Tuesday, 12 April 2011

War by other means

The anniversary of the first man in space - Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin - is being celebrated not just by nostalgic  Stalinists but also in some unlikely places - with praise for Gagarin's proletarian origins or with wonder at the achievements of a 'planned ecomony'(albeit in a deformed workers' state).

But I just can't bring myself to join in this romantic view of the desire to 'boldy  go where no man has gone before'. Because you can't separate space exploration from the political context any more than you can detach adventures in the  exploration of the 'dark continet' from the brutality of the race for empire. As imperialism goes it doesn't get much more distasteful that the cold-war-by-other-means that was represented by the space race - culminating in the ultimate absurdity of sticking the stars and stripes in the moons surface and then going home again.

The thought that this represented some sort of pinnacle of  human achievement when at the same time as it was rushing to the stars, the Soviet Union was sending its own people to the gulags - or  the United States was busy  bombing an impoverished ex-colonial nation 'back into the stone age' -  is all rather obscene. 

As far as Yuri Gagarin  himself goes - by all accounts was a lovely chap from humble origins - but at the risk of repeating previous posts I'm afraid social mobility is no more evidence of social progress in space than it is here on earth.

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