The Greatest Generation Summary

Tom Brokaw

The Greatest Generation

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The Greatest Generation Summary

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The Greatest Generation is a 1998 work of non-fiction by American journalist and author Tom Brokaw. Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” to describe those who came of age during World War II in the United States, and focuses on both those who fought in the war in Europe and Japan, and those who contributed to the war effort at home and experienced rationing and other sacrifice.  For Brockaw, this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced because they fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. The Greatest Generation explores themes of sacrifice, unity, and humility as it relates the first-hand testimonies of both soldiers and civilians during the Second World War. Critically acclaimed upon its release, The Greatest Generation is considered one of the most thorough histories of the World War II era in the United States, and is a best-seller in the history genre. It spawned a 2005 TV documentary miniseries of the same name, hosted by Brokaw, as well as two spin-off books, The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections and An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation.

The Greatest Generation is a history of the World War II era, told through the experiences of American people during the war and afterwards. Most of these people were born in the prosperous 1920s, but then saw the country plunge into poverty during the Great Depression. Some grew up in extreme poverty, while others came from affluent families, but Brokaw states that class differences in many ways ceased to matter once World War II broke out. Citizens of all classes were deeply patriotic and wanted to help the war effort. Although they had different experiences, and made different kinds of contributions, people across the country supported America’s war effort. Brokaw divides the people he discusses into several different groups. First is “Ordinary People”, which is about the people who made humble contributions to the war effort and then returned to their ordinary lives without achieving any fame or fortune. Many of these stories are being told for the first time. The “Home Front” segment focuses on those who made their contribution to the war effort by working in the production of war goods, serving in government, or providing moral support to the troops overseas. A segment titled “Heroes” focuses on the personal narratives of those who won medals for their military service and acts of valor.

A section titled “Women in Uniform” looks at the many ways women served the war effort, despite not being allowed to fight. Some worked in military support and paved the way for women in uniform, while others served as nurses. Many found themselves in harm’s way during the war. A section titled “Shame” looks at issues of discrimination during the era, such as racial segregation in the military, the internment of Japanese-Americans, and anti-Semitism in America. “Love, Marriage, and Commitment” looks at how the cultural environment affected the way people viewed relationships and love during this period. “Famous People” looks at the stories of celebrities who fought in the war, with some putting Hollywood careers on hold to serve, and some working as military entertainers overseas. Several famous names, such as football star Nile Kinnick, died in the war. “The Arena”, the final segment, looks at the future American politicians whose fortunes were forged during the war and how it influenced their later service in government.

Brokaw ends the book by exploring why he believes this group of Americans deserves to be called the Greatest Generation. He argues that, not only did they help the Allies win the war, but they made massive contributions to the country in the decades after it was won, in areas including public service, politics, medicine, science, journalism, and entertainment. America today is what it is because of the Greatest Generation. Brokaw also offers details of his research, telling of the many people he interviewed in his visit to Normandy for the 40th anniversary of D-Day celebrations and afterwards. Although many of these former soldiers have painful memories that they didn’t want to share, others felt their stories needed to be told. Many benefited from the GI Bill and were able to change their lives for the better. Brokaw believes that all their stories are worth being told, because their contributions transformed America for the better.

Tom Brokaw is an American journalist and author, best known for being the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004. He is the only person to have hosted The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, and Meet the Press, NBC’s three primary news programs. Since retiring from his role as anchor, he currently serves as a Special Correspondent for NBC News. He is considered one of the most prominent and respected names in American journalism, and is the author of a total of nine books, many centering around the World War II era and the 1960s, as well as two books about the challenges facing the American heartland today. His most recent work is a 2015 memoir detailing his battle with cancer. Highly decorated, he won the Peabody Award in 1989, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, and the 2016 French Legion of Honor.