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Opinion

Opinion

Is U.S. greatness only a memory?

August 30, 2012

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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 for 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.

America hasn’t sent a human being to the moon — or any other planet — since 1972. And when Newt Gingrich suggested earlier this year that America should build a colony on the moon, everybody laughed.

Granted, that’s because it was Newt Gingrich who said it. Even so, the reflexive laughter raises an obvious question:

What’s wrong with a moon base?

Yes, some will call it frivolous given the difficulties America faces. But we first landed on the moon in the 1960s, hardly an era of tranquility. And yes, too, we were driven to that in large part by Cold War paranoia.

But we were also driven by the confidence that came of being who we were and believing we could achieve any goal we could conceive. Now we raise foam fingers and chant, “We’re Number One!” It is not the same.

The argument here is not about moon bases. It is about everything. It is about who we are now. And what we stand for. And what we hope to achieve and why.

Greatness is our heritage, but heritage is another word for past. The legacy of the quiet hero who left us this week is that Americans do not settle for heritage. They push back frontiers. They take small steps and giant leaps.

That is who we have always been.

And that went without saying, once upon a time.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

1 year, 7 months ago

@rtwngr You don't understand either that Pitts wrote an eulogy for Neil Armstrong.

What is going on in our country has nothing to do with who's President, especially "The Black Guy" in the White House, as you and others of your ilk are so fond of saying. It does however have everything to do with the fact that we let others define us according to their ideology, not by who we are and what we do. We have politicians who are afraid to do what's right because they'll offend some big-haired TV preacher and won't get re-elected. They're forced to sign no tax, no abortion, no health care pledges or they won't have the right "credentials" to get elected. There's no compromise because that's evil.

The list goes on and on.

In essence, over the past 2 decades or so our country has been co-opted by those who want to establish a theocentric government disavowing all other religions and they are using any means to do it. Once they've done that, the goal is to force their religion down the throats of everyone else - that is a definition of tyranny.

Read what I wrote in response to FHNC - I would apply the same to you. In fact, I would even go so far as to equate you and others like you to the sorority girl in The Newsroom clip above.

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rtwngr 1 year, 7 months ago

We will enjoy greatness as a nation again after we elect a new president that shares those dreams. Our current president is ashamed of our country and goes around the world apologizing for it. Hit the road Barack and don't you come back no more no more. Hit the road Barack and don't you come back no more.

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Agnostick 1 year, 7 months ago

"The post-American world is naturally an unsettling prospect for Americans, but it should not be. This will not be a world defined by the decline of America but rather the rise of everyone else."

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/05/03/the-rise-of-the-rest.html

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Cait McKnelly 1 year, 7 months ago

I can't believe no one embedded this.
Warning, there ARE curse words in this. If you have sensitive ears, don't open it. But I think what's in it may make you angrier and more disgusted than a few curse words. Of course, what's important is WHY it makes you angry. Because it will either enlighten you, or scare you.

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Armstrong 1 year, 7 months ago

Once Hope and change become a memory there is no doubt greatness will come back

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1 year, 7 months ago

@FHNC We haven't met challenges and pushed back frontiers for over a decade.

Schools are failing and they're not being funded. There aren't any "government union" schools, except perhaps in the comments gleaned from Fox, Limbaugh, etc. Given your opinion of schools and teachers, I assume you were educated either at home or at a private school. You do realize that not all teachers belong to a union. Unions, if you don't (refuse) to understand protect teachers from unfair labor practices, abuse by the administration and parents and make every effort to insure adequate pay. Pay in KS ranks around 37th in the nation. So give it a break on schools as you know not of which you speak.

"the planet is sick..." Your seem to deny the existence of global warming / climate change. Most of which in the past 3 centuries is due to man. Read "Limits to Growth" and "2052" then come back when you're ready to talk. Those are books BTW; remember, you learned how to read in school, didn't you?

Towns are dying. Just look at some of them in Western KS for example. Smaller towns are drying up and blowing away. The population is moving to population centers, away from the towns.

I'm glad you agree that the justice system is just because it got us the Affordable Care Act (not Obamacare). I appreciate your understanding that. However, the justice system is not just regarding rich v poor, white v other races, etc. How else could a man, double handcuffed in the back seat of a police car, get shot in the head and it's called suicide - just one example; do you need more?

We are dependent for energy upon those who hate us. It's known fact. Fracking? Sure, if you want methane and chemicals in the water you drink. This renders your home unsellable and you either kill yourself with the chemicals or leave. Oil Sand Pipeline? Sure, there already have been spills in Canada, let's bring them down the center of the US, right across the Ogallala Aquifer. Who needs clean water anyway?

Read Pitts' column again. You'll see where you interpretation is horribly wrong. Especially in light of the man who left us recently. I remember looking up and dreaming about colonies on the moon, I remember dreaming about space flight and going to other planets. You act as if you had none of those dreams. If that's the case, I pity you. (Paragraph you should re-read.)

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.

Pitts is right. It does feel like surrender. We need people like Neil Armstrong.

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paulveer 1 year, 7 months ago

You can thank the space program for most of modern high technology. Among the best investments by government ever!

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oldbaldguy 1 year, 7 months ago

space is our future. money spent at NASA is normally money well spent.

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Gotland 1 year, 7 months ago

We are a different country today thanks to the immigration reform of 1965. We will never be great again. Look to Mexico for our future.

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donttreadonme 1 year, 7 months ago

I don't know why almost half of the federal budget goes to fight wars against goatherders and wifebeaters when we could be fully funding NASA.

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ThePilgrim 1 year, 7 months ago

NASA's budget is less than 0.4% of the US budget. Yet both Dems and Repubs want to cut it further - Dems because they want the money for Statist entitlement programs, and Repubs because they want to cut everything. In a country that has no wonder left, and no basic science competency, this should not be a surprise. But it is a crying shame.

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employedinspiteofobama 1 year, 7 months ago

'Is U.S. greatness only a memory?'

Don't despair Pittsy, Obama's working on it; ending the greatness that is. Give him four more and he should have his mission completed. Maybe then, Obama can go back to Chicago and enjoy reading the paper about 20 or so murders over a single weekend--or even in one night.

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jafs 1 year, 7 months ago

Of all the things we should be concerned with, a moon base seems like the least of them to me.

Let's get inspired about solving our problems instead of spending massive amounts of time, energy and money colonizing the moon, for God's sake.

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Larry Sturm 1 year, 7 months ago

Problem . We started a war that we should not have been in. We have the rich that think that they don't have to pay their fair share of taxes and make big bucks from wars. The religious right don't read the bible where it says "To whom much is given much is expected" or to take care of the sick and the poor.

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 7 months ago

Once upon a time, this was a nation that met challenges and pushed back frontiers.

Welcome to 'the' "Transformation" to New America Pitts.

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

"schools are failing"....government union schools? How can that be?

"the planet is sick"....in your complex 'opinion

"towns are dying"....government towns? How can that be with 50% of the populace on the government peeps 'dole'?

"our justice system is not just".... it got you 'Obamacare'.

"we are dependent for energy on those who hate us" ....keep the Gulf closed and don't build the pipeline and don't 'frack'. That should help the "World" love The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Solutions

Maybe "The First Gay President" should get the evil white man to move and replace that 'culture' with trespassers from Mexico. Amnesty and increasing taxes on Dec 31, 2012 should help.

"Spread the wealth" faster. Give the 50%'rs more 'free' stuff to spur their creativity.

It's 'all' the conservative white mans fault Pitts. Any "critical thinking" Liberal knows that.

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Les Blevins 1 year, 7 months ago

The challenge today is not so much to reach other worlds as it is to find the pathway back to a sane and stable human existence on earth.

“There are risks and costs to any program of action, but they can be far less than the long range risks and costs of inaction” - President John F. Kennedy

"It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply — and the way forward is through technology.”

  • President George W. Bush, 2007 State of the Union Address

“Biofuels will play an important role in America’s clean energy portfolio,” “These projects will allow us to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, support the growth of the biofuels industry and create jobs here at home.”

~Secretary Steven Chu

For more quotes of note email LBlevins@aaecorp.com

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