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Great Public Addresses Thread: Heston's Harvard Speech
An SI Board Since March 1999
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Emcee:  Alan Whirlwind Type:  Unmoderated
"Winning The Cultural War"

by Charlton Heston

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
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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.


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's 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

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

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's grace, built this

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

Thank you.

Any other inspiring oratory out there? I'd like to hear about it.
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ReplyMessage PreviewFromRecsPosted
10 The Serbs have learned a lot from Clinton to be sure.Alan Whirlwind-4/3/1999
9 re<i>Molsevik is a dirtball</i> Clinton is the biggest and most powfreeus-4/3/1999
8 Hi freeus, I understand the complexity of the situation in the former YugoslaAlan Whirlwind-4/3/1999
7 And now we have another war: American AS AGRESSOR: how shameful how utterly shafreeus-4/1/1999
6 Wow I just got around to reading this, how absolutely wonderful and "rightfreeus-4/1/1999
5 Yup, Ol' Ike had a lot more on the ball than many give him credit for. Mighty_Mezz-3/19/1999
4 MM, I will comment on two excerpts from the speech you've just referred mAlan Whirlwind-3/18/1999
3 Thanks. Even if this thread remains static, at least a few more got the opporAlan Whirlwind-3/18/1999
2 I've always liked Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the Nation, where heMighty_Mezz-3/18/1999
1 Alan, Just wanted to thank you for posting this most excellent speech. Have aFangorn-3/18/1999
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