The Lost Generation
THERE are in this country to-day approximately five to eight million persons between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four who are not only out of work — they are actually considered by personnel directors of nationally known concerns as belonging to the ‘permanently unemployable.’ This is but one of the challenges that The Lost Generation throws up to the nation at large.
Maxine Davis’s study of American youth is so pitiless in its dissection of prevailing American attitude that this reviewer—one of that ’lost generation’ which graduated from college at the beginning of this decade — unhesitatingly recommends the book as a virile and authentic record of Depression Youth.
The author traveled over 10,000 miles, talking to boys and girls everywhere. As a group she found them resigned, hoping for the best, but with sheep-like apathy toward the problems that have traditionally challenged American youth. She set forth to determine the character of the so-called mutiny against the existing social order, commonly believed to be brewing among progressive young intellectuals. She found ‘nothing but a meek acceptance of the fate meted out to them and a blind belief in a benign future based on nothing but wishful thinking.’ She never found revolt.
To the query, ‘Why don’t you do something? — If you don’t like the way relief is administered, why don’t you organize? Why don’t you make a fuss?’ — the answer invariably was: ‘Aw, what’s the use? The politicians run everything, the dirty crooks. We won’t get anything. And the big boys run the politicians. I’m wise, lady, I’m wise.’
This response is more than an extension of the ‘Oh yeah?‘ cynicism of post-boom days, the author feels. from the point of view of her nation-wide survey, it appears the surest indication of a growing defeatist attitude; this is amply borne out by the latest findings of the National Youth Administration. Gloomily implementing Miss Davis’s argument, the NYA recently remarked: ‘When one has been without a job for . . . years, the ambition to secure a position gradually subsides.’ Moreover, when firms want young men, they want this year’s crop of high-school and college graduates, not those who have been ‘in storage’ since leaving school.
We have always been proud of the physical well-being of American youth. Shortly after the publication of Miss Davis’s book, the American Youth Commission, a Rockefeller endowment, reported that the depression was responsible for immeasurable physical ravages upon youth; this was due in part to the curtailment of free medical facilities. The Commission’s report supplemented the findings of the Life Extension Institute that 75 per cent of the 100,000 young men examined suffered from ‘some sort of health defect,’ Certainly it appears that we are breeding anything but a race of supermen.
What of youth’s assets? Well, says the author, there are courage, sportsmanship, honesty. Furthermore, youth is willing to work at any job and to do it well. There are social and educational projects, established under government and private sponsorship, which are providing outlet for the vital energies of thousands of youthful jobless. There should be more of these projects and better correlation — and there undoubtedly will be.
Five years ago German youth was casting about restlessly but with little hope. Miss Davis sees an analogy in Germany’s predicament then and America’s to-day — although she has not taken sufficient account of German youth’s profound resentment at the whole sorry history of post-war Europe. We are inclined to agree with the author that as yet American youth as a group is not even resentful. If it ever does become resentful, — in large enough numbers and at the same time, — will it rally around the man with a formula?
Only ‘the lost generation’ can answer that. It cannot afford to accept passively the implications bound up in Miss Davis’s mass of evidence.
JOSEPH BARBER, JR.