Are Baby Boomers a Pro-War Generation?

October 13, 2002 | By Jane Glenn Haas

“To everything, turn, turn, turn. 
There is a season, turn, turn, turn. 
And a time for every purpose under heaven.”

At least 90 percent of the boomers told AARP pollsters that they expect the nation to be at war in the next decade. In fact, the majority of boomers might welcome war, says an expert on profiling America’s generations.

And because the boomers are in power in the White House, in Britain, even in al-Qaeda, he believes the generation that has not lived through a major war may spawn another global conflict.

Author William Strauss calls it “The Fourth Turning,” and he tried to reflect on the historical implication as part of an AARP panel at a convention in San Diego.

They paid little attention when Strauss pointed out that every generation that grew up without a major war in its youth sends its children and grandchildren to war.

Instead, they listened to talks about cosmetic surgery and sex on television.

Strauss is concerned about a pattern in our history, a new “turning” every two decades or so. “At the start of each turning, people change how they feel about themselves, culture, the nation, and the future,” he writes.

He says turnings come in cycles of four and span four generations, or roughly the human life span.

The first turning is exciting—the American high from V-J Day through the 1960s.

The second turning is an awakening—think of the civil-rights and women’s movements in the period from the Kennedy assassination through the early 1980s.

The third turning is an unraveling—the era of significant booms and culture wars that seemed to end on Sept. 11.

The fourth turning is a crisis—and Strauss feels this may have already begun. The last such fourth turning spawned the Great Depression and World War II, he said.

“As we unthread the generational layers of all our major crisis moments—the Revolution, the Civil War, World War II—we have older people pressuring the moral agenda of good vs. evil and action rather than containment,” Strauss said.

Not that action instead of containment is a bad thing. Compromising, appeasing, and revising just put off the inevitable, he said.

“But there is no question in my mind the boomers would draft their children to fight what they consider to be a moral war,” Strauss said.

“They want to show their mettle as a generation. They’re more inclined to break eggs and make omelets.”

Not true, says panel member Erica Jong. The AARP survey gives the wrong impression. Boomers want peace and love, she said.

Journalist and panel member Carl Bernstein argued that boomer distrust in government encourages the generation to listen to war talk with a wary ear.

“People calling for war in the Middle East are mostly boomers,” Strauss responded. “The boomers are a pro-war generation.”

Why does the world resent us? The panel blamed the entertainment industry, rampant American consumption, and lack of a strong pro-environmental policy.

Strauss talked about “moral crusading” on both sides, about dividing lines in the global sand separating the good guys from the evil.

“Boomers are the most powerful generation in history, because today they have global impact,” Strauss said. “They can create an event in the history of the world that is so global, so far-reaching.”

As Solomon sang in Ecclesiastes and Pete Seeger set to music in the 1950s:

“A time of war, a time of peace
A time of love, a time of hate…
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose under heaven.”