Late last week, while reading The New York Times’ breathless tribute to Russian equality in space by Sophie Pinkham — that just so happened to be written on the 50th
anniversary of America’s — and mankind's — greatest achievement, the landing of men — free men — on the moon, I couldn’t help but be reminded of George Orwell: "The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history."
The overall contention of the Times story is this: while the United States of America beat the Russians to the moon and won the space race, the greater “equality” race was handily won by the Russians. This is evidenced by their rightfully positive achievement of putting the first woman, first Vietnamese man, and first person of African descent into space.
Pinkham has a gauzy, romantic propaganda photo on her webpage celebrating the Soviet Union, something The New York Times thought not relevant when publishing her fawning tribute to the Soviet space program. The Soviets were famous for rewriting history. Miss Pinkham has apparently embraced that aspect of the Soviet “culture.”
It’s true, that the Soviets did have these “firsts” among others. In fact, the Soviets were first in almost everything until 1965 when America finally surpassed them with the first orbital rendezvous, followed shortly by the first orbital docking in the Gemini program; two essential skills for reaching the moon. From then on, America owned the space race.
Could America’s space program have been more inclusive in the early days? Of course it could have been. To that end, when the first astronauts were chosen, it was none other than conservative activist, the late Phyllis Schlafly, who blasted NASA for not including any women or black Americans among the Original Seven. Schlafly was recently and meanly described as a “Pre-internet internet troll” and a generally miserable wife, by the puckish Pom, John Oliver.
Objectivity was not the goal of the article. The true point was revealed with Ms. Pinkham’s effusive ending sentence: “Cosmonaut diversity was key for the Soviet message to the rest of the globe: Under socialism, a person of even the humblest origins could make it all the way up.”
Ah yes, unlike the brutalist, capitalist, patriarchy of America where only the white males are lifted up, it is the socialist workers utopia of the Soviet Union where the American dream of rags to riches can truly be achieved. Some might not only call this incredibly ignorant, but embarrassingly so.
Let’s apply some basic logic here.
Valentina Tereshkova went into space in 1963. If the Soviet Union was truly committed to equality and diversity, why did it take 19 years for the Soviets to put the second woman into space and why were they the only two? Why did only one man of African descent fly in space? Why only one Vietnamese man? A second Vietnamese cosmonaut did serve as backup but died during a training accident.
If the point was to promote diversity and inclusiveness, why in the 30+ year history of the Soviet Space Program was it only white Russian Males, save those few individuals?
America’s first woman into space was the now famous Sally Ride, in 1983. That same year, the first African-American in space, Guion Bliford, also flew. From their 1983 flights to the end of the Soviet Space program, America flew more women and men of color into space than through the entirety of the Soviet Space Program. The year following the collapse of the Soviet Union, America put the first black woman into space, Mae Jemison on September 12, 1992.
In truth, there are more ways to measure diversity than simply sex or skin color. The original American astronaut corps had many forms of diversity. They all came from different hometowns, different colleges, different branches of the U.S. military, different religions.
America’s space program was more than just the astronaut corps; however, it was championed by our first Irish Catholic and a war hero president; computed by women, including women of color, and assembled by citizens of every race, color, and creed from across the country.
But, more importantly, over the course of the space program, can anyone recall anyone saying, “It was a bunch of straight, white males who conquered the Moon?” No. They said, “America conquered the moon.” In fact, longshoreman and philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “I’m just tickled to death that this thing is being done by squares, you know, average Americans, and not these pretentious intellectuals. Because, this is the great genius of the average American: they take something momentous and make an un-momentous thing out of it.” Hoffer was of course describing the essence of American Exceptionalism, which was not about propaganda but about accomplishment.
The truth is, the Soviet Union knew the value of propaganda; of disinformation. That securing key “firsts” would grant them political victories on the international stage. However, to take these maneuvers as irrefutable proof that the Soviet Union, and socialism by extension, was some beacon of racial and gender equality is so profoundly detached from objective reality that it boggles the mind. Directing people’s attention to things, like the veneer of equality, diverted people’s attention from what was truly important, like the oppression and enslavement of millions inside the Soviet Union.
Was the Soviet Union defending gender equality when it sent female political dissidents to labor camps in which brutal sexual assaults were rampant? Were they diverse when they engineered mass ethnic cleansings of “undesirables?” Were they looking out for the poor when they engineered the Holodomor: an intentional famine that left millions of Ukrainians to die of hunger? Was the Soviet Union enacting compassion when they targeted Jews for enslavement and execution?
For anyone entertaining the notion that the Soviet Union was anything but a brutal, violent regime where individual thought and dissent was mercilessly punished with horrifying efficiency and brutality, I invite you to read the work of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn or Applebaum, and learn the true cost of Soviet “equality.” While all those first cosmonauts were heroes, these propaganda victories were just that: propaganda: The false lure of a diverse workers utopia that never existed.
Until our pseudointellectual elites get around to understanding this, people should keep in mind the words of Ronald Reagan:
“The problem with our liberal friends isn’t that they’re ignorant, it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”
Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer and presidential historian. His books include, “Reagan’s Revolution, The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started it All,” “Rendezvous with Destiny, Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America,” "Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years," and “ Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan." He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, “December, 1941” and his new 2019 book, “Mary Ball Washington,” a definitive biography of George Washington’s mother. Shirley lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and the Reagan Ranch. He has been named the First Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater and will teach a class this fall at the University of Virginia on Reagan. He appears regularly on Newsmax TV, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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