In an article citing the concerns of NASA administrator Bill Nelson, Business Insider highlights a problem described in terms so worrying the reader may have the impression it could even eclipse climate change. My choice of a verb here is appropriate, since the pressing issue covered in this article concerns what is literally the world’s greatest eclipse artist, the moon itself.
The earth’s only natural satellite was first conquered in a US American version of Mao’s Zedong’s “great leap forward” in 1969 when Neil Armstrong spoke his immortal words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The moon lost its virginity that day but never quite became mankind’s mistress as, after a series of manned exploratory missions, Luna for decades was left to tend to her own affairs.
During that flurry of visits, the US planted not one but several flags, presumably still in the name of mankind rather than the stars and stripes. Most of those star-spangled banners planted in the moon’s soil still appear to be standing, passing on a message to future explorers not dissimilar to “Kilroy was here.” The hope never really existed that those flags might someday serve their usual mission on earth of inspiring crowds by “gallantly streaming” in the evening breeze or “the dawn’s early light.” For the moment there is a dearth of spectators on the moon to “proudly hail” the flags. Moreover one can hardly count on the moon’s unique source of a breeze – the solar wind – to animate a piece of cloth made rigid for the needs of an ephemeral photo shoot..
So, if there has been very little concrete action since the last manned mission to the moon in 1972, why did Business Insider feel compelled to share with its reader this interview Bill Nelson? What is the compelling drama we need to know about? Very simply, Nelson wants us to understand, before it’s too late, that evil people – clearly the enemies of the US – may be up to no good with Lady Luna, the princess of the night.
The threat, this time, isn’t coming from Russia, but, even more ominously, from the true designated enemy in the new Cold War: China. Nelson describes the crisis in these terms: “It is a fact: we’re in a space race. And it is true that we better watch out that they don’t get to a place on the moon under the guise of scientific research. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they say, ‘Keep out, we’re here, this is our territory.’”
Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary innovates by offering a pair of definitions that will be given to the term in its edition of the year 2223:
- A competition that emerged in the 1950s – following the Soviet Union’s successful launch of a manned Sputnik satellite – that served at the time to excite the media, as it was touted to be the factor that could prove whether capitalism or communism is the best social and political system for humanity. It was revived more than six decades later, in the early 21st century, when hyperreal nostalgia for the original Cold War began to dominate the news cycle in the US.
- A term used to describe the new branch of the human race quickly evolved beginning in the late 21st century, created by the diminished gravity of Mars and space itself. The race is sometimes referred to as the Muskian ethnicity. It lost its ability to interbreed with humans after a mere three generations after being recognized as a biological reality.
Pardon my impertinence, but how is this a news story? How can Business Insider waste its readers’ time and attention on an article that does nothing more than cite one man’s musings, clearly designed to inspire fear of an eventuality that, in reality, does not appear to be in “the realm of possibility.”
Neither Nelson nor the author of the article, Kate Duffy, bothered to mention a small but significant detail: that a 60 year-old international agreement on the exploitation of outer space actually puts such an eventuality beyond the realm of legal possibility. Here is what the the UN’s Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) announced as recently as 2017: “UNOOSA and China are reiterating their shared commitment to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, as well as underlining the significant contributions that space activities can make to sustainable development.” UNOOSA’s Director Simonetta Di Pippo added this statement: “I greatly appreciate China’s contribution to international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space and its ongoing and wide-ranging support of the Office’s activities.”
Moreover, in a note at the very end of the article, Duffy admits that she made no serious effort to back up Nelson’s accusation or put it in perspective. “NASA,” she admits, “didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment, made outside normal US operating hours.” Just as she didn’t have the time to research the existing law on the exploitation of space, neither did she have the time to get a second possibly corroborating opinion.
The article nevertheless reveals why Nelson had every reason to refrain from mentioning UNOOSA. Towards the end of her piece, Duffy indirectly reveals Nelson’s connection with Elon Musk. “NASA is working with Elon Musk’s SpaceX on the Artemis 3 mission.” She quotes Nelson again: “I ask the question every day: ‘How is SpaceX’s progress?’ And all of our managers are telling me they are meeting all of their milestones.” Not to mention the fact that evoking the threat of China’s future turpitudes is the most reliable recipe for obtaining the requisite budget from Congress. For their taxpayer-supplied funding, NASA and SpaceX are joined at the hip.
Would it be naïve to think that this article was designed to serve three purposes: PR for SpaceX; an appeal for funding NASA; and the kind of now standard fear mongering against China that the coterie of cold warriors populating the national security state are constantly stoking for a variety of hegemonic reasons? Business Insider has the pretension of being a serious journal addressing an audience of serious decision-makers. This kind of shoddy, pandering and fundamentally dishonest journalism can only be explained, appropriately enough, by specific “insider” interests or the journal’s propensity to promote the national security complex’s ill-defined but always aggressive agenda… perhaps in exchange for other favors.
This concern for protecting various parts of earth’s seas and the solar system itself, reflects a longstanding pattern in Washington’s foreign policy. With the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the US established an important precedent: its right to prevent other countries from meddling in places it has designated as reserved for its own meddling.
By the end of the 19th century, the US understood that it had exhausted its potential for continental expansion. This followed a period lasting 75 years dedicated to realizing its divinely ordained mission of “manifest destiny.” The US had become a coast to coast nation. Mission accomplished, true enough, but spiritual vocation unfulfilled.
That’s when, in 1898, President William McKinley realized that a convenient, easily winnable war with Spain would allow the nation to keep manifesting its destiny, this time by acquiring territory outside its own borders. Some of this territory was in its own backyard: Cuba and Puerto Rico. An even richer trove was on the other side of the Pacific ocean: notably the Philippines and Guam. This windfall turned out to be the perfect complement to the American annexation of Hawaii a few years earlier.
The victory in the Spanish-American war also provided the key to securing the right to construct and then operate the Panama Canal. This produced spectacular consequences for the US economy and world trade. The US effectively controlled two of the earth’s major oceans.
Bill Nelson’s concern thus appears justified by what he knows and understands about US history. If the US could act in such a way, it’s natural for any American to think that China will behave the same way, this time in space. But by adding the clause “it is not beyond the realm of possibility,” he nevertheless appears to admit that there is no evidence that China has any such intentions. He’s right, if we could do it, the Chinese could do it, even if treaties exist to prevent it from happening. The conquest of the American continent was, after all, secured thanks to the propensity of successive administrations to ignore the terms of treaties established with the native populations.
For an enterprising American, the “realm of possibility” is a broad territory that any self-interested fearmonger, be they called Bill Nelson or Elon Musk, can become adept at exploiting.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]
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