A few days ago I was with a small group of people at lunch when a woman in our group made a passing reference to The Greatest Generation.
From the context and Vocal Capitalization I inferred that she meant that cohort which brought to the world totalitarian dictatorship, global war, rocket propelled munitions, and industrialized genocide. The phrase seems most often to be used in a nationalistic context, however, so perhaps we should limit ourselves to such contributions as residential firebombing, imprisonment based on ancestry, and nuclear war.
Those were certainly notable milestones in the history of humanity, but as my mind wandered away from the conversation I wondered whether this is the list which best defines Greatness.
For myself, my first suggestion for a generation making some great contributions to humanity might be the one which, in the United States, included the Peace Corps, Freedom Riders, marchers for open housing and nuclear disarmament, and which proclaimed love and peace to be fundamental values. But as this generation also brought riots, terrorist bombing, and new styles of crime to their country labeling the entire generation as great might be inappropriate.
I would also mention that era of United States history within which were written the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the North West Ordinance, notwithstanding that the members of that generation were ever unable to comprehend the fullness of equality to which their own words pointed.
Still, somewhere deep inside me I remain an optimist. My hope is that the Greatest generation will be the one growing up now.