Forty-four years ago, a nation that we now know was racist, didn't care about the environment and drank too much soda, landed on the moon.
Half-a-billion television viewers watched it happen live. They saw men walk on the surface of another world. They saw that human beings could break free of their world and take a first step into the rest of the universe.
And that was that.
Neil Armstrong died about the time that Obama finished gutting NASA. He lived long enough to write a saddened letter about the decline of American space exploration under Obama that everyone in the media did their best not to pay attention to. The letter was also signed by Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon.
Cernan is 79. Of the dozen men who walked on the moon, only four are dead, a testament to their quality of their vigor.
No one who was born after 1935 has walked on the moon. That period is swiftly becoming a historical relic. A thing that men did who lived long ago. A great work of other times like the building of dams and fleets, the winning of wars and the expansion of frontiers.
Those are things that the men of back then did. Those are not things that we do anymore.
The youngest man to have walked on the moon, Harrison Schmitt, is 78. He was only 37 when he walked on the moon. Soon he will be one with the last of the Civil War soldiers and the last of the WW1 soldiers and then the last of the WW2 soldiers.
We like to believe that walking on the moon is still something we could do if we really wanted to. But like building all the big things, we just choose not to do it. We have more important things to worry about like social justice and figuring out the implications of the latest 1,000 page bill.
Forget exploring space. We explore the breadth of our own bureaucracy. We are the Schliemanns of Trojan horse government. We are the Neil Armstrongs of government landing on the paper moons of bills and acts by whose pale light we lead our pallid lives.
In those long lost days, we did great things. The bureaucrats took their cut and the contractors chiseled and the lobbyists lobbied and the whole great vulture pack of government swarmed and screeched and still somehow, with a billion monkeys on our back, we moved forward, because we still had great goals. Now our goal is government. There is no longer a moon. Only a paper moon.
Like so many decrepit civilizations before us, the massive rotting edifice of our government has become our great work. Keeping it going, keeping it from falling apart, wiping its bottom, finding the money to prevent its latest imminent failure, fighting over the last folder while the barbarians shout "Allah Akbar" and put all the paper to the torch because the Koran makes it redundant, that is what we do now.
We no more go a-roving so late into the night. Not when our own night has come. And it is late indeed.
It is not that we have no more Neil Armstrongs or Eugene Cernans or any of the other clean cut men who look back at us from those old photographs, cool and confident, knowing that they are the messengers that a civilization at its golden apex has picked to represent it at its peak moment. It is that we no longer want them.
The nostalgia is there, but it's every bit as transparent as a Mad Men costume party. It's all very well to ape the clothes and the styles, the fonts and the rest of the window dressing, but it's the core spirit that we have no use for.
Apollo 11 is nice and well, but we have other priorities now. We don't focus on actual achievements, but on social remedies, never realizing that our social remedies were achieved as spinoffs of achievements and that social problems can only be solved as part of the upward ascent of a civilization. There's no percentage in thinking that way. Not when there are a lot more jobs for servicing social dysfunction than there are going into space.
The core element of the space program was competence. It's the same competence that allows us to still land jet planes every day, even if the rate of improvement in the technology slowed down long ago, or perform open heart surgery. But the number of professions in which competent counts has been decreasing over the years. And so has competence as a quality.
We have replaced confidence with attitude. And the difference between them is the same as the difference between a civilization and the savages outside. Confidence comes from competence. Attitude comes from rituals of pride uninformed by achievements.
Attitude is what actors, musicians and the endless swathe of reality television cretins project. And as a society, we value attitude more than competence because not everyone can have competence, but everyone can have attitude. Not everyone can walk on the moon, but everyone can work for the government.
We could go to the moon again, but why bother, as NASA's chief, whose mission, as handed down to him by Barack Obama, was not space exploration, but the enhancement of Muslim self-esteem, told critics. And he's right. Why bother? Back then, in those ancient days when men who are now in their eighties flew, we went to the moon as part of a larger plan and statement about our place in the universe.
We were going to go the moon and then to the planets beyond. We could find new frontiers, plant our flags, build colonies, jump from world to world, star to star, and turn our civilization into something more than another archeological dig. Maybe it was all just a crazy dream, but looking at the eyes of the men who did it and who died and die seeing it undone, there is that sense that they believed that it could be done.
Going to the moon was a crazy idea of course. Going beyond it would have been even crazier. Instead we settled down to the important things, like race relations, the importance of listening to music, breaking up the family, importing huge numbers of people with little use for our way of life and all the other stupid suicidal things that dying civilizations do to pass the time.
The eagle landed in a mud puddle in D.C. The last men who walked on the moon will probably be dead within a decade.
We'll tell our kids about it and they'll shake their heads because what's the big deal anyway? Everyone flies around in spaceships in all the movies. Why bother doing it in real life? They don't bother doing anything in real life. And then they'll go off to another class that will teach them how much carbon waste the space program added and how many super-hurricanes it caused and how much better off we are now that we no longer have cars, plastic bags or air conditioning.
We could have gone to the stars, but we took another road instead. Maybe we can still turn back to a time when we could do great things before it's too late.