|Posted by johnpeters2 on July 18, 2009 at 9:22 PM|
I was prepared to write about the 40th anniversary of the Neil
Armstrong's step onto the lunar surface, and in fact I was doing just
that Friday night when I learned of Walter Cronkite's death.
was a few months short of turning 6 when that moon landing took place,
and it is really the earliest major news event I recall. In fact, it is
Cronkite's everyman sense of awe I remember as much as anything from
The Apollo 11 landing was such a
milestone in our nation's evolution. Just eight years earlier President
John F. Kennedy had all but promised the world we would put a man on
the moon before the end of that decade, quite a commitment given the
technology to do so was not yet in available.
moon landing captivated the world, and particularly in America, there
was a sense that anything was now possible. This all happened against
the backdrop of great upheaval in America. The 1960s saw the supposed
counter-culture and social revolution.
became rampant, teens and young adults rebelled against their parents
and the norms of society. Police and civilians clashed often in streets
of major cities across America. Less than a year after Armstrong sat
foot on the moon Ohio National Guard troops shot down and killed four
students at Kent State University.
Vietnam was a
constant dark cloud hanging over all of this. That conflict, played out
on the television news every night in homes across America, changed
forever how we viewed war, how we felt about seeing our young gunned
down in a foreign land, and how we would limit the use of military
force for years to come.
Right in the middle of
it was Walter Cronkite. He was, in all of this turbulence, a voice that
delivered the news for the sake of simply informing his viewers of what
was going on. His reassuring, authoritative voice brought us the news
every day, but at the same time made so many people feel that, somehow,
some way, everything would eventually be okay.
He was a constant for
millions upon millions of viewers. Remember, this was a time when
television was three networks ? no cable, no DVDs or VHS's, no
Internet, and little in the way of radio ? so nearly all of America
gathered around their television sets every day at 6:30 p.m. to watch
the news. And most watched Cronkite.
He told us,
emotionally, of Kennedy's death. He "wowed" his way through the lunar
landing. Cronkite visited Vietnam to report from the front lines. He
was seemingly the only person in the media who never forgot the
American hostages held in Iran from Nov. 4, 1979 until Jan. 20, 1981.
had an unyielding belief that his job wasn't to spin the news, but
simply report it, and that the American people would understand what
was happening and know what to do with the knowledge.
think that belief in the national populous is what made Cronkite a
steadying force in society, one who contributed to a certain quiet
optimism, that gave us all a reason for hope, even in dark times.
was that optimism higher than on July 20, 1969, when Armstrong stepped
on the lunar dust and said "That's one small step for man, one giant
leap for mankind."
Many people believed lunar
colonization, and manned flights to Mars, were just around the corner,
to be followed by visits to the outer planets of the solar system and
then the rest of the galaxy.
Outer space, and its
exploration, promised to be the unifying force for mankind. It was
something larger than any nation, more important than any other
Of course, none of that
happened. Great technological advances followed, but we seemed to have
frittered them away in mind-numbing entertainment applications. Today
we have hundreds of television channels, all broadcast in such clarity
it can seem as if the characters are leaping off the screen.
chat with people anywhere in the world, in real time, via the Internet.
A person can carry around on a single MP3 player enough musical
selections to have rivaled, or even surpassed, the total album library
of some radio stations from 1969. Heck, an I-Pod puts more computing
power in the palm of your hand than was aboard the entire rocket and
landing ship for Apollo 11.
But, what meaningful
advancements have occurred since 1969? Yes, there has been significant
progress in the medical field, but outside of that, what? Longer
lasting lightbulbs? Somewhat more fuel efficient vehicles on the
highway? Cheaper flashlights?
We still have wars,
fought largely for the same reasons as they were in 1969. Hunger,
homelessness, poverty are all still with us. Unmanned space probes have
taught us a bit about the other planets in the solar system, but we've
made no real progress toward reaching any of those Apollo-inspired
Walter Cronkite, a voice from that long-ago time, never seemed to lose his faith in America, in his hope for the future.
what alternative is there? To not look toward the future, to not hope,
is to give up on life. That's something I don't think any of us should
So Monday, take a few minutes to
remember that lunar landing. If you're too young to remember it, go
online (something you might not be able to do today if not for the
1960s-era space program) and do a little research on the project and
the culture of the times.
And let's see if we can't recapture some of the optimism the landing, and Walter Cronkite, inspired.