CAN DO NATION
Americans have long considered themselves a “can do” people – especially at over-coming technological and physical challenges. Establish an objective, mobilize resources and then watch American “know-how” get the job done. Still, no one ever imagined, given the usual pace of vaccine development, that an effective Covid antidote would appear so rapidly. Let us remember, however, that America had beaten the odds before, could claim a remarkable history of groundbreaking technological achievements.
• Right after a prolonged and bloody Civil War the United States undertook the prodigious effort to bind the nation together with a transcontinental railroad. The challenge involved vast distances, predictably hostile Indians, stubborn hard rock formations, broad rivers, and forbidding mountain ranges. But constructing the nearly 2000 mile rail network (completed in 1869) required just a few years and helped thrust the U. S. toward world economic leadership in the decades that followed.
• Equally ambitious was the American decision to link the Atlantic and Pacific coasts so that ships were no longer obliged to navigate around South America before heading north to California. The solution: construct a canal through Panama, a devilishly complicated undertaking. Man-made lakes and locks had to be created, widespread disease (yellow fever and malaria) overcome, and innovative earth-moving equipment devised and transported to the numerous work sites. But the project was completed two years ahead of schedule to the enormous benefit of world commerce.
• There are many reasons the U. S. won World War II; foremost among them was our ability to re-engineer our economy in order to produce enormous quantities of armaments – airplanes, ships, tanks, etc. Furthermore, many of the weapons became increasingly sophisticated as the war wore on. This all culminated with the “Manhattan Project,” a vast scientific effort that resulted in nuclear weapons that brought an end to the devastating conflict.
• Once Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut, orbited the earth in April of 1961, it was inevitable that the U.S. would enter the space race. Shortly thereafter President John Kennedy committed the nation to a moon landing by the end of the decade – an extraordinarily ambitious and costly undertaking. It succeeded, testifying once again to America’s ability to rise to the occasion, no matter how formidable the scientific challenges and technological obstacles.
• Combatting Covid raised the question of whether a deeply divided people, many grown skeptical of science could support a complex, coordinated effort to produce a vaccine to overcome this horrific scourge. Happily, the U. S. once again has demonstrated it was up to the task. May this remarkable achievement provide the spark, serve to give us the confidence to put aside our doubts and our differences in order to attend to the persistent ills that continue to beset our society.