Jay Holtzman: What exactly was that ‘giant step for mankind?’

  • In this July 16, 1999 file photo, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, left, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin field questions in a replica of an Apollo mission control room at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. AP photo

Published: 7/10/2019 6:45:12 PM

*This letter has been corrected to reflect that Neil Armstrong said the famous quote.

A letter to Neil Armstrong on the 50th anniversary of his heroism:

Dear Neil, 50 years ago you said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” And so, Dear Neil, 50 years later, what exactly was that giant step for mankind?

For me, on that momentous occasion, as a psychiatric resident in rural Massachusetts, I was sitting next to a chronically schizophrenic man with a confused self-identity who, as your boot touched the lunar surface, turned to me and said, “Do you think this lipstick is too bright?” Omniscient young physician that I was at that time, I thought “how sad that this mentally ill man cannot partake of this moment of human glory.”

Now, as I regard children taken from their parents who are taking desperate risks to give their children the most basic elements of safety, only to have them placed in American concentration camps; Buddhists in Myanmar murdering Muslims for some unclear rationalization other than being “the other;” dictators all over the world and their attendant technocrats reaping vast sums of money and power while sowing dissension and racial and class “road rage” among the poor “slobs” working to fill their obscene coffers, I have to ask you, Dear Neil, what exactly was that giant step for mankind?

Was that psychotically self-absorbed schizophrenic man right on target to realize that your giant step was meaningless in the evolution, or as it now may seem, the devolution of-mankind? As we celebrate the memory of your “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” true heroism of helping “mankind” take steps that lead to kindness, acceptance, peace and acting for the welfare of others seems as far away as the man on the moon.

Jay Holtzman


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