Last week the world* celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. For Australia it was particularly special for our role in broadcasting the first footsteps to the world from our tracking station at Honeysuckle Creek.
For many people though it must have been a bittersweet anniversary, as recorded in the song by the Australian folk group Redgum: "Frankie kicked a mine, the day that mankind kicked the moon."
Like most great achievements, landing on the moon came at an incredible cost, not just monetary, but to the lives of many who suffered from the ideology behind it. While man was aiming for the moon, he was also fighting in Vietnam and turning a blind eye to the poverty and inequality all around him. As Ralph Abernathy said at the launch of Apollo 11: "We may go on from this day to Mars and to Jupiter and even to the heavens beyond, but as long as racism, poverty and hunger and war prevail on the Earth, we as a civilised nation have failed.”
Both the moon landing and the Vietnam war were undertaken to beat the scourge of communism, a crumbling ideology that our governments did a wonderful job in convincing us was not just a socio-economic concept but a tropical disease. "Well if we don't stop it there, it might reach us here" was the most popular argument for being in Vietnam, and one wonders if we are all still that stupid.
Both endeavours exhausted the wealth and might of their participants. But only one remains in our hearts as a shining beacon of human achievement, the other one of the worst indictments of human nature.
To look back at this duality and see what we are capable of when working together towards a common goal of benevolent aspiration, and knowing the grief and destruction of one and the proud elation of the other, where are our nation's thoughts, efforts and budgets now focused? Are countries uniting for the benefit of equality and knowledge, or are we isolating ourselves from eachother to perpetuate a climate of uncertainty, prejudice and destruction?
Fifty years ago we came together to land three men on the moon. Since then, how little we have learned, how short a distance we have come.**