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Thursday, October 20, 2016

An American Hero United Us In Possibility And Wonder

Once upon a time, a man walked on the moon.

He climbed down the ladder onto lunar soil, the first human being ever to do so. “That’s one small step for (a) man,” he famously said, “one giant leap for mankind.” It was one of history’s greatest feats and we had done it, we Americans.

That man died Saturday of complications from a cardiovascular procedure. Neil Armstrong, a Korean War fighter pilot from small town Ohio, was 82.

He never spoke much about what he had done, shied away from publicity, never even wrote a memoir. In a confessional nation where fame is an end unto itself, that made him something of an anomaly. But Armstrong adhered to an older American model of competence and taciturnity that required a man, whether astronaut, cop or farmer, to simply do his job and shut up about it.

You have to respect that. At the same time, one wishes Armstrong had found a way to overcome his natural reserve and speak more often about the great thing he did — not so much for his benefit, but for ours. His achievement offers America a reminder of itself.

One day, once upon a time, we all looked up. Los Angeles looked up, Miami looked up. Hoboken and Duluth looked up. Beijing, Moscow, Havana, London, Brisbane, Cairo, Krakow, Tehran, Tangiers, Paris, Madrid, Johannesburg … the world looked up from its daily doings. We all stared up at the familiar old moon where men, people who looked like us, were walking around. And for that brief moment we were united in possibility and in wonder.

This is what America achieved, once upon a time, and who could have been surprised that we did? Once upon a time, this was a nation that met challenges and pushed back frontiers. We had re-routed rivers and stitched a railroad across the heart of a continent, linked two oceans and rebuilt Europe, faced down evil and, from Berlin to Birmingham, championed the right of human beings to be free.

Now we had outdone ourselves. Now we had sent men to the moon.

But that was once upon a time. Forty-three years later, we still face challenges — schools are failing, the planet is sick, towns are dying, our justice system is not just, we are dependent for energy on those who hate us — but our confidence in our ability to meet those challenges seems shrunken. We have traded the inspirational for the ideological and learned to lower our expectations. Big ideas are unwelcome. We call it pragmatism. It feels like surrender.

  • onedonewong

    Of course that was before the War on Poverty that turned indivual ruggedness into lazy welfae queens

    • BDD1951

      Too bad you don’t know as much as you think you do. The War on Poverty began When LBJ took office. We all wish it had worked but it didn’t.

  • I had the privilege of working at NASA for 40 years. I was working in the Canary Islands when Neil Armstrong flew the Gemini 8 mission, and in Madrid (Robledo) during the Apollo 11 mission. The experience convinced me that government does have a role in helping society achieve its goals, whether it is building a national highway system, dams, protecting the environment, controlling air traffic, guaranteeing our national security, developing vaccines to contain the spread of deadly viruses, or exploring the universe.
    The demonization of government, the rejection of services critical to our survival and security, and the way science and learning are ridiculed by the GOP are a reflection of supine ignorance. Neither the USA nor any other nation, present or past, survived or progress because of their reliance on divine intervention, and we never will.