Contextualizing Dinesh D’Souza’s “America”

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Michelle Togut

Michelle Togut resides in North Carolina with her husband and pets. She has worked as an adjunct professor of history, contributor and writer, and small-firm attorney, among other things. These days, she's trying to sell real estate. For fun, she reads political blogs of all persuasions, practices yoga, drinks wine, hikes, reads, and volunteers for a local animal rescue.

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  1. Avatar Tod Kelly
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    This is awesome, Michelle. Great work. It’s times like this that make glad we have an actual historian on staff.

    (Also, it’s complimentary and not that overlapping with I’m going to say later on — so I don’t have to worry about people comparing my work to yours.) 🙂Report

    • Avatar Michelle Togut in reply to Tod Kelly
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      Thanks Tod. I was pretty sure that we’d come at the film from quite different vantage points.Report

      • Avatar Ron Radosh in reply to Michelle Togut
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        Michelle, having written my July 4th weekend column on the film, (http://pjmedia.com/ronradosh/2014/07/04/the-influence-of-howard-zinn-on-the-loss-of-patriotism-and-the-antidote-to-zinn-dinesh-dsouzas-movie-america/) in which I concentrate on Zinn and his history, I welcome your critical and excellent analysis of the entire film. I also talk about Zinn in the film, and stand what I say in that interview,

        You are, sadly, right about the problem some conservatives have when writing history; they emulate the same methods as many on the Left do when approaching history—they write to make a polemical argument and make many arguments that collapse upon close examination. I recently spent months taking apart a conservative conspiracy theory book on history written by Diana West, and started up a storm in certain circles.

        So push come to shove, I agree with your conclusions in your last two paragraphs. Dinesh had a chance to make a really great film; on many of the episodes- not all- he slipped into making sloppy arguments and ignoring the complexity of history.

        Perhaps there’s no market for an accurate historical document on this topic. Instead we’re stuck with the likes of frauds like Zinn, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. No wonder today’students know so little.
        Ron RadoshReport

      • Avatar Michelle in reply to Michelle Togut
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        Ron–thanks for your kind words. Although it’s clear from reading your review that we see D’Souza’s film differently, I appreciate your taking the time to comment. I’m not aware of recent controversies over Diane West’s book (or even the book itself) but I am familiar with your work on the Rosenbergs and the firestorm that caused.

        Ours in not an era with much appreciation for nuance or balance–it doesn’t sell. Perhaps it never really had, which makes the need for it all the more urgent.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    Great essay Michelle.

    In many ways, this is nothing new and maybe not particuarily Ameircan. Japan has a huge issue with far-right politicians who work very hard to make sure that Japanese history textbooks do not mention Japanese war crimes during WWII.

    History is politics and in a pluralistic democracy that can roughly be described as a 50/50 nation, we might be constantly fighting over which history gets taught and what certain events mean. I am most familiar with the debate over whether the American Revolution was part of the Enlightenment or an action of counter-Enlightenment. Those that control the historical narrative and how and what history gets taught get to control the idea of who American “belongs” to.

    This exists in other avenues. Woody Gutherie’s “This Land is Your Land” was written in response to “God Bless America”. Populist Anger v. America can do no wrong. This is the constant struggle.

    We studied indentured servitude in my American history classes. Of course D’Souza doesn’t point out that indentured servitude ended eventually. That was the point.

    I agree that people like Zinn and Moore probably are too much in the “America All Wrong” camp and a reflexive and knee jerk anti-American attitude does not help the left in this country or at all.

    There is also the problem that America is a vast and wide country with lots of different people and histories and states seem to focus on what is important to their individual history in the history and lit classes. I just learned that Californian 4th graders do this big project involving the Missions including having to make a little replica Mission. This makes sense because the Missions were a vital part of California history. In New York, not so much. We learned about Ellis Island and the Immigrant experience because many New Yorkers are the descendants of people who passed through Ellis Island in the 1800s and early 1900s. We also later learned about Jacob Riis and the muckrackers, about Lochner, and the Triangle Fire. Our lit classes covered books that were about multi-culturalism as New Yorkers would understand it. I remember a book from middle school (possibly non-fiction) about a friendship between a Chinese girl and a black girl in the public schools around the time Jackie Robinson started playing for the Dodgers. Meeting Jackie Robinson was the climax of the book.

    Columbus Day is treated as horrible in the Bay Area and Berkeley now calls it Indingenous Peoples Day. This would not happen in the Northeast because there is still a very substantial Italian-American population that considers Columbus to be their guy and proof that they are just as American as Worthy Worthington VII.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Saul Degraw
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      “Of course D’Souza doesn’t point out that indentured servitude ended eventually. That was the point. ”

      Also, being a former indentured servant was not an impediment to social or economic advancement. Much less so being the descendant of an indentured servant. The one-drop rule of race neatly illustrates the difference.Report

      • There is something to be said for what I take to be Edmund Morgan’s argument that at first, say, in the first 50 years of the Chesapeake colonies, the differences between indentured servitude and slavery were less stark and the situation was more fluid. It wasn’t, so the argument goes, inevitable at that time that slavery would evolve into something that would be heritable or that the slaves would have so much difficulty securing their freedom.

        Later–and soon–of course, members of the planter elites and some of the non-elite landowners did conspire to distinguish slavery and indentured servitude very sharply, so that, as you point out, being a former indentured servant wasn’t an impediment to advancement while being a former slave (if the status of “former slave” could be obtained in the first place) was.

        I’m not sure how much Morgan’s argument has been qualified or challenged in the 40 some years since he made it (and assuming I’m remembering his “argument” correctly), but it at least presents a well-thought out case for the view that at one point, indentured servitude might have been as bad as slavery.Report

      • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Richard Hershberger
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        @gabriel-conroy If we’re feeling pedantic, the last sentence should read “as bad as slavery was at that time,” which I think gets at a basically unrelated pet peeve of mine. When slavery is discussed flippantly in political arguments (I.e. silly libertarian arguments to the effect that taxation is slavery, but also plenty of other nonsense on both sides), there’s no recognition that different institutions at different times, which are all rightly labelled “slavery,” might vary wildly in just how brutal and inhumane they are.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Richard Hershberger
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        Don,

        I’m not at all sure why those judgments are time sensitive, except as a way of accounting for – or apologizing for – the actions of otherwise decent people. Surely a slave won’t think the inhumanity or brutality he or she experiences is time dependent. Or will they?Report

      • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Richard Hershberger
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        @stillwater I’m not entirely sure I understand what you mean by time dependent. I’m trying to make a fairly narrow point here, which is that while being enslaved is a horrible human rights abuse, one might treat in all sorts of different ways. So with regard to the early Virginia colony, indentured servitude might have been similarly inhumane to slavery at first because slavery was horrible, but not yet as horrible as it would eventually become.

        I don’t mean this as any sort of apologia for slavery in general or American slavery in particular. I just think that there can be something reductive about defining slavery as forced labor without pay and then saying that everything that fits that definition is equally awful. Are slaves allowed to learn to read and write? Are they tortured? Are they divided from their families and deprived of their original languages and beliefs? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Richard Hershberger
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        Don,

        OK, I think I understand what you’re saying. It’s more a degrees of slavery than a time-dependent thing. And you’re prolly right about that. Your earlier comment about “at that time” sorta thru me in a different direction. Sorry about that.Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Saul Degraw
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      @saul-degraw — Just curious, what are the arguments that the AR was counter-Enlightenment?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to veronica d
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        @veronica-d

        It is basically found in the farthest corners of theocratic Christianity and believes that the founding fathers intended to break away from European secularism and be more like the “City on a Hill” that the Puritans desired, etc.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to veronica d
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        @saul-degraw — Oh. How — uh — well, I was hoping for something really insightful! 🙂 I guess not.

        (That said, it really annoys me how much the enlightenment gets fetishized as this great intellectual high point. It was worthwhile only relative to what came before. But it was the peak of nothing.)Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to veronica d
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        @veronica-d

        I am not as brave as Michelle. I can only take my right-wing nuttery in diluted form from liberal sources.Report

    • Avatar Jason Clark in reply to Saul Degraw
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      Haven’t you read Dinesh’s earlier work?

      He lets us know that Columbus’ impulse to explore proves that he discovered the Americas. Vikings, 800 years earlier? Nope, no mention of them. That the Native Americans’ impulses brought them some 5000-15000km further, from Eurasia, some 15000+ years earlier? Nope, doesn’t count. Columbus was the man!

      Dinesh proved Columbus’ detractors wrong … that he had no prejudices, or was actually prejudiced in favour of the Natives, I should say … based on the fact that Columbus called them “handsome” and “beautiful”, and praised their kindness, and lack of weapons, in his journal, in which he later wrote that he could conquer the lot with only 50 men. Before his amazing impulse to explore led him to slaughter and enslave thousands, recorded by himself, and other officers.

      Dinesh is great at history.

      http://www.firstthings.com/article/1995/11/002-the-crimes-of-christopher-columbus-21Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq
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    Anybody who read the Founder’s writings concerning the Constitution knew that most of them really did intend to separate religion and state. Many of them were rather irreligious by 18th century standards or even by modern standards. One of the great tensions in American society was that many Americans were very devote Protestants and saw America as a quintessentially Protestant country with Protestant values even though the Founders did not see the United States this way.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    Another issue is the constant debate about when do you teach the bad things in history? When is too young to teach about Jim Crow, Wounded Knee, the Holocaust, etc? How do you teach young kids about these things in a way that is not too confrontational?

    Obviously there are plenty of adults who can’t handle the truth of a mixed and muddled history.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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      One problem is that education in the United States is more subject to democratic political pressure than it is other countries where it tends to be bureaucratized. We have hundreds or thousands of individual school systems with a similar design but deeply affected by local culture as you noted above with your remarks about Columbus Day. In more patriotic leaning districts, teaching the bad parts of our history is always going to run into trouble. In the more liberal leaning parts, teaching the more positive parts becomes problematic.Report

  5. Avatar Richard Hershberger
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    I often make a contrarian argument–not meant entirely seriously, but neither meant entirely frivolously–that the last important war in North America was the French and Indian (aka Seven Years) War, culminating with the conquest of Canada on the Plains of Abraham. From that point on, the broad political history of North America was fixed: it would end up as a mostly Anglophone society from the Atlantic to the Pacific with a governing structure based along broad lines of liberal democracy. The details of borders and constitutions might differ, but they would have been within these broad limits. It is easy to imagine circumstances where mailing a letter from Philadelphia to Boston would involve a stamp with Queen Elizabeth on it. But so what?Report

  6. Avatar North
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    Excellently written Michelle, I hesitate to ask but what was Dinesh’s rationalization of the European treatment of the first nations peoples?Report

    • Avatar Michelle in reply to North
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      @north–his argument was essentially that there was no genocide because most of the Native Americans’ died because they had no immunity to European diseases and these diseases therefore proved extremely deadly to native populations. This argument is true as far as it goes. There was a great movie about this issue; I think it was called “Black Robe,” although I don’t remember exactly.

      He further argues that to the extent that Europeans did slaughter Native Americans it was part of the overall “conquest epic” common to all civilizations, even Native American ones, as tribes warred with each other frequently. Same for American actions such as the Trail of Tears, the breaking of treaties, and military treatment of the native tribes.

      Again, there’s certainly some truth to these assertions. But I’m not sure why he feels the need to whitewash the history of this period. Brutality is part of human nature and has played a big role in our history.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Michelle
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        To a certain extent, I can see where Dinesh is coming from. There seems to be a certain leftist historical narrative that somehow manages to magically distinguish between wars of conquest that occurred before and after 1492. Every act of conquest that occurred after 1492 being really bad, especially if done by a European country, while those that occurred before it were just part and parcel of history. It never really made any sense to me. Either wars of conquest are bad regardless of the era or are just part of history.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Michelle
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        his argument was essentially that there was no genocide because most of the Native Americans’ died because they had no immunity to European diseases and these diseases therefore proved extremely deadly to native populations. This argument is true as far as it goes.

        This is a dumbass argument, because it’s trying to redefine what extinction we’re talking about.

        What we *used* to think was that the population of Native Americans was fairly low, and as the settlers moved westward, genocide of them happened.

        This is wrong, because we recently figured out that our picture of Native Americans civilization before Europeans was delusionally stupid, and there was a *hell* of a lot more of them than anyone used to think, with much more ‘civilization’. (1) Our previous view was of Native Americans *after* diseases had killed off most of the societies. It was like someone looking at Europe between 1-50 years after the Black Death.

        However, this doesn’t change what happened as settlers moved west. They still killed as many Native Americans as previous thought. That genocide did actually happen, exactly as we thought…it was just happening *after* a previously unknown accidental near-extinction, which changes nothing about the genocide that followed it.

        Dinesh is, as always, a lying idiot.

        1) There’s a weird interesting fact about how the first Americans to areas would often discover plains, and then decades later those plains would have turned into forests for no obvious reason…because those plains were actually *cleared farmland* that had stopped being tended a few years earlier as all the natives died out.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Michelle
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        Yes, I guess I get it, awful as it is, it thanks for clarifying.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to Michelle
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        “He further argues that to the extent that Europeans did slaughter Native Americans it was part of the overall “conquest epic” common to all civilizations, even Native American ones, as tribes warred with each other frequently. Same for American actions such as the Trail of Tears, the breaking of treaties, and military treatment of the native tribes.”

        In other words (as I believe was said previously), anything bad done by the USA is ‘just part of humanity’, while anything good is exceptional to the USA.

        I’m thinking of how good I could look, using that same measure……..Report

  7. Avatar James Hanley
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    Great post, Michelle. I do have a quibble, but it’s rather supportive of your overall point.

    Did the United States steal land from Mexico? Maybe not,

    No maybes. The border between Texas and Mexico was never fixed because the two sides couldn’t agree. The spark that ignited the desired war came when U.S. troops sent to patrol the Rio Grande, our claimed border, encountered Mexican troops patrolling the Nueces, their claimed border. The most that could legitimately be argued as within U.S. rights to take would be along the Rio Grande, following it where it turns North in New Mexico (running just on the western edge of Albuquerque) up to where it met our northwestern territories. Everything west of that (excepting the Gadsden Purchase), is pure spoils of a war we sought; i.e., stolen.

    And as for Ward Churchill, I can’t say I like the guy much, but his comment about 9/11 is right on target.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to James Hanley
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      The U.S. like any other nation can expect backlash from bad decisions but the Little Eichmann comment by Churchill was a bit much, no? All sorts of people died in 9/11 from the well-to-do to immigrant waiters and cleaners.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Saul Degraw
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        I’ve heard of the “little Eichmanns” statement, but haven’t read the essay it came from. Was he referring to all the people who perished, or just the CIA (or whatever) operatives?

        At any rate, I’m not fond of that terminology, either.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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        My assumption that Ward Churchill wasn’t really thinking much about the full implication of what he said and just wanted to make an anti-American comment.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Saul Degraw
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        @leeesq

        You’re probably right, and I have zero respect for him as a scholar.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw
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        There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center . . .

        Well, really. Let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire – the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance” – a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore” – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw
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        Well, I just meant his point that we really did bring it on ourselves.

        There are reasons that, as I said, I don’t like him. A lot of that essay was, well, foolish.

        Gabriel, the essay is here. Yes, he used it explicitly to refer to the folks working in the towers. He failed to distinguish even the maintenance and janitorial crews–although he doesn’t seem to have meant them, his essay at best just ignores their deaths.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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        The problem with saying that we brought it upon ourselves is that the ordinary voter in all democracies usually doesn’t have that much influence over their foreign or military policy. These types of decisions are very immune from the democratic process for a variety of reasons ranging from good to bad. No American voter really brought 9/11 on themselves because their voting patterns had little to do with the policy choices that led to 9/11.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw
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        I’m half in agreement, Lee. There’s a big difference between the people and their government. So it’s not so much that we brought it on ourselves as that our government brought it on us.

        But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the policies that piss off Middle Eastern Muslims don’t/didn’t have substantive electoral support. Cheap gas, interventionism, support for Israel,* these have all been and/or still are popular policies.
        _______________
        *I’m not trying to be anti-Israel. It’s just an unavoidable truth that our support for Israel angers Muslims. And from my perspective, while we should absolutely defend Israel’s right to exist, that need not extend to defendind its particular policies, and not putting the screws to it to stop its efforts to change the facts on the ground, border-wise, and to push both it and the Palestinians to a two (maybe three) state solution, in which we absolutely defend the right of each state to exist. Absent that, we should but out and tell each side they’re on their own and we support neither of them.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw
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        James,

        I’m with ya. It’s not so much our voting policies (tho those are deplorable enough wrt the issue at hand) but our consumer policies and preferences and the all the accompanying actions with impugn culpability. Which was the focus of Churchill’s essay, of course.

        I don’t disagree with Churchill one bit, fwiw. I just think his rhetoric was over the top. The strain of referencing Eichman was just too much for people to bear.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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        @Jsmes, my point was more limited in that some government activities are somewhat to very immunized from democratic political control. Usually military and foreign policy is very immunized from democratic political control in most democracies. In some more centralized democracies, education is basically immunized.

        Yes, our support of Israel is going to piss off Muslims but there isn’t anything but complete dissociation from Israel that would satisfy a decent plurality of them. To Al-Qaeda and similar groups, the only just solution is “No Israel.”Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw
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        True enough, they were civilians of a sort. .

        That is, the sort that aren’t part of and in fact have no connection with the military.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Saul Degraw
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        Yes, well, while it can be excused that “democracy” doesn’t impact foreign policy much, and thus, the civillians were not fully responsible or complict the acts of 9/11, THEY ARE for the subsecquent actions of Iraq and Afganistan. Everyone has blood on their hands for those fiascos.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw
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        I don’t disagree with Churchill one bit, fwiw.

        Seriously? You think that being an office worker (because the WTC wasn’t a hangout for the political and financial elite; it was a big-ass office building) in New York City is reasonable grounds for a death sentence?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw
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        Mike,

        He’s providing an account of why Muslims are pissed off at Americans. So, yeah, I think his general critique is correct. It’s not different than, for example, Chalmers Johnson’s take on the issue, except for more inflammatory rhetoric.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw
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        Yeah, except for completely mischaracterizing and demonizing in the strongest language possible people who, through no particular fault of their own, died horrible deaths, it’s exactly like something an intelligent and rational person might say.Report

    • Avatar Stephen Morris in reply to James Hanley
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      Ward Churchill’s comments on 9/11 were not on target at all. The 3,000 victims of 9/11, apart from the aircraft hijackers, were all innocent of any crime. The hijackers’ commander, Osama bin Laden had issued a “fatwa” declaring the obligation to kill Jews and Americans wherever they may be found. That falls within the strict definition of a call to genocide, and 9/11 can be seen as a genocidal act. It was unquestionably a deliberate slaughter of the innocent.

      As for the Al Qaeda terror being a response to US “oppression of Muslims,” it should be noted that Al Qaeda was founded in 1988, at the height of the substantial US and other western assistance to the Afghan Muslim insurrection against the Soviet Union. The Al Qaeda plot to blow up airlines flying across the Pacific in 1995 occurred at the time that the US and other western nations were defending Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs. And the Al Qaeda attacks on the United States, starting with the USS Cole, took place after the US had bombed Serbian armed forces that were massacring Kosovar Muslims. Some of us have also noted a tendency of Al Qaeda inspired terror groups, such as the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS or ISIL) to deliberately slaughter Shiite civilians in Syria and Iraq. How is that a result of “US oppression” or Israel’s treatment of Palestinians?

      So those who like to apologize for the religiously based blood lust of Al Qaeda genocidists ought to learn a bit of recent history, and try to think a little more carefully about recent events, before they start expressing their opinions.

      As for Ward Churchill, he is a complete charlatan. He was hired, and even made chairman of a department at the University of Colorado, despite having no PhD and no evidence of peer reviewed scholarship to his name. His appointment was undoubtedly a result of affirmative action at its worst –based upon his claim to be a native American rather than any academic achievement. Subsequently even his claim to be a native American was exposed as fraudulent. He was only fired 17 years after his scandalous appointment began.

      Try not to praise Ward Churchill in future.Report

      • Avatar Jason Clark in reply to Stephen Morris
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        Here’s how the American military and government would argue the attack on the trade centre, if they had done it in another country…

        A) Civilian transportation/aircraft are valid military targets (Lebanon – the US deems Israel’s arguments valid; Iraq)

        B) Communications and government offices in Tower One, make it a valid military target. (Iraq)

        C) Banks & Financial institutions are valid military targets. (Israel/Palestine – the US deems Israel’s arguments valid)

        D) And, obviously, the White House and Pentagon are valid military targets.

        E) Everyone else was collateral damage. Those valid military targets were hiding amongst civilians.Report

    • Avatar Tom in reply to James Hanley
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      Spoils of war aren’t “stolen”-they are won! #smhReport

  8. Avatar Burt Likko
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    A marvelous fisking, @michelle-togut , and a welcome call for sobriety and appreciation of ambiguity in the face of polemic masquerading as education:

    If far-left critics of this country present a picture of it that is overly negative and leaves out the best aspects of our history, then far-right scholars like D’Souza present a sanitized version designed to emphasize American greatness at the expense of ignoring our history’s darker side. Both versions of history are one-dimensional. Both versions also have a political agenda at their core.

    U.S. history is rich with both moral triumphs and moral catastrophes. I’ve never understood why condemning the latter necessarily precludes celebrating the former. I can be proud to be a U.S. citizen, because our Declaration of Independence is a ringing clarion call for human and legal rights; because the Revolution really was fought for those reasons, because we really did fight a civil war to rid ourselves of slavery, because we truly have submitted our government and lawmaking process to the rules of law and popular sovereignty, because we really have taken dramatic steps towards a universal franchise, because really have used our great economic and military power to combat outright evil.

    At the same time I condemn that we had slavery at all (as you point out, it kind of doesn’t matter who owned the slaves) and that a rump of the former slave-owners and then their successors-in-interest invested effective perpetration of substantial economic and political indicia of slavery into the law for more than a hundred years after formal abolition; that we expanded our borders with wars of conquest and ethnic genocide; that we have winked at deviations from our highest laws and our highest ideals expressed in those high laws.

    We think of our nation as new and pure, but in fact we have existed for a quarter of a millennium now and have never been homogeneous. A nation as large, old, and complex as ours cannot help but be ambiguous. Was the Roman Empire an unmitigated moral evil? Of course not, nor was it an unmitigated force for good. Same thing is true for the British empire, pre- or post-Revolutionary France, even the Soviet Union (although truly, I must search my memory hard for more than token moral triumphs of that embodiment of that nation). So why must we deny the existence of dichotomies or ambiguities — much less do as D’Souza does and try to distract from them with fallacies?Report

  9. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    says:

    Great post, Michelle. While reading it, I thought to myself, “the only thing missing is a comparison to Michael Moore,” and then when I got toward the end, you took care of that quibble.Report

  10. Avatar James Hanley
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    He starts by interviewing that well-known American historian, Senator Ted Cruz,

    An Indian interviews a Canadian about U.S. history. Sounds like a joke.Report

  11. Avatar ScarletNumbers
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    D’Souza recently pulled a George Steinbrenner and pled guilty to making illegal campaign contributions.Report

    • Avatar Michelle in reply to ScarletNumbers
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      D’Souza offers something of a mea culpa for his crime in the film, saying “I made a mistake.” Then, he goes on to say that the Obama administration was out to get him so it’s really their fault. After which he launches into a whole diatribe on the national security state and the FISA court, conveniently forgetting to mention that the FISA court was initiated under the Bush administration with the support of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Pathetic.

      The whole thing seemed tacked on to the film as a means of presenting D’Souza as a victim of an overreaching executive as opposed to a guy who knowingly committed a crime and had the misfortune to get caught. Kind of like when he used university funds from the Christian college of which he was president to take a woman, not his wife, with him to a conference. The same woman was involved in his little campaign fraud scheme. I’m thinking D’Souza is one of those folks who think the rules don’t apply to them.Report

  12. Avatar zic
    Ignored
    says:

    Several hours of pondering this lead to a single conclusion: It’s seriously warped to think that the most important correction for a nation is to stop others from the national-self-examination that leads to correction.Report

  13. Avatar Jonathan McLeod
    Ignored
    says:

    “Cue D’Souza’s voice asking us to imagine what the world would be like today if the United States had died at its inception.”

    As someone basically living that situation, it ain’t half bad!Report

  14. Avatar Marisol
    Ignored
    says:

    Does the fact that Zinn and Alinsky were secular Jews mean that D’Souza is an antisemite? It were best to leave these sorts of insinuations to the Chip Berlets of this world. Otherwise, I agree that D’Souza is a buffoon. You don’t have to imagine a world where the British reclaimed the U.S. With the death of Franklin Roosevelt and the accession to power of Harry Truman, all Churchill needed to do was head to Fulton, MO and talk about the Iron Curtain, and the next thing you know, the U.S. is acting just like the Brits, whether it be Vietnam, Panama, Iraq, Libya, Sudan or Ukraine, and when Tony Blair says go to war, we do it. Our economy as well has devolved into nothing but financial speculation and control of raw materials, British-style. You have to look at China or Argentina to see someone in power who thinks like an American.Report

    • Avatar Michelle in reply to Marisol
      Ignored
      says:

      I have no idea whether or not D’Souza is an anti-semite or not, I just found it curious that, of all the left-wingers out there, these were the two he chose to demonize. Both men shared similar backgrounds–children of religious immigrant parents. Alinsky was from Chicago; Zinn from NYC.

      Alinsky has been a straw man for the right since Obama’s first campaign, and I can’t help but think that his being Jewish had nothing to do with his being rescued from obscurity as a wedge to use against Obama and other Democrats. Should Hillary run, I’m sure we’ll get to hear a lot more about him from the right-wing to prove that she’s some kind of commie radical at heart.Report

    • Avatar Stephen Morris in reply to Marisol
      Ignored
      says:

      Which raw materials was the US seeking in Vietnam?

      When did the US go to war in Ukraine?

      Sorry if the questions are too difficult for you to answer.Report

  15. Avatar VB501
    Ignored
    says:

    You also have lots of assumptions.Report

  16. Avatar crockyk
    Ignored
    says:

    All of the criticism of D’Souza and his books/movies could be considered plausible except for one very important reality: D’Souza’s predictions made in his first movie match what we see from the Obama Administration. D’Souza predicted that President Obama would use debt as a weapon of mass destruction and weaken our military so that the U. S. would be unable to have as much influence in the world. It appears to me, based on the increase in our national debt and recent military cutbacks, that these predictions are becoming reality. D’Souza has done a good job of “getting into” Pres. Obama’s head. His new book and movie are an attempt to warn the American people of the consequences of continuing to support the policies of the current administration. I don’t totally agree with everything D”Souza says, but I do believe that we are headed for decline, if not disaster, if we continue to fall for Pres. Obama’s prevarications.Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to crockyk
      Ignored
      says:

      I hear ya, brother.
      We now only have 800 military bases around the world, compared to 1,000 before.

      What a pathetic paper tiger we have become.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to crockyk
      Ignored
      says:

      @crockyk

      You seem to be attributing superpowers to Obama. Debt has risen under the present administration because the economy tanked. Yes there was an increase in discretionary spending, but all your governments do that. The idea that Obama is somehow deliberately undermining US power is simply absurd.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to crockyk
      Ignored
      says:

      It’s true, Obama came into office with a strong economy, a balanced budget, and a fully staffed, wholly professional military capable of both projecting American power and keeping the peace worldwide, and then proceeded to …

      I’m sorry, I can’t type when I’m laughing that hard.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to crockyk
      Ignored
      says:

      Debt hasn’t weakened our military. The fact that we’ve fought two land wars in asia, spilling our blood and treasure, depleating military stocks of men and material, and borrowing heavily to do so, is the reason.

      @LWA We’ve got a bit more than 800:
      http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-worldwide-network-of-us-military-bases/5564

      “The main sources of information on these military installations… reveal that the US operates and/or controls between 700 and 800 military bases Worldwide….In total, there are 255,065 US military personnel deployed Worldwide.”

      And that’s not even addressing the “black sites”, nor the sites that aren’t officially “military”, such as anything that the CIA or NSA might have.Report

    • Avatar Michelle in reply to crockyk
      Ignored
      says:

      Oh please. Deficits have decreased under Obama. If you want to look at administrations that used debt as a weapon of mass destruction look to Reagan (who tripled the national debt) and Bush (who doubled it). Where was D’Souza then? Oh yeah–working for the Reagan administration and cheering on the Bush administration.Report

      • Avatar crockyk in reply to Michelle
        Ignored
        says:

        Deficits are decreasing, but are still more than twice as large (percentage wise) as Reagan or either Bush. The thing that strikes me is that progressives criticize previous presidents, then defend President Obama for doing the same thing. For example, it’s OK if Pres. Obama runs up the national debt because Reagan and Bush did it! This is the old “2 wrongs make a right” argument. Obama was supposed to make things better. And, he is, according to progressives; even if it means bankrupting the country and weakening it to the point where we can no longer defend ourselves. The whole point of D’Souza’s movie is to be a counterbalance to the progressive movement. He may be just a right-wing version of Michael Moore, who you folks celebrated, but his perspective is something that our country needs at this point in our history. And, as I stated in my first post, his predictions seemed to be matching what we see happening.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Michelle
        Ignored
        says:

        That we are so weak we can’t defend ourselves is so far out its past hyperbole. It is not even close to being true or even a defensible statement.

        The debt shot way up due that little Recession we went through. That was the key cause of the rapid rise. After the worst of it was over, it has gone down sharply.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Michelle
        Ignored
        says:

        greginak:

        Democrats ALSO shifted the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan onto the actual budget, in addition to the bailout and the stimulus. (Bush had been funding Iraq and Afghanistan as emergency appropriations, rather than budget items).

        All of this during a time of falling tax receipts.

        But the best part was “twice as large as either Bush” — this including Bush senior, who past a budget-busting tax cut, and then placed a giant benefits plan AND two wars on the charge card.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michelle
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t know that the worst is over, given a handful of announcements this morning (including, of course, Microsoft’s).

        I mean, I *HOPE* so. Fingers are crossed.

        But I suspect we’ve got a lost decade on our hands.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Michelle
        Ignored
        says:

        The obama camapign said they were going to put oif and oef in the main dod budget but the Obama administration still used oco supplements to pay for.them (and other things like Libya, Africom ops, and whatever it is we’re doing now in iraq. What they did do is continuously reduce Iraq spending to practically zero and curtail Afghanistan spending after ramping it up over the first 2 years of the first term. (They also made oco spending a bit less of a slush fund / christmas list) (though mostly by reducing the amounts so people downstream needed to start prioritizing)Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Michelle
        Ignored
        says:

        Jaybird,

        A lost decade was a foregone conclusion the minute two decisions were made:

        1) Pushing a fraction of the stimulus being called for (and literally, I recall Senators talking about how they settled on a figure because it was a ’round number’ and not because it was, you know, expert testimony. Maybe you don’t trust the experts, but ‘sounds about right’ is really a crappy metric)
        2) Bailing out banks, but not homeowners — HARP being a pure example (and all Obama’s fault). HARP was never really pushed to be effective because it was seen as an afterthought, and mortgage companies used HARP to screw people to the wall — basically refi’ing under HARP for a trial period, then yanking them, then charging them fees and penalties up the wazoo.

        And honestly, I still don’t think the mortgage business is over. If that appeal over MERS fails, a LOT of people holding paper are screwed — they’re on the hook for, effectively, widespread tax fraud.

        (MERS being, if you don’t know or I’m hosing the acronym, an electronic system for mortgage records. Which, during the bubble, mortgage companies used to swap titles without all that fiddling around with ‘registering it with the county’ and ‘paying the fees’ which is why you saw a whole bunch of fun shenanigans involving inability to determine who held the note, or to which house, and who owed what — which didn’t stop repossessions, even on houses with no mortgage).Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Michelle
        Ignored
        says:

        And whether something was on budget or as an emergency supplement doesn’t matter when one is looking at *past* end of fiscal year statements (esp > 2 Yrs out when everything is finally reconciled)Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Michelle
        Ignored
        says:

        In any case, lost decade was ensured — too much debt. Nothing doing until you work out from under the debt overhang. Private spending is just gonna stay low until it’s out of the system.

        Honestly, dream stimulus (in my opinion) would have involved infrastructure repair projects (interest rates were and still are zilch, so might as well do the work now if it’s gonna be needed in the next decade or two), a massive public refi program for mortgages coupled with forgiving chunks of it to reduce people’s debt and the problems of underwater housing, and some serious smacks to a lot of businesses that got away pretty lightly despite screwing the world.

        I can assure you there would be, at the very least, many much smaller financial institutions. Too big to fail = too big to exist.Report

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