May the force be with us
Two years ago today, we witnessed the killing of George Floyd in the neighborhood where I spent time as a child. The video of Mr. Floyd’s last breath is indelible for many of us. The immediate protests that took place in all 50 states and in over 60 countries were on a scale unprecedented in history. However, the results that ensued leave much to be desired. Difficult societal changes take perseverance and time. It’s far too soon to be discouraged and we can never give up on the goals of the social justice movement that drove so many to take to the streets around the world.
I recently spoke of the tragedy that is the country of Haiti and made reference to the reparations that derailed their economic development. The New York Times devoted much of Sunday’s edition to the first in-depth accounting of the total ransom paid by the country. They reported that as unusual as it is for the victors to pay reparations to the losers of a military conflict, Haiti is the only country whose descendants of former slaves ever paid reparations to their former slave masters, cementing their poverty to this day. Decades after defeating Napolean as the only nation that achieved independence via a slave revolt, they submitted to an ultimatum to repay France an amount equivalent to 30 times Haiti’s annual revenues.
After France cleared out Haiti’s treasury, French banks stepped in to provide debilitating loans that continued the transfer of the bulk of the country’s income overseas. In 1914, urged on by American banks, the US invaded and occupied Haiti, redirecting its forced transfer of wealth from France to the US. The NYT provided estimates that the $560M paid would have added between $21-115B to Haiti’s economy over the past 2 centuries. As a result, what was once referred to as the world’s most profitable colony, is now viewed as a failed state relegated to perpetual abject poverty.
On this day in 1977, a space opera created by a young filmmaker hit the theaters. Star Wars, cost $11M to produce and generated a global box office of $776M. The film industry would never be the same. Star Wars revolutionized Hollywood’s use of special effects, sound, marketing, merchandising and essentially the entire industry. It is one of the most consequential movies ever made and to date, Star Wars films have exceeded $10B in ticket sales, with an estimated franchise value over $80B.
Star Wars was prominent in my childhood. My sister can tell you how many household items I was able to fashion into light sabers to duel her, with or without her wishes. In recent years, when Lucasfilm developed their new HQ complex in San Francisco’s Presidio, I was filled with the same excitement as I walked through their halls lined with original Star Wars memorabilia.
While Star Wars was space fantasy, on this day in 1961, President Kennedy announced the Apollo space program in an address to congress, declaring the express goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. This was, at the time, an analog world. The iPhone in my pocket has 100,000 times the processing power, one million times the memory and seven million times the storage capacity of Apollo 11’s computers. The announcement was audacious if not fanciful.
But somehow, eight years later in 1969, with 20% of world tuned in to watch, Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon, achieving what many consider the greatest technological achievement in human history. This not only was viewed as a Cold War victory for the free market system over the Soviet Union, but the scale of both public and private resources enlisted demonstrated how a concerted national effort could achieve the impossible, with government leading academia, business and all sectors of society toward a common goal.
My wife’s family lived on Cocoa Beach near the Kennedy Space Center since her father worked on Apollo’s lunar landing module. In fact, much of the nation at the time was involved in one way or another. Apollo represented the largest peacetime R&D project in world history, at its peak employing over 400,000 and involving 20,000 businesses and universities.
The space program not only succeeded in its mission, but it spurred an era of technological innovation with breakthroughs that forever changed our lives. Apollo led to thousands of vital spinoff products in electronics, computing, materials, medicine and fuels. The Blue Marble photo of planet Earth altered the way we see our world and became a symbol for the environmental movement.
A few years ago, at an event at Cape Canaveral, I stood mesmerized looking up at a massive Saturn V rocket suspended in air, the type that took Apollo payloads to the moon, with the same excitement that I had watching Star Wars as a child. I recalled how because of the Moon landing, I, like millions of other little kids, expressed my desire to someday be an astronaut, perhaps after the end of my NFL career.
We are at another such juncture in history, that calls for a unified global mission which requires unwavering government leadership and coordination with all facets of society, not for the desire of occupying another planet, but for the necessity to preserve our Blue Marble for human habitation.
And for this mission, may the force be with us.