The term Greatest Generation, I’ve just learned, is attributed to Tom Brokaw. It appears he used it to refer specifically to Americans who grew up in the Depression, and came of age during WW II:
If that’s a fair summary, I think it’s unfortunately narrow, and I’ll take the liberty of extending it. My parents were born in the late 1920s, raised in the Depression and then WWII—but they were British: they transplanted themselves and their children to North America when they were in their early thirties, part of a great wave of emigration from the old world to the new.
I think Mr. Brokaw’s term is strengthened if it were broadened to include my parents in particular, and their European peers in general. That would bring into focus a consideration that I think was vital to understanding what this generation was, and did. As children raised in Great Britain during the Depression and World War II, my parents’ experience of privation (and I think more so my mother’s) was deep and extensive; and that of many European children perhaps quite horrifying, in ways that did not touch North America. I think we need that consideration to understand what is so extraordinary about the work their generation would do, after the war’s end, in the 1950s and 60s. They undertook a project of modernization which would spread to blanket the entire planet.