“Where were you when I walked on the moon?” was a question recently proposed on social media by former astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
It was meant to provoke interest in the 45th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing. Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, who was the first to step on the lunar surface, were part of the crew of the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
Aldrin posed an interesting question, one that cannot be answered by those who were not yet born.
It was a day when the world rejoiced at an incredible accomplishment, one that made the United States the leader in space exploration. It was a major scientific accomplishment in the history of the world.
It also was a morale builder for the nation and for a world that had seen horrific events a year earlier. In early 1968, the U.S. was embarrassed when the Navy ship Pueblo with its crew of 83 was captured and held by North Korea. The Tet Offensive escalated the U.S. into an expanded role in the Vietnam War. A U.S. Army platoon massacred hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy also were assassinated that year.
Then, with the moon landing, we witnessed a time of hope. If earthlings could place two of their own on another planet, was there any limit to what could be done?
A better question Aldrin could have asked on social media is: “Are you better off today than when I walked on the moon?”
Since then, 45 years later, U.S. diplomatic outposts have been attacked and personnel injured and killed. Iraq is incubating a new wave of revolt and violence. Palestinians and Israelis are killing one another and the victims include many children. A barbarous civil war continues in Syria. Russians and/or Ukrainians blast a civilian jetliner from the sky, killing 298 aboard.
A giant leap for mankind is still to come.
The moon landing can be recognized, but much can’t be said about a world whose method of choice for settling disputes is killing.
Grant the moon landing its place in history as tremendous science. But 45 years later, people still are killing other people in Damascus, in Kiev, in Nairobi, on the streets of Chicago, in the classrooms of America. They are shooting down civilian passenger planes, kidnapping schoolgirls, trading rocket barrages.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy set the firm goal with a deadline to send an American to the moon.
What if that goal instead was to mend this planet before travelling to space? What if the same resources and effort could be put to work with the same intensity for peace?
The great challenge today is to set a goal of no more violence. It requires vision, leadership and commitment.
“Violence isn’t overcome with violence. Violence is conquered with peace,” Pope Francis said in reference to the persecution of Christians in Iraq.
No leaps have been made. Small steps have been taken. The small steps taken today are those taken by refugees seeking asylum from despots, drugs and crime in their counties. Meanwhile, the world still waits for that great leap for mankind: peace on earth.
Kent is the retired editor of two archdiocesan newspapers and has a master’s degree in spirituality. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.