The Enemy

Those who are clearly much smarter than I am are quick to criticize my belief that the Baby Boomer generation—which, after all, is my own—is largely responsible for the mess we are in. Shouldn’t the blame at least be shared by those who taught us? Possibly. 

Wasn’t the Cold War world of atomic fears dropped into our laps? And yet, we avoided the worst possible outcome, didn’t we? The Berlin Wall came down on our watch, didn’t it? And all those other “little wars” were kept elsewhere, mostly out of sight—at least until September 11. 

Well, maybe Ronald Reagan was responsible for tearing down the Wall and he wasn’t a Boomer, but we voted for him. We are not responsible for all our social problems, from drug addiction to abortion. Wasn’t that maybe the result of the anti-humanism of French philosophy from Jean-Paul Sartre to Jacques Derrida, repackaged in academia and delivered to us within the vacuum of failed Christianity following two world wars? Anyway, wasn’t the “inevitability” of Marxism at least resisted, if not defeated, for the time being? 

My own argument is less concrete—perhaps. Many would see it as a matter of aesthetics, if not epistemology. Simply put, no matter how many stupid or uninformed teachers we Boomers endured, we chose our way. No matter how bigoted and ignorant our parents were, we are responsible for our own actions— otherwise, all traditional notions of right and wrong must be discarded. Oh! Yes! Isn’t that just what the authorities are doing right now, as they open the prison doors for all those “victims” of the law who should not be held accountable for their thuggery? 

No! For now, the buck stops here. I will let the next generation sort out its own complicity in the fall of this coliseum that is Western civilization. I spent the early years of my intellectual life excoriating my parents’ generation for their foolishness. I’ve had enough of that. The paperback revolution (yet another blessing from our parents) put more than enough history into my hands to see that every generation has faced such challenges. That’s why my reverence for the American founders is not so heavily weighted by the noxious presence of slavery in their midst—especially given our own willingness to accept slavery for the conveniences of our lives today. 

The Orwellian relabeling that allows us to pretend that the lithium and cobalt used in electric car batteries is not produced by slave labor is blatant and pitiful. But then, this has long been the pattern as we dramatically increased our demand for copper and lead since World War II and tried to pave our way to happiness. 

Does the racism of our parents even begin to compare to our own willingness to enslave billions of Chinese people using the shortsighted ambitions of their communist dictators, while financing the gross pollution of their rivers and the chemical fouling of their air, just so that we can keep our own air and water clean, drive cheaper cars, and bring momentary joy to our children on Christmas morning? Would Christ really approve? 

Given all the competing concepts of education, from Montessori to Piaget, were we forced to go with John Dewey? The ludicrous psychological fantasies of Sigmund Freud were bad enough, but why would we adopt the mechanistic stage-magic of behaviorism? And why would we want our schools run by teachers’ unions primarily interested in dues and paychecks and time-off and showing so little interest in actual education?

What persuaded us to dwell on the adolescent and masterbatory wet dreams of a John Updike, J. D. Salinger, or Philip Roth rather than the perceptive wisdom of a William Faulkner, Edith Wharton, or Willa Cather? Why did we read Danielle Steele and Stephen King instead of Wallace Stegner or Thornton Wilder? All of this was available to us. We made our choices. 

The willingness to forgive ourselves for our sins—something we used to leave in the hands of God—is manifest in the sort of short-term memory we reserve for our own actions, whether it is cheating on our marriage vows or chuckling as we walk away from a store counter with a bargain due to a clerk’s error. The schadenfreude we feel while hearing that someone else has been caught with their pants down would be sobering, were we less villainous ourselves.  

We hand our kids over to complete strangers to educate, hoping for the best, and deposit our elders in “homes” where they are conveniently out of sight, but then wonder what happened to the old values of family and community. We demand social services from our governments and then complain about the taxes. And naturally, we would rather watch sitcom reruns and meaningless sports programs than read a book to our children.   

Baby Boomers are notoriously incompetent. We love to go camping in the great outdoors—car and trailers close at hand. We can build a fire—with matches—but only eat what is pre-packaged from the coolers. Very few know basic carpentry, masonry, or plumbing. Farming is beyond us. Most cannot even cook without instructions. Eating take-out is the new norm. 

We are generally irrational. We emblazon the bumpers of our SUVs (or the aforementioned electric vehicles powered by electricity made from the burning of coal) with “Ban fossil fuels” stickers and save our money to fly a jet to Cancun for vacation. We complain about the cost of roofers or gardeners and advocate for open borders to keep wages down, but don’t want the hired help to live in our own neighborhoods. We relish the gun violence in movies but are afraid to own a gun ourselves. 

The list is endless. And though we loudly and famously began in the 1960s with great notions of personal freedom and alternative lifestyles, as we transition now to social security and the harboring of our 401Ks, it appears that we are the voting block that will keep the establishment in place rather than throw the bums out. After all, we wouldn’t want to risk anything now that we have ours, no matter the cost to our children. They will just have to take care of themselves. 

As I have said, (borrowing from Walt Kelly’s Pogo) I have seen the enemy, and it is us.

About Vincent McCaffrey

Vincent McCaffrey is a novelist and bookseller. Visit his website at

Photo: Getty Images

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