Charlton Heston Winning the Culture Wars Speech

Charlton Heston
Winning the Culture War
Ames Courtroom, Austin Hall, Harvard Law School
February 16, 1999

1     Thank you very much, both for that warm response to the introduction and the introduction.

2     You know, very often people with public faces are introduced with the simple phrase, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, a man who needs no introduction.” Believe me, you can always use a good introduction. No, no, no, you laugh, you laugh, but it’s true. I have a story that proves it, true story–didn’t happen to me, it happened to a friend of mine: Kirk Douglas. This was when Ben Hur was in release, more or less all over.

3     And Kirk said he was walking on a street near his home in Beverly Hills one evening after dinner when he was approached very politely by a stranger who said, “Excuse me, sir, I don’t like interfering in the private lives of public people but I cannot let pass this opportunity to tell you what a deeply moving, enormously creative performance you gave in Ben Hur.” And Kirk said, “Well thanks very much but that wasn’t me; that was another fellow.” And the man stood back amazed. He said, “Well if you aren’t Burt Lancaster, who the hell are you?”

4     So, I’m glad we’ve made it clear right at the outset that I’m not Burt Lancaster.

5     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.” Well that’s not bad, actually. That’s about it. 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’d like me to work on that ceiling, I’d be glad to do my best. Now, it’s just that there always seems to be a lot of different fellows up here, and I’m never entirely certain which one of them gets to talk. Right now, I guess I’m the guy.

6     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 I mentioned, 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.

7    Dedicating the memorial at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln said of America, “We are now engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether that 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 lives in your heart.

8     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.

9     Let me back up a little. About a year ago I became president of the National Rifle Association, which protects the right to keep and bear arms of American citizens. 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.

10     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, 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.

11     For example, I marched for civil rights with Dr. King in 1963–long before Hollywood found it acceptable, I must say. 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, throughout my whole career. 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’m talking about, I was compared to Timothy McVeigh.

12    From Time magazine to friends and colleagues, they’re essentially saying, “Chuck, how dare you speak your mind like that? 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.

13     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 country, turning the mind mushy when it comes to separating truth from falsehood and right from wrong. And they don’t like it.”

14     Let me read a few examples. At Antioch college in Ohio, the young men seeking intimacy with a coed must get verbal permission at each step of the process from kissing to petting to final, at last, 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 really like the name, “The Tribe.” 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 didn’t speak a word of Spanish had been placed in bilingual classes to learn their three R’s in Spanish solely because their own 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.

15     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 twelfth generation native American, with the capital letter on “American.”

16     Finally, just last month, David Howard, head of the Washington D.C. Office of Public Advocate, used the word “niggardly” while talking about budgetary matters with some colleagues. Of course, “niggardly” means stingy or scanty. But within days Howard was forced to publicly apologize and then resign.

17     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.”

18     Well, what does all this mean? Well, among other things, 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.

19     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? And 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? There’s a few. There’s a few. Yeah. That scares me to death. It should scare you too, that the superstition of political correctness rules the halls of reason.

20     You are the best and the brightest. You, here in this 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.

21     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.

22     Now, 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? Democracy is dialogue! Who will defend the core value of academia, if you the supposed soldiers of free thought and expression lay down your arms and plead, “Don’t shoot me.”

23     If you talk about race, it does not make you a racist. If you see distinctions between the genders, it does not make you 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. That’s what it is. New McCarthyism.

24     But what can you do? How can anyone prevail against such pervasive social subjugation? Well, 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.

25     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 in the Boston Harbor, that sent Thoreau to jail, that refused to sit in the back of the bus, that protested the war in Vietnam. In that same spirit, I am asking you to disavow cultural correctness with massive disobedience of rogue authority, social directives, and onerous laws that weaken personal freedom.

26     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. Now I’m not complaining, but my own decades of social activism have left their mark on me.

27     Let me tell you a story. A few years ago I heard about a rapper named Ice-T who was selling a CD called “Cop Killer” celebrating ambushing and murdering of police officers. It was being marketed by none other than Time/Warner, the biggest entertainment conglomerate in the country, in the world. Police across the country were outraged. And rightfully so–at least one of them had been murdered. But Time/Warner was stonewalling because the CD was a cash cow for them, and the media were tiptoeing around because the rapper was black.

28     I heard Time/Warner had a stockholders meeting scheduled in Beverly Hills. I owned some shares at Time/Warner at the time, so I decided to attend the meeting. What I did was against the advice of my family and my 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.

29     “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. Now, 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 lyrics brimming with racist filth, where Ice-T fantasizes about sodomizing the two 12-year old nieces of Al and Tipper Gore.

30     “SHE PUSHED HER BUTT AGAINST MY ….”

31     No, no, I won’t do to you here what I did to them. Let’s just say I left the room in stunned silence. When I read the lyrics to the waiting press corps outside, one of them said “We can’t print that.” ‘‘I know,” I said, “but Time/Warner’s selling it.”

32     Two months later, Time/Warner terminated Ice-T’s contract. Now I’ll never be offered another film by Warner Brothers, or get a good review from Time magazine. But disobedience means you have to 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, 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 then 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.

33     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’s grace, built this country.

34     If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree.

35     I thank you.

 

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Citations:
Heston, Charlton. “Freshman, Fads, and Freedom,” _The Shrine_ http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/Charlton_Heston_speech.html.

Freshman, Fads, and Freedom

 

The Pennsylvania State University — September 21,1999

1.  When he was five years old, my son stood up in front of his kindergarten class and summed up my life’s work very accurately. “My daddy,” he said. “Pretends to be people.” In this business of being someone you’re not, the “people” I’ve become have included kings, presidents, prophets, crusaders. Plus several cowboys, and three saints. But when those lights dim and the work’s over, you gotta go back to the real world, just like everybody else. Like anyone who actually earns a living under the lights, I learned from the artists that came before me.

2.  The recipe for good acting is a pinch of motivation and a thousand pounds of hard work. I think you’ll find that to be true in any occupation. The stage may seem glamorous when you view the finished product, but in fact what we do is reached through endless days that start at 5am and end in exhaustion. Remember that when you cram for your next exam.

3.  I don’t care if you’re Brad Pitt or Sharon Stone or an accounting major at Penn State. You only reap rewards if you’re willing to work hard at it. Get used to that idea, even if you take nothing else with you from your years in college. Talent may earn you a spot at the starting gate, but tenacity carries you through to the finish line.

4.  I worked in a Chicago steel mill while I learned my craft. Some of the best in the business almost starved to death, waiting for a break. But you’ve gotta love the fact that we live in a country where hope remains in the script by constitutional decree _ no matter if you’re black, white, Hispanic, rich or poor, back east, out west, or right here in the green hills of Pennsylvania.

5.  The great miracle of our nation is that today, some 70 years after I was born and some two and one quarter centuries after the Declaration of Independence, we still enjoy the liberty that allows us an unlimited array

6.  of choices. Freedom is so available in America that we even indulge ourselves in the luxury of taking it for granted. That scares me a little, because my life includes the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War: the threat of atomic holocaust. During each of these historic episodes we wondered if we’d even have a country left, much less a Bill of Rights and a Constitution.

7.  All these were national crises of the first order, and they left an imprint on my generation. Yet at the same time I must also remember that many of you weren’t even alive in the 1970s, can’t recall the Reagan presidency, were still in grade school during the Gulf War, have no idea of the magnitude of the tragedy of Tianamen Square and never had to carry a special tool to pop the metal caps off your beer bottles.

8.  So what do we have in common, your generation and mine? Not much. We had two wars to attend, you have none…so far. We marched for civil rights, you guys don’t have to. Your music and fashion??? Give me a break!

9.  What we DO have can be summed up in two very meaningful words: an absolutely unique heritage and tradition. Now those two word can mean a lot of things. Maybe for you it’s the winning ways of the Nittany Lions. If you’re searching for a living icon of great American heritage, look no farther than Joe Paterno. Joe stands for something good that goes way back, and that’s what I mean by tradition.

10.  In America we have traditions that range from sports to defending the rights of the downtrodden to writing great literature. Actually that’s what college is all about: discovering how you fit into the grand scheme of things, and then deciding how you plan to make YOUR contribution.

11.  It all begins with this great house you share, the one you call Penn State University. When you come to this college you accept its history and its ghosts, its legends and its traditions. You become a part of the family of this place, and each and every one of you leave something of yourselves behind to nourish the hearts and minds of some other class in some other generation.

12.  Now lets make sure we get the semantics straight. There are fads, like swallowing goldfish. Fads are fleeting, while tradition is as solid as the cornerstone in the administration building.

13.  You chose Penn State to become your Alma Mater because it’s a school with a strong heritage, an institution steeped in tradition. The rules were strict and the curriculum tough, but it beat the hell out of second best.

14.  You chose this great academic house as your own because it had stature. That’s the way my generation felt about our country. It was a place of great heritage and tradition, a place that made it easy to be a patriot. Mostly what we felt, growing up and coming of age in America, was just plain lucky.

15.  Before this turns into a Fourth of July speech, let me stress that my generation’s hearts swelled at the prospects of being an American. Yet at the same time we weren’t blind to the nation’s flaws.

16.  To our credit, we did what we could to fix them. In the 1960s a black American in the South had fewer rights than some of the privileged pets that now stay in the same hotels I do. Think about it: 40 years ago many black human beings couldn’t eat or rest in a public place, or get the care and respect that today is commonplace for your average poodle. Then like the saint he was, a man known as Dr. Martin Luther King stepped forward to lead his people out of this terrible bondage. Marching with Dr. King were white students, nuns, ministers of all races and yes, one actor with you tonight who decided that the Constitution and the liberties it guaranteed meant more than a role with a major studio.

17.  You have to remember that, at that time, black Americans couldn’t even work as stage hands in Hollywood. It may not seem like much today, but those of us who marched with Dr. King were truly afraid of what might happen to us, both personally and professionally.

18.  There were vicious dogs, and goon cops and their beatings, and dark, lonely roads that seemed to disappear into an ongoing nightmare.

19.  Young people of both races died out there under the moss_draped boughs of what was then a bitter land. But we believed in our hearts that the heritage and traditions of America’s founding fathers must be maintained.

20.  The Constitution, as we read it, remained colorblind. We marched to set our great house in order. Today, less than a half century later, the fruits of our labor are self_evident. Black students, black professors, black congressmen, black mayors, a black chief of staff for our military. My own profession is populated by minority men and women who act, direct, and film every conceivable aspect of the entertainment industry. Before we marched, some couldn’t even find a seat in a motion picture theater. But the times change, and memories dim.

21.  Not long ago a popular young director named Spike Lee ridiculed my work in behalf of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, the amendment that guarantees your right to keep and bear arms. Spike said I should be shot for my beliefs. At a press conference last Spring at Cannes, Spike, seized by a sudden attack of mouth, said I should be shot in the head. I didn’t respond, but I could have reminded him that he was still in diapers when I was helping to open up jobs for black directors.

22.  How easily we forget when times are good. But that’s what happens when the cultural whims of the moment supersede our free heritage and the strength of solid tradition.

23.  I’d like to remind Spike Lee that after the Civil War, the first thing that carpetbagger governments sought were laws that kept newly freed slaves from getting their hands on firearms.

24.  Guns made the black man equal, lethally so. No race_hating cracker in his right mind wanted a free black man with a gun around. You can’t beat, bully or lynch an armed citizen.

25.  Thank God our courts overturned these laws that denied Second amendment rights for minority citizens. Later it would be immigrant Irish and Italians __ any group the cultural elite felt obliged to delegate to second class citizenry.

26.  So when today’s cultural reformers say we have no legal precedent for upholding the Second Amendment, I say they should do their homework. And when they say the Constitution’s framers never made it clear that the

27.  Second Amendment is an individual right, I say listen to this: “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” That’s Thomas Jefferson talking.

28.  “The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” That’s James Madison.

29.  More? How about these words from Samuel Adams: “The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”

30.  Or this, one of the most eloquent comments from Thomas Paine: “Arms keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. Horrid mischief would ensue were the law abiding deprived the use of them.”

31.  So, while I dedicate a lot of time and energy to the preservation the whole of our Bill of Rights, I would never exclude the Second Amendment, our right to keep and bear arms, from among them.

32.  In fact I’ve been fortunate to be asked to serve as president of the National Rifle Association of America, which granted me a forum. Of course I have also endured some rather scathing abuse, having been called everything from ridiculous to duped, to a brain injured, senile, crazy old man. On the other hand, coming from today’s media, that could be construed as a compliment.

33.  As for senile, here I am.

34.  You reach your own conclusions. And do me one other favor, When it comes to ascertaining the viability of your Constitutionally protected rights, reach your own conclusions there, too, rather than allowing NBC or CBS or Time Warner or Bill Clinton to do it for you.

35.  Lawrence Tribe, a Harvard law professor and maybe today’s most influential constitutional scholar, has been the darling of the contemporary left – until, that is, the first volume of his revised American Constitutional Law reexamined the right to keep and bear arms and elevated its stature. When Tribe asserted that the right to bear arms was conceived as an important political right and should never be dismissed as irrelevant, today’s cultural elite suffered psychological seizures. Tribe’s further contention that the federal government may not disarm individual citizens without some unusually strong justification earned him stacks of hate mail from incensed liberals who loved the way the scholar viewed the constitution … as long as it fell in line with their cultural expectations.

36.  As England, Australia and Canada disarm their people, criminal assaults and home invasions soar. And when you look around America, the places with the toughest firearm restrictions __ Washington, D.C., for example __ routinely have the highest violent crime rates in the nation.

37.  But enough about guns. You know my views, and you’re probably in the process of forming yours. At the bottom line, gun ownership is a right. And the right, when you examine it closely, is protected by a very clear and meaningful constitutional reason.

38.  In the years ahead you will be under even more pressure to make ageless rights and traditions conform to cultural bias and constraints. My generation will be gone then, and you’ll feel the weighty yoke of this ageless burden.

39.  It can be hard work, standing up for what you believe in. I could be more comfortable sitting at home, polishing my Oscar, doing a play here, a film there and playing with my grandchildren. Yet I choose to engage in this debate.

40.  Why?

Because it matters!

42.  I believe our great house will endure as long as we respect the rules, and retain its charitable and dignified order.

43.  The blueprint is clear, and it’s called the Bill of Rights. Don’t lose track of it, don’t be seduced by any fashion of the moment that seeks to supersede it. This notion of individual freedom is as old as Plato and Pliny, as recent as Jefferson and Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan.

44.  Culture is malleable as clay.

Fads are fickle.

Political correctness is capricious.

But your precious heritage of freedom, my young friends, will take half your lifetime to comprehend.

45. Over the years I collected notes about what extraordinary Americans have said about America. One day I fitted them together into a single paragraph with an ease that stunned me. These words from different men seemed to speak to us with the same voice from across the ages. Listen to them: the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Paine, Samuel Eliot Morison, William Faulkner and Abraham Lincoln.

46.  I have a dream. I refuse to accept the end of man. I believe he will endure. He will prevail. Man is immortal, not because, alone among God’s creatures, he has a voice, but because he has a soul … a spirit, capable of compassion … and sacrifice … and endurance. “About America, and Americans, this is particularly true. It is a fabulous country, the only fabulous country … where miracles not only happen, they happen all the time.

47.  “As a nation we have, perhaps uniquely, a special willingness of the heart … a blithe fearlessness …a simple yearning for righteousness and justice that ignited in our revolution a flame of freedom that cannot be stamped out. That is the living, fruitful spirit of this country.

48.  “These are the times that try men’s souls. The sunshine patriot and summer soldier will in this crisis shrink from service. But he that stands and serves his country now will earn the thanks of man and woman.

49.  “We must bind up the nation’s wounds. With firmness in the right as God gives us to see right, let us finish the work we are in.”

50.  I believe that says it all. Thanks. It’s been a pleasure.

51.  Thank you

Submitted to the Shrine by:
Chris Gillott
Penn State Heston Lecture,
Event Organizer

Citations:
Heston, Charlton. “Freshman, Fads, and Freedom,” _The Shrine_ http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/Charlton_Heston_speech.html