apollo 11

Today is July 20. Forty-four years ago today, on July 20, 1969, the above photograph was taken on the surface of the moon–one of the most iconic photos in human history. One can argue, quite persuasively, that the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon was the mightiest thing the human race has ever achieved, and, by extension, that July 20, 1969 was perhaps the greatest day in human history. Not only did our intellect, ingenuity, willpower and curiosity converge on that day to result in the greatest feat of exploration of all time, but seeing the Earth as it appeared from Tranquility Base gave us perspective on who we are as a species, and perhaps where we might be going in the future–if we have one.

July 20 is the anniversary of something else too. Exactly 25 years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, a bomb exploded at the forest headquarters of Adolf Hitler and his gang of Nazi generals. If you’ve been reading The Armored Satchel, my serial, you probably know a little about this incident (the Valkyrie Plot). The bomb set by Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg failed to kill Hitler, and the worst war in human history dragged on for another year.

On the day of the Hitler assassination attempt, July 20, 1944, the Holocaust was roaring to its dreadful climax. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were full, the crematoria literally red hot as the Nazis tried frantically to wipe out as many Jews as possible before the Allies stopped them. Also on that date, groups of scientists and engineers were working at Los Alamos, NM and Oak Ridge, TN to build the atom bomb, which would be test-detonated almost exactly a year later, and which would bring the world into the shadow of nuclear annihilation.

This one day, then, July 20, has seen both the greatest achievement of humanity, and one of its darkest hours–and both in a remarkably short window of time. It’s worth thinking about not just our past but our future. Just as we possess today even greater and more awesome technology and scientific knowledge than we did in 1969–knowledge that could propel us to Mars, or the nearest star, or eventually beyond–our world society has not conquered many of the factors that brought Hitler and his criminal gang to power: racism, hatred, economic inequality, ignorance, and greed. These are the two sharp edges of our modern civilization.

As we look up at the moon tonight, let us do more than hope that there are more Neil Armstrongs and Buzz Aldrins in the future of humanity than Adolf Hitlers. Unlike the past, which is immutable, the future can be anything we want it to be. Let’s choose to make it a good one. We all, collectively, have that power. We should never allow ourselves to be convinced otherwise.