Dark scribblings

John's Ramblings and News

The moon, the passing of a news giant, and the future

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.

I 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 that newscast.

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.

That 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.

Drug use 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.

He 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.

I 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.

Never 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 particular cause.

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.

We 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 dreams.

Walter Cronkite, a voice from that long-ago time, never seemed to lose his faith in America, in his hope for the future.

Really, 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 ever do.

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.

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Reply AJ
10:20 PM on July 18, 2009 
Great write up, John. I was still a year away from being born when the walk on the moon happened. However, I remember Cronkite and always liked him. He was so much better as one individual that 99.9% of all media people today--sad the way reporting the news has changed since he left doing it.

Reply John
10:26 PM on July 18, 2009 
Wow, now I'm feeling old!

Yeah, he was one of a kind. There'll never be another one like him, in part because of how far the mass media, particularly broadcast, has degenerated over the years.

Thanks for posting, AJ.
Reply AJ
10:50 PM on July 18, 2009 
So true, John. I remember watching him as a kid and not getting bored with the news. As a kid, I tell you. There was just something about him that captivated the masses. His voice, his demeanor, his words, perfectly placed with no real intent on impact but having a significant impact nonetheless. I think what the world has lost is not just a great news anchor but a great speaker as well. Can you imagine if he would have been a writer??

Reply Shari
10:57 PM on July 18, 2009 
Hi John, wasn't the moon thing about 40 years ago though? You had 20th anniversary :-) I was pretty young when it happened and honestly don't remember any of it.
Reply Chris Perridas
11:13 PM on July 18, 2009 
I guess I'm the first "old guy" to comment. I was 9 days shy of 13. I clipped every news article out on the moon landing (and Gemini and Mercury) and saved them for close to 30 years - they finally corroded. I sat there with our 15" B&W set, and watched Walter Cronkite (the same man I saw at age 7 tell me about President Kennedy dying) tell me how amazing this was - and I got chills. I was living history. Mr. Cronkite on Saturday mornings showed me history (You Are There), told me at 6:00 "The Way it Was", and introdced me to "The 21st Century" when I was a teenager.

Thanks, John, for letting me reminisce.
Reply johnpeters2
12:55 AM on July 19, 2009 
Ah, Shari...how embarrassing...yes, you caught me in a typo!!!

I've fixed it now. Thanks for stopping in and for commenting!
Reply johnpeters2
12:57 AM on July 19, 2009 
Yes, Chris, Mr. Cronkite was, I think, nearly everyone's eye on the world.

Thank you for stopping by and commenting.
Reply Krisz
4:52 PM on July 20, 2009 
Thanks, John, for this interesting article. I wasn't raised here, so this was all new to me. Not the landing on the Moon, of course.
Reply Speed
10:10 PM on July 29, 2009 
You said a mouthful. Cronkite was the man! Technology is wonderful, and you're right. I don't know where you live, but I know the moement I hit submit you could be reading this within seconds. I love technology. I am in awe too that my ten month old great grandson knows how to operate a mouse. It's unbelievable.

Life is awesome.

Enjoy your day and thanks for the information here, it's concise and very interesting. I remember the lunar landing well. I, as my fellow Americans, was in awe. I remember when someone told me that it was just a stage prop and Neil Armstrong wasn't really on the mon. I'm not a violent person, but I wanted to hit him!

I was also around when the only astronauts we had were monkeys. Now that was a trip indeed.

A walk down memory lane is always nice.