This Summer in History: The Summer of 1969, Part I

This summer marks the 50th anniversary (the semi-, hemi-, or demi-centennial, depending on whether you prefer the Latin, Greek, or French for “half”) of one of the most tumultuous and culturally significant summers in American history.  The Stonewall riots, the moon landing, Chappaquiddick, the Manson murders, the Woodstock rock festival, and Hurricane Camille all happened. It has been half a century, but the echoes of that long-ago summer reverberate down the decades.


The Stonewall Riots

The Stonewall Inn stands at 51-53 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village (which is in lower Manhattan).  In 1966, three mafia gangsters bought the Stonewall Inn and turned it into a gay bar.  At that time, anti-sodomy laws were enforced in most states and large cities, including even in New York City.  The wise-guy proprietors of the Stonewall Inn paid off the police to keep vice squad raids to a minimum (usually once a month) and to warn them when a raid was about to happen.  When raids occurred early enough in the evening, the bar would re-open for business after the police left.

At around 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969, Seymour Pine of the NYPD Vice Squad Public Morals Division and four other officers raided the Stonewall Inn, joining two male and two female undercover vice officers already inside.  The “Paddy wagons” that were to carry arrested patrons to the police station took longer than expected to arrive, and a crowd of patrons and by-standers began to grow outside the Inn, swelling as the night went on.

A scuffle broke out when a woman in handcuffs was escorted from the Inn to a waiting police wagon. She escaped repeatedly and fought with four of the officers, swearing and shouting, for about ten minutes. At last she shouted at the crowd, "Why don't you guys do something?" The crowd then became a violent mob, interfering with the arrests and forcing the officers inside the bar. 

The riot escalated until a tactical squad of crowd-control officers was called to free the vice officers that were effectively trapped inside the Stonewall Inn. The tactical officers formed a phalanx to clear the streets, and by 4:00 a.m. they were able to do so.

The Stonewall riots mark the beginning of the “gay liberation” movement as a public movement.  The first gay pride parade was held one year later, on June 28, 1970; demonstrators marched from Greenwich Village to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park.  Within about four years, anti-sodomy laws had ceased to be enforced in most of America’s major cities (although the Supreme Court later affirmed the constitutionality of these laws in the 1986 case of Bowers v. Hardwick).

Over the course of about thirty years, a concerted effort of our cultural elites normalized homosexuality to the point where most people perceived it as not less desirable, personally or for society, than heterosexuality.  Bowers v. Hardwick was reversed in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas, in which sodomy laws were deemed to violate an imaginary right of privacy (the same inapplicable excuse used in Roe v. Wade to strike down the abortion laws). 

The gay rights movement culminated in 2015, when, in an astonishing act of lawlessness and legal vandalism, the Supreme Court ruled that the states could not limit marriage to one man and one woman, but must legally sanction same sex “marriage.”

In 1975, after California passed the “Consenting Adults” law decriminalizing sodomy, Bob Hope added a joke to his routine:  “I’ve just flown in from California, where they’ve made homosexuality legal. I thought I’d get out before they make it compulsory.” 

It’s a gag, but an insightful one. Scripture dramatically illustrates, in both Genesis 19 and Judges 19, what eventually happens when society turns sodomy from a private sin into a public entitlement:  it does become mandatory. 

We are not far from the Genesis/Judges 19 scenario in this country. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” 1 Cor. 10:11. Just as it was in the days of Lot, so shall it be in the day of the Lord’s coming. Luke 17:26-30.

Just now, the gay mob is content to force unwilling florists, bakers and photographers to celebrate same-sex “marriage,” but I predict that things will soon take a more Old Testament turn. The American public does not understand the forces that have been unleashed.


The Moon Landing

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy was visiting Rice University in Houston, Texas.  He had told Congress the previous year that he would prioritize putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade, but it is his Rice speech that is best remembered:

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? [a reference to Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight] Why does Rice play Texas? [laughter and extended applause]

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

“It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the presidency.”

A space race between the U.S. and its cold-war enemy, the Soviet Union, had been underway for five years—and the Soviets were clearly winning.  In 1957, the Soviets had launched Sputnik, the first satellite.  In 1959, they had crashed a spacecraft, Luna 2, into the moon, and in April, 1961, they had put a man, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit—before Alan Shepherd flew in space and long before John Glenn orbited the Earth three times.  In his Rice speech, Kennedy admitted that we were behind in the space race, but vowed that would change:

“To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned [space] flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.”

Safely landing a man on the moon was the only big space “first” remaining to be claimed, and Kennedy intended that the United States would claim it.

NASA labeled the attempt to conquer the moon, “Project Apollo.”  It got off to a terrible start on January 27, 1967, as Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a fire while testing the command module.  This led to two administrators being relieved of their duties, and changes to the command module and the space suits, the most important of which were the use of a nitrogen/oxygen mixture instead of pure oxygen in the command module before and during launch, and removal of flammable cabin and space suit materials.

Apollos 4 through 6 were un-crewed equipment tests; Apollo 7, launched in October 1968, was the first crewed mission, with Wally Schirra, Don Eisele, and Walter Cunningham. It was an 11-day Earth-orbital flight that tested the command and service module systems.  On Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8, crewed by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, flew to the moon and made ten lunar orbits, transmitting television pictures of moon’s surface and returning safely to Earth.  Apollo 9 was a test, in Earth’s orbit, of the maneuver in which the command and service modules detach and then turn around and dock with the lunar module.  Apollo 10, in May, 1969, saw astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan perform the entire lunar mission, except for landing the lunar module on the surface. 

The tests all having been performed, the way was clear for Apollo 11 to land on the moon.  On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin were launched atop a Saturn 5 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Four days later, on July 20, 1969, with Michael Collins remaining in the command module orbiting the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin landed the lunar module on the Sea of Tranquility.

Neil Armstrong’s words upon stepping onto the moon’s surface have become famous:  “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Although they were on the moon for almost a day, they spent only two and a half hours outside of the lunar module, walking on the moon, taking photographs, collecting rock samples, and deploying scientific instruments, while sending a television signal back to Earth. The astronauts returned safely on July 24, 1969.

It was a remarkable triumph of the American can-do spirit.  President Kennedy set an ambitious goal: send a man to the moon, return him safely, do it on an arbitrarily expedited timeline—by the end of the decade of the 1960s—and do it routinely.  The challenge was accepted and the goal achieved. 

The Apollo missions continued for over three years.  Apollo 13, crewed by Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise, narrowly avoided disaster as, two days into the flight, a liquid oxygen tank exploded, disabling the service module and forcing the crew to use the lunar module as a “lifeboat” to return to Earth.  Although it did not land on the moon, the safe recovery of Apollo 13 may have been NASA’s finest hour.  The mission also created the most famous catch-phrase to emerge from the Apollo program—“Houston, we have a problem.” 

Four more successful moon landings were carried out, ending with Apollo 17, in December 1972; Eugene Cernan was the last man to set foot on the moon.  President Nixon canceled planned Apollos 18 and 19 for budgetary reasons—and because we’d already demonstrated that we could go to the moon repeatedly and safely.  The Soviet’s communist empire collapsed in 1989, never having put a man on the moon.

The decline of NASA after the Apollo program ended is almost too painful to recount.  NASA concentrated on building a space shuttle and later building a space station.  Soon, however, it became obsessed, as all U.S. government bureaucracies are, with gender and racial diversity.  Its core competence waned. 

The space shuttle Challenger—crewed with two women, an Asian man, a black man and three white men—exploded 73 seconds after launch on a cold January morning in 1986.  The accident was caused by a failure of the rubber O-rings that were designed to seal a joint on one of the two flanking solid rocket boosters; the failure allowed pressurized hot gases and flame to torch and eventually detonate the main external fuel tank.  The O-rings would not work in cold weather.  NASA had ignored warnings from the manufacturer that the O-rings might not function properly at temperatures below 54°F, and launched Challenger at a temperature just above freezing. 

A dark joke began circulating: “What does NASA stand for?”  “Need another seven astronauts.”

Then, in 2003, came the Columbia disaster.  During launch, a piece of insulation shook loose from the main fuel tank and knocked a small hole in the heat shield under Columbia’s left wing.  After the mission, as Columbia was re-entering the atmosphere, the damage to the heat shield “unzipped” other heat-resistant tiles, and the shuttle burned and broke apart, killing another diverse crew of seven astronauts, and scattering a long debris field across east Texas and western Louisiana. 

NASA became aware of the foam strike while the mission was in progress; engineers recommended that the astronauts inspect under the left wing for damage, but senior NASA management ignored them.  Engineers also made three requests for Department of Defense (DOD) spy-satellite imaging of the shuttle to determine the damage, but NASA management intervened to stop DOD from assisting. 

Adopting a fatalistic attitude, senior NASA managers believed nothing could be done anyway, so it was pointless to try to discover whether the heat shield had been damaged: 

“You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the [heat shield]. If it has been damaged it's probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?”

The “failure is not an option” motto of Apollo flight controller Gene Kranz, displayed so heroically on Apollo 13, was far in NASA’s rear-view mirror. 

Fatalism had taken over NASA, and fatalism is typical in Islam, so perhaps it was not as surprising as it seemed when President Barack Obama told NASA chief Charles Bolden that his mission was to make Muslims feel good about themselves: 

"When I became the NASA administrator, he charged me with three things  . . .  third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering."

What a pathetic decline: from landing on the moon to promoting self-esteem in the Muslim world.  In 2011, Obama ended the space shuttle program, perhaps to allow Bolden to devote his full energies to Muslim outreach.

Was the moon landing the apogee of our civilization?  It is hard not to notice the marked decline and decay of the succeeding half-century.  We have not been back to the moon in the past 47 years, and I doubt we’ll ever go back. 

We might soon find out if my pessimism is justified: President Trump has ordered NASA to return to the moon by 2024, as part of a larger project of going to Mars.  But, oh, how our society has changed since Kennedy was president!  For our governing class, adventure and discovery cannot be justified for their own sake, but only as part of the effort to re-engineer the created sexual order.  Current NASA director Jim Bridenstine states:

“I’ve got an 11-year-old daughter, and I want her to see herself as having every opportunity that I saw myself having when I was growing up.  I think this could be transformational for young women all across, not just the country, but all across the world.”

No.  We won’t be going back to the moon. 

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day,

and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. Gen. 1:16

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4