Chris Wallace and ‘1619 Project’ creator Nikole Hannah-Jones debate whether ‘The Great Generation’ was racist


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A cable news host and the creator of the 1619 project had a lively debate this week about how “great” the greatest generation was. The controversial yet collegiate exchange was fueled by a feeling that those living in America during World War II were brutally oppressing people of African descent living next door to them in the country.

Chris Wallace (left), Nikole Hannah Jones (right) (CNN+ Screenshot)

CNN+ host Chris Wallace invited Nikole Hannah-Jones, the driving force behind The New York Times’ controversial series The 1619 Project, as one of his first guests on his show “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace” on the new CNN streaming service.

The two disagreed over the 1619 Project’s claim that America cannot separate the reality of Jim Crow, voter suppression, and segregation from the legacy of those born between 1901 and 1927, which has come to be known as the Greatest Generation or the GI Generation.

Reading from Hannah-Jones’ Pulitzer Prize-winning opening essay of the 1619 project, Wallace quoted the Howard faculty member as saying, “Without the idealistic strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our current democracy would probably look very different. It might be no democracy at all.”

“We like to call those who lived during World War II the Greatest Generation, but that allows us to ignore the fact that many of this generation fought for democracy abroad, while brutally suppressing democracy for millions of American citizens.” he read.

Wallace asked her about her claim, saying, “Again, I’m in no way minimizing our terrible racial legacy. But aren’t you exaggerating in some of these things?”

Hannah-Jones replied by asking Wallace, “How would you define democracy?”

Wallace replied, “rule by the people,” causing a back-and-forth that clearly demonstrated two different schools of thought about American history.

“If you have half the country – where in some states there are majorities, in many other states there are pluralities, 25 percent of the population, 40 percent of the population can’t vote, their vote is violently suppressed, where they are a single — party, one-race government in a region where about 30 percent of the population is black… would you consider that a democracy?”

The former Fox News staple responded by stating that the young adults from “ethnic neighborhoods in Brooklyn and South Philly” who “stormed the beaches of Normandy” did not “brutally oppress blacks.”

Hannah-Jones stood his ground and waved back, “Well, they were.”

Wallace wasn’t convinced. He replied, ‘No, they weren’t. You’re not going to tell me that a farm, that a kid that came from a ranch in Indiana, or a kid that came from Brooklyn, oppressed black people.”

“Indiana has the largest Klan population in the United States. The Klan grew up, was reached first in Indiana,” Hannah-Jones said.

“The average age of a soldier in World War II was in their twenties or thirties,” said Wallace, who accused his guest of painting those men “defending democracy” with a broad brush.

She replied to this claim: “But a 30-year-old is an adult person who can serve in Congress, who can be the mayor, who can act, make laws and policies — these are not children. These are not babies.”

She is not alone in her views.

A recent survey, released in December 2021, called “The American Soldier in World War II,” conducted by Virginia Tech and funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, assessed the true beliefs of white soldiers who fought in World War II and their frank thoughts about race, white supremacy, and racial equality.

University lecturer of history Edward JK Gitre led the research and found that the complexion of the generation is more complicated than just the traditional heroic view held by so many.

“It appeals to a generation,” he said in a recent interview. “The good, the bad, the ugly, heroic, not heroic.”

The study guaranteed anonymity of the 300,000 surveys that survived over time by not sharing the names of individuals.

An unnamed U.S. soldier wrote in a questionnaire in August 1944, “White supremacy must be maintained.”

He continued: ‘I will fight if necessary to prevent racial equality. I will never salute a Negro officer and I will not take orders from a Negro. I’m tired of the army’s treatment method…[Black soldiers] as if they were people. Race segregation must continue.”

He wasn’t alone. Another soldier said, “God has placed a barrier of color between us… We must accept this barrier and live, fight and play separately.”

The unadulterated study of about 500,000 soldiers was huge, comprising 65,000 pages currently stored in the National Archives, the Washington Post reports.

Conservative Republicans have also rejected the findings of the 1619 Project, linking it to their attack on what they falsely claim is critical race theory taught in American elementary and high schools.

The arguments of members of the GOP are that the research is skewed and that young white children feel insecure about the legacy of systemic racism in which their ancestors may or may not have participated.

sen. Ted Cruz of Texas used these arguments when he came into contact with then-Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during a Senate hearing before the judge became the first black woman confirmed before the nation’s highest court.

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