WASHINGTON - In the spring of 1965, when I was turning 11 years old, Jack Weinberg, a free-speech-movement activist and graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley, told a reporter that young people should not trust anyone over 30.
I'm turning 30 times two tomorrow, smack dab in the middle of the Baby Boomer generation. How ironic that seminal line of the Boomer/60's generation looks from this vantage point.
Had Weinberg uttered those lines today, it would fire up what we now call a viral event, going global with the Speed of Tweet. Something new to argue about. The generational experts would come out swinging, Xers vs. Boomers, Millenials proclaiming their independence from it all. Partisans would look for a quip or attack line to win the moment. The phrase would be hash-tagged into infinity, hashed over into exhaustion on the cable talk shows.
The line would be no wiser today than it was in 1965. The generation that came of age scarred by Vietnam, embroiled in the Civil Rights movement, catered to and obsessed upon in the culture like no other, is easing into retirement leaving the country deep in debt, and with a political trust deficit just as deep.
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It's not all the Boomers' fault, but a lot of it has happened since we turned 30. And as if to remind Boomers of the often petty natures of our disagreements, Tom Brokaw re-introduced us to the Greatest Generation.
Now, in their twilight, these old soldiers come to the World War II Memorial here, wielding canes instead of guns this time, offering a more quiet contemplation of their own sacrifice and the trust they had to put in one another to get the job done.
Never trust anyone over 30? In 1965, that would have included the millions of men and women who helped defeat the Nazis in Europe and the imperial Japanese in Asia. Even if he didn't really mean it, as Weinberg has been reported to have said since, it became a touchstone line of the '60s generation growing old. How arrogant that seems these nearly five decades later.
So what is there to learn? That nothing is static, that no challenge is truly new, that any proclamation on its face, however popular or pithy, is best judged over time. We learn that conflict and friction is part of the human experience, and that wisdom is not a generational birthright. The Boomers turned 30, saw writ large our own character and judgment flaws in the presidents of our generation - Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - reveled in the Me Decade and the tech boom that empowers the individual. But, despite the Beatles' plea, came together only in the most horrific moments, like 9/11. Turns out we didn't trust each other.
That same spring of 1965, the Who's Pete Townshend wrote the lyrics to "My Generation," on his 20th birthday. His line, "hope I die before I get old" became a musical catch phrase of my generation. He'll be 69 on Monday.