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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

A Maligned Generation


This past Monday night, along with 680 other lucky people in Washington's historic Ford's Theatre, I was able to enjoy the wit and wisdom of America's dominant political satirist, Mark Russell.

His humor is as timeless as Twain's and as topical as tonight's 11 o'clock news. The crowd, many of them still processing word of the impending retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, heard Russell support the election of Ghana's Cardinal Peter Turkson: "I'm rooting for that African cardinal. Too bad he has enemies spreading rumors that he was born in Hawaii."

A former Marine himself, Mark Russell expressed no objection to the decision to allow gays to serve openly in the Corps. The only real change he has seen: Now each morning, the Marine bugler, instead of sounding reveille, "plays show tunes."

The current House of Representatives is chronically incapable of reaching an accommodation. Even though a large majority on Capitol Hill supported making Cinco de Mayo, the annual celebration of Mexican heritage, a holiday, they "couldn't agree on a date."

But there is authentic wisdom in this humor. Speaking self-deprecatingly of his own generation, those born between 1925 and 1945, Russell observed: Sandwiched between the deservedly heralded Greatest Generation (1900-1924) and the over-ballyhooed Baby Boomer Generation (1946-1964), "we did not have a title. We had no label. ... We wore T-shirts. But we were so dull we did not have enough imagination to put any message" on our plain, white T-shirts.

After the self-regarding baby boomers came the even more highly educated and skeptical Generation X, which has been succeeded by the economically struggling, but instant-communicating, Millennials.

Actually, Mark Russell's (and my) age cohort did have a name. Time magazine called us the Silent Generation, and it stuck.

Unlike the Greatest Generation, we did not fight and win World War II. We were too young. But unlike the boomers, we were children of the Depression and the War and we learned — some would say, were brainwashed — to submerge our own wants and needs to the common good. Korea was our generation's war, but half of us were too young for it.

Still, the "Silents" were mercifully free of self-esteem and, luckily, not addicted to self-expression. We were taught and — yes, mostly silently — accepted self-sacrifice. Three out of four of our era's males wore the country's uniform in military service. Remember that in 1955 the U.S. military, then numbering nearly 3 million, was more than twice as large as it is today. This was at a time when the entire national draft pool barely totaled 7 million.

We were not terribly introspective because, I would submit, nobody told us how damn "interesting" we were, and precious few of us came to that conclusion independently.

We were not, I concede, remotely as sensitive as the generation that followed ours. Many, if not most, of us actually bought our elders' argument that what matters in the final analysis is what you give rather than what you get. America would have to wait, because we were not up to it, for a liberated and enlightened generation who could elevate non-judgmentalism and uninhibited tolerance to high cosmic values.

Unlike the boomers — Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — and the Greatest Generation — JFK, LBJ, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and G.H.W. Bush — the Silent Generation failed to produce a U.S. president. But we did produce Martin Luther King Jr, Robert Kennedy, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood.

This, of course, turns out as always to be the price you pay for spending a couple of hours with the relentlessly provocative Mark Russell: Whether you want to or not, he makes you laugh, and he makes you think.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




1 Comments | Post Comment
Sir... It is easy to see why the silent were silent... Their silence was bought on the one side while cause for complaint was denied...
In the desire to beat communism, that great boogyman or church and state and economy, the people were allowed good conditions that generations passed had fought and died in vain to have... Unions were allowed which brought up the whole level of wages for all people, and improved working conditions... The Communist society never knew the ease and luxury of our own at its peak, and neither could their states overcome the propaganda value of so many shiney pigs living in swill...
This people could not know it was all bought with IOUs and rubber checks with so much bounce in them they could not be caught...Communist societies formed out of universal necessity gave all of their bounty to defense, and they should simply have surrendered long ago... They could not play economics with funny money, when promises of a better tomorrow grew thin in hungry days...
Now, the reality of reality is becoming real to us... All the wealth taken out of my father's generation to fund his parents retirement, and his own was taken out of my future, and I in turn took money out of my life and my children's future to fund a retirment they tell me is not there, when the fact is that it was used to keep taxes low, and keep consumption high, and to make our defeat of communism seem but a trifle... The very people who bought that defeat must now suffer it...
The rich would never have dared treat Americans as they do today, as slaves in all but name that they can run into poverty, in order to buy all they own on the cheap so long as those reds presented a danger and an alternative... The unions were bought off to purge their communists, and allowed to exist and achieve some justice until that instant that Russia lowered her flag and raised their hands, and then the unions seemed like so many filthy commies...
The silent generation kept silent for two very good reasons... The government gave them no cause for complaint and rather worked with them to end causes for complaint.. And; They might have presumed as many did, that what has occured was in the process of occuring, that they were being robbed, and the whole commonwealth was disappearing every time they winked, but there was no proof...I think my father held socialist sympathies... He was good with math and could see that things were not adding up... I knew many older men who were Wobly, affected in a positive way by the IWW... But the red scare lasted far longer than the Mcarthy hearings, and if people wanted their jobs and their lives and their peace in their neighborhoods they kept quiet, and not out of respect...They had evidence, and a lot of it; but no proof...
Now we have the proof that our government, and the churches and economy it represents- is bankrupt; but the time is long passed when bankruptcy was considered a crime...Yet, a refuge designed for businessmen after they have looted investors is no device government can avail itself of...Towns are broke... Cities and states are nearly so, and the mother hen of all these little chicks is broke, and cannot keep its promises, and never could...The economy which should support all people and their government cannot support itself without denying the people and draining them of wealth, which is happening on a vast scale...
As the silent generation goes silently to the grave they at least can know that they got theirs... For the rest of us, the promise of America is yet to be realized, and even the best of the left squeal: Compromise... When have we not compromised, and not looked for every reason to do so???...
I gave a large amount of personal wealth to paying off the last great debt, and have given to social security all of my working life... I have suffered nearly constant abuse from some quarters for being a union man, and I face having my Social Security limited by the pension that I fought and worked hard for, against insult...It was not a choice that kept so many from having more children... We could not afford more children, or to educate and care for the ones we had... To have struggled as if in war, to have sacrificed as if in war, and to know it was all pissed away for greater wealth and luxury for the untaxed rich is a fact I will never be silent about... We are the last generation to reach authority before the turn of the millenium, and it will too soon slip away from us...
While we still have our wits about us; dare government to show us the books, show us what has been sold cheap of this commonwealth, and who has evaded taxes, and who drove down wages, and what of all of it is held yet untaxed...We all felt so good about this place having no more than our lives and the crumbs that fell off the tables of the rich...And now we do not even have that much...While we have some life in us; what are we going to do about it??? We cannot expect the young to take up the cause of our injustice when they are suffering so much of their own... If you have been cheated, there is no cause for surprise or room for denial...
We might try to look at the subject objectively and say that the great struggle against communist totalitarianism gave our lives meaning in return for our sacrifice, but if that sacrifice bought a society were people must be dependent upon the state, and live as poorly as communists, constantly under surveilance, leaving an e-paper trail with every move they make, always suspect, never free; then what was it all for, and what meaning did our lives really hold for us???... Before we have the pleasure of sitting like children in our own pee, living on thin soup and stale crusts let us stand and demand lives at least as good and as fulfilling as the silent generation knew... Will we surrender our lives knowing we did nothing to ensure the rights and conditions of our children and theirs???
Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Feb 22, 2013 6:57 AM
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