A Look On The Lighter Side: Here’s hoping we learn from history before we repeat it

Judy Epstein

Several events last week took me straight back to the past. One was the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969 moon landing.

I am, indeed, old enough to remember where I was when Neil Armstrong finally set foot on the moon. I am old enough; I just wasn’t patient enough. After what felt like hours of sitting in front of the family television, watching shifting fields of black and white static, I got restless and went back to my room to read a book. And that, of course, is when the final historic moment occurred.

That was the indisputable high water mark of one kind of American greatness.

Overshadowing my remembrance of this great achievement, however, were some other events last week, displaying a very different side of America.

One of these was the sorry spectacle of our president viciously attacking four U.S. citizens and lawmakers, telling them to “go back to the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” He tweeted that their “governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world.” I guess he would know, seeing as how the government in question is his own.

Doubling down on these unworthy sentiments, our president stood at a political rally he convened for himself a few days later. The partisan crowd chanted “Send her back, send  her back,” while our president stood there and basked in it all.

The scene sent shivers down my back. It took me straight to film clips of Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, reveling in the cheers of his crowd…while the shouting felt much too close for comfort to the “Sieg Heil” (“Hail Victory”) with which crowds in Nazi Germany serenaded their hero, Adolf Hitler.

No, I am not a member of the Greatest Generation. But I did spend a year of my life working on a documentary on World War II, “The Democrat and the Dictator,” about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. I helped acquire stills, newsreels, and a great deal of film footage, including Leni Riefenstahl’s masterpiece of Nazi propaganda, “Triumph of the Will.”

I have to say, it all came flooding back to me as I listened to Donald Trump’s crowd.

Worst of all for me was a moment from a press conference last week with Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway. When a reporter asked Conway about the president’s tweets, rather than answer the reporter’s question, she asked him one of her own:  “What’s your ethnicity?”

That’s when the hair on the back of my neck stood up. What is happening to this nation of ours?

I used to wonder, working on that documentary, how the German people could have let it all happen, how an entire nation could go insane. But now I am afraid I am living through the answer.

Where will this end and how? And how many of us will still be above ground when it does? The last time around it took a worldwide war to put an end to the insanity — the deadliest military conflict in history, killing an estimated 70 million to 85 million of Earth’s people.

Did we learn nothing from that?

In World War II, America was the world power that came to the rescue of everyone else. If we are the ones who need rescuing, who will there be to do it this time? Russia? China?North Korea? Especially when you consider that this president has made it a point to alienate every single ally we ever had?

Putting American astronauts on the moon was a literal high point for America’s technological prowess. But it is bittersweet to realize that that was half a century ago.

Eugene Cernan was the last astronaut to leave the moon and return to Earth. When he did, on Dec. 14, 1972, he left a plaque which said, in part:

“We leave the Moon… as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”

Whatever became of that great nation?

And whatever is going to become of us?

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