I am very much looking forward to seeing First Man, which features Ryan Gosling playing iconic American astronaut Neil Armstrong during the moon landing mission.
I am even looking forward to it despite the strange decision by the movie’s producers to omit the part of the moon landing where Armstrong plants an American flag on the moon.
Here’s how Gosling, a Canadian, described the reasoning behind the decision:
Gosling, who’s Canadian, argued that the first voyage to the moon was a “human achievement” that didn’t just represent an American accomplishment, and that’s how Armstrong viewed it.
“I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it,” Gosling. “I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”
Gosling added, “He was reminding everyone that he was just the tip of the iceberg – and that’s not just to be humble, that’s also true. So I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil.”
I get it. Heck even Armstrong’s famous quote – “one giant leap for mankind” – is an acknowledgement that the achievement was something bigger than nationalism.
And let’s not forget that the movie business is, you know, a business. Hollywood studios make a lot of money from the foreign box office. Making a movie about an iconic moment in American history a little less American is likely a smart money move.
That being said, why ignore the very real history behind why America when to the moon in 1969 which is represented perfectly by Armstrong putting an American flag, and not some more international symbol, on the moon?
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]There’s a reason why only one country in the world has been to the moon.[/mks_pullquote]
Armstrong himself addressed the reasoning behind the use of the American flag, as opposed to a United Nations flag, shortly before his death in 2012. He said it wasn’t about our nation staking a claim, but recognizing that it was our nation which reached the moon: “In the end it was decided by Congress that this was a United States project. We were not going to make any territorial claim, but we were to let people know that we were here and put up a U.S. flag,” Armstrong told the Telegraph.
Congress likely made that decision because the space race itself, culminating in the moon landing, was the product of a hyper-nationalist competition with the Soviet Union. We wanted to beat the Russians. When we did, we planted a big old American flag up there to make the point.
We won. They didn’t. That’s history.
The argument for omitting the planting-the-flag part of the moon landing is that it will somehow diminish audience appreciation for the overall human endeavor involved.
I find this hard to believe. Are there people in the world unaware that this was an American mission? Is the accomplishment less human because the humans who accomplished it happened to be Americans?
In this era where patriotism is perceived widely as jingoism we often forget what has made America so great. Our unique system of government, coupled with the societal values about liberty and independence our country has (imperfectly) aspired to since its founding, has allowed for a degree of prosperity which made something like the space program possible in the first place.
There’s a reason why only one country in the world has successfully landed a manned mission on the moon (six times!). That’s worth acknowledging, even if some today find it distasteful.