‘First Man’ erases US flag from historic moment in space race

Aldrin salutes flag on moon

If you’re old enough to remember how things were when you were young, it’s easy to sometimes wonder how artists revise or omit key moments in history. I was young when the United States won the space race with what was then the Soviet Union. I remember the day the US landed humans on the moon, and I remember astronauts working to plant the US flag. Now ‘First Man’, a film about that accomplishment starring Ryan Gosling is drawing controversy for erasing the US flag from the account. 

Gosling was asked why the filmmakers chose to omit the moment that for many Americans, manifested as a crowning moment:

“I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it,” Gosling said. “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.”

Gosling then made a joke about being Canadian. His answers make no sense, but that’s standard for Hollywood these days.

I don’t know a real hero who self-defines as a hero. That label is assigned by people who admire what a person has done.

I do know Gosling and his Tinseltown brethren are dead wrong about the “human achievement” part.

Landing human beings on the moon was viewed as a US victory, by politicians and by the public. At that time, it was acceptable to believe in your country’s greatness, unlike today.

Neil Armstrong went on the record about the landing, and his remarks are included in the story linked above:

“In the end it was decided by Congress that this was a United States project,” Armstrong once said of planting the flag, according to the Telegraph. “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 did credit others—his team at NASA.

The space race had been a topic for Americans since the administration of President John F. Kennedy. Two global powers, the US and the Soviet Union, were locked in that race and all of us realized the outcome had implications for national defense.

‘First Man’, the film Gosling stars in, is a joint production. One of the companies was founded by Steven Spielberg. Another of the companies is Perfect World Pictures, a company based in communist China.

It’s unforgivable to purport to recount a historic US achievement and not be truthful. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the flag. It does matter than it, at the time, was a key symbol of American success at a time when the government led us to believe we were locked in a strategic race with the communist regime in the Soviet Union.

If you’re going to recount history, don’t lie or erase key information.

As recounted by Craig Nelson in his book Rocket Men (2009), planting our flag was definitely a challenge:

“The toughest moonwalk task? Planting the flag. NASA’s studies suggested that the lunar soil was soft, but Armstrong and Aldrin found the surface to be a thin wisp of dust over hard rock. They managed to drive the flagpole a few inches into the ground and film it for broadcast, and then took care not to accidentally knock it over.”

There’s a gold mine for drama in that account. It’s too bad filmmakers opted for historical revision, quite possibly to please some of their money people who operate in a country where human rights are virtually nonexistent.

I’m beginning to think the only artists who can present the truth are indies, in music, film, and literature.

(Kay B. Day/Aug. 31, 2018)


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