Eclipsed by the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings and the passing of Sen. John McCain last week was a controversy around the upcoming film First Man. Scheduled for an October release, the film depicts the efforts of American astronaut Neil Armstrong as he becomes the first man to set foot on the Moon.
Pre-release reviews of the film are highly positive with one exception. After making his famous first step, Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin placed an American flag on the Moon, an event that was deliberately left out of the film. Aldrin took offense about the omission and expressed his displeasure via social media.
Ryan Gosling, the Canadian actor portraying Armstrong, responded that he felt that depicting the American flag planting was not inclusive enough for the audience. Gosling calls the Apollo 11 mission and Moon landing a human achievement. Aldrin must feel like the kid who makes MVP in little league on his own talent only to later discover that the MVP award goes to every player on his team, on the opposing team and all of the spectators.
Gosling does not grasp that Armstrong falls in the same lineage as Columbus, Magellan, Drake, Boone, Lewis, Clark, Lindbergh, Earhart and countless other explorers who risked life and possessions to step out into the unknown. Explorers tend to plant their country’s flag when they reach their destination.
Robert Peary planted the American flag at the North Pole in 1909. Roald Amundsen planted Norway’s flag at the South Pole in 1911. Sir Edmund Hillary planted a Union Jack atop Mt. Everest in 1953. Hillary also placed a cross. Imagine the teeth gnashing from Gosling if Armstrong had done that. Armstrong and Aldrin planted the American flag on the Moon in 1969.
By 1972, public interest began to wane in the lunar landings. The Apollo 17 mission late that year carried the last Americans to walk on the Moon. The age of Moonwalking had ended. At least until Michael Jackson resurrected it in the 1980’s in videos shown on MTV – a new music channel whose opening graphics included a takeoff of Armstrong planting an MTV flag on the Moon.
1972 brought the ending of the Apollo missions and the beginning of my formal education. These two events intersected the day that our first-grade teacher showed us scenes of the Apollo 17 mission on the classroom television. I cannot recall if the broadcast came from SCETV or a commercial station. In any event, no one can say that us rural scholars up at Skyland Elementary School were behind the times.
This classroom remembrance came to mind as I watched a clip from the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings sent to me by a friend (yes, my friends are that boring). The clip featured Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) discussing how our federal government should work. During his remarks, he made reference to the confirmation hearings being a “School House Rock” moment where teachers could use the hearings to explain to students the balance of power between Congress and the Supreme Court.
Sen. Sasse must not understand the difficulty of inserting his hearings into the public school daily lesson plan but he does have a point. Our secondary students display a fundamental ignorance or lack of interest in how our government works. Should their lack of interest be laid at the feet of public education? Maybe.
Teachers may not be able to use the confirmation hearings as a teaching aid but they still teach American civics to our students as required by state law. Unlike mathematics where axioms and proofs are inherent to subject, the proper study of American civics requires the teacher to emphasize the reasons that the American system of government stands above those of other countries. Civics class should be where students begin to learn about American exceptionalism. Encouraging belief is inherent to learning the subject.
College students today study in a much more agnostic environment than other generations. Not agnostic in a religious sense (though that may certainly be the case), but agnostic in a secular sense of being indifferent or having no opinion about a point of view or idea, especially those involving historical or social issues.
Consider how college students do not understand the necessity of free speech. In a 2017 Knight-Gallup survey 56% of students surveyed said protecting free speech rights was very important. 52% of the same group said that promoting diversity and inclusion was very important. When asked which idea was most important, 53% chose diversity and inclusiveness over free speech.
Historically, the First Amendment was held sacrosanct even within liberal academic institutions. Why then has college student support for free speech fallen dramatically in recent years? The blame falls on those tenured liberal college professors who ridicule belief and refuse to acknowledge that without free speech, diversity would never be achieved.
The attacks on our individual rights protected in our Constitution are not limited to academia. When progressives take office, they attack any part of government that encourages exceptionalism – individual or American.
Since its creation during the Eisenhower administration, the American space program has carried the flag of American exceptionalism. Whether it was the flag planted on the Moon or on the side of one of our Space Shuttles, the world knew that America’s influence extended beyond the atmosphere.
Every president since Ike supported NASA’s role in military defense and space exploration. Even President Jimmy Carter helped develop a key plank of American space policy: the right of self-defense in space. The only exception was President Barak Obama. Staying true to the progressive’s disdain for exceptionalism, when Obama took office his administration did its best to ruin NASA. He radically changed their long developed exploration policy. He cut their budget, killed the development of a new spacecraft, changed their long-term manned mission of landing on Mars to landing on an asteroid and decided that our astronauts should ride with the Russians when we wanted to visit the space station. Some might say that he exhibited pure lunacy.
Earlier this year, NASA announced a new Moon exploration initiative to build a lunar gateway platform for a manned trip to Mars. The Trump administration, as promised, restored the agency to its former purpose.
In the final analysis, Buzz Aldrin was right to be outraged. Omitting the American flag-planting event from a film about the first Moon landing was a twisted piece of revisionist fiction. The Moon landing was not meant to be inclusive. America did not spend treasure and risk American lives for a “human achievement.” We did it as a defense measure against the Soviets and to command control of space. We also shared the scientific knowledge gleaned from the flight. In both cases, the flight was a “human benefit.”
Ryan Gosling should remember that America has landed men on the Moon six times. No other country, commonwealth, empire or union has done so even once. Which explains why the American flag stands alone on the Moon.