Arthur Herman: Neil Armstrong’s America

Arthur Herman is a former professor of history at Georgetown and George Mason Universities.

Most of the commentary about Neil Armstrong’s death on Saturday celebrated his being the first man on the moon, and rightly so. I’d like to remember him, however, for what he did right here on earth. His life and character embodied key virtues of our culture that made this country great, and can do so again — if we just believe in and embrace them the way Neil Armstrong did.
First, there were the traditional small-town virtues of the Ohio town where he was born in 1930 and raised. That was where his father followed the career that’s the butt of every late night comedian, as an accountant, and Neil became what every liberal activist now despises, an Eagle Scout. But small-town didn’t mean small horizons then any more than it does now. Neil’s greatest dream was to fly, and he earned his pilot’s license before he learned how to drive.
Then there was the United States Navy, where Neil trained as an aviator and flew 78 combat missions in the Korean War. He always said those missions were far more dangerous than anything he did as an astronaut or test pilot; they were certainly more important in terms of shaping his outlook on life. The Navy taught him the importance of friendship, but also the discipline to deal with the pain when those friends crash and die. Combat “builds a lot of character,” he once told an Australian interviewer. “It builds a lot of backbone.”
It certainly did....

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