We live in the age of group apologies. I would like to add one. The baby boomer generation needs to apologize to America, especially its young generation, for many sins. Here is a partial list:
First and perhaps foremost, we apologize for robbing many of you of a childhood.
We baby boomers were allowed perhaps the most innocent childhoods known to history. We grew up without material want, in one of the most decent places in world history, with media that preserved our sexual and other innocence, in schools that generally taught us well, and we were allowed childhood play from boy-girl play to rough and tumble boy-boy play to monkey bars and ringalievio. Our generation has deprived you of all these things. And while we were aware of the threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, few of us believed that we were threatened with death anywhere near the amount we have scared you about death from secondhand smoke, global warming and heterosexual AIDS, to mention just a few of the exaggerated death scares we have inflicted on you.
Our generation came up with two truly foolish slogans that also ended up robbing you of childhood.
One was, “Never trust anyone over 30.” Our infantile attitude toward adult authority has inflicted great harm on you. Because of it, many baby boomers decided not to become adults, and this has had disastrous consequences in your lives. It deprived you of one of the greatest needs in your life — adults. That in turn deprived you of something as important as love — parental and other adult authority. With little parental authority, you were left with little personal security, few guardrails and a diminished sense of order in life. And we transferred this denial of authority to virtually all authority figures, from teachers to police.
The other slogan whose awful consequences we baby boomers bequeathed to you was, “Make love, not war.” Our parents had liberated the world from immeasurably cruel and murderous regimes in Germany and Japan — solely thanks to waging war. But instead of concluding that war could do great moral good, we sang ourselves silly with such inane lyrics as “Give peace a chance,” as if that deals in any way with the world’s most monstrous evils. So we taught you to make love and not war. And we succeeded.
We made you anti-war and almost completely sexualized your lives. We told you that having sex was terrific or at least to be expected, even in early teens, and that your only concerns should be avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and getting pregnant. And if you did get pregnant, we made sure that you could extinguish the life you were carrying as effortlessly and guiltlessly as possible.
We started teaching you about sexuality and homosexuality in early grade school and we taught you how to put condoms on bananas. It is true that we did not grow up learning about these things at such young ages — certainly our schools never taught us about these things — but we chalked that up to the preposterous, if not reactionary, values of the 1950s and early 1960s. We had contempt for our parents believing that “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver” and “Superman” — with the show’s motto of “truth, justice, and the American way” — were good things for young people to be exposed to. So we replaced these shows with MTV’s mind-numbing parade of three-second images and sex-drenched shows for teenagers. Sorry.
We also made you weak. We did everything possible to ensure that you suffered no pain. Sometimes we changed game scores if a team was winning by too large a margin; we abolished dodgeball lest anyone suffer early removal from the game; and we gave trophies to all of you who played on baseball teams, no matter how awfully you or your team played so that none of you missed getting a trophy while members of another team did. Much of this was thanks to the self-esteem-without-having-to-earn-it movement, which in our generation’s almost infinite lack of wisdom we inflicted upon you. Sorry for that, too.
We also apologize for coming close to ruining so many of your schools and universities. Despite the unprecedented sums of money we had America spend on education, most of you got an education quite inferior to the one we got at a fraction of the cost. But we thought of our teachers as fools (they were, after all, over 30) who just concentrated on reading, writing and arithmetic (and history, music and art). We were sure we knew better and we therefore concentrated on sexual issues, and teaching you about peace, global warming and the horrors of smoking. The fact that few high school graduates can identify Mozart, let alone were ever exposed to his music, is far less significant to many baby boomers than your knowledge of the alleged perils of secondhand smoke. Most of you cannot identify Stalin either, and we are sorry for that, too. But, hey, we did make sure you saw Al Gore’s film.
And a real apology to those of you hooked on drugs. While your choice to do drugs is your responsibility, it was our generation that romanticized them and made them cool. “Mind expanding” we called them. But it turns out that they don’t expand minds, they destroy them. Sorry.
And, young women, we apologize especially to you. Many of us baby boomers bought into the feminist idea that getting married and making a family with a man were far less fulfilling than career success and that marriage itself is “sexist” and “patriarchal.” So, to those of you women who have career success and didn’t get married, we sincerely apologize. Turns out that most careers aren’t as fulfilling as we promised.
So we really blew it, and what’s really amazing is that few of us have changed our minds. Most people get wiser as they get older. But not those of us baby boomers who still believe these things. Of course, many of us never bought into these awful ideas that have so hurt you and our country, and some of us have grown up. But many of us still talk, think, dress and curse the same as we did in the ’60s and ’70s. And we’re still fighting what we consider the real Axis of Evil: American racism, sexism and imperialism.
But for those of us who know the damage baby boomers as a whole did to you, a heartfelt apology.