7 Lessons in Manliness from the Greatest Generation

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Yes, there is a web site that teaches the world what it means to be manly. It sounds silly, but the site is well-written and pertinent. If you’re curious, go to artofmanliness.com. In the meantime, here are observations posted on how the men of the WWII generation epitomized manliness:

“There may never have been a generation when the ratio of honorable men to slackers was higher than the one born between 1914 and 1929. They knew the meaning of sacrifice, both in terms of material possessions and of real blood, sweat, and tears. They were humble men who never bragged about what they had done or been through. They were loyal, patriotic, and level-headed. They were our Greatest Generation.

“I do see a lot of people these days who are dusting off the values of the Greatest Generation and embracing them once again. I’d like to enumerate a few of the Greatest Generation’s lessons in manliness, using personal observations and quotes from Tom Brokaw’s book by that name.

Lesson # 1: Take Personal Responsibility for Your Life. The Greatest Generation relished the chance to step up to the plate and test their mettle. And when the Greatest Generation accepted responsibility for something, they also accepted all the consequences of that decision, whether good or bad. They were not a generation of whiners or excuse makers. They took pride in personal accountability.

Lesson #2: Be Frugal. One of the mottos of the Greatest Generation was “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Of course, it’s hard to “make it do” if you don’t know how to fix it, and thus handiness was also central to this generation’s frugality.

Lesson #3: Be Humble. Brokaw observes: “The World War II generation did what was expected of them. But they never talked about it. It was part of the Code. There’s no more telling metaphor than a guy in a football game who does what’s expected of him-makes an open-field tackle-then gets up and dances around. When Jerry Kramer threw the block that won the Ice Bowl in ‘67, he just got up and walked off the field.”

Lesson #4: Love Loyally. The men of the Greatest Generation took their marriage vows seriously. Brokaw wrote, “It was the last generation in which, broadly speaking, marriage was a commitment and divorce was not an option. I can’t remember one of my parents’ friends who was divorced. In the communities where we lived it was treated as a minor scandal.” The numbers bear Brokaw’s anecdotal evidence out: of all the new marriages in 1940, 1 in 6 ended in divorce. By the late 1990’s, that number was 1 in 2.

Lesson #5: Work Hard. In war, these men had learned to focus on the objective at hand and not give up until that objective and the mission as a whole was accomplished. When they got home, they carried that focus over to the world of work.

Lesson #6: Embrace Challenge. The Greatest Generation wasn’t the greatest despite the challenges they faced, but because of them. Today many men shirk challenge and difficult pursuits, believing that the easier life is, the happier they’ll be. But our grandfathers knew better. They knew that one cannot have the bitter without the sweet.

Lesson #7: Don’t Make Life So Damn Complicated. If there’s a common thread in these lessons, it’s having a common sense and a level-headed approach to life. In our day, when men are obsessing about finding themselves, their holy grail of a woman, and their “passion,” the Greatest Generation’s uncomplicated approach to life is refreshing!


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