Category: America

Stepping on the moon required a giant leap

Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most amazing events in world history. On July 20, 1969, my family and our neighbors watched via fuzzy gray images as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon with that famous “one small step,” which marked “one giant leap.”

My dad worked for Collins Radio/Rockwell and helped make the radio equipment that carried the astronauts’ voices over the many missions leading to Apollo 11 and afterward. It was one of his proudest achievements in life — right up there with catching 13 passes against Dallas Jesuit High School.

George Will says this of the US effort to put a man on the moon by hearkening back to President Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to do just that:

“Kennedy’s goal was reckless, and exhilarating leadership. Given existing knowledge and technologies, it was impossible. But Kennedy said the space program would ‘serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.’ It did.”

And, Will added this from Robert Stone and Alan Andres that made me think of my dad:

“The American effort to get to the moon was the largest peacetime government initiative in the nation’s history. At its peak in the mid-1960s, nearly 2 percent of the American workforce was engaged in the effort to some degree. It employed more than 400,000 individuals, most of them working for 20,000 different private companies and 200 universities.”

The US is a special place because of its founding principles and the people who have come from all over the world to throw in their lot with this grand experiment in democracy. The nation is indeed strong and powerful, but the things that hold us together seem so fragile right now.

It’s not popular any longer, but I still like the “melting pot” imagery of America as a place where different people come together to be something new and different — even better. My ancestors were mostly English, and I love to visit England, but I’m not English. I’m an American, connected to other Americans who come together to amazing things, like defeating fascism and landing people on the moon and bringing them home safely.

As long as humans write history, they will be writing about this thing called the US and all that we accomplished. Let’s not tear ourselves apart.

We can’t go back to where we came from

I don’t say much about the current US president’s wild tweets, but I think it’s important to stand against racism, whether or not he thinks he’s racist. This president is from a much more recent immigrant family than many of us. (And there are some Hispanic Texans’s families, for example, who have been in this continent much longer than my Revolutionary War-fighting family members.)

Maybe we should all go back to where we came from. But there’s a problem; I can’t go back to England, Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia, and other places. And this is very common of Americans; we are a mixture of peoples, and this mixing has broken down walls of prejudice and enmity.

If we could all go back to where we came from I suspect the Native Americans would be more than happy to do without us. But even that gets tricky since they may have migrated centuries ago when there was a land bridge to Asia.

Let’s face it; there is no going “back,” and we shouldn’t want to. The US is an amazing nation. Part of our exceptionalism is that we have been built on principles of freedom and personal responsibility. European descendants like me are no more American than African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native peoples who have taken up the mantle of American citizenship as spelled out in the Constitution.

Stop wishing for something that never was and start working to build something that expresses love and appreciation for all people through this crazy, messy process called democracy.

Looking for a leader

People, especially those who would lead, are interesting. Check out these two descriptions:

1) man of medium stature… hair lay smooth as if it had been combed… beard shaggy and trained to a point… eyes were bright and full of fire, bespeaking the keenness of his mind… eyebrows fine… nose perfectly straight… mouth a bit large, with full lower lip… neck thick and bent… shoulders large and broad… from head to fingertips well proportioned, and therefore strong and a good runner.

2) not handsome nor youthful… long beard with lice, like a thicket for wild beasts… head disheveled… seldom cuts hair or nails… fingers nearly always black with ink.

Two interesting, very different descriptions. Same man. The most powerful man in the world at the time. In the first he is described by Ammianus, in the second by himself. In other words, he saw his flaws.

The man — Roman Emperor Julian, called the Apostate by some.

“This pagan lived and dressed like a monk. Apparently he knew no woman carnally after the death of his wife. He slept on a hard pallet in an unheated room; he kept all his chambers unheated throughout the winter “to accustom myself to bear the cold.” He had no taste for amusements. He shunned the theater with its libidinous pantomimes, and offended the populace by staying away from the Hippodrome; on solemn festivals he attended for a while, but finding one race like another, he soon withdrew. At first the people were impressed by his virtues, his asceticism, his devotion to the chores and crises of government; they compared him to Trajan as a general, to Antoninus Pius as a saint, to Marcus Aurelius as a philosopher-king. We are surprised to see how readily this young pagan was accepted by a city and an Empire that for a generation had known none but Christian emperors.”

There can be such a thing as a powerful, exemplary, service-oriented leader. He or she will not rise to power in the USA as Julian did in Rome. Here, the people need to be looking for such a person and then lift them above the crowd of egotistical and power hungry.

It is good to lift up people of competence, integrity, experience, intelligence, compassion, and humility. Maybe such characteristics can be summed in one word — wisdom.

We need wise women and men to lead. Any leader will make mistakes, and no leader can right every wrong. But a wise leader gives us our best hope.

On Memorial Day it is good to remember the responsibility we all have to choose our leaders well.

Quote and info from Will Durant, The Age of Faith: The Story of Civilization, Volume IV . Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

USA is no typical nation

People fleeing Western Europe in the 17th century created a unique civilization eventually called the United States. They left Europe but brought its ways and ideas with them — some that we cannot be proud of now, such as ideas of racial superiority, and some we can be proud of, such as unleashing human potential.
The English-centered nature of the U.S. civilization began, with time, to expand to be more broadly European, then more African, Hispanic, and Asian. (Africans participated from the start but were subjugated and oppressed. It took emancipation to free them to help lead this nation into its greatest days.)
Some things written 100 years ago about immigration can be instructive now. I’ve encountered two quotes lately that I love for describing the USA.
Randolph Bourne praised the United States as “the first international nation” in 1916.
Horace Kallen spoke of the USA as a “symphony of civilization” in 1915.
The historical context is different today, but I still like those two ways of describing and understanding the USA — an international nation and a symphony of civilization.