Milestones mark where man has gone and has yet to go
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, June 28, 1994
As we celebrate today the 25th anniversary of America’s success in landing men on the moon, it’s worth noting that 1994 is a year awash in milestone anniversaries.
Last month, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of D-day (June 6, 1944), which stopped Hitler’s attempt to take over Europe.
Two months ago, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education (May 17, 1954), which stopped state-sanctioned racial segregation of our schools.
This autumn will mark the fifth anniversary of the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism — symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. Some estimate our victory over communist statism cost this nation and its allies more than $12 trillion between 1945 and 1989.
There are many lessons from these 1994 anniversaries. Most important: Our contemporaries, people who lived in the last half of this century, struggled against the evils of statism — both fascism and communism abroad, and racial segregation at home — and they won. They set high standards by going to the moon — and they succeeded. In the process, they left a legacy of freedom and opportunity — to live and work where we choose, to think as we will, to speak our minds, to seek excellence and to follow our instincts, not the diktat of the state. Those are things worth celebrating.
There s another important miIestone this year: The 40th anniversary of the sub-4-minute mile, first achieved by Roger Bannister on May 6, 1954.
Until Roger Bannister came along, everyone said the 4-minute mile barrier was impossible to break. There were all kinds of reasons: Man’s skeletal structure was wrong; his lung capacity was too small; his body shape created too much wind resistance. But in 1954 Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile.
What everyone forgets is that by 1955 — just one year later — the 4-minute mile was achieved repeatedly, once by three people in the same race!
The record for running the mile is now under 3 minutes and 45 seconds. More than 700 people have run a mile in less than 4 minutes. In fact, just a few weeks ago — on June 4 — 12 people ran sub-4-minute miles in the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore.
What changed? Not man’s lung capacity or his skeletal structure or his wind resistance. What changed was the attitude of runners and coaches who now knew it could be done. Runners and coaches could now have confidence in their objective. They could believe in themselves and win the confidence of runners in their new methods of preparation and training. Armed with the knowledge that it could be done, they simply went out and did it, improving with each passing year.
Because people and nations learn by their achievements it’s important that these achievements are celebrated. Stories from these great events educate and socialize our children. They give us, as adults, pride and self-confidence that we can reach for better things for our families and our society.
If we fail to celebrate, as we did following the end of the Cold War in 1989, we could lose our capacity for boldness and risk-taking — and our ability to go forth and claim the future. There’s a lot more at stake than a celebration.