The “Greatest Generation” would spit in disgust

Tom Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation” applied that label to those who lived through the Great Depression, fought and won World War II, and then came home to build new lives for themselves and their families.

My parents were among that generation, albeit in another country.  The Greatest Generation did all that without much in the way of government assistance.  Sure, there was the “New Deal” and its programs, but they didn’t mollycoddle people – they required hard work, too.  There were few, if any, “freebies”, and people didn’t expect them.  They knew that their future was up to them, not anyone else.  They tried to raise their children in that ethos (or, at least, my parents certainly did).

Compare and contrast that approach with this news report (bold, underlined text is my emphasis).

It’s been one week since Margherita Lopez has taken a shower. She’s been shuffled to three different shelters since evacuating her home in Key West last week as Hurricane Irma approached. She’s slept on a gymnasium floor without a cot, has struggled to find food and says she feels like emergency management officials have forgotten her.

“It’s been a nightmare … there should have been a better plan,” said Lopez, a 43-year-old woman…

. . .

Wearing a donated Mickey Mouse T-shirt, Lopez sat in a room Thursday on Florida International University’s campus that had air conditioning but smelled like a pet store. She shared the space with about 30 fellow evacuees from the same organization, their room lined with green cots with Red Cross blankets. Three shopping carts full of donated water, canned food and clothes sat in the entryway.

Everyone sleeping there had been housed together because they had been deemed to have “special needs.” Lopez is bipolar and has panic attacks.

Or how about this one?  (Ditto on the emphasis.)

Officials at the Florida nursing home where eight residents died in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma reportedly called Gov. Rick Scott for assistance hours before the first death, but help never arrived.

. . .

In Scott’s defense, the health department claims nursing home officials could have easily walked across the street to Memorial Regional Hospital and sought help.

There are many more reports like them.  In every case, people expected – and still expect – others to do everything for them.  They seem mentally incapable of getting off their butts and doing anything for themselves.

In contrast, where private individuals and organizations did get off their butts and do it themselves, things went much better.  Unfortunately, some observers appear to look upon self-help efforts (i.e. non-governmental, unofficial, grassroots organizations) with not just disdain, but concern.  Consider this perspective from the New Yorker.

… the stories of [Hurricane Harvey] are consolidating, much as they did following the floods last year in Baton Rouge, around the failures of the government’s preparations and response to the disaster, and the successes of private individuals’ rescue efforts.

. . .

Behind everything, escalating the stakes, is the willful ignorance of climate change that many local and national political leaders still cling to. In contrast to this, the actions of the Cajun Navy and other groups are celebrated. The heroism of the boaters is so vivid and so moving that it obscures the most important question about them: Why are they so needed in the first place?

. . .

There were hundreds of families … who felt that they owed their safety not to the distant forces of government but to a neighbor who had put himself at risk to help them.

. . .

There is a cyclic pattern to the erosion of faith in government, in which politics saps the state’s capacity to protect people, and so people put their trust in other institutions (churches; self-organizing volunteer navies), and are more inclined to support anti-government politics. The stories of the storm and the navies exist on a libertarian skeleton. Through them, a particular idea of how society might be organized is coming into view.

It’s clearly never occurred to the author of that opinion piece that “the failures of the government’s preparations and response to the disaster” has been the rule, rather than the exception, in almost every major disaster that has struck this country. I’ve had up-close-and-personal exposure to some of them;  Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, for example.  I went through the Nashville flood of 2010.  I’ve also seen the authorities at work in more distant disasters:  9/11, Hurricane Sandy, tornadoes in several states, and so on.  In almost every single case of which I’m aware, home-grown, spontaneous disaster relief efforts, informally organized by locals, were on-scene faster, and did more effective work, than the much slower, more ponderous, bureaucratic official responders.  Salon found the same thing when it examined the role of the ‘Cajun Navy’ in Hurricane Harvey, and citizen responders after other major disasters such as 9/11.  It’s sub-headline read “Unconventional emergency rescue operations during natural disasters demonstrate the strength of community”.  Note that it did not say “the strength of government”.

On the flip side, you have the increasingly common response of individuals and organizations to wait for the authorities to provide.  They appear to have no inclination, or feel any sense of personal responsibility, to provide for their own needs before an emergency arises.  They’re the people who swamp the stores, buying supplies like water, canned food, and plywood sheets in a last-minute panicked rush, rather than buying them in more peaceful times when there’s less pressure to do so.  They’re the people who complain that they can’t afford to spend money on emergency preparations – but they can afford smartphones, and big-screen TV’s, and luxuries like that.  They’re the people who sit in evacuation shelters, demanding that the government “do more” for them – but not lifting a finger to do it themselves.  They’re organizations like that nursing home in Florida, calling the Governor’s office to demand help – but not even walking across the road to obtain readily-available assistance!  They’re behaving like sheep, not like responsible adults . . . and we all know what happens to sheep.  They get sheared, or slaughtered, or both.  That’s what they’re there for.

There are those who would argue that someone who’s a domestic violence victim and suffers from panic attacks, like Ms. Lopez mentioned above, should not be expected to do such things for themselves.  Well, I have news for them.  Mother Nature is a stone cold bitch, who’ll kill you as soon as look at you if the opportunity arises.  It simply won’t do to plead excuses.  Some things have simply got to be done.  You do them, or you die.  Your call.  However, don’t blame others for not helping you enough!  It’s in your hands, first and foremost.

I’ve seen that reality uncounted times in the Third World, where those who don’t have the gumption to do something are the first to go to the wall (which usually means getting killed, or dying slowly of disease or starvation, in those parts of the world).  For all that the USA is a first world nation, the same realities are in effect here.  Your personal problems, and handicaps, and incapacities, are just as potentially lethal here as they are anywhere else.  Get over them, or make a plan to work around them, before they kill you.  That’s the cold, hard, brutal reality of this world.  Mollycoddling won’t change that.  If you can’t get over or work around them, don’t rely on some nebulous government bureaucracy to change that reality.  Sometimes, it might.  Other times, it won’t.

Miss D. and I live with that reality every day.  We’re both permanently affected by injuries we’ve suffered.  In the event of disaster, those injuries and the burdens they impose on us might kill us – so we’d better plan ahead, and already have what we need in case of emergency.  If we don’t, we’ll be among the casualties.  That’s life.  We’ve learned to live with it.  So have many others like us, some with physical issues, some with psychological or emotional or other needs  We all know that in the event of an emergency, it’s up to us, particularly when everyone around us is in the same boat.

It’s not an exact Scriptural quote to say that “God helps those who help themselves”, but that principle is found in the Bible, in so many words – and it’s found in other cultures and religions, too.  However, we seem to have raised a “Millennial” and “Generation X” society that expects government – or, at least, other people – to do it all for them . . . and too many of them blame God when that doesn’t happen!  Fortunately, there are exceptions;  but there aren’t enough of them.  How do we get through to the others?  How do we wake them up to reality?  I don’t know.  Do you?



  1. And I know from personal experience that if you confront someone complaining about the gov'ts "failure" you will receive an earful of how stupid you are.
    After Wilma went through here, one woman complaining about how the govt was not caring about how she could keep her insulin refrigerated and how she had no water. When asked about her personal responsibility to take care of herself she became quite outraged that anyone could think that she had any personal responsibility.

  2. Across every single culture there is a segment of society that will do the bare minimum to avoid dying from the lack of basic necessities. We coddle and support their choices and bad decisions because it's the moral thing to do in the short and medium term, I guess. When disaster happens, they're our problem, too.

    I wonder, Peter, if your own experiences after Katrina, where you inherited a bunch of needy people, proves my point? How many of those people, who you had to support, changed and started making responsible decisions in preparation for the next disaster?

    I'm not sure there IS a way to get through to these people. I mean, if a kid's too simple to put Burned Hand + Hot Stove together and insists on roasting their nosepickers over and over again, at some point you have to slap a hockey helmet and a leash on him.

    I know that some, probably a very few, folks WILL learn from this. It's to the credit of our broken-hearted culture that so many private individuals did actually come together to help. In cases like the nursing home, where it's someone's JOB to help, I can't help but notice that there may not have been an actual legal impetus to help. There will be people like those who do the bare minimum to get by, who will do the bare minimum morally to get by, as well. That's a fact, and the fact that they might work in nursing homes speaks more to the nursing home's HR practices than it does to the people involved. I mean, we already know that bad people exist. Letting them gravitate towards working with our vulnerable has all sorts of sad connotations.

  3. "How do we get through to the others?"

    Why is there some kind of obligation on someone else's part? The premise of your article is that of providing for oneself and family. Why does that not extend to to the "get wisdom, and with wisdom, get understanding"? Don't they also have an obligation to get that as well?

    And, Why do you think that it's about a lack of knowledge?

    "The leech has two daughters: give and give."

    "A slothful man will not even raise his hand from the bowl to his mouth."

    It is not about can not, it is about will not.

  4. Personally, I'm a firm believer in the Darwinian sub-Theory of It's Someone Else's Job To Take Care Of Me. Darwin usually gets the last laugh on those "me's"..

  5. I'm reminded of the Stephen Crane poem:

    A man said to the universe:
    "Sir, I exist!"
    "However," replied the universe,
    "The fact has not created in me
    A sense of obligation."

    From my earliest memories my parents, older parents who'd been through the great depression and had both lived in true desperate poverty, drilled into my young Gen-X head that no one owes you anything in this life. You have to provide for yourself and your family. Very little was ever done for me when I had the ability to do for myself. Instruction in simple things like washing, cooking, mechanic work, farm chores were usually accompanied by the admonition that "Pay attention. You need learn how to do this yourself. We're not always going to be here and no one else is going to do it for you.". They were right. They both died when I was quite young and their instruction was invaluable. I am forever grateful for the wonderful, caring Father and Mother who instilled the virtue of self reliance in me.

  6. We are so blessed, so fortunate, so incredibly rich by historical standards in this country that we have the means to care for those who cannot or will not care for themselves.
    Been my experience that those who cannot are always most grateful for any assistance one might offer them. Spent many a work weekend in community service building a wheelchair ramp, installing smoke detectors, putting up storm windows. And always met with humble thanks.
    Then you have those who while able bodied refuse to pitch in and take care of themselves. That welfare check never seems to stretch to the end of the month, especially when you traded your food stamps for beer and smokes. You just cannot find a job because the evil bosses won't pay you $15 an hour just to show up, or fire you when you miss two days out of five because you were too tired to come in. Or too hung over.
    And then you have those who see a national emergency as open season to loot the possessions of those stricken. And are horrified when threatened with weapons or even arrested.
    But generosity has limits. It ends when being generous takes away from caring for our own. If (more likely when) things turn bad in this country a lot of leeches are going to find the well of free stuff has run dry and when they pitch the inevitable hissy fit they will be met with little if any sympathy. And if they turn violent, well they've brought it on to themselves.

  7. And even in the "hippy dippy" 1960s there was the weirdness of Sid & Marty Kofft and HR Pufnstuf… but recall the theme lyrics? "..can't do a little, because he can't do enough.." Yeah, it's the DO that matters. And when Pufnstuf outclasses you? Well, now.

  8. The Kipling poem about the gods of the copybook headings explains the situation well. I work in a dialysis unit and the majority of our patients get Medicare and/or Medicare. It is amazing the number of them that simply refuse to follow any proper course of treatment and expect us to fix their health. The government cuts our reimbursement if the patients do not meet certain health standards. We cannot refuse them treatment or discharge them from our clinic again by government rules. As in it is their fault and we must suffer for it.
    However, the ones who don't follow treatment protocols generally die reasonably soon. In the case of our societal parasites, the collapse of the overburdened system should clear this up eventually.

  9. A few years ago my city was hit with a bad ice storm. Power in some areas was out for days. People were complaining about food spoiling and so forth so the government in it's infinite wisdom decided to hand out $150-$300 gift cards to those that were "affected" by the power outage. People were (apocryphal maybe) showing up in BMW's to get their freebies.

    Here's what boggled my mind. After we got hit by the ice storm the temperature had dropped to sub zero ranges. So all those people complaining about spoiled freezers full of food deserved to take the hit by not thinking of grabbing some bins and putting the stuff OUTSIDE. Yes once again people were looking to nanny government to help correct their short comings.

  10. The key to being ready is to be always getting ready. I was reviewing our emergency preps the other day and realized I had two 20 pound tanks of propane without anything to use them with. Today I ordered an attachment that allows me to use that propane with our Coleman dual fuel stove. Way cool – white gas, gasoline, and now propane with one stove.

    My wife is now on a salt restricted diet. We spent the morning see what low/no salt foods were available in town for a seven day emergency supply. Things changed so what we have won't work for her anymore. Of course that means I'm golden; seven days just became fourteen for me since what we had didn't suddenly go bad. She has also added some stuff to our six month "oh crap" supply.

    Again, it's a matter of always paying attention.

  11. I remember during Katrina my father, born in 1927, watching the news about buses that could have been used to evacuate New Orleans residents, but weren't, and made some remark about how government had changed for the worse since FDR, and how he would have started walking inland and not waited, figuring if the bus came along, good, but meanwhile, keep walking.

  12. FWIW, a parallel example:

    Moreover, it's actually a little over 30 years old. It shows how ingrained the attitude all ready was, and in people who should have known better.

    A coworker approached me one day and told me that "Mormons" aren't Christian. I asked him how he'd come to that conclusion (the actual name of the church is "The Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints".) He told me that Mormons believed in storing up treasures of earth, which the Savior had condemned.


    Oh, he meant the "family preparedness" program, wherein members are encouraged – where possible – to store a year's worth of life's necessities: food, water, medicines, soap … and so on. Treasures? Well, maybe after a disaster.

    So I asked him how he would prepare for a major disaster (As it turned out, the Northridge Earthquake was only few years in the future). He told me "God will provide".

    What can you say to that? I probably shouldn't have held my peace, and told him what I really thought: yeah, God will provide – most likely through the agency of my his prepper neighbors, many of whom would turn out to be those "awful" Mormons.

    I wonder how he did get by. I was long gone by then, but I saw photos of our Reseda office; the north wall had collapsed leaving the rooms exposed and literally, desks were hanging out on the second floor. And remember the photos of the collapsed spans of freeway interchanges.

    Honestly, doesn't God believe in using good sense?

    Oh, and BTW, why did I have to go through 8 pages of "street signs" to prove that I'm not a robot.

    (more than meets the eye)

  13. Small example, but along the same line, after Irma passed I went out and started cleaning up the front yard, or what there was of it. The street was a foot under and the water was 2/3 up my driveway. I had no more prep to do and if the water came up higher I had done what I could. So I began picking up, raking, etc. Next thing I know the guy across the street/river and his wife came out and did the same. Then his new neighbor came out to do the same. Nobody else on the entire street, a block long, came out. I had to wonder if that didn't say something about the folks along the block.

    2 days later the water was down by 0500. I was out at 0710, sunrise, picking up again and guess who else was also out within only a few minutes.

    Only 1 other could not have participated. He's a first responder, so 2 of us went down and did his place.

    I think I have a much better picture of those folks down the street now.

  14. You've been a pastor, so you'll appreciate this joke. 🙂

    A rock climber is hanging on the side of a mountain, stuck there without a good footing. He's just lost all of his gear down the side of it, and there are no good foot holds. He's stuck, he's going nowhere fast, and he might die.

    He prays to God and says, "I'm kinda stuck here, I really could use some help, won't you please help me out?"

    A few minutes later, another rock climber on top of the mountain starts coming down, and he notices our intrepid friend in peril. He offers to help the stuck climber, but his help is refused.

    The stuck climber says, "No, the Lord will provide, I'll just stay here."

    The climber on his way down continues his way down without any further delays, and makes it down safely.

    Wondering why the Lord has foresaken him, the stuck climber also wonders what he's going to do about food. A few hours later, a search helicopter sees the stuck climber and offers assistance.

    The stuck climber says again, "No, the Lord will provide, I'll stay here until the Lord sees it in His wisdom to help me out."

    The search helicopter flies away and makes it back safely to its base after another rescue.

    Over the next few days, the State Highway Patrol, the National Guard, and a small army of amateur climbers offer to help out the stuck climber. He refuses all of their help, telling them the Lord will provide.

    Eventually the stuck climber dies of starvation, dehydration, and several other things related to his stuck condition. He arrives in Heaven and is greeted by a scornful-looking Saint Peter.


    "Well, I waited for the Lord to provide, and …"

    Saint Peter cut him off abruptly.

    "We sent you an experienced rock climber, a search helicopter, the State Highway Patrol, the National Guard, and a small army of other rock climbers. What EXACTLY did you not understand about this help being provided to you?"

    And so Saint Peter sends the formerly stuck rock climber straight to Hell, because the rock climber's worst sin was a Deadly Sin: he'd been vain enough to believe that The Lord Himself was going to come down and help him when others were perfectly capable of doing that.

    Upon arriving in Hell, the Devil says to the rock climber, "Oh, you can just sit your things down over there … you know how to take care of yourself, don't you?"


  15. How can we call that generation the greatest generation when they spawned the hippies and through them the millenials?


  16. Hey Peter;

    I have commented about the greatest generation, they were tempered by the great depression, then WWII. They were forged in fire to become steel, the weak were darwined out during this time. Unfortunately they tried to spare their children their pain and suffering, and made things too easy on their kids.

    I hate reCAPcha

  17. Paladin, I saw similar after a major ice storm in the Midwest 10 or so years back. I just opened a window and put the milk et al out on the little ledge (emergency egress window so removable screen). It didn't get above 35 for several days, and I was on the north side. I'd already eaten out most perishables because of going away for a few weeks on research, so I was pretty well set. I didn't notice anyone else doing that, but I did smell several people cooking on their fireplaces. Especially the family that had an enormous chimney that they also used as a smoker.


  18. My Mother and her family survived the Great Depression. When they heard there was a run on their bank, my great grandmother went down to get their money out. By the time she reached the teller's window, all the bank had were small bills. So she carried the entire family's savings home – wrapped up in her apron.

    My parents set the example in that you never asked for help, you never expected any help, but should you see someone who couldn't help themselves (such as an elderly person) you immediately did whatever you could to help them out. And that's just the way it was.

    Having lived through the 60s, I briefly tried the Hippie lifestyle, but I couldn't see much use in it. Communes didn't last because no one was willing to work. So I cut my hair and went to work. I guess I did alright.

    I don't know what to make of the self-appointed victims these days. A friend in Florida reminded me that the growing old business wasn't for sissies, and he's right. When I was young, I never would have thought to ask anyone for help.

  19. Quite the commentary on the "O, woe is me!" brigade. Father, a priest and war veteran ( Anglican,Church of England,Episcopalean…don't know what they are ? ) didn't have much truck with the wailing of the undercoddled. "They think they have hard times? WE died!" ( They did too. Air crew during the Battle of Britain and later on suffered ridiculous loss rates. )
    The crying wolf continues in new and improved variations. "Behind everything, escalating the stakes, is the willful ignorance of climate change that many local and national political leaders still cling to. " Not really. Climate changes. Allocating God's design as man's responsibility really whips up a fuss over a variation of no more than 1 degree per century as a harbinger of future disaster. The thing about predicting the future is this : it is not science. It is not even with culturally appropriate gaming computer programs taking the place of crystal balls or reading entrails. There is no data. But I do know the ever present propaganda whips up concerns, even when there is no linkage between wild weather and averaged readings. Since I thought it might become difficult to find, some alternative thought.

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