Thursday, 13 September 2012

Soaring sentiment - but rhetoric or reality?

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's address at Rice University in Texas when he said: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard."

It was a striking statement in a superbly crafted speech  which probably owed as much to JFK's Special Counsel Ted Sorensen as it did to the President. But one should never do down Kennedy's power as an orator. He had the charm, grace and gift for telling a good story that the likes of Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon could only dream of. And, at the height of Camelot's power, he had the nation in the palm of his hand.

But did JFK really have a deep passion for space? Was he quite as fully committed to the moon landing as his Rice oratory suggests? Was going to the moon even the right path to take?

Of course, it has been an area of huge debate and one I cover to some extent in my '240,000 mile cul de sac' paper.

Perhaps we remember Kennedy's speech because the moon landing happened. Perhaps the moon landing happened only because Johnson needed to deliver a legacy for Kennedy. Perhaps, if that fateful visit to Dallas in November 1963 hadn't happened, the US path to outer space would have taken a different course as tax bills, civil rights, Vietnam and the wider Cold War filled the Presidential agenda in the expected second term. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Speculation aside, this was one of the most powerful political speeches from the age of frontierism.