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Archive for July, 2019

Fifty years ago today, I sat in front of our small, portable black & white television set – the only one we owned – and with my father’s camera, took photographs of the screen.

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It was a day like none before it and none since. In some way, all of humanity changed all at once; and together the hearts and minds of the whole population of Earth changed for the better. Together, in the midst and because of a single human endeavor, we were lifted higher. And we felt good.

Think of it. The one, singular event that brought Mankind together in agreement, in joyful fascination and thankful appreciation for something that WE created, chose to do, decided the risk was worth it, and accomplished  ~ this amazing thing that we had never been certain of before.

That year the Earth’s population was 3.61 billion. The United States’ population was 202.7 million.

Somewhere between 600 and 650 million people watched Neil Armstrong place the first human footprint on the Moon. In my memory I was alone, watching this amazing event unfold.

After my Dad had the pictures developed (remember, it took a week or so to get them back from Martin’s Photo Shop), I was excited to create my own little book. I shuffled them into the right order of events, and stapled them together.

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(Today I searched easily in YouTube for the video files of the very broadcast I was watching that day in 1969. I sat at my study desk and watched with renewed fascination the video that I snapped my pictures of fifty years ago. I compared the neckties of Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra to make sure it was the same. I compared the countdown clock superimposed on the screen. I compared the camera angle of the view of the Saturn V from the gantry. It was. Remarkable.)

 

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The primary purpose was simple, as NASA put it. “To put Man on the Moon.” Then Walter Cronkite spoke those words just about an hour before the Saturn V lifted off on launch day. Man. Not “a man”, but “Man”. Meant to represent ALL OF US. And at the time, I have no doubt we all believed it did.

I think virtually everyone from that day on, perhaps until recently, understood and accepted “Mankind”, which was meant to represent all humankind. Not hard to understand and not controversial. But every human endeavor is evolutionary in some way, and so, eventually, even perhaps our language. But not only that, but also our beliefs, our sensitivities, our definitions, our proclivities, our wishes, and desires, and on and on.

In recent years, too, Neil Armstrong’s words at that moment have been given more and more attention. Whether he said “Man” or “a man”.

Personally, I have no doubt as to his exact words; it is clear to me. But beyond that, it is of no significant consequence. It is, however, of great consequence that he spoke the words, but only of incidental interest to me beyond this. But I now have a greater concern that, by the way, I have yet to hear raised. That is the simple and undisputable fact that he said, “Man.”

I am concerned now, because of recent events concerning the acceptance or rejection of history. Will his word, or words be deemed morally wrong, unacceptable, being gender-specific? Will they be wiped, deleted, changed? Will it be taught to children that Armstrong should not have spoken those particular words? That it was immoral and insensitive?

 

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Do not be tempted to think this conclusion would be outrageous, a bridge too far.

Tam Sawyer’s and Huck Finn’s words have been deemed by The New Judges of Society as not only unacceptable, but now unprintable. Even though Samuel Clemens himself explained that just the right words are important, as they convey meaning, time, place, experience, and life as it was during that time, his very words have been changed.

Washington and Jefferson founded our Nation, but they owned slaves, so they are being removed, no longer acceptable nor respectable. It appears they too, may someday be deemed unmemorable. In the opinions of some, Lincoln didn’t fight publicly enough nor vigorously enough for blacks or against slavery, and his likenesses have been destroyed.

And what of our language?

The city of Berkeley, California will soon officially ban gender-specific words.

What if a city employee or anyone walking down the street utters such a word? Will they be fired, accosted, fined, beaten? Will a crowd gather and ridicule or attack them and beat and kick them all in the name of anti-fascism and equality and fairness? Would anyone today be naïve enough to say, “that would never happen”?

Robert E Lee fought for the Confederacy, but more than that, he fought for Virginia. Virginia was a slave state. After the war he was asked to serve as and accepted post of President of Washington College. That college became Washington and Lee University soon after Lee’s death in 1870. The school now continues to endure the pressures of evolution, such as the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the Lee Chapel, when black students in 2014 said the school was unwelcoming. Yes, a name change – of course – has been recommended by some.

It appears that those who are most troubled by the existence of some realities of our history have concluded the resolution is to remove and discard that history. But there is a fair warning to all those who wish to do so: You do so at your own peril. If you advocate that it be done to any one of your fellow citizens, you will likely be next.

History is very much established by evidence – it is the preserved record of past events and realities. If all evidence of the past is destroyed or otherwise put away, then it can eventually be denied altogether. Imagine, someday, someone will say, “The indigenous peoples of this continent were mistreated.” Or “Slavery was a terrible reality of the early United States.” Or “The men who led the armies of the South were morally wrong.” Or “The founders of our country were slave owners.”

And the response may someday be, “Prove it.” And there would be no proof, because the evidence – the historical record – would be no more.

Will this happen to Neil Armstrong?

Will his words be found to be hateful, exclusionary, too gender-specific to be acceptable and therefore changed to be all-inclusive? Will future children be taught they mustn’t speak that way? Will those words with particular intent be banned? Outlawed? Or must they be wiped from the historical record and all human experience? And where does the First Amendment come in? No matter. If we dispose of the evidence, it can all be denied. Where is the proof, afterall? Do not rule it out.

“Free at last, free at last. History has been revised, the record has been swept clean, the proof is no more. The Oppressors themselves have finally been set free.”

 

I hope that Neil Armstrong’s words remain as they were spoken fifty years ago, but I worry that someone will decide they are wrong now, so they were wrong then.

I guess in my innocence of that day and time when I was not quite eight years old, it was simpler. Today, I am trying to keep it simple. Just remembering and celebrating one of the single greatest achievements of Mankind, in all of human history. Fifty years ago today.

 

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I wrote about this a few years ago, not imagining that our historical statues and busts, even those of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, let alone Lee and Jackson, would be outlawed.  Certainly not considering seriously that some words we might choose would be officially banned and we would be scorned as hateful at worst and insensitive at best, all without regard for intent. I wrote about changing history for the sake of some sensitivities of today. It seems that perhaps the destruction of historical things will be eclipsed and the destruction itself will become the historical event. Little did I know how we would evolve.

Here are a couple of my related pieces:

Reading, Hearing, Understanding and Changing History and Ourselves

The Washington Redskins: What’s in a Name?

More reading on this and related subjects:

To Make It to the Moon, Women Have to Escape Earth’s Gender Bias, New York Times

Did we mishear Neil Armstrong’s famous first words on the Moon?

The audio of Armstrong’s first words on the Moon at full speed and half speed

NYT, WaPo Recall Racism, Sexism at NASA in 1960s: Saturday marks 50th anniversary of first moonwalk

Suit to purge ‘under God’ from pledge is over

Remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance

Is it right to destroy monuments over our dark past?

Vandals Are Destroying Monuments Because They’ve Been Taught To Hate America

Buddhas of Bamyan and their destruction by the Taliban

Ancient Sites Damaged and Destroyed by ISIS

Apollo 11 Launch, CBS

 

 

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