When Neil Armstrong planted his foot in the lunar soil fifty years ago today was it an "Invasion"? The question may not be quite as ludicrous as it first appears.
The distinction between exploration and invasion has, at times, been a fine line indeed. Many famous discoverers have also been military men. Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec Empire. Captain Cook, a captain in the Royal Navy, was the first European to discover Hawaii where he was killed in 1779 by the indigenous people. Lewis and Clark were officers in the US Army as well as explorers.
Spielberg's 2018 film First Man about Neil Armstrong almost completely ignores his military background. But, in fact, Neil Armstrong comes from a long line of Fighting Celts stretching from William Wallace to Douglas MacArthur (101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur is coming soon!). Armstrong was a naval aviator who served during the Korean War flying off of carriers such as the USS Essex. He flew 78 combat missions during the conflict. He was forced to eject from his Grumman F9F Panther after either being hit by anti-aircraft fire or striking a pole or cable (accounts differ). Lieutenant Armstrong earned numerous decorations including three Air Medals and two Gold Stars.
Armstrong clearly planted the American flag on the lunar surface. Some would construe this as an imperialistic gesture.
At the time of the moon landing the United States was engaged in a brutal and tragic war in Vietnam that would claim over 50,000 American lives. Reports from Vietnam preoccupied the media of the day alongside coverage of NASA's Apollo 11 program.
The American Space program was also a major propaganda component of the Cold War duel with with the Soviet Union. Landing the first men on the moon was a major American propaganda coup that riveted the world's attention.
In our 2014 book, America Invades, we detailed American military involvement in nearly every country in the world. The only three countries we seem to have missed entirely are Andorra, Bhutan and the principality of Liechtenstein!
So, at the end of the day, was Neil Armstrong an American invader of the moon?
I would argue that, fundamentally, the moon landing was, despite some military aspects, NOT an American invasion. In America Invades "we decided to define an 'American invasion' as an 'armed attack or intervention in a country by American forces.'" Well, clearly the moon is not a sovereign nation. No fighting took place on the moon. There are no "moonlings" whose rights might have been trampled. The only moon dwellers to be disturbed by the arrival of Eagle One were...some rocks.
At the end of the day, Armstrong was not really a conqueror like Cortés or even Captain Cook. The 1969 Moon landing was perhaps no more of an invasion than Juan de Bermúdez' 1505 arrival in the uninhabited island of Bermuda.
Armstrong's step onto the moon was, as he described it, "a giant leap for all mankind."
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