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Doug Haaland

American Exceptionalism Lands on the Cutting Room Floor

“For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.”

President John F. Kennedy – Rice University September 1962

The soon to be released biopic titled, “First Man,” has produced widespread controversy with the decision by filmmakers to eliminate the scene of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag on the surface of the moon. One of the central questions surrounding this controversy is why would anyone be surprised that Hollywood needs to leave the concept of American exceptionalism on the cutting room floor?

The landing of Armstrong and Aldrin in the Sea of Tranquility was set in motion by the vision expressed by President John F. Kennedy in his “Urgent National Needs” speech in May 1961, before a Joint Session of Congress. President Kennedy chose to focus the nation on this monumental task during the Cold War, in part, as a response to the Soviet Union’s perceived lead in the “Space Race.”

In fact, just three days before the launch of the Apollo 11, the USSR tried to “steal the show” with the launch of its Luna 15 moon probe. It was generally seen as an attempt to overshadow America’s moon mission and maintain the USSR’s space exploration image on the world stage. Unfortunately for the USSR, Luna 15 never delivered its mission of collecting and returning lunar samples. Instead of “landing” on the moon’s surface, Soviet technicians lost control of the craft and it crashed on the lunar surface.

Actor Ryan Gosling, born 12 years after the celebrated landing, and film director Damien Chazel, born 17 years later as well, exhibit a truly profound ignorance of the historical importance of the purloined flag ceremony. They also seem to lack the reflective clarity necessary in making such works of a historical and biographical nature as meaningful as the times they depict.

From the outset, President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon and return them safely wasn’t offered at the United Nations. It was in front of the combined elected representatives of the American people. Mr. Gosling contends that the achievement “transcended countries and borders.” He also stated, “I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it.”

What this Canadian actor has chosen to ignore (or maybe never learned) is the Soviet Union, with its seven “satellite” nations, were pitted against the United States on many levels. In fact, just 17 months after President Kennedy’s speech, the USSR would bring the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon with the placement of nuclear-capable missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from the United States.

Unfortunately, contrary to Mr. Gosling’s opinion, the accomplishments of Armstrong and Aldrin did transcend “countries and borders” and they were absolutely intended by President Kennedy to be American triumphs. Then, as now, our nation is made up of many nationalities, but we all remain, Americans. As a result, it was American talent, American resources, and American technology that landed Americans on the moon. Not just once, but six times while the Soviet Union could only shoot satellites at it and never landed a man on the moon!

Mr. Gosling also told the London Telegraph reporter that he didn’t think that Mr. Armstrong “…viewed himself as an American hero.” To be honest Mr. Gosling, the American people who lived through those awe-inspiring times could care less what you think about how our “Hero” viewed himself. That’s because heroes seldom view themselves in such ways, since to do so would be thought of as very narcissistic, sort of like actors.

While this actor has been busy “pretending” to be a particular person in front of the camera, he fails to understand the nature of the heroism or even the hero he is cast to portray.

What’s missing from his lofty perch above the teeming masses is we, the American people, determine what’s heroic and who’s a hero. Whether it’s a soldier on a battlefield giving his last full measure for his fellow man, a first responder rushing into a burning building, or someone simply doing his best to be a Dad or Mom to their son or daughter, it is “We the People” who reserve the right bestow the title “Hero.”

If Hollywood continues to rewrite the history of our country, its heroes and their amazing deeds it may be best if they wait for all of us who have lived through the experiences to leave the “stage of life.” Especially since Hollywood seemingly fails to comprehend the difference between “…a hostile flag of conquest” and “…a banner of freedom and peace.”

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