If the moon landing “could not shake Europe out of its egoism and its pride in a great past, what event could?” asked West German foreign minister Willy Brant
Bold proposal +P ,WN[ 9GUV )GTOCP foreign minister (and later chancellor) Willy Brandt suggested expanding the ''% DG[QPF KVU original six members
I M A G E S
G E T T Y
Elsewhere, the War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt was seeing air and artillery con ict over the Suez Canal in the heaviest ghting in the region since the Six-Day War two years earlier. In July 1969 there was also the so-called Football War, when El Salvador invaded Honduras, a move sparked by riots at a World Cup qualifying match between the two countries. It lasted less than ve days, and the name of the con ict made it sound trivial, but thousands were killed, most of them civilians, and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes.
Worse yet, the previous year had seen civil war break out in Nigeria, where the oil-rich south-eastern state of Biafra had declared itself independent, against the wishes of the central government. By July 1969, the ghting had ground to a military standstill, but the government’s blockade of the rogue state was having a terrible impact, leading to claims that famine was being used as a weapon. Already, it was estimated, a million Biafrans had starved to death, and there was no end in sight. Images of emaciated children had begun appearing on British television screens in what was to become an all too familiar appeal for aid. e one positive outcome from an appalling event was that lessons were learnt for dealing with future humanitarian emergencies; the organisation Médecins Sans Frontières emerged from the crisis.
Visions of the future And meanwhile the greatest revolution of the Cold War era went virtually unnoticed. For years, American scientists had argued that if a missile strike by the Soviet Union took out the telephone system, o cial communication would come to a halt. e solution, it was proposed, was a decentralised network linking together government computers. In July 1969 the University of
California, Los Angeles – one of the institutions working on the project – issued a press statement announcing the creation of this grid, and in October the rst message was sent across the network. ere were just four computers linking up in what was then named ARPANET, but this, it has been argued, was the birth of the internet.
July 1969 saw an important anniversary in its own right, one that also presaged the future. In a speech marking the 25th anniversary of the failed July plot to assassinate Hitler, Gustav Heinemann, the newly installed president of West Germany, controversially dismissed attempts to see the Nazis as an anomalous episode in the country’s history. “ e ird Reich was not an accident,” he said, “and not the result of unem-
ployment or the Treaty of Versailles.”
Star man David Bowie’s early work provided proof that some Britons at least were in tune with the space age
Instead he identi ed a much longer strand of violent nationalism and an unquestioning attitude to authority. And as if to prove his point, the speech provoked protests, with swastikas being daubed on the memorial to the plotters.
Heinemann’s argument was that nationalism had to be jettisoned entirely: “A German who has national interests at heart can today only be a European,” he asserted. Willy Brandt, then West German foreign minister and soon to become chancellor, was keen to extend this vision for the whole of Europe, particularly in light of the moon landings: “If this event could not shake Europe out of its egoism and its pride in a great past, what event could?” Perhaps, he suggested, part of the answer lay in a swi resumption of negotiations with Britain and others to expand the EEC beyond its original six member-states.
at implied a hope that Britain might play a key role in the modernisation of Europe, which was possibly over-optimistic. Certainly the television coverage of Apollo 11 gave no indication of such a future. On 24 July the splashdown of the command module, Columbia, was carried live by both of the major broadcasters, but then normal service was resumed. On ITV there was the Miss Great Britain contest from the Locarno Ballroom, Portsmouth, while BBC One went over to the Royal International Horse Show at Wembley Stadium.
On the other hand, the previous week had seen the release of David Bowie’s rst hit single, ‘Space Oddity’. Pop music, at least, had embraced the space age.
Alwyn Turner is a cultural and political historian. His books include Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s (Aurum, 2008)
+P KVU #WIWUV KUUWG QWT UKUVGT OCIC\KPG BBC History Revealed will be exploring 50 of history’s ITGCV NGCRU KPENWFKPI VJG OQQP NCPFKPI historyrevealed.com