- - Thursday, April 24, 2014


By P.J. O’Rourke
Atlantic Monthly Press, $25, 272 pages

P.J. O’Rourke is a reformed baby boomer. In his latest offering, he turns his satirical wit on his own generation. His observations and analysis are, by turns, insightful and hilarious.

The baby-boom generation was born between 1946 and 1964. Mr. O’Rourke divides us into four classes, ranging from freshmen to seniors. Being born in the late 1940s, the author himself is a senior as are Bill and Hillary Clinton. So am I.

The author maintains that our generation’s greatest talent is bloviating “bull crap.” He actually employs another word that starts with bull, but I can’t use it in a family newspaper.

Speaking of bloviating, Barack Obama is a freshman, having been born in 1961 near the end of the boom. Interestingly enough, very few of our generation’s idols were boomers. John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and Jane Fonda were born before 1946. To our credit, Charles Manson was not a boomer, but most of his followers were.

Our generation got off to a great start. The Greatest Generation wanted their kids to have everything that they did not growing up. Mr. O’Rourke makes a splendid observation when he notes that we grew up in a golden age. Unlike our parents, most of us were not forced into work to help support the family.

Unlike our children, we were not oversupervised and forced into the gulags of organized sports, tutoring sessions for pre-prestigious preschools and rigid community service programs to beef up our college applications.

We were generally allowed to run wild. Sword fights with sticks and trash-can covers were the norm as were apple fights and stunts with bicycles that would make the TV show “Jackass” look tame by comparison. Miraculously, few of us actually put our eyes out. There were a few broken bones, but nobody had ever heard of peanut allergies.

The wheels came off in the ‘60s. Mr. O’Rourke correctly identifies the ‘50s as roughly lasting from the end of the Korean War to 1966, when we went to college and found sex, drugs and the antiwar movement. He is accurate in saying that the ‘60s lasted from 1967 to 1974 when the draft ended; it is amazing how antiwar fervor died down when our precious selves were no longer in danger of combat.

Seventy-five million spoiled children demanding their due as the privileged new majority came of age in that period, and the country may never recover from our self-perceived wonderfulness.

The author wickedly skewers our pretensions. Some examples:

His grandmother’s reaction on his announcement that he had become a communist: “Well, as long as you are not a Democrat.”

On missing Woodstock and its myths: “I’d later go to this country — overcrowded, muddy, lacking in food and public order. It’s called Bangladesh.” He also advises against setting off a stick of dynamite five feet from your house in a drug-addled attempt at recreation.

The author goes on to take aim at the generation’s self-centeredness and hypocrisy, while freely admitting that he bought into all of it. Mr. O’Rourke eventually grew up. Many of us never did. Some became bankers, politicians and Wall Street traders. Unfortunately, 2008 was the result.

Mr. O’Rourke and I led amazingly similar lives until college. We were both Protestant children of middle-class suburbs of midsized cities. Our childhood friends had parallel backgrounds, and we were both college humorist columnists.

We parted paths, however, when he enrolled in a Midwestern liberal arts college, and I headed for a Southern aviation school. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was not a hotbed of student activism in the ‘60s, and the Marine Corps ended my humor career. However, we are now both moderate conservatives.

After his stint at the National Lampoon, P.J. became the world’s first and only humor war correspondent. The threat of imminent death has a tendency to focus one’s judgment. Hello, real world.

Mr. O’Rourke is ultimately kinder to our generation’s legacy than I tend to be. He credits us with ending the Cold War. The Greatest Generation did that. Those of us boomers in the national security business were only foot soldiers.

I tried to turn in my baby-boomer ID along with my Secret Squadron decoder badge long ago, but that probably won’t save me when the grandkids come after us with pitchforks and torches when they have found out about the mess we have made of health care and Social Security. I hope I’m still laughing with this book when I get pushed off the cliff on my Rascal Scooter.

Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel who served with the State Department in Iraq and Afghanistan, is an adjunct professor at George Washington University.

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