“We are the rose, that grew from the crack in the concrete.”
-Memphis May Fire
Apparently, that’s how our generation is referred to these days. I don’t really know the purpose of naming every generation but, that’s just me.
Baby boomers, Generation X, and now Millenials; every generation has traits and characteristics that define them as a whole. The WWII vets were the greatest generation, then came the Baby Boomers, who made strides in civil rights and free love, and Generation X, a society of slackers.
Another moniker that has been applied to Millenials is the “Me Generation.” It is said by several “scholars” that our generation is the most confident and tolerant generation. However, these same scholars caveat that our generation also has a greatly underlying tone of entitlement and narcissism compared to previous generations. Our generation is apparently selfish and unconcerned with the plights of others. We go on with our business and don’t pay anyone else any mind or attention. Our donations to charity and volunteerism are the lowest of any of the most recent generations…
I would hazard to say that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
To those of us born in the 80’s, we grew up quite differently than any generation prior. Our country was going through one of the most prosperous and “peaceful” times in decades. Unemployment was down and many Americans were taking advantage of an economic boom. The “Cold War” was also subsiding with the collapse of the Berlin wall.
Family values, for the most part were traditional. Dad was the breadwinner, at least until us kids were old enough to be on our own, then mom went out and got a job.
Pop culture was completely different than it is today. For us kids, Saturday morning TV shows were broken down into cartoons for boys and cartoons for girls and no one bitched or griped about either being excluded. Our viewing experience was pretty much the same across the board. Good vs. Evil. G.I. Joe, He-Man, Thundercats, Transformers, My Little Pony, Jem and the Holograms: all of these shows were very specific in who the heroes and villains were. They focused on doing good in the world and working together as a team in order to achieve goals.
We played outside a lot, oftentimes emulating the cartoons we watched regularly. We freely brought toy weapons to school and spent recess smiting evil without teachers expelling us for infringing on the civil rights of Skeletor or Mumm-Ra.
The war movies we grew up watching were always blatantly make-believe. Even true events like the those depicted in “The Sands of Iwo Jima” seemed so fantastical and far away. We had “heroes” like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvestor Stallone shooting hundreds of bad guys from the hip and our parents telling us that it was “just pretend.” Every action movie was big and over the top in violence and gratuitous nudity.
For the most part, we didn’t have a generation of war fighters to emulate. The generational gap between those that went to Vietnam and my generation was incredibly vast. We were little kids and our parents were the ones that had gone to war before we were born. My father had fought in Vietnam, but kept us kids very sheltered from that. It’s something he still has yet to talk to me about, even with my own combat experiences.
We would dress up in dad’s old H-harness and play “army” in the backyard. The entire neighborhood would spend weekend afternoons in oversized fatigues, hunting “Charlie”. We ran around shooting at a pretend enemy. As in the cartoons, none of the good guys ever died.
Desert Storm was only conventional conflict that had broken out when we were growing up. Our parents watched it unfold on the news as the USA went to kick the ass of some guy named “Goddamn Insane” or some such mess. We proudly displayed our “Operation: Desert Storm” t-shirts depicting “Stormin’ Norman” wielding a pair of M-60s as an eagle soared overhead and some F-14s blazing across the sky. We imagined what it must be like to be over there, fighting a war against the evil and the unjust. Then, 100 hours after the ground campaign started, it was over…
We grew older and Beavis & Butthead, Slackers, and the Grunge music movement were clear indicators of a disenfranchised and cynical Generation X. Pop culture and media geared toward us in our preteen and teen years was very glib and jaded. Following the influence of John Holmes movies, teenagers for the first time in history, had a voice. In the early and mid-nineties, they chose to use that voice to talk about how marginalized they felt and to stick it to the man by wallowing in existentialism and laziness; often citing the need to “find themselves.” Our older brothers and sisters were bummers and party poopers that didnt’ seem like they were really interested in going out and doing much.
Enter the internet. Al Gore’s self-proclaimed, greatest achievement was giving the world unprecedented access to information and contact to each other in ways only found in science fiction. Chat rooms became the precursor to modern social media. It became an addiction to some as every woman became a tall, blonde model and every man a wealthy, muscular doctor. All humor aside, the internet is the single, greatest, world-changing innovation of the 20th century, hands down. Fire, wheel, medicine, Internet. It’s gone from a amenity to a necessity in the span of a decade.
We grew into our own own and started high school. Nothing was really going on besides the Clinton-Lewinsky-blowjob scandal. Looking back, life was pretty sweet when the POTUS getting a little neck between meetings was our greatest concern.
Some of us joined the military in our last year of high school. We had no illusions of really seeing combat and thusly, focused on just going to boot camp. We weren’t at war with any country and hadn’t been since we were in 4th grade. The news hadn’t hinted at any growing tensions outside of “all that Middle East stuff.” For us, life in the military was going to be lots, and lots, and lots of training and traveling, at least according to our recruiters.
Then, the movie Black Hawk Down came out. For those of us who were uninitiated to the events surrounding the Battle of Mogadishu, this flick was as real as real got. It was also the first movie depicting “modern” war. It hit home in that just because we weren’t at war with anyone, didn’t mean we wouldn’t see combat. That particular notion always sat in the dark recesses of our minds. We sat in class for our last year of high school, daydreaming of running and gunning in a far-off land. Our teachers (at least mine) looked down on those of us that had enlisted in the military in high school and regarded us as a pitiful waste of intellect and talent.
9/11 changed most of that. We graduated high school KNOWING we were going to war.
13 years later, we have absolutely innovated the way the military conducts business. We fought an enemy with our hands tied behind our backs and still dominated the battlespace. For the first time in history, we were uploading helmet cam videos of our actions on contact and sharing our experiences via the web. The GWOT wasn’t something that was happening elsewhere. It was happening on every TV and laptop in every home. Not only did almost everyone have a friend or relative involved in the war, but they could WATCH them at work.
This phenomena went the other way too. We were able to see the way the war was being shown to those at home. We saw firsthand the public opinion of what we were doing overseas. It was uplifting sometimes and sometimes, it was absolutely disheartening. We kept our heads up and went at the business for those to our left and right. We fought a war where it was decided halfway, that it wasn’t worth fighting anymore. We adapted to the new idea that we were no longer invested in the war as a country. It became more intimate and personal for us in that aspect. We weren’t doing it in order to seek justice for 9/11 anymore, a lot of us were doing it because it was all we knew. It became an addiction. We fought in a war because we WANTED to, no longer out of a sense of duty.
We were able to watch Farenheit 9/11, which caused a lot of us to question what the hell we were doing in Iraq as a nation. Never before had information made it to the front line in such time and quantity. Never before had we had the opportunity to really contemplate what it was we were fighting for or accomplishing.
With all this going on, we STILL made shit happen. We were the sharpest and most elite our military had been in decades. We brought about new tactics, new technologies, and new ways of thinking. We had pioneered warfighting in a brand new, politically-correct world.
We have come home and given the next generation of military members something to aspire to. It’s already in full bloom. Just look at the airsofters. These kids are essentially doing the same thing we did with our dad’s Vietnam-era kit. Other than the grown-ass men partaking in the activities, airsoft has become what Black Hawk Down was to us: a way to consider the future experiences we’d have and a way to imitate those we idolize.
We’ve started foundations for our wounded warriors and brothers in need. We also developed products to help our boys still in the fight. We came up with clothing lines, wrote books, and made movies. We should come away from this war proud of what we’ve accomplished ASIDE from combat. We’ve grown businesses and used the skills we acquired in leadership and teamwork to change the face of commerce, industry, and information technology. We transitioned from the GWOT to become business rockstars, and we’re doing a damn fine job.
Yes, we still struggle with wounds, both obvious and invisible. We persevere through the stigma of being damaged and defective. Hollywood and the media portray us as broken puppets. The public sees us as ticking time bombs, ready to explode and shoot up a shopping mall at the smallest stimuli. Our own government doesn’t support us as they should, and that’s ok. We support EACH OTHER in ways no one ever dreamed possible. Our contributions to social media have enabled us to reach out to each other. We hold each other up, check up on each other, and let each other know that we stand alone together.
Through all this, we have become a subculture of assets, paving the way for not only the future warriors but businessmen, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and inventors.
But, to say we’re narcissistic and entitled is just a negative mislabeling of the pride we have in our innovations and achievements.
Sure, we were born of the peaceful 80’s. However, our business and work ethic, character, and imagination were forged in the fires of the GWOT.