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 Subject:       Speech by Charlton Heston at Harvard   Speech by Charlton Heston at Harvard 

Winning The Cultural War  Harvard Law School Forum  February 16, 1999   

I remember my son when he was five, explaining to his kindergarten class  what his father did for a living. 'My Daddy,' he said, 'pretends to be  people.' There have been quite a few of them.  Prophets from the Old and  New Testaments, a couple of Christian saints, generals of various  nationalities and different centuries, several kings, three American  presidents, a French cardinal and two geniuses, including Michelangelo.   If you want the ceiling re-painted I'll do my best. There always seem to  be a lot of different fellows up here.  I'm never sure which one of them  gets to talk.   Right now, I guess I'm the guy.  As I pondered our visit tonight it struck me: if my Creator gave me the  gift to connect you with the hearts and minds of those great men, then I  want to use that same gift now to re-connect you with your own sense of  liberty ... your own freedom of thought ... your own compass for what is  right.  Dedicating the memorial at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln said of America,  'We are now engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether this nation or  any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.'  Those words are true again.  I believe that we are again engaged in a  great civil war, a cultural war that's about to hijack your birthright  to think and say what resides in your heart.  I fear you no longer trust  the pulsing lifeblood of liberty inside you  ... the stuff that made  this country rise from wilderness into the miracle that it is. 

 Let me back up.  About a year ago I became president of the National  Rifle Association, which protects the right to keep and bear arms.  I  ran for office, I was elected, and now I serve ... I serve as a moving  target for the media who've called me everything from 'ridiculous' and  'duped' to a 'brain-injured, senile, crazy old man'. I know ... I'm   pretty old ... but I sure Lord ain't senile.   As I have stood in the crosshairs of those who target Second Amendment  freedoms, I've realized that firearms are not the only issue.  No, it's  much, much bigger than that.  I've come to understand that a cultural war is raging across our land,  in which, with Orwellian fervor, certain acceptable thoughts and speech   are mandated.  For example, I marched for civil rights with Dr. King in 1963 -- long   before Hollywood found it fashionable.   But when I told an audience last  year that white pride is just as valid as black pride or red pride or  anyone else's pride, they called me a racist.  I've worked with brilliantly talented homosexuals all my life.  But when  I told an audience that gay rights should extend no further than your  rights or my rights, I was called a homophobe.  I served in World War II against the Axis powers.  But during a speech,  when I drew an analogy between singling out innocent Jews and singling  out innocent gun owners, I was called an anti-Semite.  Everyone I know knows I would never raise a closed fist against my   country.  But when I asked an audience to oppose this cultural  persecution, I was compared to Timothy McVeigh.  From Time magazine to friends and colleagues, they're essentially   saying, 'Chuck, how dare you speak your mind.  You are using language  not authorized for public consumption!'  But I am not afraid. If Americans believed in political correctness,  we'd still be King George's boys-subjects bound to the British crown.

 In his book, 'The End of Sanity,' Martin Gross writes that 'blatantly  irrational behavior is rapidly being established as the norm in almost  every area of human endeavor. There seem to be new customs, new rules,  new anti-intellectual theories regularly foisted on us from every  direction.  Underneath, the nation is roiling.  Americans know something  without a name is undermining the nation, turning the mind mushy when it  comes to separating truth from falsehood and right from wrong.   And they  don't like it.' 

 Let me read a few examples. At Antioch college in Ohio, young men   seeking intimacy with a coed must get verbal permission at each step of  the process from kissing to petting to final copulation ... all clearly  spelled out in a printed college directive.  In New Jersey, despite the death of several patients nationwide who had   been infected by dentists who had concealed their AIDS --- the state  commissioner announced that health providers who are HIV-positive need  not. .. need not ... tell their patients that they are infected. 

 At William and Mary, students tried to change the name of the school  team 'The Tribe' because it was supposedly insulting to local Indians,  only to learn that authentic Virginia chiefs truly like the name.  In San Francisco, city fathers passed an ordinance protecting the rights  of transvestites to cross-dress on the job, and for transsexuals to have  separate toilet facilities while undergoing sex change surgery.  In New York City, kids who don't speak a word of Spanish have been  placed in bilingual classes to learn their three R's in Spanish solely  because their last names sound Hispanic.  At the University of Pennsylvania, in a state where thousands died at  Gettysburg opposing slavery, the president of that college officially   set up segregated dormitory space for black students.  Yeah, I know ... that's out of bounds now.  Dr. King said 'Negroes.'  Jimmy Baldwin and most of us on the March said 'black.'  But it's a  no-no now.  For me, hyphenated identities are awkward ... particularly   'Native-American.' I'm a Native American, for God's sake.  I also happen   to be a blood-initiated brother of the Miniconjou Sioux. On my wife's  side, my grandson is a thirteenth generation Native American ... with a  capital letter on 'American.' 

Finally, just last month ... David Howard, head of the Washington D.C.  Office of Public Advocate, used the word 'niggardly' while talking to  colleagues about budgetary matters. Of course, 'niggardly' means stingy   or scanty.  But within days Howard was forced to publicly apologize and  resign.  As columnist Tony Snow wrote: 'David Howard got fired because some  people in public employ were morons who (a) didn't know the meaning of  niggardly,' (b) didn't know how to use a dictionary to discover the   meaning, and (c) actually demanded that he apologize for their  ignorance.'  What does all of this mean?  It means that telling us what to think has  evolved into telling us what to say, so telling us what to do can't be  far behind. 

Before you claim to be a champion of free thought, tell me:  Why did  political correctness originate on America's campuses? And why do you  continue to tolerate it? Why do you, who're supposed to debate ideas,  surrender to their suppression?  Let's be honest.   Who here thinks your professors can say what they  really believe?   It scares me to death, and should scare you too, that the superstition of political correctness rules the halls of reason.  You are the best and the brightest.  You, here in the fertile cradle of  American academia, here in the castle of learning on the Charles River,  you are the cream.  But I submit that you, and your counterparts across  the land, are the most socially conformed and politically silenced  generation since Concord Bridge.  And as long as you validate that ... and abide it ... you are-by your  grandfathers' standards-cowards. 

Here's another example.  Right now at more than one major university,  Second Amendment scholars and researchers are being told to shut up  about their findings or they'll lose their jobs. Why?  Because their  research findings would undermine big-city mayor's pending lawsuits that  seek to extort hundreds of millions of dollars from firearm   manufacturers.  I don't care what you think about guns.  But if you are not shocked at  that, I am shocked at you.  Who will guard the raw material of  unfettered ideas, if not you?  Who will defend the core value of  academia, if you supposed soldiers of free thought and expression lay  down your arms and plead, 'Don't shoot me.'  If you talk about race, it does not make you a racist. If you see  distinctions between the genders, it does not make you a sexist.  If you  think critically about a denomination, it does not make you  anti-religion.  If you accept but don't celebrate homosexuality, it does  not make you a homophobe. Don't let America's universities continue to serve as incubators for   this rampant epidemic of new McCarthyism.  

But what can you do?  How can anyone prevail against such pervasive  social subjugation?  The answer's been here all along. I learned it 36 years ago, on the  steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., standing with Dr.  Martin Luther King and two hundred thousand people.  You simply ... disobey. Peaceably, yes.  Respectfully, of course.  Nonviolently, absolutely.  But when told how to think or what to say or  how to behave, we don't.  We disobey social protocol that stifles and  stigmatizes personal freedom.  I learned the awesome power of disobedience from Dr. King ... who  learned it from Gandhi, and Thoreau, and Jesus, and every other great  man who led those in the right against those with the might.  

Disobedience is in our DNA. We feel innate kinship with that disobedient   spirit that tossed tea into Boston Harbor, that sent Thoreau to jail,  that refused to sit in the back of the bus, that protested a war in Viet  Nam.  In that same spirit, I am asking you to disavow cultural correctness  with massive disobedience of rogue authority, social directives and   onerous law that weaken personal freedom.   But be careful ... it hurts. Disobedience demands that you put yourself  at risk.  Dr. King stood on lots of balconies.  You must be willing to be humiliated ... to endure the modern-day   equivalent of the police dogs at Montgomery and the water cannons at  Selma.  You must be willing to experience discomfort.  I'm not complaining, but  my own decades of social activism have taken their toll on me. 

Let me  tell you a story.   A few years back I heard about a rapper named Ice-T who was selling a CD  called 'Cop Killer' celebrating ambushing and murdering police  officers.  It was being marketed by none other than Time/Warner, the  biggest entertainment conglomerate in the world.  Police across the country were outraged.  Rightfully so, at least one had  been murdered.  But Time/Warner was stonewalling because the CD was a  cash cow for them, and the media were tiptoeing around it because the  rapper was black. I heard Time/Warner had a stockholders meeting   scheduled in Beverly Hills. I owned some shares at the time, so I  decided to attend.   What I did there was against the advice of my family and colleagues. I  asked for the floor.  To a hushed room of a thousand average American  stockholders, I simply read the full lyrics of 'Cop Killer'-every  vicious, vulgar, instructional word.  I GOT MY 12 GAUGE SAWED OFF  I GOT MY HEADLIGHTS TURNED OFF  I'm ABOUT TO BUST SOME SHOTS OFF  I'm ABOUT TO DUST SOME COPS OFF... It got worse, a lot worse.  I won't read the rest of it to you.  But   trust me, the room was a sea of shocked, frozen, blanched faces. The  Time/Warner executives squirmed in their chairs and stared at their  shoes.  They hated me for that.  Then I delivered another volley of sick lyric brimming with racist  filth, where Ice-T fantasizes about sodomizing two 12-year old nieces of   Al and Tipper Gore.  SHE PUSHED HER BUTT AGAINST MY ....'  Well, I won't do to you here what I did to them.  Let's just say I left  the room in echoing silence.  When I read the lyrics to the waiting  press corps, one of them said 'We can't print that.'  'I know,' I  replied, 'but Time/Warner ís selling it.'  Two months later, Time/Warner terminated Ice-T's contract.  I'll never  be offered another film by Warners, or get a good review from Time  magazine.  But disobedience means you must be willing to act, not just  talk.   When a mugger sues his elderly victim for defending herself ... jam the  switchboard of the district attorney's office.  When your university is pressured to lower standards until 80% of the  students graduate with honors ... choke the halls of the board of  regents.  When an 8-year-old boy pecks a girl's cheek on the playground and gets hauled into court for sexual harassment ... march on that school and  block its doorways.   When someone you elected is seduced by political power and betrays you ...  petition them, oust them, banish them.  When Time magazine's cover portrays millennium nuts as deranged, crazy  Christians holding a cross as it did last month ... boycott their  magazine and the products it advertises.  So that this nation may long endure, I urge you to follow in the  hallowed footsteps of the great disobediences of history that freed   exiles, founded religions, defeated tyrants, and yes, in the hands of an  aroused rabble in arms and a few great men, by God ís grace, built this country.  If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree.  Thank you.

 

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