The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Jul 282009

The Wall Street Journal recently posted a great piece on the Class of 1976.   This is the first class to miss service as young officers in Vietnam.  They went to West Point at the height of Boomer (born 1943-1960) unruliness and dysfunction (the stories in this article speak for themselves!) and at the low point of military morale.  Young people in uniform were insulted and spat on in public.  The Generation X (born 1961-1981)-energized recovery from this “hollowing out” of our armed forces began later, in the early 80s, as we finally succeeded in make the all-volunteer force structure work.

Interesting to contemplate that these are the top, late-wave Boomer brass (Petreaus graduated two years earlier, in 1974) who are now in charge in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Question: What happened to the classes graduating in the 60s?  Most of them I presume served young in Vietnam, but they haven’t really showed up in later wars.  The architects of Desert Storm (PowellFranksSchwartzkopf) graduated in the ‘50s.  All the guys now in charge graduated in the 70s.  The one 60s grad I’ve heard of is Gen. Barry McCaffey, and as I recall he was regarded as something of a loose cannon in GWI.  My impression is the these early-wave Boomers were the most traumatized by Vietnam and later on kept their heads down and avoided risks.  They were the ones who initially triggered the ideologically polarized collective self-image of military officers (which still prevails, but may be easing).  I also suspect that today’s mid-level X’er colonels work better with the late-wave Boomers than they ever did with the first-wavers.

Jul 242009

These two articles describe how young farmers are changing their approach to farming:

On tiny plots, a new generation of farmers emerges (USA Today)

Look Who’s Farming Now (CNN Money)

The net income from this business is outrageously low, but the zen-like dedication of these young people to a totally functional lifestyle is admirable.


The 2007 agriculture census found that more than one-quarter of all farmers are 65 or older.

The wave of young farmers on tiny farms is too new and too small to have turned up significantly in USDA statistics, but people in the farming world acknowledge there’s something afoot.

According to Tscharner Fleming, 27, a farmer in Nevis, N.Y.: “The America that I want to live in will support people who are willing to work their asses off, who want to do good things for their community. We’re patriots of place. Here I am, I’m planting my trees.”

Jul 232009

This NYT article on Millennial (born 1982-200?) nostalgia is a funny an whimsical piece. I’m surprised he didn’t mention the wonderful Disney cartoon movies that marked the first wavers’ childhood: Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdinThe Lion KingFinding NemoMonsters Inc, etc. That will certainly be remembered in future decades as a “classic” era of great kidvid and people will be wondering why we can’t do that anymore. It was all part of the Millennial moment. You just had to be there.

“Voldie and the Wiz Kids” (an indie band mentioned in the piece) is nice. We haven’t heard young people called “Whiz kids” since the young G.I.s (born 1901-1924) and some Silent (born 1925-1942) from WWII through the early 60s. The retrospectives on Bob McNamara often mentioned how he and his team were called Whiz Kids at Ford and later at the Department of Defense. No one ever called Boomers (born 1943-60) or Xers (born 1961-81) Whiz Kids.

Jul 172009

A recent article by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones asks Are the Culture Wars Winding Down?

I think he’s right that the culture wars are winding down… a sign that the Boomers (born 1943-1960) are no longer at the cutting edge of the national mood.

It is inaccurate, though, to say that Millennials (born 1982-200?) support gay marriage. The Pew Survey (gold standard in this area, IMO) says that 18-29 remain deadlocked on this question in 2009: 45% con, 43% pro at last count. What is true, of course, is that they are much more supportive of gay marriage than older generations. And that a clear majority do support “civil unions.”