Forty Years After Landing on the Moon

There was predictable hoopla recently about the fortieth anniversary of man landing on the moon.  Ever since July 20, 1969, politicians have had a mantra related to this historic event:  "If we could put a man on the moon then we can..." But the last four decades have proven, as if we needed more proof in history, that magnificent technological achievements are no guarantee of anything much beyond the deed itself. 

I rejoice as much as any American in Neil Armstrong's famous first step on our planet's great satellite, but I also know that there is much danger in gigantic communal triumphs.  Progress, of every sort, in life is seldom made by huge numbers of government workers and public largess being committed to a grand, conspicuous goal.  The problem is that what is big and what is visible too often becomes our reality.

This does not mean that historic benchmarks like Mount Rushmore, the Wright Brothers flight, the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transatlantic Cable were not great, but these were largely private ventures -- sometimes with an element of government support - funded in the financial markets, not built, funded, and operated by the federal government.

The Apollo Project is an example of what America could do when fighting a war, in this case the Cold War.  The Moon Landing proved, more than anything else, that the United States was, unquestionably, the preeminent technological nation in the world.  In that global conflict, landing first on the Moon meant a great deal to our country.

The notion that this "proves" government can do great things, if we all just work together, however is hopelessly flawed.  During the Second World War, America did the seemingly impossible in dozens of projects.  We built Liberty ships with unbelievable speed in huge numbers.  We took the P-51, a magnificent fighter, from design to production in just a few weeks.  We built a fission bomb in almost total secrecy and used this weapon to incinerate two Japanese cities. 

The Nazis also did the almost miraculous during that war.  The first objects in outer space were V-2 rockets.  The first jet airplanes were built by Nazis.  Germany constructed guided missiles, true "submarine" boats (not just submersible), and even had workable plans for deep space travel that worked.  Should we revel in this? 

What a ghastly thought!  The Second World War with all its unthinkable suffering -- the Shoah, the Bataan Death March, the starvation of Leningrad, the systematic rape by the Red Army of nearly every female between the Vistula and the Elbe, the firebombing of Tokyo and Hamburg, and all the rest -- were ended by the extraordinary communal work of tens of millions of people.  But looking back nostalgically on that is rather like looking back wistfully at the Black Death. 

The same is true about politicians who say "We need a Marshal Plan for.... (fill in the blank.)"  The Marshal Plan was a vast and competent humanitarian effort which alleviated the unimaginable suffering which followed after the continental carnage which was the Second World War in Europe.  Likewise, the Space Race was the result of real fear of Soviet power.  We could and we did take pride in victory, but sane and humane people should have wanted instead a Soviet government which after Stalin evolved into a free, peaceful democracy.

 The wonderful dream of America is not that it could, in a nasty undeclared war against a soulless enemy, win symbolic victories like the Moon landing.  The wonderful dream of America is that it could take tens of millions of poor, persecuted immigrants from Europe and Asia and turn them, in a generation or less, into doctors, scientists, businessmen and inventors who returned to liberty the fruits of their freedom.

We win our wars -- and the Moon Landing was a battle in a war -- because so many humble, private lives have been given themselves, in the words of Jefferson, to an idea:

 "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." 

America was not a nation of pharaohs building pyramids to astound the world.  It was not a land in which Romans built vast monuments with armies of slaves to assure the immortality of an emperor.  It has no Kremlin or Great Wall.  The few ornaments to individual greatness -- Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial -- were built decades after the death of those men and are modest, indeed, compared to their personal legacy. 

So four decades after America won a major tactical victory in the Cold War, let us celebrate that the way that we would the anniversary of Midway or VE Day:  a great victory by the good guys within the tragedy for war.  But let us never assume that the real magic of America is its power to win wars.  The real magic of America is its power to inspire ordinary people to do the near impossible to defend their beloved land of the free.

Bruce Walker is the author of two books:  Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie, and his recently published book, The Swastika against the Cross: The Nazi War on Christianity.
There was predictable hoopla recently about the fortieth anniversary of man landing on the moon.  Ever since July 20, 1969, politicians have had a mantra related to this historic event:  "If we could put a man on the moon then we can..." But the last four decades have proven, as if we needed more proof in history, that magnificent technological achievements are no guarantee of anything much beyond the deed itself. 

I rejoice as much as any American in Neil Armstrong's famous first step on our planet's great satellite, but I also know that there is much danger in gigantic communal triumphs.  Progress, of every sort, in life is seldom made by huge numbers of government workers and public largess being committed to a grand, conspicuous goal.  The problem is that what is big and what is visible too often becomes our reality.

This does not mean that historic benchmarks like Mount Rushmore, the Wright Brothers flight, the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transatlantic Cable were not great, but these were largely private ventures -- sometimes with an element of government support - funded in the financial markets, not built, funded, and operated by the federal government.

The Apollo Project is an example of what America could do when fighting a war, in this case the Cold War.  The Moon Landing proved, more than anything else, that the United States was, unquestionably, the preeminent technological nation in the world.  In that global conflict, landing first on the Moon meant a great deal to our country.

The notion that this "proves" government can do great things, if we all just work together, however is hopelessly flawed.  During the Second World War, America did the seemingly impossible in dozens of projects.  We built Liberty ships with unbelievable speed in huge numbers.  We took the P-51, a magnificent fighter, from design to production in just a few weeks.  We built a fission bomb in almost total secrecy and used this weapon to incinerate two Japanese cities. 

The Nazis also did the almost miraculous during that war.  The first objects in outer space were V-2 rockets.  The first jet airplanes were built by Nazis.  Germany constructed guided missiles, true "submarine" boats (not just submersible), and even had workable plans for deep space travel that worked.  Should we revel in this? 

What a ghastly thought!  The Second World War with all its unthinkable suffering -- the Shoah, the Bataan Death March, the starvation of Leningrad, the systematic rape by the Red Army of nearly every female between the Vistula and the Elbe, the firebombing of Tokyo and Hamburg, and all the rest -- were ended by the extraordinary communal work of tens of millions of people.  But looking back nostalgically on that is rather like looking back wistfully at the Black Death. 

The same is true about politicians who say "We need a Marshal Plan for.... (fill in the blank.)"  The Marshal Plan was a vast and competent humanitarian effort which alleviated the unimaginable suffering which followed after the continental carnage which was the Second World War in Europe.  Likewise, the Space Race was the result of real fear of Soviet power.  We could and we did take pride in victory, but sane and humane people should have wanted instead a Soviet government which after Stalin evolved into a free, peaceful democracy.

 The wonderful dream of America is not that it could, in a nasty undeclared war against a soulless enemy, win symbolic victories like the Moon landing.  The wonderful dream of America is that it could take tens of millions of poor, persecuted immigrants from Europe and Asia and turn them, in a generation or less, into doctors, scientists, businessmen and inventors who returned to liberty the fruits of their freedom.

We win our wars -- and the Moon Landing was a battle in a war -- because so many humble, private lives have been given themselves, in the words of Jefferson, to an idea:

 "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." 

America was not a nation of pharaohs building pyramids to astound the world.  It was not a land in which Romans built vast monuments with armies of slaves to assure the immortality of an emperor.  It has no Kremlin or Great Wall.  The few ornaments to individual greatness -- Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial -- were built decades after the death of those men and are modest, indeed, compared to their personal legacy. 

So four decades after America won a major tactical victory in the Cold War, let us celebrate that the way that we would the anniversary of Midway or VE Day:  a great victory by the good guys within the tragedy for war.  But let us never assume that the real magic of America is its power to win wars.  The real magic of America is its power to inspire ordinary people to do the near impossible to defend their beloved land of the free.

Bruce Walker is the author of two books:  Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie, and his recently published book, The Swastika against the Cross: The Nazi War on Christianity.