Two terms about people in North America, one coined recently and one that’s been around for a while, have caught my eye and ear over the years and I’ve come to the conclusion that they aren’t all that accurate. In both cases they don’t adequately or properly describe the groups they represent and should be changed. Take a look at the terms below and make up your own mind.
The first is “The Greatest Generation.” This term was the title of a book by Tom Brokaw (now retired from NBC News) about men and women who fought in World War II. He was impressed by the commitment of these people and the “effect members of the World War II generation had on…the world we occupy today.” [From the Acknowledgments section in the book.] Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to belittle or run down what those men and women did during the war. Not at all. Their contribution was immense, no doubt about it. My only concern is that the term, by inflating the impact of those who fought in WWII, reduces the impact of those who fought in wars after WWII, such as Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, and those who are presently fighting in Afghanistan. They’re just as good as anyone in WWII. Their commitment to what they did and they’re now doing and to what the US is trying to do in those countries is as intense as that of anyone in WWII. Like many who fought in WWII, they came from all over the US to fight in a foreign war, knowing little about what they were getting into. Yet they went anyway, either because they were drafted or voluntarily signed up. My father fought in WWII and while I can’t speak for him, I suspect he might be similarly inclined to tone down his contributions and those of his colleagues. In my opinion, the men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan are making as substantial a commitment to their effort as anyone in WWII. Certainly the WWII generation was a great bunch of people, but so are the ones who lived and died in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and all the other places around the world where the US has seen fit to send troops.
The second term I’m concerned about is “Native American.” This term (apparently first used in 1925 according to my dictionary) refers to those who trace their heritage back to the indigenous peoples who lived in North, Central, and South America before Columbus, and even before the Vikings. I question the term because the name “America” wasn’t applied to this continent until the 16th century. But if these people were here before then, how can they be “American?” This is a term that reflects the arrogance of us of Anglo-Saxon heritage forcing our terms (and our lifestyle) on the indigenous people. They certainly aren’t “American” in the broadest of definitions, though they may be American in legal terms, especially citizenship. What we need is a term from the ancient language of the indigenous people which reflects their ultimate heritage. I don’t speak any of their languages well enough to suggest a word. Anybody got any ideas?