One Small Step for Person, One Giant Leap for Personkind

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The day before Thomas Fleming offered his reflections on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, I offered mine at Takimag.  My focus was different from Dr. Fleming’s.  I used the anniversary to reflect on how and why America had declined since Neil Armstrong took that famous step onto the moon, and wished that “we could recover some of what we had in 1969, when American achievement seemed so natural.”

I should have known better than to celebrate the American past.  My piece came to the attention of two leftist bloggers, both of whom had the same reaction.  A blogger at the Philadelphia Weekly caustically described the moon landing as a “triumph that all white men can be proud of,” and said that I wrote about “the good old days, when we got to the moon and the astronauts were white dudes.”  The leftist who blogs at The Lost City wrote that I missed “the good old days, when astronauts were all-American, all male and all white.”  Significantly, my article mentioned neither race nor sex—it was enough that I praised an American accomplishment that had, in fact, been attained by white males.  Since it is difficult to square achievements like Apollo 11 with an ideology that insists that “diversity is our greatest strength,” one cannot be too enthusiastic about America’s real past without running the risk of committing a thought crime against diversity.

I did note that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were chosen for Apollo 11 “for the simple reason that they were the best men for the job, a criterion that today is often no longer enough, as Frank Ricci discovered.  Today’s NASA seems as interested in trumpeting its commitment to multiculturalism and diversity as in the exploration of space, a commitment that would have struck the men who actually planned and achieved multiple landings on the moon as simply irrelevant to what they were doing.”   Neither leftist disputed the truth of what I wrote:  The Philadelphia Weekly blogger conceded that “America’s first astronauts may well have been the best men for the job” and The Lost City blogger agreed that “Certainly Armstrong and Aldrin were the best test pilots and fighter pilots of their day.”

To my leftist critics, though, my skepticism of affirmative action was not just evidence of thought crime, it revealed my ignorance of what the leftist commitment to diversity is all about.  As the Philadelphia Weekly blogger wrote, “The point is not to let any person strap themselves into an Apollo module merely for the sake of having a Skittles rainbow of colors in outer space; it’s to ensure that all qualified people—no matter their race or gender—have such opportunities, and that people who have historically lacked the opportunity to get qualifications get that opportunity.”   And besides, The Lost City blogger noted, the example of astronaut Eileen Collins shows that today’s NASA is every bit as good as the NASA of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins.  (One wonders why The Lost World blogger did not rhapsodize instead about female astronaut Lisa Nowak, who last made the news when she was arrested for attempting to kidnap another female astronaut whom she saw as the rival for a male astronaut’s attention, while wearing a trench coat and wig and equipped with a BB gun, pepper spray, latex gloves, rubber tubing, garbage bags, an 8″ folding knife, and diapers.)

I know that I could never do what Eileen Collins has done, and would like to believe that she was selected to be an astronaut for the same reason the Apollo 11 crew were, but one of the principal defects of affirmative action is that, unfortunately, it creates doubts about whether excellence was the reason for advancement under it.  Especially when NASA administrators make comments like Deputy Administrator Shana Dale, who marked Women’s History Month in March 2006 by quoting the NASA Administrator as saying, “When I travel around NASA, I see a work force that looks like a profile of our Nation, and I am certainly going to do everything I can to make sure that it continues to be that way.”   The NASA Administrator’s comments came in response to a question about whether NASA “had any concerted efforts to ensure that the new employees coming on board are of a diverse nature.”  Dale added that NASA is “strongly committed to maintaining and increasing the diversity of NASA as we recruit [our] workforce” and noted that “In addition to what we can do at the top of the agency to encourage diversity at NASA, there is so much that can be done at every level to advance this goal.”  This is not the single-minded commitment to excellence that characterized Apollo 11.  It’s a commitment that leads, at worst, to discrimination against white men to achieve a “Skittles rainbow of colors in outer space” and, at best, to the diversion of resources that could better be used in NASA’s core scientific endeavors.

Thanks to NASA’s commitment to diversity, employees at NASA facilities are encouraged by the “Diversity Management Office” to attend lectures on “The Color Line Revisited: Is Racism Dead?” and the like as the agency annually observes Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and National American Indian Heritage Month.  This year, NASA noted that 1969 was more than the year of Apollo 11, it was also the year “when patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that was all too common for members of the LGBT community during that era.”  This tidbit was shared with all NASA employees on June 8, 2009, when acting Administrator Christopher J. Scolese declared June “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month” at NASA, and encouraged NASA employees to “participate in the activities planned at your NASA center . . . for LGBT Pride Month” and to “[t]ake time to learn about the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans, and celebrate the diversity that helped shape and strengthen NASA and our nation.”

This commitment to diversity also causes NASA to be ashamed of its own past.  Mr. Scolese would no doubt take a dim view of any astronaut today who talked about a “small step for man” and “giant leap for mankind.”  Indeed, the outside of the NASA research center in Cleveland contains a decorative border spelling out “For the Benefit of All,” with a blank spot where the letters that used to spell out “Mankind” have been removed.  One wonders how many blank spots will be left in our history books after they are fully conformed to leftist ideology, and if forty years from now students will know more about the Stonewall riot than they do about Apollo 11 and the America that gave birth to that remarkable achievement.

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