‘Apollo 11’ Recalls True American Greatness

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For those benighted souls who are offended by MAGA hats, the very last thing in the world they want to see is America’s last contact with greatness—our manned missions to the moon.

I mean, heart-bursting, lump-in-your throat greatness.

The kind of greatness so many of us grew up with as part of the background noise of our lives. Seeing the equivalent of a controlled nuclear explosion propel a 360-foot tall, six-million-pound vehicle to a speed of 18,250 miles per hour in a matter of minutes will choke you up.

Yes, we did that. On our spare time. As a gesture.

That’s greatness.

But what did the Left make of the 1960s? A loaded buffet of trashy pop culture, racial tensions, submission to the childish pieties of a semi-literate “activist” class, and an endless diet of self-loathing that is, in retrospect, nothing if not neurotic in the extreme.

It’s time we take the culture back, as adults with a higher mission. And “Apollo 11” reminds of the kind of unifying moral altitude that all Americans, indeed all humans, were thrilled by and which today’s antinomian Left abhors.

The Apollo program was the capstone of our collective military-industrial effort to fulfill President Kennedy’s 1961 challenge, “to land a man to the moon, and bring him safely back” before the end of the decade.

As such, it was, to be sure, not a scientific quest but a political stunt. Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8, said it clearly: “I think that most people think that it was, you know, just a voyage of exploration and discovery . . . but it was indeed a battle in the Cold War.”

“Apollo 11” is a narrator-less documentary: an objective stitching together of the major events of the Apollo 11 mission, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in July, drawn from mostly never-seen-before archival footage.

From rolling the giant Saturn V rocket out to the launch pad to the ticker tape parades months later, this movie balances the chronology with telling and intelligent captions—identification of key players, description of key metrics ranging from heart rates to vehicular velocities, and simple cues about what the machinery might be doing at any given time.

Those of us who remember these heady days in the summer of 1969 will get emotional at the archeological quality of daily life a half-century ago—the clothing, the hairstyles, the cars, and the daily routines before “smartphones” . . . hell, before telephones became ubiquitous! Think: miniskirts, muscle cars, newspapers, bell-bottom pants, bandana kerchiefs, and old-school cameras.

Playing across the carousel of our private lives, the vast public spectacle of Project Apollo was offered up as a noble and heroic effort, something that initially drew our attention to a weakness in ourselves that we sought to correct—our scientific and technological backwardness in the face of the incredible string of Soviet space “firsts” that started with Sputnik in 1957 and continued with Yuri Gagarin’s first orbital mission in 1961 and Alexei Leonov’s first space walk. We were squarely behind the proverbial eight ball.

But we caught up in record time. By the time of Apollo 8’s circumnavigation of the moon in December 1968, we began to pull ahead.

And the space race changed more than our perception of ourselves, it also impacted culture: our feeling for the value of things took on a new dimension. We saw ourselves once again as a pioneering race, taking it to the universe. Manifest Destiny writ large across the Milky Way. It affected the way we designed things, thought about the relationship between objects, how we saw ourselves in the universe, and even how we had breakfast—remember Tang?

The audacity of the project. That was great. Bordering on the ludicrously optimistic. Fully 400,000 Americans were enjoined in the effort.

But walking out of the theater, I was struck by what a class act we used to be: the three men who made that journey thanked everyone else. They were the tip of a very long spear, and they knew it. The people involved were keenly aware of the fact that this was a team effort, that individual excellence was primary criterion for team membership. The impulse wasn’t to brag, to celebrate a political cause, or a social “movement.” If anything, we see that it was the invocation of deity that signaled our once reflexive, common cosmology in the face of cosmological awe.

Audacity, humility, and uncompromising commitment to perfection.

This is the kind of effort that made America great to start with. It animated the Pilgrims and the settlers. Yet we decided to walk away from our achievement out of political fear. Today, half a century later, we can’t even get a single American into low Earth orbit. To the Left, that’s progress.

Make America great again. See this movie and you’ll know what kind of people we need to become once again, to take up the baton and thrust aside the weak sentimentalism, the putrid cult of victimhood, the endless self-indulgence, and the culture of immediate gratification.

See “Apollo 11” and be reminded of what kind of people we really are.

Photo Credit: Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images

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