Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Wright Brothers

David McCullough has taken the popular biography and made an art of the endeavor. The Wright Brothers is no exception. McCullough captures the kind of unbridled optimism that most of us associate with American in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The United States was just emerging as a world power, it had a young, energetic president, and a spirit of inventiveness and entrepreneurship ruled the day.

This is the world we like to think when we conceptualize the Wright Brothers. They were white, male and Protestants. They were not people of color, or Jews, or woman. They were not poor. Without those 'marks' they were free to compete and win at the American game of inventiveness.

And they attacked the problem of manned flight like priests engaged in a holy crusade. They let nothing stop them -- living only for flight. They were oddly asexual. There is not a hint that either Orville or Wilber every exercised a sexual impulse. They did not have a families to support or mouths to feed. They worked on their planes.

Their invention would evolve, and one day drop atomic weapons on Japan, carpet bomb North Vietnam, and so on. But it would also make the world a much smaller place, helping to usher in our global age. Like nearly every human invention, their work produced a double edged sword.

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