The world’s oldest man, Henry Allingham, died on Saturday in a nursing home. He was born in 1896, making him a member of the “Lost Generation” (born 1883-1900) that fought in WWI. The Lost Generation is similar in character Generation X (born 1961-1981) in that they were/are individualistic, pragmatic and tough. For example, Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown had this to say about Henry:
“He was a tremendous character, one of the last representatives of a generation of tremendous characters.”
This stands in stark contrast to what people would say about the generation following the Lost: the GI Generation (born 1901-1924) who are referred to as being heroes rather than “characters”. The GI’s are known as “The Greatest Generation” while the Lost Generation were the wild youth of the “Roaring 20’s” and although many fought in WWII, they were often the grizzled leaders (think Tom Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan”) rather than the noble young warriors.
This bears a strong resemblance to today’s Generation X. We certainly are not looked up to as heroes and are often accused of being the cause of many of our current social ills. But I believe our generation will be instrumental in building a new foundation for our society. Although Millennials (born 1982-200?) will be fighting on the front lines and get most of the glory, Generation X’ers will be doing the dirty work and heavy lifting of change in our society.
I also think it’s likely that we will eventually get a grudging respect, as Henry and his generation now have. Fifty years from now we will be remembered as the tough elders who were willing to take the worst of these troubled times on the chin. We will be remembered as “characters”, which is fine with me.
For more on how the cycle of generations repeats, see the “Start Here” section of my blog.