Much has been written about Director Damien Chazelle’s decision not to include the planting of the American Flag on the lunar surface in his Neil Armstrong biopic, “First Man.”
The director himself has argued that his decision was not political, but artistic.
“My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America’s mission to the moon … I wanted the primary focus in that scene to be on Neil’s solitary moments on the moon …”
Not having seen the film, and knowing Chazelle to be a nuanced storyteller whose focus is often on the small, human moments and not on plot, I see no reason not to take this argument at face value.
But whatever the filmmaker’s motive, it is star Ryan Gosling who has most fueled the controversy, stating that the Apollo 11 mission to the lunar surface was not so much an American accomplishment as it was a “human achievement.”
“I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it …”
Of course, Gosling is correct that Armstrong’s triumph was a giant leap for mankind, not just for Americans, but where he makes his mistake — and he is certainly not alone — is in seeing the two as mutually exclusive.
The lunar landing was, in fact, a human achievement, but it was achieved by a very specific set of humans — Americans.
It is not unique in this regard. Almost every major human achievement of the last two-plus centuries, and that represents the majority of all human achievements in all of history, has been American.
That’s not coincidence.
Rather, what Gosling and so many like him fail to see is that America is the achievement — the greatest of all human achievements. The achievement from which most subsequent achievements have sprung forth.
America represents the culmination, to date, of all of mankind’s best ideas. From before history itself, to Babylon and Ur, down through Jerusalem and Athens and Jerusalem again, from Rome to Runnymede to Wittenburg to London and Edinburgh, all of the hard-won knowledge and wisdom gleaned from centuries of struggle and hardship, trial and tribulation, converged in Philadelphia in an experiment as much scientific as political. The control was every other society in human history. The result, overwhelming and conclusive.
All men are created equal with unalienable rights from God himself. Limited government, unlimited individual opportunity. Freedom to think and believe and act, to speak and protest and report, to defend yourself and your family against even the state itself. The chance to obtain property that is yours. These are the ideas that put a man on the moon, and that have done so much more.
These notions, conceived by and revealed to men from all over the world have, in America, all but defeated war, disease, poverty and death. They have brought to life most all of the splendid advancements of modernity. And most of what America hasn’t directly created was made by those living in America’s protection.
Our own Ben Shapiro points out that President Kennedy himself declared America’s race into space was a nationalist action on behalf of all of humanity, saying:
We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding. Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first.
In their race to seem open-minded and kind, men like Gosling deny the greatest of miracles yet attained by man. It would be as if a company created a cure to cancer, and rather than celebrate it, or even take the medicine, sick men the world over would belittle, deny, undermine and attack the breakthrough — dying and allowing others to die of what has been cured, and hoping that those who are well will join them in their ailment.
And yet, a cure for cancer, like a footstep on the moon, is inconsequential compared to what America has already achieved on behalf of humankind.
In a sad irony, the flag Armstrong and Aldrin planted in the Sea of Tranquility is thought to have been blown over when the LM blasted off of the lunar surface. It lies now, covered in moondust, unseen even if someone had the will and the eyes to see it.
Sadder still is that they don’t.
Our flag is the human flag.