My father served the vast majority of his working life in the Royal Air Force and as such I got to travel to some of the wonderful places where he was stationed. Whilst we were living in Holland, our neighbours (or neighbors, depending which side of the pond you are reading this from) were a family from Alabama. I was only 4 years old when we moved to Holland and this was my first exposure to Americans.
The thing I remember that separated them from us was that they appeared to have no limits about what they or America could achieve and this was something that even as children they were very proud of. You have to bear in mind that this was at a time when America was potentially at its strongest. The turmoil of the 60’s was in the past and America had comes to terms with itself and its role in the global hierarchy.
Even in the field of sport they ruled the world. The Olympics were dominated by American athletes and the vast majority of boxing world titles were held by American fighters. All over the planet, America became a symbol of what people could achieve if they put their minds to it. In less than 100 years since the Wright brothers first took flight, the Americans had put a man (actually 12 men) on the moon! They had a right to be proud.
American fashion went global and even in countries that had once been at war with America the young people wanted the American look. Young Japanese men and women sported jeans and baseball caps and wanted part of that “can do” culture.
Even as a 4 year old I wanted to look like my neighbours from Alabama, so much so that my mother used to order our clothes through our neighbours catalogues.
As a young man I served as a police officer at Greenham Common in England, which was actually a US Air Force Base and home to ground launch nuclear cruise missiles. Again I was exposed to Americans and worked with my USAF colleagues on a daily basis during the late 80’s and early 90’s. They again demonstrated the sense of pride of what they and their country could achieve. They lived very much by JFK’s words “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” and this is something that I now feel is missing. Not just in America, but globally.
The human race no longer seems to have the same desire to explore and discover in the way it did only a few decades ago and I fear that some of this is due to the fact that we no longer feel the need to push ourselves, we simply grab a snack and settle down in front of the Discovery Channel and watch someone else do it. The appetite for adventure is now fulfilled whilst sat in our armchairs.
It’s no wonder childhood obesity is increasing dramatically, when the young people of today don’t have the role models to feed their imaginations as to what they can really achieve. When was the last time you saw a child climbing a tree? As kids, we were never out of them!
Like so many nations at the moment, America is suffering from years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the affects of one of the worst global recessions in living memory. However, the world needs America now like it has never needed it before. We need to have that country redefine the boundaries and provide inspiration to the rest of the world.
When America put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon the whole of humankind shared in the achievement. The world was proud of what humans (who just happened to be Americans) had achieved. The world was inspired by what Americans had done and it is that spirit that we so desperately need now. No country on this planet can put on a show like the Americans and they still have that way and swagger about them, but it’s time for them to share it again with the rest of the world.
Having spent the last week in the United States I have seen at first hand the greatness of America, the cars, the malls, the way of life. Being in Harvard during graduation week, I saw the cream of America’s future leaders. I also saw in my own friends and colleagues the determination to succeed. To be an American. What I would like to see is this greatness being exported for the planet to benefit from and to give hope and aspirations to the world the way America has done in the past.
America, like all of us, needs to believe in what we can achieve and go out there and do it. Canceling the Constellation Space program is just one example of how the emphasis is no longer on breaking boundaries. The Constellation Program was a human spaceflight program within NASA, and the stated goals of the program were to gain significant experience in operating away from Earth’s environment, develop technologies needed for opening the space frontier, and conducting fundamental science. How exciting! I remember visiting NASA in Houston back in 2008 and talking to some of those who were involved in the program. There was a buzz about the place with many people confident that by the 2030’s America would be putting a person on Mars.
Neil Armstrong described Constellation as being among those federal programs that “motivate the citizenry … inspiring them.” People need to be inspired and I dedicate this blog to one American who became my inspiration during my row across the Atlantic. A friend who’s bravery epitomizes what it takes to lead, inspire and motivate.
I truly hope that America once again shares its dreams, believes in itself and invites the rest of us along for the ride.