A half century ago signs of strain and cracks in the American imperium showed up in grainy, rough designs.
The Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagrine circled the earth, marking another step in the advances of the USSR's sciene. A winning smile, a seemingly pleasing personality won him worldwide admiration. His 'first man in space' thumbed the Soviet's nose at its arch rival the US, which Nikita Khrouchtchev in the best of one upmanship during his visit to America, promised to 'bury'. And should that since Moscow launched 'Sputnik 1' in 1957, US science lagged behind, it seemed.
In response the new youthful president JF Kennedy promised that the US would be first to land a man on the moon, thereby upping the ante in prestige and outlay of money.
The Bay of Pigs brought shame and failure. The poorly thought through strategy to topple Fidel Castro sent ripples throughout the underdeveloped world [later called 'Third World'], theatre of the CIA's dirty war against anything that smelled of socialism or communism.
In 1961, the US through its army of spooks managed to do away with Patrice Lumumba who had the audacity to put his people's interests before his former colonial masters Belgium and the capitalist standard bearer of the world, the US. And through the willing agency of Lumumba's rivals, he was killed along with UN secretary general Dag Hammerskjold in a shallow grave in Moise Tshombe's copper rich Katanga province. Mark one for the US as it manoeuvred to weave newly decolonising African countries into its web of exploitation.
And it was also in 1961, Kennedy, who in recasting US diplomacy by imbedding CIA spooks in US embassies and coopting university elite and students, the press and labour unions, as well as anti Communist left wing organisations and parties, committed a fatal mistake: he sent in the first contingent of Green Berets as 'advisors' to South Vietnam to crush the Viet Cong. Everyone knows what that lead to and the push it gave the US down the slippery slope of long decay as world power.
Now 50 years later, Gagarine remains a hero at home and abroad. Lumumba's assassination proved a Pyrrhic victory for Congo remains a mess and theatre of ongoing tribal fighting and foreign marauders.
Cuba remains a thorn in the US lion's side and Castro star has never tarnished, in spite of the US embargo and propaganda war.
And Vietnam is reunited, and the open wounds of the undeclared US war continues to plague America.