[This Commentary originally appeared in the February 1, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
Born in the 1960s, I might be called an Apollo Child. The term, of course, has nothing to do with any astrological myth. It aptly describes that first generation which fully expected to read of space travel as history, not as science fiction.
The intricacies and loftiness of heavenly flight glorify the post war success of America. NASA drove into our psyche the thirst for reaching ever upward. No problem – no matter how complex, no matter how new, no matter how large – lacked a solution.
Please don’t misjudge this zest for youthful idealism. While one can almost always solve a problem, one must recognize all solutions have a cost. Sometimes we simply cannot or will not pay that price. Landing a man on the moon, though, proved worth the cost.
The entire world (at least temporarily) dismissed practicality and rejoiced when Neil Armstrong stepped from the ladder of the LEM and onto lunar dust. Our nation celebrated the moment, the very pinnacle of American Achievement. Our way of life led the world to something greater, and the Apollo program provided proof.
But something happened. (Psychologists now refer to it as “The Apollo Effect.”) We got bored. We lost our ability to dream. Some may say we grew up. Others say we became complacent. Our expectation of success mollified our passion for conquest. The comfort of status and prestige replaced the inner desire to achieve. In less than a generation, we have transformed ourselves from test pilots to couch potatoes.
Last week, Japan Inc. launched its first lunar satellite. As in other areas, the Land of the Rising Sun has diverted its treasures to new vistas, displacing what WAS ONCE uniquely American domain. (For the curious, Nissan made the rocket. Yes, that’s the same company that brought you those stupid “human race” commercials and even more ridiculous Infiniti “Nice pictures, but where’s the car?” advertisements.)
Can it be that the last realm of the pioneer LIES in Japan? Will Asians finally take their place among the world’s great explorers by leading our species into space with a sound, practical and implementable space policy? Well, bully for them if they can. More so if they succeed.
I cannot fault Japan – or any other nation for that matter – for the current state of The American Way. Indeed, the democracies around the world have excelled because they have embraced the ideals and principles of freedom and self-determination. Even the communist bloc has begun to shed the archaic tradition of despotic autocracy.
To be perfectly honest, we must congratulate our worldly brethren for having the tenacity to climb out of the morass mankind has spent its history creating. We must also salute ourselves, or specifically, the generation or two before us. Those brave Americans committed themselves to the self-sacrifice necessary to propel the war ravaged world to economic self-sufficiency.
Maybe I’m a little sad because Japan’s entry into space exploration signals the end of another tower of American pride – a tower very close to my heart. But perhaps more significantly, I am saddened by the apathy many Americans, particularly younger Americans, display toward this event. We seem too easily pleased with ourselves and our yuppie toys to take on the bigger challenges of tomorrow. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die!
One wonders if America has the guts and the hunger to create a society capable of global competition. Notice we do not use the words “revitalize” or “rebuild.” While the traditional American Spirit itself must continue, yesterday’s ideas and solutions no longer prove fruitful. We must show the same resourcefulness as the generations before us. We, too, must innovate. We, too, must invent. We, too, must create.
These words of discovery are not foreign to Americans of history. Indeed, the actions embodied in these words have made our nation. Innovation, invention and creation all represented critical milestones well before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Someone, somewhere, started with the idea that the impossible could be accomplished.
Unfortunately, it appears most of those kinds of thinkers now live in or work for Japan. As the economic behemoth of Asia continues to grow, it has begun to take on more and more culturally stimulating projects. We recall last year the fervor created when Japanese investors paid outrageous prices for various words of art. We feel the pain when American icons become just another investment in the portfolio of Japan, Inc.
Again, don’t misinterpret this piece as Japan-bashing. The Japanese have every right to do as they please. To be perfectly candid, they have displaced America and continue to win in the game of world economy. Ironically, in terms of markets, America remains the largest. This means Japan has beaten us in our own backyard, where we supposedly have home field advantage.
Now comes the real challenge – the one that our political and business leaders seem most willing to avoid – “What do we do now?”
Clearly, if American industry hopes to compete successfully across the world, it must first learn triumph at home. Yet, while some of the more enlightened American companies have prosperously taken this approach, this rational statement is summarily booed down by a chorus of “They have cheaper labor costs,” “They are subsidized,” “They don’t allow us access to their markets,” etc…
Innovation. Invention. Creation. The world has matured significantly since the war-torn democracies called upon America to rebuild it. Today those nations, including Japan, have begun to stand on their own. America won. It achieved its greater, and selfless, objective. But, we cannot pack up our bags and unilaterally quit as leader of the free world. Yesterday, we led a pack of aspiring wannabes. Today, we must strive for the more difficult – though not impossible – task of leading our equals.
Last Week #43: Terror at the School Bus Stop – A True Life Story (Part III) (originally published January 25, 1990)
Next Week #45: Celebrate Freedom Day! (originally published February 8, 1990)
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]