August 28, 1962 12:00 AM
Wandering Planet’s Course
This article first appeared in the Aug. 28, 1962, issue of NATIONAL REVIEW.
By James Burnham
Are We Headed in the Wrong Direction?” Dwight Eisenhower asks in the August 17 Saturday Evening Post. He concludes, if I have succeeded in penetrating the thickets of latitude, that where we are moving fast and up, in budgets or spaceships, the answer is Yes.
“What we need in this country is…to put first things first.” “No reasonable person wants to endanger national security by cutting defense pending below safe limits.” “Money alone cannot solve the problem [of the Red threat], and to spend more than necessary can damage our overall position as surely as spending too little.” General Eisenhower deploys these invulnerable truisms as a screening force to cover the advance of a flanking paragraph on the space program.
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”By all means,” he continues, “we must carry on our explorations in space, but I frankly do not see the need for continuing this effort as such a fantastically expensive crash program… Why the great hurry to get to the moon and the planets?… From here on, I think we should proceed in an orderly, scientific way, building one accomplishment on another, rather then engaging in a mad effort to win a space race.
“If we must compete with Soviet Russia for world ‘prestige’, why not channel the struggle along the lines in which we excel — and which mean so much to the masses of ordinary citizens? Let’s put some other items in this ‘prestige’ race:…our cars for almost everybody instead of just the favored few…our supermarkets loaded with a profusion of appetizing foods.”
Many of his readers will share these qualms — or would have until ten days ago — about our vast space programs, particularly about Project Apollo and its successors, designed to take man himself to the moon and other planets. General Eisenhower objects with a conservative rhetoric, protesting from a sound dollar, balanced budget premise the “fantastic” cost and “mad” haste. But objections are also being launched from a Liberal base. In Saturday Review, for example, Professor Warren Weaver, one-time president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science mournfully lists all the welfare that could be bought with the moon-shot billions: big salary hikes for all professors; juicy fellowships for oodles of scientists; ten new medical schools; complete new universities for all the new nations, etc.
Both conservative and Liberal critics are applying a utilitarian standard. In sum, they argue that the far-out space program is not “rational”: by which they mean that it does not serve any useful economic, scientific or military purpose.
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