In the 1950s and 1960s, Tom Lehrer was a well-known muscian,composer, satirist, and mathematician. As a teenager, I became aware of him through a satirical TV show, ”That Was The Week That Was.” I found his cleverness both endearing and heartbreaking in our politically complicated post-World War II environment.
Also during the 1950s and 1960s, I dreamed of building rockets and flying and experiencing weightlessness. First, post-war test pilots like Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover and Scott Crossfield became my heros—and then astronauts Alan Shephard, Gus Grissom and John Glenn entered the picture. As a young teen after the Kennedy Assassination, I became obsessed with the drama, the creativity, the sheer joy of the ”space race.” And of course, with that genius, Wernher von Braun.
Looking back, I am amused at my early ignorance and naiveté that a German scientist —at least partially responsible for the many bombs that fell on England in the years before I was born—was now considered one of the “good guys.” Apparently, I was not alone. When Tom Lehrer began performing this song, naiveté and confusion sent me to old newspapers and magazines. There I learned what was behind the complicated post World War 2 era. From concentration camps and mass murder—the more I learned the more confusing it all became. Allegiance, loyalty and post war bitterness had melted away in the face of a new goal…beating the Russians into space and failing that, beating them to the moon. Political expedience trumped everything. Whoa!
And so, when I first heard this song, it captured perfectly my convoluted understanding of who exactly were the good guys and the bad guys. How come they were so mixed up? I’m still not sure when to hold them or when to fold them…that may be a different song, but that one’s confusing too.