If your holiday get-togethers included a college student home for "Winter Break" fretting about professors preaching that America is land of inequality, founded on genocide and slavery for the benefit of corporations and imperial militarists -- and that all this Christmas stuff violates the secular founding of our diverse nation — I have an essential ingredient to include in a second semester care package.
Michael Medved's The 10 Big Lies about America: Combating Destructive Distortions about Our Nation is a beautifully reasoned, well-argued defense of America that would be a welcomed lifeline for any beleaguered college or high school student fed up of feeling defensive about loving his country.
As Medved states in the introduction, his primary purpose is to give Americans the knowledge needed to celebrate their great nation without guilt or apology. The impetus of his project was the infamous "Seattle Letter," in which public school teachers were advised to avoid at all costs teaching about Thanksgiving in any traditional way. Instead, teachers were to tell students that Thanksgiving is a time of "mourning," and it should be a time to remember Europeans' "theft" from and "extermination" of the land's native populace.
"How,' Medved asks, "did cherished occasions of joy and gratitude become the focus of anguish and controversy?" Later, he points out, "We worry about anti-Americanism here at home, but parrot its primary charges here at home."
Why do they hate us? In Guests of the Ayatollah, Mark Bowden points out how many of the Iranian radicals who took over the American embassy in Tehran were educated in liberal American universities.
In Orwellian fashion, this self-loathing is now what the Left calls "true patriotism," and our pop culture and mainstream media broadcast its precepts all over the world. If that's not really why they hate us, it sure gives them a good excuse.
The 10 Big Lies that Medved tabs as the primary sources of unjustified American guilt are:
1. "America was founded on genocide against Native Americans
2. "The United States is uniquely guilty for the crime of slavery and based its wealth on stolen African labor."
3. "The Founders intended a secular, not a Christian nation."
4. "America has always been a multicultural society, strengthened by diversity"
5. "The power of Big Business hurts the country and oppresses the people"
6. "Government programs offer the only remedy for economic downturns and poverty"
7. "America is an imperialist nation and a constant threat to world peace."
8. "The two-party system is broken, and we urgently need a viable third party."
9. "A war on the middle class means less comfort and opportunity for the average American."
10. "America is in the midst of an irreversible moral decline."
It's appropriate that Medved opens with myths about the Indian wars and slavery, as the lies about each are widely accepted by Americans. They are the twin libels behind what Shelby Steele calls the "white guilt" that drives modern liberals. These chapters also contain the arguments that are most likely to make liberals see red.
The Dances with Wolves mythology -- the idea that Indians were at one with nature and their fellow natives -- has been the template for everything from national historical sites to textbooks for years. Medved starts by demolishing the notion that American tribes were largely peaceful before the white man began his wars of extermination to steal the land.
Medved points out that it is not unusual for archeological digs of ancient sites to resemble exhumations of modern war crimes, with stacked skulls and even evidence of cannibalism. And tribal warfare didn't stop with the arrival of Europeans -- the Indians continued to slaughter each other on a regular basis, which contributed mightily to the success of the settlers.
While it's true atrocities happened on both sides, Medved makes an argument I had not heard before: Nearly every infamous atrocity by whites followed a much-publicized massacre by Indians. He also observes that only one side in the conflict -- the whites -- ever punished those who committed murderous acts.
Medved takes to task those who use the word "genocide" to describe what happened in North America, pointing out that the word has a specific legal meaning — and that it doesn't include the unintentional, and inevitable, communication of disease between two pre-antibiotic cultures.
Especially useful is Medved's dismissal of the once marginal and now widely accepted myth that Europeans intentionally spread smallpox to the Indians by selling them blankets infected with the diseases. Medved reveals the main source material for this myth is idle (and minor) chatter in letters between two Redcoats during the French and Indian War.
As for the discussion of slavery, Medved shows that today's rhetoric about the "peculiar institution" is completely out of control.
For years, "moderates" have contended, "Why not issue an apology for slavery? What can it hurt? If mere words can help us reach racial reconciliation, what is the harm?"
In the apology Congress issued for slavery's existence in America is the claim, "Slavery in America resembled no other form of involuntary servitude known in history, as Africans were captured and sold at auction like inanimate objects or animals."
Congress approved this false and ignorant statement on a voice vote so no one would have to be responsible for it other than the 120 "bipartisan" co-sponsors. Meanwhile, anyone who tries to "place America's slave-owning experience in an accurate historical and international context" -- i.e., slavery began thousands of years before the country's existence and continues to this day -- is immediately accused of defending slavery, Medved reports. But that doesn't stop him.
Medved goes beyond illustrating that American slavery was by no means the harshest of its times; he also directly attacks the "legacy" of slavery charges, which, along with the above apology, are the basis for the Reparations Movement.
Slave societies from the Confederacy to Islamic nations lag behind modern capitalist economies. Slaves did not build the foundation of the United States, Medved writes; rather, it was an economic drag on the Deep South states.
But more importantly, the modern United States is the inheritor of the Union, which paid for its moral place on the slavery question with an awful lot of blood.
Meanwhile, Islamic societies were responsible for a lion's share of the slave trade into modern times and probably today, Medved says. Memorably, Medved demonstrates the exquisite irony of black Americans taking Muslim names as a sign of empowerment because English names are "slave names."
When George W. Bush was elected, the secular Left warned that theocracy was right around the corner. Medved dispatches with such nonsense with historical examples. Many founding populations in America, he writes, did not come here to practice tolerance but for the right to found communities that practiced their particular brand of Christianity. Even the most secular-minded of the Founders were sanguine about a mix of church-state involvement that goes beyond anything James Dobson is promoting today.
Medved defends the United States against the charge that it has an imperialist nature (a bugaboo of the Left for decades), and he's right that America is not by nature an expansionist conqueror in the sense leftist critics claim. The U.S, is not a threat to world peace; instead, Medved writes, it tends to be the guarantor of peace.
As Medved points out, the U.S. does not go to war to hold and colonize territory, as examples from Mexico to Germany and Japan to Iraq make clear However, as Robert Kagan points out in Dangerous Nation, to get from sea to shining sea, the U.S. had to buy, occupy and conquer territory from foreign countries, and dealings with the Indian nations could also be considered "foreign policy."
The premise of Leonard Wibberly's farcical novel, The Mouse that Roared, which was made into a Peter Sellers movie, was right, Medved notes. The best way for a nation to be rebuilt and modernized was to conduct -- and lose -- a war with the United States.
On the other hand, it is when the United States surrenders or retreats, whether it be Vietnam or Somalia, that mass murder is generally the result.
Medved takes on several liberal populist economic and political myths, illustrating that upward mobility from poverty to the "middle class" has been part of the American story since its founding, despite mythological attacks from oppressive Big Business and a supposed lack of support for the poor.
The demise of the two-party system is certainly a widely accepted myth for both the Left and the Right, and it's interesting that Medved includes this in a defense of America. But while it may not be un-American to complain that "the two-party system is broken, blah blah blah," it is generally made by people who are appealing to cheap cynicism or trying too hard to look hip and intelligent.
Lastly, Medved addresses a lie about America told by conservatives — particularly religious conservatives. Rooted in the nearly universal when-I-was-a-kid fallacy of setting social norms, there is a grain of observational truth to this one. It is undeniable that private morality slouched toward Gomorrah in the 1970s as compared to the '50s. It is conversely probably true that public morality in many areas has improved.
However, Medved argues that we have certainly come a long way since the late 1800s, when up to 1 out of 6 women in New York City was a prostitute. Moreover, Medved makes a convincing statistical case that the pendulum of social norms is swinging back toward, well, the normal, in many areas of life.
When your kids ask you, "Why does history matter?" this book provides the answer. Nearly every Big Lie about America is rooted in the ignorance of where we have come from and how we got here.
For a book that provides potent ammo for verbal combat -- and which never shies away from controversy-- the primary feeling one takes away from 10 Big Lies is not anger at those who disparage America, but pride in what it means to be an American.
Even if you think you know all this stuff already, 10 Big LiesAbout America is a great read and a worthwhile refresher course on defending your country.
This is a book I predict will be around for many years as a terrific tool for parents and students confronting the nattering negative nabobs of instruction.