Friday, October 14, 2016

Captain's Log: Trekker-in-Chief Nails It, and Notable Anniversary Articles

For all kinds of reasons, it's worth checking out Wired's Frontiers issue edited by President Barack Obama, and the associated videos on Wired's site.  This is the President of the United States talking about cutting edge science and technology, and its near future impact on the world, on government and citizens.

Similarly, there's this video of a panel at the Frontiers conference in Pittsburgh, featuring President Obama's introduction and participation.  Apart from the specifics being discussed, what I learned was the importance of being fluent in these issues for a 21st century President of the US.  That's worth thinking about in terms of the upcoming presidential election.

In this panel, President Obama described himself as a science geek, a nerd, and proud of it.  Yet he also asserted the value of his own background in the humanities, and said "I learned more from reading novels than from textbooks."  It is of course the nexus of science and storytelling that characterizes and distinguishes Star Trek.

But most pertinent to this site is President Obama's views specifically on Star Trek, which he discussed for about four minutes in this Wired video.  What he said went pretty directly to the essence, or the soul, of Star Trek.  Which he described as people reaching across barriers or differences, working together to solve problems.

What also struck me is that this is very close to the very words that Leonard Nimoy used in my conversation with him, when he described what he believed was the essence of Star Trek. 

Speaking of Nimoy, he might have been especially gratified this year when most humpback whales were taken off the endangered species list.  Maybe Star Trek: The Voyage Home (which he told me was his "Star Trek statement") didn't do it alone, but I'll bet it helped. 

Star Trek's 50th anniversary has been the occasion for more than the usual articles relating aspects of the real 21st century world to the 23rd and 24th centuries of the Star Trek saga.

For example, an astrophysicist looks at the latest thinking on the forms alien life might take in terms of What ‘Star Trek’ May Have Right—and Wrong—About Alien Life in National Geographic.  Another National Geographic article provides a guide to observing the real known M class planets in the sky.

A NASA panel looked at the future of space exploration in relation to how it is portrayed in Star Trek, in a article.

While most outlets marked the 50th anniversary with listicles of favorite episodes etc., the New Yorker offered The Enduring Lessons of Star Trek.  It's a personal view and dwells mostly on TNG but it's a tribute to Star Trek's continuing life and influence.

Similarly, the Washington Post looked at Star Trek's past and present embrace of diversity.  Scientific American celebrated Star Trek's scientific accuracy.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Trek50/B4 Trek: The Boomers Story

Previous posts in this series have been about the generation that created Star Trek.  This post suggests what Star Trek's first audience brought to it, through a kind of personal catalog of the 1950s until 1966...

In the very early morning we watch the snow. It’s not outside, most of the time. Flecks of it scatter in grainy grays across the television screen, accompanied by a loud even whisper, a constant shshshshsh, like the rush of unvaried water.

 On the floor in front of the television, munching cinnamon toast, sleepy-eyed and expectant, gazing into nothing but the snow.

 Until the sudden unpredictable appearance of... the test pattern.

 Then when it suddenly appears, staring at its mysterious symbols, anxious to catch the exact moment that it will be replaced by what we are truly waiting for: Saturday morning.

Off/on and volume knob, station-changing knob to click from WDTV channel 3 to WJAC channel 6. Little knobs in the middle for clearing the picture, and also for making lines go up and down fast or bend across slow--not supposed to play with these (but do sometimes.)

At last it starts--with cartoons—beginning with faded, jumpy ones with caricatures of old movie stars and a band leader that kept asking, Is everybody happy? Betty Boop, Out of the Inkwell,Woody Woodpecker, and forward to Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. (We didn't know we were seeing the history of animation, from the 1920s on...)

 Bowls of corn flakes and Little Rascals, maybe Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin. Old western movies, also faded and jumpy, Tex Ritter, Johnny Mack Brown, Lash LaRue, singing cowboys, galloping chases through the dark. Or boys on elephants in the murky jungle. Dick Tracy fools the bad guy with a hidden gun, Flash Gordon conquers the universe.

Graham crackers or saltines held together with butter, the celery stalk’s canal filled in with uneven peanut butter, bowl of grapes, a peach, a pear. Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (Happy trails to you...) Pluck your magic twanger, froggy! Hiya kids, hiya hiya! 

Captain Midnight--at first just a guy in a leather flying cap introducing old movies, then a series—the Silver Dart, Secret Squadron, SQ1 to SQ2, Icabod Mudd (“with two ds.”)

One year, one after the other: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet; Rocky Jones, Space Ranger; Space Patrol; Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers. Ovaltine, Nestles’ Quick.

Johnny Jupiter, about beings from Jupiter who suddenly appear on a hidden TV screen to an innocent earthling. They think human society is pretty strange—the first alien perspective. It gets moved to a different channel with snowy picture and sound fading in and out, replaced by a surf of noise... as distant as Jupiter itself.

School overflows with kids, crowded classrooms. We hear adults talking about building new bigger schools, and some of us soon go to one, or more.

TV on weekday mornings—Ding Dong School, Romper Room, Crusader Rabbit, Mighty Mouse.

 Afternoons: Kukla, Fran and Ollie; Hoody Doody at five o’clock.

TV after supper: Captain Video and his Video Rangers, "return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear..." "Look! up in the sky—it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman... fighting for truth, justice and the American Way!”. “Da-vy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier. "Hey Wild Bill—wait for me!" Watch Mr. Wizard, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, the Cisco Kid, the Range-Rider.

In my room Hopalong Cassidy six guns and toy chest, Roy Rogers bedspread, Davy Crockett socks (and coonskin cap, of course) and one Christmas, my own cardboard spaceship.

Passing by the TV, I see gray men in a hazy gray room talking, mother’s anxious eyes watching. "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last..." (The 1954 Army-Joseph McCarthy hearings were one of the first to receive gavel-to gavel TV coverage.)

 Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Disneyland: Man in Space.

Films through a projector at school, about the atomic bomb with Bert the Turtle, “duck and cover” when you see the flash!   Practice jumping under the bolted down desk in the classroom, air raid drills filing down the dim stairs to the edge of the basement darkness.

Movies at the theatre in Youngwood with older kids from down the street at Grandma’s: Snow White, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan. Admission is a dime.

Saturday afternoon movies with neighborhood pals at the Manos and Strand movie palaces uptown, 24 cartoons, serials or comedy shorts, newsreel, double feature. Fueled with popcorn, licorice, Milk Duds, Good & Plenty, Dots, Spearmint Leaves, malted milk balls, along with apples and sandwiches brought from home, to watch:

The Conquest of Space, War of the Worlds, Them!, This Island Earth, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Earth v. the Flying Saucers, The Thing, When Worlds Collide, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Ulysses, Moby Dick, The Lost Continent, Rio Bravo, One Minute to Zero, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Target Earth, Forbidden Planet... 

 All day in the cool mysterious darkness of the movies is 25 cents, popcorn is 15 cents, and candy from the luminous lobby counter or the vending machines up the wide silent carpeted stairs to the vast restrooms, a nickel or a dime.

Climbing trees, making bows and arrows, digging foxholes, catching lightning bugs. Across the yards and fields, around the houses, in the trees and paths of the little wood across the road, down along the questionable creek, playing out the stories, the adventures, the heroes we all saw on TV and the movies.

 Sledding down Jankowsky’s hill all the way down Grove Street, Captain Midnight leather cap, flying like Superman.

Under the two trees between our yards we talk about Ike and Stevenson and atomic bomb fallout.

The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Day the World Ended, Beginning of the End, The Space Children. 

Before TV there were books-- The Little Engine That Could, Little Toot, all the illustrated rhymes and stories in the blue volumes of My Book House.

And records-- Tubby the Tuba and old records I could play on my Howdy Doody phono-doodle.

Saturday trips to the movies begin to include a side trip to the children’s room of the public library. The first book I took out: The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree.

After that a torrent: Hardy Boys mysteries, books on Annapolis and West Point, sea stories, sports books by Joe Archibald and John R. Tunis (The Kid Comes Back) along with Space Cadet (and anything by Robert Heinlein), Islands in the Sky (and anything with the Winston Science Fiction logo.)

When my parents drive down to take me home after a summer month with my cousins in Maryland, my aunt gives me a tin of her homemade cookies for the trip back—and a cardboard box of my uncle’s science fiction pulp magazines, which I read for the entire drive to western Pennsylvania.

Alone in my dark room in the carapace of light from my study lamp over my desk, where I was supposed to be doing my homework, I interrupt the story I was writing (“The Desert Menace”) to record in my brown school notebook: "The Russians, Conquerors of Space. Oct.4, 1957. I have just heard some news which will affect my whole future. Russia has just successfully launched the first man-made satellite into space…How did the Russians do it? Out of their own ingenuity? Did they get information from a spy in America? A traitor? All the work our scientists and top brains did, what for? Will the Russians take advantage of this and use it to start a war?"

Now channel 3 was channel 2 (KDKA) and there were two new stations we could get, channel 4 (WTAE) and 11 (WIIC) as well as educational television on channel 13 (WQED) though our reception for 13 was usually bad.

Zorro, the Buccaneers, West Point Story, Annapolis, Science Fiction Theatre.

Colds, flu, measles (twice), mumps, chicken pox...days in bed with comic books bought at half price, half the cover torn off: old Captain Marvels, Swat Malone, the Little Wise Guys, as well as newer Superman and Batman. Classics Illustrated: From the Earth to the Moon, The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds.

Errands to the neighborhood store for bread (20 cents a loaf) milk (a quarter for a quart) and penny candy with the change.

First paper route, frigid fingers, first encounters with small tarpaper covered houses and people who can’t pay (42 cents a week.) Stops for a hot chocolate, a Milky Way or a Hershey’s; or in summer an ice cream sandwich, dreamsicle, a root beer or a Vernors. Not much profit left over.

 Rocky and Bullwinkle, Beanie and Cecil, Tom Terrific and Manfred the Wonderdog.

Now, besides baseball (Pittsburgh Pirates, Bob Prince and Jim Woods announcing, “you can kiss it goodbye!” “a bloop and a blast!” “We had ‘em all the way!”) out of the radio poured rock & roll. Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, the Shirelles.

 Summer and after school hanging out and fooling around at the soda fountain counters and ice cream places in town. Vanilla cokes, ice cream cones (each a nickel), skyscraper cone or Klondike bar at Isaly’s, splurge on a butterscotch sundae (25 cents) or a banana split (30 cents.) Nothing like the malt shops on TV though.

Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver. See It Now, You Are There. Sid Caesar, Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen. Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train.

 Hennesey, The Twilight Zone. Harvest of Shame.  

Maz homers, Pirates win the World Series! Youth for Kennedy, campaigning in the rain, whooping it up in the election day parade. Up almost all night with Huntley and Brinkley, sleep through the morning until I wake to Jack and Jackie, “now my wife and I prepare for a new administration—and for a new baby.”

Snow in the darkness outside the moving shelter of the bus, making its slow way through the clogged streets to the Washington bus station.

 Staying with cousins never met before, freezing along Constitution Ave. for the Inaugural Parade, seeing the sights the next day, first bowl of clam chowder. On Sunday, the right church, the right time, and the out-of-body moment: shaking the hand of the new President of the United States.

High school, football games, girls. Somewhere beyond the sea, the way you look tonight. Newspaper staff, forensics and debate (argument, evidence, rhetoric, logic.)

 JFK: TV press conference wit, the Peace Corps, physical fitness and fifty-mile hikes, touch football and sailing in Hyannisport. America is young.

As high school newspaper editor, I print a photo of Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom and John Glenn—first three Americans in space—with an excited story on Glenn’s three-orbit flight. Send copies to these three astronauts—get a letter from Shepard and a note from Grissom with the clipping returned. Affronted at first, until I notice that there’s a signature under each figure in the photo: Grissom not only signed it, but got Shepard and Glenn to sign it, too.

 President Kennedy announces the goal: man on the moon before end of the decade.

Trip to New York for high school journalism conference at Columbia. First Broadway play: Camelot.

Chosen as an usher for President Kennedy’s speech in Pittsburgh, told how to identify Secret Service and to report anything suspicious. Watching the crowd as much as the President.

 Days later his face on TV announcing that U.S. had observed Soviet offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, the demand that they be removed, and the naval quarantine to prevent delivery of more.

 That week television and radio monitored Soviet ships approaching the U.S. Navy quarantine line.

Changing classes, into an empty classroom to see on the blackboard someone had drawn in white chalk a large mushroom cloud.

Bent over a radio in the newspaper staff room as lunch hour ended, as the ships neared each other but the Soviet ships stopped, confrontation avoided, for now. Reprimanded for being late to next class.

That Sunday the news that Soviets will withdraw the missiles—the crisis is over. 

The Defenders, The Law and Mr. Jones. Howard K. Smith: News and Comment. This Land is Your Land, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Blowin in the Wind. 

Train to Washington, bathed in heat, sunlight and wonder, with a quarter of a million dazzled souls marching together for jobs and freedom, We Shall Overcome.

 JFK’s nuclear test ban treaty and Civil Rights speeches, bold historic moves for peace and justice.

 Bye Bye Birdie, PT 109, Captain Newman MD, It’s A Mad Mad Mad World, The Ugly American. Outer Limits, The Lieutenant, East Side/West Side.

Outside running track for gym class, almost forgetting the principal’s announcement over the p.a. about the shooting in Dallas.  But walking up the stairs from the locker room, guys coming down: he didn’t make it. President Kennedy is dead.

 On the floor in front of the constant television coverage for three days, as if it would change what happened.

 One break to help dad drape the Singer store window in black crepe, Main Street silent in the cold, every store closed, with every storefront window draped in black.

On Sunday, family goes to church, I still can’t face anyone.  I watch the funeral.

 I see accused assassin Oswald on TV being moved through the parking garage, startled to see a gun—but no, it’s a microphone. Seconds later, sound of the shot, and the chaos. Oswald is dead.  I've seen a man shot to death on live TV.

Out of the black emptiness of many months, That Was the Week That Was, Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Robert Frost and Shelley, Growing Up Absurd, The Hidden Persuaders, The Other America, J.D. Salinger and John Updike, James Baldwin and James Thurber, Please Please Me, The Sound of Silence. The Times They Are A-Changin. 

Fail Safe, Seven Days in May, Doctor Strangelove. The Americanization of Emily.
Away to college in the midwest. Terrible football team but lots of fascinating girls. New worlds of literature, theatre, films. The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim, Band of Outsiders. Hamlet, The Skin of Our Teeth. A Hard Day’s Night.

That summer the second year of the 1964 New York World’s Fair (NASA Space Park, an updated Futurama, General Electric’s Progressland).

 Greenwich Village, first off-Broadway play: The Zoo Story.

After months of increasing, alarming rhetoric, President Johnson escalates the war in Vietnam in early 1965, sends American ground troops, begins bombing North Vietnam and saturation bombing within South Vietnam, as a general vows to “bomb them into the Stone Age.”

 By the end of the year, troops there number 200,000. Teach-ins on the war and all aspects of Indochina history and geopolitics, economics and ethics, first by our faculty, then visiting professors touring campuses. I become the first student on campus to oppose the war in a public debate.

 We—the young men of our generation—will be called in the draft to fight this war, possibly to die. Catch-22 becomes the book we carry. The society around us doesn’t want to hear about it, goes its merry way: Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Gidget, Peyton Place.

From grade school we knew the future could end in a thermonuclear moment. Later we learned it could founder on an assassination. Now for my generation there was to be another way to stop the future, one at a time, for nothing that made sense. And no one seemed to question, to care. It was all huge gleaming cars with giant tail fins, floor wax and power mowers.

Revolver, Alphaville, Fahrenheit 451...and in September 1966, Star Trek.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Trek50/B4 Trek: New Frontiers

Launch of the first American to orbit the Earth 1962
At the iconic 1939 New York World’s Fair, the popular exhibit called Futurama depicted extensive freeway systems in the American future of 1960. Called “Building the World of Tomorrow,” the Fair also exhibited a future technology called television.

Although not everything the Fair envisioned came true in the Los Angeles of the actual 1960, Gene Roddenberry drove on its freeways, and he had a television set in his home.

 More than that, at the age of 39, Gene Roddenberry was making a somewhat uncertain but still substantial living writing for television, a mass medium that hadn’t existed when he left for war in 1942.

 America was a great deal different as well—it was prosperous, productive, more urban, and inundated with ever-changing technologies. If it did not entirely fulfill the future envisioned in the 1939 Fair, in many ways it had moved in its direction.

Thanks in part to the federal highway program in the Eisenhower administration, the country was crisscrossed with highways and superhighways. Many led out of the cities to the new suburbs, where the phenomenon called the Baby Boom was centered.

 In the six years before 1953, there were more babies born than in the previous 30 years combined.  That brought the US population from 123 million in 1930 to 160 million in 1953. Just seven years later in 1960, it was 180 million.

 Not coincidentally, the American economy grew at a similar pace. Manufacturers had geared up with unprecedented speed to produce the guns and planes and other military materiel needed in World War II. At war’s end that productive capacity turned to serving this growing population with new cars, refrigerators and washing machines.

But it wasn’t utopia. At the upper and middle reaches of the economy there was prosperity and consumerism but also something called conformity. Its essence was captured in titles of popular books that became catchwords: The Organization Man, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Lonely Crowd. The uniformity of the frozen smile had become the living symbol of the decade.

And the economic boom had not reached everyone. There was poverty that rivaled that of the Depression—in large swaths of Appalachia, other isolated rural areas and in growing slums in America’s largest cities. African-Americans did not benefit from some postwar federal programs that helped build suburbia, their segregated schools were often inferior, and they were often excluded from economic opportunities across the country as well as from voting booths and whites-only services in the South.

 By 1960 a certain discontent was stirring, even in suburbia. It was even felt in Hollywood.

Even though he had come pretty far in a short time, Gene Roddenberry was feeling his own discontent. He’d become a very successful writer of television drama, particularly his scripts for one of the most popular and most literate westerns, Have Gun, Will Travel.  One of his scripts won a Screenwriters Guild award.

 But his imagination turned to developing ambitious new shows, often different from those on the air. Because television thrived on the next great idea, executives listened. But because television didn’t like risk, executives mostly said no.

 For a British production company with international ambitions, he suggested a current affairs program to be called Controversy, and a sweeping documentary series based on H.G. Wells’ Outline of History.

 Then under contract to Screen Gems for a hefty fee, he developed a dramatic series about members of the American military in the South Pacific during World War II. A pilot half-hour was made but didn’t sell. Still, there were a few character names that would stick, like Pike and Jellicoe, and a basic interplay of three characters: a leader and his two friends, one emotional, the other cerebral.

 In the summer of 1960, Gene Roddenberry watched a television story he’d written and helped produce air on the Alcoa Goodyear Theatre anthology series. It was a pilot for a series about a crusading San Francisco lawyer, starring DeForrest Kelley. Though the program was broadcast in June to good reviews, ultimately the series didn’t make the network schedule. Meanwhile, Roddenberry was getting more production experience on an ill-fated western.

But at least at the periphery of his attention, there was something else happening that summer. The Democratic National Convention was coming to Los Angeles in July to nominate its presidential candidate.

Thousands of delegates and members of the media were flooding into the city, necessitating extra duty for the police in traffic and crowd control. Though Gene had left the LAPD when his television career took off, his father and brother were still on the force.

 This convention attracted a lot of interest because it really would be selecting the nominee—no candidate was coming to town with a sure majority.

 Contenders included Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas, and former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, who had been the party nominee twice before, and twice defeated by General and then President Dwight Eisenhower.

 But Eisenhower couldn’t run this time, and Stevenson was arriving with a groundswell of support, especially from party elders like Eleanor Roosevelt. As a native of Los Angeles, Stevenson was attracting local interest as well.

The candidate who had won the most primary elections and was arriving with the most pledged delegates was the junior Senator of Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. He was just a few years older than Gene, and had served in the Navy in the same Pacific theatre. In fact, when Kennedy’s PT boat went missing, Gene would have been one of the fliers searching for him, except that his plane was smashed up from a runway accident.

 After PT-109 was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy led the surviving crew members in swimming to a remote island, towing one wounded man by means of a rope he held in his teeth. They were found after six days. His heroism helped get him elected to Congress and then the Senate.

 But like Gene and many other veterans, Kennedy emerged from the war with mixed feelings and at times a low opinion of the military. Like Gene, his skepticism of superior officers had been fed by decisions that needlessly cost lives.

 The nomination contest was to some extent a battle over a change in generations. Much of the opposition to Kennedy was based on his youth.

 The drama began to unfold on July 11 in the Sports Arena Convention Hall. It climaxed two nights later when the tense and majestic roll call of the states went down the alphabet to Wyoming until the first ballot voting produced a majority for John F. Kennedy as the 1960 nominee.

But the drama continued as Kennedy broke precedent by giving his official acceptance speech, not in the convention hall, but outdoors, in the Los Angeles Coliseum, to a crowd of 80,000.

 Although 1960 television cameras could not do it justice, it began just before dusk, at the “magic hour” favored by movie directors for its warm, sharp light.

It was the first of the speeches that created the Kennedy legend. In his own way, Roddenberry had learned the power of public words just the month before, when his statements as part of a Writers Guild panel made television industry news. Daily Variety quoted him as criticizing sponsor censorship of television scripts and even of casting (no African Americans were allowed to appear on a series depicting life on the Mississippi in 1860, he claimed.)

 Kennedy of course was speaking on a larger stage, about the world in 1960 from the perspective of his generation. Roddenberry might well have been interested in what he said, since they suggest elements of what he would create in Star Trek.

Kennedy spoke of the ultimate horrors of a nuclear war that had grown throughout the 50s:

  "But now man, who has survived all previous threats to his existence,” Kennedy said, “has taken into his mortal hands the power to exterminate the entire species some seven times over."

 But he also saw the start of a different future, led in part by new technologies and “a peaceful revolution for human rights—demanding an end to racial discrimination in all parts of our community life.” 

 Both perils and opportunities required action. "Too many Americans have lost their way, their will and their sense of historic purpose,” Kennedy said. And in a call that would become a campaign theme: “ It is time, in short, for a new generation of leadership…" 

 Then he used that Los Angeles sunset to anchor the theme that would remain the reason this speech is remembered:

  "I stand tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier,” he said. “From the lands that stretch 3000 miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West….Their motto was not 'Every man for himself,' but 'All for the common cause.'" 

 "…we stand today on the edge of a new frontier—the frontier of the 1960s, a frontier of unknown opportunities and paths, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats…" 

 "The new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges…Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus." 

 "…I believe the times demand invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be new pioneers on that new frontier."

After an exciting campaign, the most extensively ever covered on television that included the first televised candidate debates, and after a very close election, John F. Kennedy took the oath of office on a cold January day in 1961.

In his Inaugural Address, President Kennedy returned to some of the same themes of his Los Angeles speech. He spoke again of generational change, in the lines that were the most quoted at the time:

 “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.”

He spoke of the future, and challenged the Soviet Union to join with the U.S. to “explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems that divide us…Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.” 

 He pledged support for the United Nations, “our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace…”

He pledged help for the world’s poor, “not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” 

 He asked his fellow citizens to join him in “a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” 

 These idealistic goals were surrounded by pragmatic assessments and a caution: “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days,” he warned. “Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.” 

 Though the line that became a lasting soundbite (“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”) was also quoted often at the time, the immediate clarion call that electrified the country was expressed in those three words: Let us begin.

Like GR, JFK loved to sail

Members of Kennedy and Roddenberry’s generation flocked to Washington to be part of what quickly became known as the New Frontier. Soon members of an even younger generation were enlisting in the Peace Corps.

 With the Kennedy style of wit and vigor (pronounced in his unique New Englandish accent as “vigah”), and the elevation of intellect and the arts, Washington became an exciting, glamorous, hopeful place.

Yet with all the utopian promise, there were apocalyptic moments: the disastrous attempted invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles; a crisis in Berlin that pitted JFK against the boisterous and mercurial Soviet Premier Khrushchev, warfare in southeast Asia, and finally the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when the world came as close as it ever had to thermonuclear holocaust.

When American aircraft flying over Cuba photographed an installation of Soviet missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to all parts of the United States, and the Soviet ambassador denied their existence, President Kennedy revealed the evidence to the American public in a televised address.

 He demanded the missiles and their not yet completed installations be removed immediately, and announced that U.S. naval forces would prevent any Soviet ships from bringing more missiles into Cuban ports.

A month earlier, the Soviet government announced that any U.S. attack on Cuba would trigger a nuclear war. In his October address to the nation, President Kennedy announced that any attack on the U.S. by missiles from Cuba would trigger a “full retaliatory response” on the Soviet Union. But even a confrontation on the high seas was likely to lead to the same apocalyptic result.

 At several points in the next 13 days, American and Soviet ships drew closer to a confrontation. This was the moment to which the Cold War and nuclear history since Hiroshima in 1945 had been leading.

 The first atomic bomb leveled the city of Hiroshima and reduced human beings within a half mile radius of the blast to lumps of charcoal. As many as 75,000 people were killed by the bomb’s blast and fire, both of an intensity never experienced before on Earth. Three days later a second bomb dropped on Nagasaki killed 40,000.

The first reaction, even among policymakers and the military, was revulsion. "No one questions the vulnerability of mankind to the destructive effects of this devastating new weapon of war,” wrote retired Admiral Jonas H. Ingram, former Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet. “In fact it is such a destructive weapon that it should be outlawed in warfare, for the general use of it over any protracted period of time would spell the end of our civilization."

 But attempts to outlaw the Bomb or place it under strict international controls fell quickly to accelerating events and reactions to them, as the Cold War began and as both sides sought supremacy in ever more powerful nuclear weapons, with ever more efficient and unstoppable ways of delivering those bombs to distant cities.

 Meanwhile it became apparent that blast and fire were just the beginning of what atomic bombs did. Within five years, the death toll in Hiroshima more than doubled to 200,000, and an even greater proportion died in Nagasaki years after the blast. Atomic bombs released deadly radiation. Some illnesses from radiation were apparent within days and weeks, as people decayed from the inside. Other effects, principally cancers, took years.

For years, U.S. officials denied the severity of radiation. They continued to minimize it after its first thermonuclear bomb tests in 1952—commonly known as the hydrogen bomb, it was a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, and vaporized an island in the Pacific.

 By 1955 both the US and USSR had functional thermonuclear bombs. Both sides continued to test ever more powerful bombs throughout the 1950s.

But the evidence of radiation effects accumulated and could no longer be ignored. By the mid-50s, there was strong evidence also of mutations in the next generation, including studies done on islands near Pacific test sites. Much of this was reported in newspapers, magazines and books.

By then a new word had entered the public vocabulary: “fallout,” which was dust contaminated by radiation that drifted into the atmosphere. Radiation from a 1951 Nevada bomb test was detected in the snow that fell on Rochester, New York.

 By early 1953, 20 atomic bombs had been exploded in the Nevada desert. A seven year old boy 70 miles from Ground Zero died of leukemia, and "became possibly the first baby boom casualty of the atomic age."

 But when questions arose, some officials and politicians were quick to accuse critics of being deluded or unpatriotic, showing weakness and division to the enemy. They might even be Communists themselves. The logic of the Cold War overrode objections.

Stories about radiation effects and fallout increased public skepticism of government claims. The proven lies made people silently distrustful--and fearful.

 “The fact that hydrogen bomb fallout could devastate entire territories was treated as a military secret, for it undercut prevailing ideas on nuclear war and civil defense,” writes Spencer Weart. “The government scarcely knew what to say to itself; let alone to the world public. In the absence of reliable facts, indeed with the world’s main source of atomic information largely discredited, anxieties could only continue to grow.”

 The immensity of the dangers, the psychological impulse to repress thinking about them, and the political pressure to be silent, helps explain the sense of panic and frenzy beneath the bright facade of the 1950s.

 But these anxieties got expressed in the arts, especially in the not quite respectable form of science fiction, and in sublimated and coded ways in the even less respectable form of pop culture, such as a popular 1950s genre: the monster movie.

Magazine science fiction stories dealt with the implications of atomic weapons since the 1940s. Such an approach reached movies in the 1950s, in a peculiarly haunting way.

In 1954 the US exploded its most powerful bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific.   Its fireball alone was more than four miles wide.  It was twice as powerful as expected.

 Its 62 mile-wide mushroom cloud dropped radioactive dust on more than 7 thousand squares miles of the Pacific.  Directly susceptible to this fallout were several small islands and more than a hundred fishing boats. One of these boats was the Lucky Dragon #5, from Japan.

 By the time it returned to port two weeks later, some in the crew of 23 were covered with sores from burns, and many were suffering the classic symptoms of radiation sickness: nausea, bleeding gums, pain in their eyes, headaches. One crewman died.

 Doctors and scientists in Japan immediately recognized the radiation effects. They had seen them before. They also measured excessive radiation in the fish aboard the Lucky Dragon and other boats, and this new threat caused panic in Japan that spread around the world. But US officials insisted that radiation from the Bomb test could not be responsible.

This incident inspired the first Japanese monster movie, called Gojira.  It made clear that its monster was awakened and altered by hydrogen bomb testing.

 In its original form, Gojira would not be seen in the US for fifty years (just as the evidence that US officials were lying about radiation from this test would not be fully revealed for 30 years.)

 But a version was made for the US market in 1956, using much of the monster footage but excising most of the Bomb references, and centering it on an American reporter played by Raymond Burr. That movie was called Godzilla. It was an immediate international hit, with sequels not yet ended.

 American-made movies that illustrated the theme of radiation turning ordinary creatures into monsters became rampant in the 50s. One of the first and best was Them! (1954.) Set in the New Mexico desert, its protagonists gradually learn that Bomb tests have mutated a race of giant ants. It’s a tense drama that combines elements of detective stories with horror and science fiction.

 Once the ants are defeated, one character asks: "If these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb tests in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?" The elder scientist answers, "Nobody knows. When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door into a new world. What we eventually find in that new world nobody can predict."

 Them! is also notable for featuring future TV stars James Arness (Gunsmoke), James Whitmore (The Law and Mr. Jones) and Fess Parker (Davy Crockett) as well as uncredited appearances by Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy (as a laughing soldier) and Trek director and actor Lawrence Dobkin.

Fears of atomic attack and invasion from the skies were also reflected in a number of space alien invader movies, the best of which was the George Pal version of H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds. 

These anxieties were combined with fears of Communist subversion in such movies as It Came From Outer Space, Invaders From Mars, The Space Children and especially the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)—the film of genuine horror that depicted (depending on your politics) either the effects of alien/Communist subversion, or the spread of 1950s super-conformity--an interpretation that lived on in the expression “pod people.”

 It wasn’t until the end of the decade that a widely popular movie dealt directly with the consequences of nuclear war, in the quietly powerful On The Beach.

That the spectre of the Bomb awakened ancient terrors so that folk tales and Gothic horror were reborn as science fiction monster movies shouldn’t be surprising. The original meaning of “monster” is “a divine portent or warning.” Several of these movies (War of the Worlds and Them! for example) contain overt and spoken references to the Biblical apocalypse.

 Such references happened in reality as well as monster movies. “For both those who had witnessed the first atomic detonation and those who had only heard about it, Spencer Weart writes, “the explosion served less to introduce new ideas than to bring ancient thought of apocalypse to new and vivid life.”  According to sociologist Edward Shils, the atomic bomb brought the fear that the Biblical Apocalypse was at hand to society at large.

The Bomb made visions of the future seem preposterous. What future? The only future came from the Rand Corporation’s Herman Kahn, who measured tomorrows in "megadeaths." (His book On Thermonuclear War was published in 1960. Kahn was a chief model for Doctor Strangelove.)

 This sense was especially acute among the young, wrote Jeff Nettall in Bomb Culture (1968). “They never knew a sense of the future.”

 The causes of fear weren’t tangibly present, as in the Depression. It was an abrupt ending to come that seemed inevitable. For many, the future was not so much killed as simply disappearing.

By the early 1960s, both sides had arsenals of intercontinental and intermediate range missiles loaded with thermonuclear bombs, with launching sites around the world and on submarines. Both sides had announced policies of massive retaliation for an attack, and so each side was likely to start with as many missiles as they could launch. There were so many powerful bombs that there was nowhere in America that wouldn’t be devastated by blast, fire, radiation or fallout.

 So by the early 1960s, people lived with the possibility that, virtually without warning, they could be living their lives serenely one minute, and be sunk in unimaginable death and destruction the next, knowing that their fate was or would be shared by most of the world.

The difference in October 1962 was that there were 13 days to think about this imminent possibility and at least one or two days when thermonuclear war might start with an incident you could see reported on television.

 Then on the 13th day, a Sunday, news media announced that the Soviet Union had agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba, and the US pledged never to invade the island nation. The crisis was over.

 In the days following, President Kennedy spoke to intimates about how his thoughts kept returning to the impact of these decisions on the innocent children of the world, and the equally innocent future.

After that brush with oblivion, Kennedy took the initiative on two issues crucial to making the future better: internationally, to break the absolute us/them enmity with the Soviet Union and ease the world back from the brink of nuclear war, and nationally, to break the hypocritical barriers to racial equality with Civil Rights legislation.

 Both sides had been testing powerful bombs, sending immense quantities of radiation around the world. Negotiations to limit this testing had stalled, and in June 1963, Kennedy decided to make it a public issue, in his commencement address at American University.

He did so by shattering ideas about the Soviet Union, and advocating peace with a vision of the future.

  “I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children,” he said. “Not merely peace for Americans, but peace for all men and women; not merely peace in our time, but peace for all time.” 

 “Total war makes no sense,” Kennedy said, repeating the phrase several times, emphasizing devastation so extensive it would be visited on “generations yet unborn.” “I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men.”

 “I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war,” he said. “But we have no more urgent task.” He rejected the charge that seeking peace was defeatist, but suggested that believing peace is impossible is the ultimate defeatism, because it means “that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. ”

 Then he used the phrase that more than any other sums up the Kennedy faith: “Our problems are man-made; therefore they can be solved by man.” 

Though he acknowledged the value of dreams and hopes, he advocated an attainable peace “ based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions…Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts…For peace is a process, a way of solving problems.” 

 In an era of demonizing the Soviet adversary, Kennedy called for realism (“However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbors”) and empathy.

 He honored the Russian people for their suffering in World War II, and subtly linked this theme with the effort to eliminate suffering in the world.  Because of the arms race, Kennedy pointed out, both nations were “devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combating ignorance, poverty and disease.” 

 After complimenting the Soviet Union on its scientific accomplishments, Kennedy pointed out to the “ironical but accurate fact that the two strongest powers are the two in the most danger of devastation. All we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first twenty-four hours.”

 Peace, he concludes, is a primary interest for both nations---indeed for all nations. In the most quoted phrases of the speech, Kennedy said: “For in the final analysis our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

The American University speech became instantly famous around the world. In England, the Manchester Guardian called it “one of the great state papers of American history.”

 Most importantly, the full text was printed in the Russian press, and its Russian language broadcast by the Voice of America was the first western program in fifteen years the Soviets did not attempt to jam. Khrushchev told Averell Harriman, in Moscow to negotiate the test ban, that it was the best speech by an American president since Roosevelt.

 Negotiations moved swiftly forward. Some six weeks after the American University address, the nuclear test ban treaty was signed.

 But the speech received little notice at first in the United States, partly because of an ongoing crisis: police violence against non-violent demonstrators and white rioting and firebombing in black neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama had pushed the civil rights struggle to a new level.

 Then Alabama Governor George Wallace announced he would personally bar the admission of the first two black students to be enrolled at the University of Alabama under federal court order. The drama, which turned out to be little more than a ceremony of defiance for cameras, played out the day after JFK’s American University speech.

 Kennedy spontaneously decided to speak to the nation that night. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders had made a strong moral case, and a quarter million Americans showed support at the peaceful and historic March on Washington that summer of 1963.  Afterwards, King and other leaders met with Kennedy at the White House.

 With little in the way of prepared text, President Kennedy delivered a speech on civil rights as perfectly timed and morally clear as he had the day before on world peace.

 Equality is a moral issue “as old as the scriptures and…as clear as the American Constitution….In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated…”

 The day before he had urged empathy for the Soviet people; now he asked white Americans to imagine themselves in the place of black Americans. “Who among us then would be content with the counsels of patience and delay?”

 Kennedy sent a Civil Rights bill to Congress, which eventually became the Voting Rights Act. But the nuclear test ban treaty still required Senate confirmation, and there was substantial opposition. Conservatives as well as prominent military figures were decrying it as a threat to national security. Kennedy invited public debate, “for the treaty is for all of us. It is particularly for our children and our grandchildren, who have no lobby here in Washington.”

Kennedy traveled across America in the fall. Even in conservative parts of the country such as Billings, Montana and Salt Lake City, he received standing ovations when he spoke about the nuclear test ban and the issue of peace. He told friends that he was willing to pay the price of not being reelected if he got the test ban. Under public pressure the Senate ratified it.

 His Civil Rights bill did not make it through Congress, but Kennedy had high hopes for it after he ran for reelection in 1964. He also planned to scale down the modest American involvement in Vietnam.

Among the accomplishments of the Kennedy years, the most obviously exciting were American successes in manned spaceflight.

 Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom made the first suborbital jaunts into space in 1961, and in 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. They were greeted as national heroes.

 Soon after Glenn’s three-orbit flight, President Kennedy committed the U.S. to sending a man to the moon before the 60s were out.  This would begin the Gemini and Apollo missions that landed American astronauts on the moon.

“I look forward to a great future for America,” Kennedy said in October 1963, "a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.” 

 “I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment...And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.”

His last speech was about the space program.
 On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas as his motorcade was leaving for the airport. In the national and global shock and grief that followed, it once again seemed to many that the future had died.

Without a leader, without a center or direction, the utopian enterprise seemed to recede, and in the turmoil of the mid 60s, to disappear. Once again there was the dread of a future out of control, heading for self-destruction.

In 1963, Gene Roddenberry was producing his first television series, The Lieutenant, set on a U.S. Marine base in peacetime, and shot at the real Camp Pendleton. It went on the air in September.

But he encountered resistance and censorship in his attempts to center stories on contemporary social problems. The Marines objected to a story about racial discrimination and when Roddenberry went ahead with it, they withdrew permission to film on the base.

 When the network refused to air the episode, he tipped off the NAACP. NBC aired the story but did not renew the series for another year.

 A few months after Kennedy’s death—in March 1964-- Roddenberry wrote the outline for a new television series set in the future he called Star Trek.

 It’s since been said that Kennedy influenced Roddenberry’s conception of Star Trek, but it’s often been in the context of characterizing Kennedy as a Cold Warrior. Yet reviewing these aspects of the JFK legacy suggests that Kennedy’s approach to war and peace, to space and technology, to human rights, human curiosity and the future, contributed much more to the soul of Star Trek and its characters and stories.

For eventually, the Star Trek universe would fulfill many of Kennedy’s dreams: an end to war, poverty and disease; an Earth of diversity, democracy and individual distinction; a united Earth, exploring the stars.

 Kennedy’s faith—“Our problems are man-made; therefore they can be solved by man”—seems an apt description of Roddenberry’s faith, and an operating principle of the Star Trek universe.

 While aspects of Captain Kirk may suggest JFK, isn’t it Mr. Spock who would be more likely to say this? “Total war makes no sense. I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men.”