I still remember what I was doing when I heard about the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was 40 years ago today and I was playing in a pickup basketball game with some old teammates. We had taken a break and I walked outside the gym and turned on the radio in my car . . . and heard the amazing news. Later that evening I saw the video and couldn’t believe it. I stood outside that night staring at the moon trying to imagine what it must be like to be standing up there looking back at Earth. And I wished I could have been there.
The next day at my summer job (I was working on a crew building a section of I-10 in Spanish Fort, Alabama) I couldn’t wait for the lunch break when I got to sit and talk with our resident guru, Solomon. Solomon was in his 70s, still working as hard as ever, and every day at lunch he would regale all us younguns with stories. At lunch that day I asked Solomon what he thought about the moon landing. He didn’t hesitate in replying: “It didn’t happen.”
What? Solomon, what do you mean it didn’t happen?
“It. didn’t. happen. No suh. Didn’t happen.”
Solomon, it was televised. We all saw it. How can you say it didn’t happen?
“Two reasons. First, remember, the earth and the moon, they both movin. You ain’t tellin me that the first time you shoot at something like this, you’re gonna hit it.”
I had to admit, I’d not thought of that.
“Second, they said that camera that showed them walkin on the moon and all, that camera cost 3 million dollars, they said. And they said they left that camera on the moon. Now, are you gonna tell me you’d leave a 3 million dollar camera behind?”
It’s the closest I’ve ever come to believing a conspiracy theory.
Solomon never believed that the moon landing ever happened. Neither did my grandfather. “They did it all on a TV set in Arizona,” he said. “You young people believe everything they tell you and everything you see. Just because it was on TV doesn’t mean it really happened.”
I was reminded of Solomon (and my Pawpaw) when I saw that there are still those around who refuse to believe that men walked on the moon. It’s funny but there’s something to learn from this.
I used to think that Solomon and my grandfather were just stubborn and naive, unwilling to embrace the new technologies and unwilling to conceive of the new possibilities which lay ahead of us. But I’ve come to appreciate their reluctance to believe anything they saw or heard. They had a perspective that used to be common, but now is practically lost altogether. I don’t mean that I think they were right about the moon landing. I do believe we really did make it there. But I’m talking about their reluctance to believe everything they saw on TV or heard on the radio or read in the newspapers.
There once was a very healthy skepticism regarding what was reported by the media. The older generation knew how easy it was to be deceived and misled by reports AND how difficult it is to get the whole story. They knew that some men lie. Even reporters. Even governments. They may have been stubborn and unreasonable at times, but I think their skepticism was much healthier than the attitude we see all around us today — i.e. if it’s on TV (or in the newspaper) it must be true. Solomon and my grandfather rejected the saying “seeing is believing.” They knew that wasn’t always the case.
At that point both Solomon and my grandfather were on to something. And I guess that makes me appreciate conspiracy theorists. As wacky as they sometimes are, we need them around. They serve to remind that sometimes the media do indeed misrepresent things in an attempt to mislead us. Sometimes. And even governments have been known to do the same. So, as we commemorate the Apollo 11 feat, let’s also remember to give thanks for all those who remind us not to be too gullible in regard what we see and hear. Seeing ain’t always believing.