund rallies across the USA, including at Madison Square Garden in NYC. Post-Pearl Harbor the tide of course changed, but those racial attitudes did not, as evidenced in the camp incarceration of US citizens of Japanese descent (some of whose family’s had been in the US for 4 generations).

    My uncle, who fought in the Bulge and later participated in the liberation of Buchenwald passed away just after Brokaw’s book came out. He said to me that at the time we had won the war, but lost the peace. I asked him if he meant USSR and communism. He touched on that briefly, but then said that what saddened him was that “we” all saw what racial intolerance and injustice could cause at the hands of the Germans and the Japanese, but many of those same men who saw the horrors of the concentration camps, were the same people who came home and later fought tooth and nail so that a black man could not sit at a lunch counter with a white person, or attend the same school. It took, he said, the next generation to learn the lessons of WW2.

    My sincere thanks to all those who have served this country both here and abroad, not just in a military/combat role, but in all those other ways that never get credit, but for whom I am grateful. God Bless America.

    Reply to this comment
  18. ImOwlWrite October 27, 21:47

    The Greatest Generation was (not ‘were’) well educated, no matter which social status they were in. Their grammar was virtually perfect, from punctuation to subject/verb agreement. They all had basic math and geometry skills, as well as a good knowledge of history, geography, and basic science. There was no pride in being illiterate or ignorant; not like today. There was none of this common core crap.

    Reply to this comment
  19. George November 9, 06:33

    While I agree with almost everything in this article, as a firm believer in fixing rather than replacing things, I feel compelled to point out that much of what they were repairing was designed to be repairable and was built to the highest quality possible. Things are made differently today. They are designed solely for ease of assembly, and built from the cheapest materials possible – oh, and you didn’t have to be an electrical engineer just to figure out where it’s broken. Things were not computerized. I built and repaired many pre-computer automobiles. When the car had a problem, I could tell what it was from the symptoms and fix it. Now even the best mechanics have to use a computer code reader to have the engine computer tell them what’s actually the problem. The symptoms today are more likely caused by the engine computer trying to compensate for the problem than by the problem itself. Also, individual parts are no longer sold – only replacement assemblies. Some years ago a nylon bushing wore out in the automatic transmission shift lever mechanism, causing the selector handle to slip around. The car still worked fine, but it was approaching the point where there might soon be enough excess play to prevent proper gear selection. When I went to see about fixing it, the dealership parts department told me that they didn’t sell the bushing separately – they only sold an entire replacement shifter assembly for almost $1,000 (Just for the part, no labor!).

    My point is that it isn’t entirely people’s fault that they toss, rather than repair, many items which could have been repaired, but for the problems i’ve just outlined – AND it is often cheaper these days to replace things than fix them.

    Reply to this comment
View comments

Write a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*

FOLLOW US ON:

  • facebook
  • Pinterest
  • twitter
  • Google +

You can also find us on: