An Interview With Michael Medved
I was pleased to get an opportunity to once again talk with Michael Medved about his new book, The 10 Big Lies About America: Combating Destructive Distortions About Our Nation. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
One thing we’ve heard over and over again is that our ancestors marched across the continent butchering innocent Indians who did nothing wrong. How does that bear up under scrutiny?
Not at all. The truth of the matter is that the people who settled the United States of America had no profound desire to butcher Indians. They did have a profound desire to set up, in some cases, utopian religious settlements and in other cases, colonies that would make money — but, they wanted to live their lives and build a country. For the most part, they did that where there was not an intense, concentrated Indian population.
The devastation to the Indian population that decimated the Native American population in North America — and South America for that matter — came from disease. Germs do not hold a political agenda that we know of. The problem here, and it’s written about in lots of books including the best seller, Guns, Germs, and Steel, is that the native American populations had not been exposed to domesticated animals because there were only 4 domesticated animals in all of the Western hemisphere at the time that white people arrived.
There were four?
There were only four.
I’m just curious. What were they?
Dogs, llamas, the Muscovy duck, and there was a kind of hen that they used. They didn’t have pigs, they didn’t have goats, cows, or horses as people know. All of those were brought by white people or later domesticated by white people.
The problem is — Coronado had his famous expedition in the early years of the 16th century and what devastated Indians was not his conquistadors; it was his herd of pigs and cattle that he took with him to feed his men because they carried with them diseases, particularly the fleas and the other insects that were associated with the traveling meat locker, as it could be described.
…In my book I go into great detail on the charges that the infection was deliberate, that it was the result of smallpox blankets. All of it was based on idiotic misrepresentations of one small incident in the Pontiac Rebellion of 1763. The idea that there was a concerted plan, with devastating impact, to decimate Indian populations through deliberate smallpox infections is utterly unsupported by the historical record. As a matter of fact, if people would think about this, this was a time in human history, 1763, when human beings knew almost nothing about germ theory. Yet, people are assuming that these diabolical Brits — they weren’t even Americans, they were British soldiers — knew everything about germ warfare and they did not.
Do you think we look at this nation’s history with slavery from the wrong perspective?
We do, because we look at it from a self-absorbed, America-only perspective. From that perspective, if America were the only nation on earth, then absolutely we should feel terrible for having moved through this terrible period and this terrible institution.
The truth of the matter, however, is that America was the heir to many thousands of years of civilization and we were not the only nation that practiced slavery. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of the American Revolution, every single nation on the planet practiced slavery. There were no exceptions. As a matter of fact, when it came to the enslavement of Africans, they were enslaved in Europe, of course. They were…used and abused as slaves by nations in Asia. They were enslaved in Africa. They were enslaved in South America. They were enslaved in every inhabited continent.
Now, let me make sure I’m clear: every continent or every actual country had slaves?
Both. Every nation had slavery of some kind or another and every continent, somewhere or another, had black slaves. So, the idea of America’s unique guilt is absurd. Is it absurd to say that Americans should feel regretful, apologetic, and ashamed that many of our ancestors owned slaves? No, that’s appropriate. Slavery was an evil, unjustifiable, and cruel institution. But, does America bear unique guilt? Of course not….
Judges have taken a careless wording from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists about a wall of separation between church and state and they’ve turned it into something the Founding Fathers never intended. If someone said to you, “Michael, obviously the Founders intended for religion and the state to be completely separate,” what would you say to them?
It’s absurd. You can prove that’s not true because the same session of Congress that adopted the First Amendment, literally days later, adopted a resolution calling for a day of prayer and fasting to thank God for the First Amendment….
If the Founders had intended a strict separation, as the American Criminal Liars Union understands it, if they had intended that kind of separation, then how do they explain the fact that James Madison and his colleagues in the House of Representatives adopted resolutions calling for fasting and prayer?
The truth is that our Founders intended our government to avoid the endorsement of any specific religious faith. That’s what the First Amendment means. We had been able to come together as a country, bringing together 13 very disparate colonies, because people decided to leave their religious differences aside. There were profound religious differences between Puritans in New England, Anglicans in Virginia, Quakers in Pennsylvania, and Catholics in Maryland — and part of the way people agreed to fight together in the same army and work together in the same nation was that we would never allow anything like the Church of England, where you had one official denomination, for the religion of the nation.
However, I quote in my book — Justice Story, who was one of the earliest and greatest of all Supreme Court Justices…and he specifically recognized that the Founders always anticipated that America would not only be a religious nation, but a Christian nation. Of course, the Founders meant that in a generalized sense and wanted full religious liberty for all American citizens.
The problem with the strict separationists is that they have gone so far with their antipathy towards religion….that in their desire to protect the secular nation that they falsely believe our Founders created — they have in fact compromised the religious liberty that our Founders truly cared about and attempted to guarantee.
Now, there’s a whole industry on the left, led by people like Noam Chomsky, that portray the U.S. as the root of all evil. Can you compare the behavior of the United States to an imperialist power, like say the Soviet Union or Imperial Rome and explain the difference to people who may not be that aware of it?
One of the classic definitions of an imperialist power is a nation with an insatiable appetite for domination, conquest, and new land. The best proof that the United States doesn’t fit that definition is one word: Canada. This great and largely defenseless nation to our north has co-existed with our nation and since a failed attempt to capture Canada in the war of 1812, which we lost by the way, we have left Canada very much alone. If we had been the kind of greedy imperialist power that America’s critics allege, then why did we establish flourishing independent republics and nations like Japan, Germany, the Philippines, South Korea — nations that we once occupied?
The American way, even with nations we fought against in war, is to go in, achieve whatever military aims we mean to achieve, and then eventually to go home, in every case, leaving the nation impacted better off than it was before. I think that if you look at all of the flourishing parts of Planet Earth, almost without exception, it has a great deal to do with the United States.
If you look at the darkest corners of the earth, you’ll find nations that have had much less to do with the United States. In other words, if you take a list of nations on one side and look at the nations that are more productive, more free, more enlightened — and then take a list of nations on the other side that would include nations like North Korea, Cuba, or nations of the Islamic World, like Iran — the nations that have been less influenced by our nation are the less fortunate nations of Planet Earth. That says a great deal about the true nature of American influence.
There are a lot of conservatives out there, probably most of them even, who believe that “America is in the midst of an irreversible moral decline.” Would you disagree with that?
I do. In my book, The 10 Big Lies About America: Combating Destructive Distortions About Our Nation, that’s the 10th big lie and in many ways, it’s the most pernicious — because if our moral decline is irreversible, then America’s weakening and decline is irreversible. That goes against our national ethos. Part of what it means to be an American is that nothing is irreversible for this country. No challenge is too great.
Now, I would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind — particularly dumb — to suggest that everything about American culture is healthy, vital, vibrant, and wholesome. It isn’t. There are a lot of cultural problems in this country and I have written about them very extensively in the past in books like Hollywood vs. America.
The problem with the premise that our moral decline is irreversible is that people have been saying this since the 1640s (laughs)…it simply cannot be true that every single generation of Americans is the worst generation in American history.
It sounds like the media coverage of the war in Iraq. Every story said something akin to “The situation continues to worsen…” until it dropped out of the news.
The other answer to the notion that we are in an irreversible moral decline is to take people on a little nostalgic journey back to the days of 1970s and the misrule of the one I refer to on my show as the “worthless one,” Jimmy Carter. Everything about the Carter era was worse than what exists in America today — the divorce rate, the crime rate, the economy, the standards of living, the music, hairstyles, clothing styles — the 70s were a truly nightmarish era. …The abortion rate has gone down every year for 15 years. We used to kill 1 out of 3 pregnancies. 1 out 3 pregnancies. Today, the number is 1 out of 4. That’s still too high, but it’s an improvement. The truth is, this belief, this lie that says that America’s moral decline is irreversible, suggests to people, particularly young people that your choices mean nothing for the country’s future — and that to me is a pernicious, destructive, and dishonest message.
Michael, I really appreciate your time….
Thank you very much…I appreciate it very much.