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The name Silent Generation was coined in the November 5, 1951 cover story of Time to refer to the generation within the United States coming of age at the time. The article, (which defined the generation at the time as born from 1923 to 1933), found its characteristics as grave and fatalistic, conventional, possessing confused morals, expecting disappointment but desiring faith, and for women, desiring both a career and a family.[1] The article stated:

Youth today is waiting for the hand of fate to fall on its shoulders, meanwhile working fairly hard and saying almost nothing. The most startling fact about the younger generation is its silence. With some rare exceptions, youth is nowhere near the rostrum. By comparison with the Flaming Youth of their fathers & mothers, today's younger generation is a still, small flame. It does not issue manifestoes, make speeches or carry posters. It has been called the "Silent Generation."

The phrase gained further currency after William Manchester's comment that the members of this generation were "withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous and silent." The name was used by Strauss and Howe in their book Generations as their designation for that generation in the United States of America born from 1925 to 1945.[2] The generation is also known as the Postwar Generation and the Seekers, when it is not neglected altogether and placed by marketers in the same category as the G.I., or "Greatest", Generation. In England they were named the Air Raid Generation as children growing up amidst the crossfire of World War II.

According to Strauss and Howe's interpretation, the typical grandparents were of the Missionary Generation; their parents were of the Lost Generation and G.I. Generation. Their children are Baby Boomers and Generation X (a.k.a. 13th Generation) - or sometimes labeled as Generation Jones. Their typical grandchildren are of the Generation Y (a.k.a. Millennials.)

Assorted views

The Silent Generation was caught between the get-it-done G.I.s and the vocal "world-changing" Boomers. Well into their rising adulthood, they looked to the G.I.s for role models and pursued what then looked to be a lifetime of refining, humanizing, and ameliorating a G.I.-built world. Come the mid-1960s, the Silent fell under the trance of their free-spirited next-juniors, the Boomers.[2] As songwriters, graduate students, and young attorneys, they mentored the Consciousness Revolution, founding several of the organizations of political dissent the Boom would later radicalize.

TIME Associate Editor Gerald Clarke, 32 (in 1970) wrote:

"We are renters still, taking as our own the values of both old and young—and not thoroughly comfortable with either. Many of us now feel quite at ease with pot, rock and permissive sex; many of us reject the youth culture categorically. Most of us, however, occupy the unhappy position of being undecided: we want to enjoy, but deep down in our pre-Spock psyches, we feel we shouldn't. We puff marijuana at parties when we would be happier with Scotch or gin; we don bellbottoms when we would rather be in tweeds; we jump into affairs when we would rather be at home in bed—asleep. The visible result often is a compromise: the staid Wall Street lawyer, in vest, rep tie and cuffed trousers in the daytime, who turns Bloomingdale hippie in the evening, donning tie-dyed pants and tank top to weed the garden.[3]

Corporate consultant Bernard Salt summarizes the Silent Generation as follows. He suggests it is a generation of helpers. It has not yet produced a U.S. President, but it did produce every great Civil Rights leader and almost every leader in the Women's Movement. The major contribution of the Silent Generation was to humanize their world and now, they want to help ensure a safe world for their grandchildren. Senator John McCain would be the first Silent elected president; he is currently the oldest US presidential candidate. [4] Australia has produced two Silent Prime Ministers, John Howard and Paul Keating. [2]

Generationalist Ann Fishman asserts the Silents have re-defined age. "Silents see themselves as vital and active people in the prime of life, about 15 years younger than their chronological age," says Fishman. They consider "65 as the new 50!"[4]

In the book Boom Bust and Echo, Canadian author David Foot takes a different perspective on this group arguing that those born in the 1930s and early 1940s are the most successful generation. He argues that because so few people were born during the depression and the war that employment opportunities were abundant and this group quickly rose to the top and became the management and superiors of the great mass of baby boomers that came after them. Using economic indicators he finds that 1938 was the best year to be born in North America, in terms of economic success. The impact of the generation was also great culturally, as the musicians and thinkers such as Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Bob Dylan who shaped the fashions of the boomers and were often associated with the pop culture of the 1960s and 1970s.


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