Yet we all know the fabled story line: A resilient
But the triumphant story line bypasses a shadowy continuum of the last five decades.
Sometimes even authorities voiced misgivings. At the end of a presidency that proudly developed the latest doomsday weaponry, Dwight Eisenhower delivered a surprising farewell address that warned against a “military-industrial complex.” Less famously, in the same speech, he also warned that “public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”
In a 1967 speech, Martin Luther King Jr. aptly described a society going off-course: “When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.” The
The two most memorable accomplishments of the 1960s for American aerospace were the moonwalk and the high-tech bombing that, among other benchmarks, managed to decimate vast expanses of
But during the same decade, the preoccupations of more and more Baby Boomers ran directly counter to the emphasis that had shifted the
Yet the dominant American responses to Sputnik had enduring impacts that propelled a “scientific-technological elite” to new heights of power. Technology was harnessed to a political economy that pulled the talents and even the dreams of new generations toward intense digital consumerism and acquiescence to the warfare state.
Sputnik accelerated a process that was already well under way 50 years ago. Schools were to produce
Today, no educational institution more symbolizes the magnitude of that moral corruption than the
In the first years of the 21st century, a liberal script has hailed science as an urgent antidote to the irrationality of the Bush administration.
Such faith in science may be logical, but it is also ironic and ultimately unpersuasive. Pure allegiance to scientific truth has existed least of all in political domains, where pivotal findings are routinely filtered by power, self-interest and ideology.
For instance, the technical and ecological advantages of mass transit have long been clear; yet foremost engineering minds are deployed to the task of building better SUVs. And there has never been any question that nuclear weapons are bad for the Earth and the human future, but no one ever condemns the continuing development of nuclear weapons as a bipartisan assault on science. On the contrary,
The Republican assault on science is cause for alarm when applied to the matter of global warming. But carrying a liberal torch for “science,” currently in fervent vogue, leaves unchallenged the across-the-aisle embrace of scientific pursuits in the weaponry field that have never been benign. When it comes to designing and manufacturing the latest devices of mass destruction, only the most rigorous science need apply.
In practice, the value of science remains self-evident and ambiguous. Science is impartial because its discoveries are verifiable and accurate – but science is also, through funding and government direction, largely held captive. Its massively destructive capabilities are often seen as stupendous assets. In the case of ultramodern American armaments, the worse they get, the better they get.
Fifty years after Sputnik, the American love affair with cutting-edge technology has never been more torrid. Everyday digital achievements are so fantastic that they fill our horizons and often seem to define our futures. The emphasis on speed, convenience and technical capacity keeps us fixated on the latest new frontiers. But technology cannot help with the most distinctly human and vital of endeavors – deciding what we truly care about most.
Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, is the author of the new book “Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters With