The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw is about the people who lived during the Great Depression and were a part of World War II. There are many short stories about individuals and groups who were somehow involved in the war, whether they fought, lead, or helped at home.
The first section of the book is about “Ordinary People” who were just like everyone else until they served in the military as part of the war effort. Because of their experiences in the war these people were changed and developed a sense of pride, responsibility and a strong work ethic. Many of them went on to open their own businesses or be leaders in their communities because of their experiences in the war.
The second section of the book described people who helped the war effort on the home front. These people helped by producing equipment for the war in factories in the United States. One man, Charles Briscoe, helped the effort by developing the B-29 planes that would eventually drop the atomic bombs on Japan. A woman, Dorothy Haener, began working in a factory to take the place of the men who were fighting. While she worked in the factory, building planes for the war, she also fought for equal pay for women. After the war she continued to fight for women to be paid the same as men for doing the same work. Though they didn’t fight overseas these people were critical to the war.
The “Heroes” section of the book describes people who did something during the war that made others call them heroic. Some of the heroes received Congressional Medals of Honor for their actions. All of them used their experiences and what they learned in the military to help them be successful after the war had ended.
The “Women in Uniform and Out” portion of the book describes women who helped during the war at a time when women weren’t normally allowed to work in most jobs. These women took positions that were normally for men, so they could help with the war. They proved that women could do the jobs that they had not been allowed to do before, as they served their country.
The next section of the book is “Shame” and is about people who were affected by racism during the war. Some were segregated in the military because of their race; one man was taken to an internment camp because of his race. The military was mostly segregated at this time and that affected many people who joined the military. One woman, Martha Settle Putney, told a story about traveling to a military base by train after she earned the rank of lieutenant and because she was African American the conductor told her she would have to ride in a freight car instead of the seat she had a ticket for. Putney considered riding in the freight car without resisting, but then reconsidered and decided she wouldn’t be forced out of her seat, so the conductor called the Military Police. When the MPs arrived instead of forcing her to the freight car as the conductor had expected they saw the lieutenant marking on her uniform and saluted her. The racism during the war was a very shameful thing when looking back on it.
The “Love, Marriage, and Commitment” section of the book is about relationships during this time period. The author explains that marriage was more of a commitment at this time and divorce was much less common. The people describe how relationships were affected by the war, and how their commitment affected them in the war.
The next section is about “Famous People”, it describes military and political leaders, journalists and writers, and inventors who are part of the WWII generation. Most of them served in the military during the war as many Americans did. Later in their lives these people made achievements in their lives that made them famous.
The final section of the book is entitled “The Arena” and describes people who entered politics after the war had ended. They represented the values they had learned during the war and used them to make political decisions for those they served. With positions as senators or other leadership titles they found a way to continue to help serve their country after the war had ended.
The whole book relates very directly to the events of the time period as it uses the events as reasoning for why the people of this time are the greatest generation. There is a lot of explanation of how the war and the Great Depression affected the lives of an entire generation of people. Through the individual stories the overall feeling of the war is easy to see. Most of the people’s stories state that one of their first thoughts after hearing of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States joining the war was that they wanted to help. Everyone was united by the attack and they all wanted to help in any way they could.
The way the people were affected by the war is similar as well. Most of the people of this time developed a sense of responsibility and pride that is much stronger than that of the average person today. For example when Wesley Ko’s business failed and he was left with a million dollar debt he began looking for a job at age seventy. He wouldn’t declare bankruptcy because of his sense of responsibility. The people also developed a sense of leadership; many of them started their own businesses or began working as politicians making decisions that affected many people. They developed their leadership abilities in the military leading others and observing their leaders actions. The sense of commitment is also common in the people of the greatest generation. An example of commitment is in marriage, only one in six new marriages from this time ended in divorce compared to one in two new marriages in 1990 ended in divorce. All of these qualities were developed by the people of this time because of the experiences they have in common.