Editor’s Note: The following post was originally a comment about the Austrian childhood left on the Who Is Generation X page. I thought it made some fascinating observations about Gen-Xers from countries ravaged by World Wars I and II. These children and youth were raised by parents who had been traumatized by war on the home front for two generations. Read on to learn more. Please note, I have made some minor edits to improve readability and also hyperlinked some text to articles and posts that help to further flesh out Martin’s ideas.
From Martin L.
…I stumbled across your blog and find it interesting, how many parallels there are. I was born in 1975; born and raised in Austria. The story is the same. Parents divorced, dad’s gone for years to find himself, working mom also. I don´t bore you with the details. I still think I was a happy kid with good social network grandma, aunties, you know, so no “getting it off my chest post: here.
Parents Born in the 1950s
But still, the parents, born in the early 1950s, much about finding themselves and what not. Also, basically not giving much thought about safety issues or what tasks would have been age appropriate also. Their world view was different and very much centered around them.
When I was a young adult, I was angry with them, then I started to learn about the world and realised it wasn’t “them” as persons, but it was “them” as a cohort. (I believe to have a good relation with them, so no getting it off the chest post here.)
Since a lot of my friends, when we finally started to talk about these topics share the same story. But then something happened. I met my wife, who is an Xer, too, but grew up in a country that was spared from both World Wars, and her and a lot of her friends stories were different.
I met my wife, who is an Xer, too, but grew up in a country that was spared from both World Wars, and her and a lot of her friends stories were different.
Two Generations Traumatized By War
So I am starting to think, could it be that my parents’ generation, who were brought up and surrounded by people that were war traumatized for two generations back; fathers who saw and did unspeakable things, and/or ended up in prison camps and didn’t see their kids before they were 7-10 years old; mothers who were deprived of stability and safety, often raped multiple times by the end of the war; holocaust survivors and basically the whole population, either living with terrible memories, or in the case of many Austrians – terrible memories and a shitload of guilt – simply didn’t grow up in an environment that gave them emotional tools to look to anything beyond their personal needs.
“…fathers who saw and did unspeakable things, and/or ended up in prison camps and didn’t see their kids before they were 7-10 years old; mothers who were deprived of stability and safety, often raped multiple times by the end of the war…”
And could it be that they – growing up in pretty economically deprived circumstances – developed the “Me! Here! Now!” attitude when given the chance when they grew up and our countries became richer.
A World “Plundered and Destroyed”
Is that part of why we see a world around us, that now this generation is turning it over to us, and enjoying their fat pension plans, in the shape it is? Basically plundered and destroyed? Because “take everything. give nothing back” to quote a certain pirate captain, is the result of their upbringing, and that’s what brought us here?
And what would that say about the Greatest Generation? That could be a valid theory for my part of the world. But, the parallels with the US are interesting. Even if the US was involved in the World Wars, with soldiers losing their lives and health in battles, there was, with the exception of Pearl Harbor, no home front, no devastation, no total destruction of infrastructure. The total percentage of war trauma in the population must have been lower.
Still the experience appears to be quite similar. I wonder if that deems my theory to be at fault. It would be interesting to conduct a study collecting stories from Xers from countries involved in the World Wars and those not. It is one thing to describe the characters of a generation. Understanding it, however, would certainly help to close the gap.