May 11 2008

Politics — A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective

Published by at 1:43 am under Perspectives,Wave Guide 3: Politics

Virtually every major human exploration event and macro-engineering project (MEP) of the last 200 years has captured at least national attention and usually also riveted an international following. This often translates into national and/or international political forces becoming factors in the human exploration or MEP, as well as activates U.S. presidential concerns and actions. In this “Brief Perspective” we only skeletally sketch typical political forces involved to set the stage for real-time posts in Wave Guide 3.

A perfect example is President Jefferson and the Lewis and Clark expedition just after 1800. In Jefferson’s Great Gamble, author Charles Cerami descrbes the economic boom of this Maslow Window as, “…so much success…thriving…country’s credit was so good…!” Nevertheless despite this near-Utopian financial wonderland, Jefferson feared Napolean’s strong interest in a North American empire. A scientist himself, Jefferson also burned with curiousity about the avalanche of scientific discoveries that awaited in the great unknown land of the American northwest. However, political pressure from Jefferson and Napoleon’s need to fund his cash-strapped European war machine finally motivated Napolean on April 11, 1803 to sell, “I renounce Lousiana…not only New Orleans…(but) the whole colony, reserving none of it.” Not one to waste time, Jefferson signaled the OK to Lewis and Clark who began the first major human exploration of the last 200 years from Camp Dubois near St. Louis on May 14, 1804.

The greatest MEP of the last 200 years, until the Apollo Moon program, was the Panama Canal. Despite the best efforts of the French fresh from success with Suez, technical, financial, and management problems almost doomed the disaster-plagued project until the advent of Theodore Roosevelt. In The Path Between the Seas, historian David McCullough describes Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for the canal as total, “No single great material work which remains to be undertaken on this continent is of such consequence to the American people.” In Roosevelt’s vision the canal was, “the indispensable path to a global destiny for the USA.” Success finally came. After spending almost $ 6 B (2006), suffering 27,000 worker deaths (French and American), conquering yellow fever, assisting Panama in their separation from Colombia, and excavating over 262 million cubic yards of earth, Balboa’s 1513 discovery of the Pacific coast of Panama finally came to fruition 4 centuries later when, in August 1914, the first ship passed through the canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Prior to the 1960s, MEPs were always separated from major human explorations (e.g. Panama Canal vs. the Polar expeditions). However, in the Apollo Moon program — for the first time in the last 200 years — the major human exploration event was thoroughly intertwined with the Maslow Window’s MEP (see Cordell 1996, 2006). Walter McDougall, in his classic The Heavens and the Earth, explains how the pressures of the Cold War — including the surprise launch of Sputnik and America’s educational crisis of confidence (see Wave Guide 4 Perspective) — motivated the young, charismatic President Kennedy to announce on May 25, 1961 that, “…this nation should…before this decade is out…(land) a man on the Moon…and (return) him safely to the Earth.” With his supremely confident commitment to Apollo, President Kennedy became the President Roosevelt (Panama Canal) and the President Jefferson (Lewis & Clark) of his time.

Although President Kennedy was hardly alone in his enthusiasm for putting Americans on the Moon — the post-Sputnik American public and Congress were solidly behind him — the question arises about who will be the first Kennedy-like “Space President” of the 21st Century? He or she will have to be bold, capable of taking risks, willing to spend money, and above all be charismatic and visionary enough to lead America and the world into the next Maslow Window near 2015. Until recently no such individual had materialized, however many — including former Kennedy advisor and confidant Ted Sorenson (New York Times Magazine, 4/27/08) — have compared Barack Obama to John F. Kennedy, particularly with respect to the enthusiasm and confidence he inspires in his supporters. Future Wave Guide 3 posts will illuminate these mysteries by comparing the national and international political scene with our space-related forecasts for the early 21st Century.

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