The Thought for the Day/Wernher von Braun

Every man achieved his own greatness by reaching out beyond himself, and so it is with nations…Only when a nation means something to itself can it mean something to others.
Wernher von Braun


Wernher von Braun (1912-77) was the world’s preeminent developer of rocket technology. He was born in Germany and worked for Nazi’s until the end of World War II when he and others surrendered to the Americans and later were secretly moved to the United States. He developed, among other things, the V-2 rocket, the first rocket to fly to outer space, and the Saturn V rocket that sent men to the moon. He was long a proponent of a manned mission to Mars.

Every man achieved his own greatness by reaching out beyond himself…

A gift of a telescope when he was 13 spurred an interest in astronomy and von Braun’s talents took over from there. Like some, perhaps many, who make their mark on our world, von Braun was an indifferent student, preferring to learn what interested him rather than what others wanted him to know.

All of us have this capacity, too, the capacity to reach beyond what others want from us. As we say seemingly every hour on the hour here, those that get on in this world are those who maximize the talents they are born with.

…and so it is with nations

Nations, of course, are merely a collection of humans, striving only as far and achieving only as much as their citizens require. Citizens that demand little of their country receive perpetual war and mindless debt while citizens of countries that demand a lot generally get peace and prosperity.

Only when a nation means something to itself can it mean something to others…

I don’t think America has meant anything to itself since the Apollo program sent men to the moon in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We were able to transcend the partisan bickering and social divides that have always attended our country for a great national effort.  

And America, I’ve always felt, stopped meaning something to others when the Berlin Wall came down. Since then all we have offered anyone is continuous interference in the affairs of other nations, going from a country that inspired others to a bully that merely gets in everybody’s way, a country dictating terms and causing heartache and destruction when we should be allowing others the dignity of conducting their affairs without our interference.

America used to be a country that was as much a concept as a nation, it’s basic proposition being freedom and the chance to make a good life for yourself. Now, all we do is garner hatred and resentment from others. And until Americans, both individually and collectively, start reaching out beyond themselves and demanding better, we always will.

Quotes are from Gaylon’s personal quote book, begun in 1988 in a hotel room in Berkeley, California.

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