I believe we can do anything we set out minds to do. We have shown and we have proven over and over in our history that we are capable of and can accomplish great things. Our fore fathers and fore mothers freed themselves from the tyrannical grip of King George III and established the best of all worlds – our country.
We have risen to the challenge in so many countless situations, it isn’t possible to list them all. But two challenges come to mind. The first is World War II. We retooled our entire system to provide munitions and labor to ensure that we fought the war to the best of our abilities. As men moved into the military and were sent to war, women moved from the homes into the factories to pick up the baton of production.
World War II was won in large part because of superior allied armaments production. The United States greatly outproduced its allies and its enemies and, at its output peak in late 1943 and early 1944, was manufacturing munitions almost equal to the combined total of both its friends mid adversaries. Keep in mind that we entered the war on December 8, 1941. Thus, we accomplished a monumental feat in the span of just a couple of years.
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We also sacrificed by decreasing the use of certain “luxury” items that we now consider staples – sugar being one of them. The United States used to be heavily dependent on foreign sugar supplies, and this dependence led to widespread sugar shortages during the Second World War. Cargo ships that once carried sugar imports were needed for military purposes, and the ships that were willing to make the trip overseas for food faced the risk of dangerous bombings from battle ships.
We had no choice but to ration sugar. In May 1942, sugar became the first food rationed during the war, and foreign supplies remained so unreliable that sugar was the last food removed from the rationing list in 1947—two years after the war’s end. Government posters everywhere urged Americans to change their eating habits and conserve sugar.
Arising out of World War II also were our Victory Gardens. Amid regular rationing of canned food in Britain, a poster campaign (“Plant more in ’44!”) encouraged the planting of Victory Gardens by nearly 20 million Americans. Gardens were planted in any available location – in backyards, on rooftops, on vacant community lots. These gardens produced up to 40 percent of all the vegetable produce consumed nationally. That is a phenomenal figure – 40%.
When the war ended, the gardens disappeared. But during that period in our history, we sacrificed; we decided that the end was worth the sacrifice.
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Today is the 39th anniversary of the second challenge – putting a man on the moon.
The mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s, which he expressed during a 1961 speech:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
And, indeed, we did accomplish that goal on July 20, 1969 – a little over eight years after President Kennedy issued his challenge. I was 21 years old and expecting our second child in September. I was riveted to the TV set every day watching news alerts and coverage. I remember the telecast when Neil Armstrong made his famous statement – “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
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Our dreams were realized. As a nation we watched and held our breath as both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin move awkwardly on the surface of the moon. We marveled at the astounding and amazing pictures not only of the moon itself but also of our gorgeous blue planet as seen from a far-off, dusty, gray orb.
These two challenges come to mind because today we face a challenge that will also require us to “retool” and “sacrifice.” Our dependence on foreign oil and our own oil is, without a doubt, one of the most critical issues that we face in today’s world. Other sources of energy that we rely upon – such as electricity – for our daily needs do not rise to near the level of our dependence on oil – whether from foreign sources or from our own sources.
In 1984, Tom Brokaw visited northwest France in preparation for a documentary on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. That experience left him a changed reporter, and he began his collection of anecdotes about men and women who were citizen heroes and heroines. In 1998, Brokaw published “The Greatest Generation” – the culmination of his research and his interviews. The greatest generation sacrificed and they learned to adapt to the challenge of readying for war – a war that changed the course of history.
We no longer see sacrifice as a noble and courageous way to rise to a challenge. Instead, we see sacrifice as infringing on all the modern conveniences and extravagant items we possess and use. We want our low-mileage vehicles, we don’t want to ride on buses that may inconvenience us with their routes, we don’t want to have to think about restructuring our lives – even a little bit – to accommodate our growing energy crisis.
With transportation accounting for 70% of our oil consumption, we must do more to avail ourselves of alternative energy sources which can be used in other areas where energy is needed. Solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy – all are sources which can help provide energy in the field of electricity and heating. And, we must do more to restructure our transportation habits to become more efficient and effective.
We are facing a monumental task in changing our paradigm of energy usage, but instead of asking why do we have to change, why not emulate the “Greatest Generation” by asking how we can change. We should view our energy crisis right alongside World War II, victory gardens, and the man on the Moon.
Let us return to a time when we asked “what can we do for our country” and not “what can our country do for us.” We can and must rise to the challenges that we have so often faced as a Nation, and we must succeed – our very future rests on our success in not asking why but in asking how.