VI. Argumentaire de Daniel Boorstin en faveur de la construction du National Air and Space Museum (1971).

Les extraits qui suivent sont tirés d’un discours rédigé par Daniel Boorstin, ancien directeur du National Museum of History and Technology et nouveau directeur de la Bibliothèque du Congrès, avant que le Congrès ne vote le financement de la construction du musée en 1971. Le discours s’adresse au secrétaire de la Smithsonian Institution, Dillon Ripley, et à Barry Goldwater, un des meilleurs soutiens du musée au Congrès. Il a probablement été prononcé au cours d’un événement organisé pour faire la promotion du musée.

Source : Daniel Boorstin, « How Exploring Space Helps Us to Rediscover America », 1971, S.I.A., record unit 337, box 9, folder : « SI National Air and Space Museum ».

Mr. Secretary, Senator Goldwater.
My presence here I think requires some explanation. I am here in my role as historian and can hardly add anything to the knowledge of space or the understanding of the special history of our space enterprises which is here in this room. But there is a special reason this afternoon to consider the
place of the space effort in history. For we are tempted to see space exploration only in a framework of newspapers, newsmagazines, television programs or in the bureaucratic world of legislation and government procedures. I would like for a few minutes to remind us of the meaning of space exploration in the larger frame of our history. I will try to suggest the grand and peculiar significance of space exploration for Americans and therefore to offer some of the special reasons why a National Air and Space Museum is needed and some of the meanings it should have for Americans and for the world.
First I will note how the exploring of space fits into the historic American opportunities and traditions. Then I will suggest why today especially we need the intellectual and spiritual lift which comes from exploring space and therefore why we need the National Air and Space Museum.
We can characterize much of the American past as the fulfillment of the exploring spirit. It is a mistake to think of the exploring of space as an appendage to our past. In a sense not true of any other modern nation we have been an exploring nation. In America, exploration and growth have been synonymous. The settlement of our nation, unlike others, has been contemporaneous with the exploring of our land. The frontier which many have used as a hallmark of our history has been simply another name for the boundaries of the unknown. Much of the greatness, the optimism, the energy and the boldness of our country has come from this peculiar way of growing. In fact, the people who built America were not afraid to plunge into the unknown, to live on the edge of the unknown. They delighted and prospered in exploring the unknown. […]
The exploring spirit has expressed faith in the unpredicted and the unpredictable. Its theological form was a belief in divine providence expressed by George Washington and by many of his successors in his office. It was once said that the best evidence that a divine providence watched over the American people was the Presidents whom the American people have survived. This was said, by the way, at the time of the election of Abraham Lincoln. The secular form of this faith in the unpredicted and the unpredictable was the booster spirit. Americans have been willing to buy stock in the future and to postpone benefits – partly because our American future has always seemed to merge so conveniently into our American present. An optimistic 19th century writer expressed our common view of the future when he said that we should not be afraid to assert the facts of the grand American future simply because they have not yet “gone through the formality of taking place”.
The American nation has grown not by conquest but by exploration. The modern nations which built empires in the recent centuries based them, for the most part, on conquest. The Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, the British and the German empires were efforts to grow and become powerful by adding areas of known value which would produce known commodities. In England, for example, at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, there was a large party which preferred to
take the two tiny islands of Guadeloupe from the French in place of Canada because Guadeloupe was a known quantity producing valuable tropical goods and Canada was a massive unknown. The United States, however, has grown by exploring, by discovering the values in a new world and in unknown areas.
Much of the vitality of American civilization in our century will depend on our ability to translate this exploring spirit, this enthusiasm for the unknown into later 20th century terms. This is not easy to do. We see some evidences of it in the spectacular recent growth of “Research and Development”. Now “R&D,” which has become the major enterprise of American business, is really a symbol in the world of industry of our quest for the unknown and the unpredicted.
But at the same time many of the peculiar influences in American civilization in our day have tended – in fact the very successes of American civilization in the 20th century have tended – to dampen or dilute the exploring spirit, the spirit which would be celebrated in a National Air and Space Museum. The fantastic and unpredictable successes of our civilization have, among other effects, produced the following consequences in our daily lives.
First, there has been what I would call the neutralization of risks. Some of the more obvious factors in this have been the growth of the welfare government and the improvement of medicine and public health. A symbol of the neutralization of risks which has not been sufficiently noted has been the rise of insurance. Unemployment insurance, health insurance and (less noticed although psychologically of equal importance) casualty insurance. […]
At the same time the triumphs of American industry have led to what I would call the decline of the miraculous. We have seen the erasing of the regions in food, the erasing of seasons in our diet by the rise of canning, refrigeration, and deep freezing. Then, too, the erasing of seasonal climates by central heating, which European travelers noted even in the middle of the 19th century, and in our time by air conditioning, which makes it possible for us to be warmer in winter than we would be in summer and cooler in summer than we would be in winter. Finally, the erasing of space itself by air transport and radio and television has further eroded our sense of the miraculous. […]
Finally, as a result of these and other factors there has been the crowding of the continent. The global view closes in. We must go in search of wilderness, which is another name for the unpredicted and the uncontrollable. A consequence of all this in our time has been a certain flattening of experience – a dilution of the sense of spontaneous adventure. Even words lose their exciting old meanings. When we are told that a new real estate development will be “An Adventure in Suburban Living”, that means that it will have everything that we already expect it to have. Is this – the fulfillment of advertised expectations – what we mean by “adventure” today ?
We note everywhere a decline of the risky, a decline of the unpredicted, a decline of the unknown.
But space exploring will keep alive and stimulate the traditional American exploring spirit. A National Air and Space Museum can help remind us Americans of this spirit and can develop our pride in that spirit. By helping us depict and dramatize the uncertainties, the risks and the hopes of space exploring, it can help us keep alive some of our oldest traditions, the traditions of community, the tradition of risk-taking, of unknown-seeking. It can dramatize all our community efforts, for our moon-shots are, of course, the greatest collaborative exploring efforts in our history.
In our paradoxical nation no paradox is more intriguing than the combination of our pragmatic practical spirit with our love affair with the unknown. It is appropriate that our new world should be the point of take-off for newer worlds. By moving into outer space we can effect a change in mankind’s point of view, we can lift man above the petrified world he knows, much as did Copernicus and his followers and the explorers to America in shifting from the geocentric to the heliocentric point of view. Now we direct man’s view towards the new continents of outer space in the discovery of new Americas.
Just as the shift which came with the discovery and settlement of America changed Old World thinking about the world and at the same time provided a new locus of experience, so will space exploring. It will keep alive and vigorous, dramatically and symbolically clear, the exploring spirit which is the American mission. […]