Dinesh D’Souza argues, in his new film and book of the same name, that America has long been a beacon of hope – a land of liberty, opportunity, freedom and wealth. But a competing narrative has taken root in America’s schools, pop culture and government – a narrative that depicts the nation as a country built through theft and oppression and driven by inequality and injustice.
In the film and book, D’Souza – who served as a senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House and was named by New York Times Magazine as one of America’s most influential conservative thinkers – argues that this story of American theft and oppression is distorted and incomplete.
“The world still needs America,” D’Souza says. “We remain the custodian of the idea that wealth should be obtained through invention and trade, not through forced seizure. If America fell, there would be no one left to pick up the baton. The end of the American era would seem to signal also the end of Western Civilization.”
In the film, D’Souza argues that there is an effort on the part of many today to “unmake the America we have now.”
“They are trying to diminish the America we have now and transform the American Dream into something very different than what it has been for more than 200 years and they are trying to bring to an end the America era that began in 1945 at the end of World War II,” D’Souza told tothesource. “They are doing this based upon a moral critique of America and it’s the moral critique that I answer in the book and film.”
This moral critique – popularized by intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Bill Ayers – is the idea that America is a nation built on theft and oppression, that America has accumulated its wealth by stealing the land and resources from the American Indians, African-Americans and the Mexicans and even today through its foreign policy and free market capitalist system.
“My answer is that the wealth of America, both historically and now, has not been stolen; it’s been created, that America is a country built by immigrants who for the most part came here with little or nothing,” D’Souza says. “They have built America and built their wealth through trade, innovation, technology, hard work and creativity. Those are the qualities that have built America.”
One of the champions of this view is French historian Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote the classic book, Democracy in America. He wrote that “religion must be regarded as the first of their political institutions.”
“Tocqueville witnessed America first hand,” D’Souza says. “He saw the founding principles in action. He saw Americans as very entrepreneurial. Choose any American at random and he could be enterprising, adventurous and above all an innovator.”
In the film, D’Souza narrates as a number of historical re-enactments take viewers on a journey in which they encounter the heroes who built America – Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas and many others. Countering the historical distortions taught in many public schools and colleges, D’Souza narrates as movie-goers watch Columbus set foot on American soil, as bullets whiz by Washington’s head, as Douglas demands that America live up to the promises of her Founding Fathers, and as Lincoln sacrifices thousands of lives, including his own, to right a great wrong of history – slavery.
First, D’Souza addresses the argument that America was “founded on genocide” and that “we stole the country from the Native Americans” – noting that the 80 percent reduction of Native Americans in America in the two centuries after Columbus was the result of their exposure to European diseases for which they had no immunity.
“Now it is true that American came into the world at a time of conquest when it was the main way in which land was obtained,” D’Souza says. “Indian tribes were conquering each other, the Spanish conquistadors conquered large parts of America from the Indians. The conquests were happening on all sides.
“America came into this world. You don’t get to invent the world from scratch. But what America did in 1776 is introduce a new way of getting stuff, not by stealing or taking it by force, but by creating it. My point is this: America is being blamed for crimes that are universal whereas the solution to those crimes is uniquely America. America is not the problem. America is the solution to the problem.”
As far as claims that the U.S. took “half of Mexico” in the Mexican War, D’Souza notes that the U.S. won the war and took all of Mexico and “then retired its debt and gave half the country back.”
“The people who ended up on the American side of the border were made American citizens,” D’Souza says.
In terms of charges that America stole the labor of the African-Americans, D’Souza agrees that the “enslavement of African-Americans was theft – theft of life and labor.” But D’Souza says President Lincoln recognized that the Founding Fathers could not have outlawed slavery and still had a union.
“No southern state would have joined such a union and slavery might have last much longer,” D’Souza says. ”
D’Souza noted that Native Americans had slaves long before Columbus, that slavery was practiced in numerous cultures throughout history and that slavery continues today in many countries.
“What’s uniquely western is the abolition of slavery,” D’Souza says. “And what is uniquely American is the fighting of a great war to end it. Zinn wants a narrative of American shame and that’s why he leaves these stories out and that’s why we have a moral obligation to put them back in.”
After addressing these criticisms, D’Souza then turned to the Founding Fathers’ warnings that although the freedoms they gave America were hard fought that they could very easily be lost. America stands at a crossroads, and the way the nation understands its past will determine its future, D’Souza says.
“This is a movie that will leave Americans feeling thrilled about what their country has meant to the world,” D’Souza says. “You are going to walk out of this film feeling energized and ready to act.”