Winning the Cultural War
Charlton Heston's Speech to the
Harvard Law School Forum
Feb 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 people." 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 repainted 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
reconnect you with your own sense of liberty of your own
freedom of thought ... your own compass for what is right.
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
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'm sure,
Lord, I 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.
years, the Harvard Law School Forum has been sponsoring Speeches
by luminaries ranging from Fidel Castro to Gerald Ford to Dr.
Ruth. Sometimes the speeches have generated a bit of media
coverage, sometimes not. But one given by Charlton
Heston has taken on a life of its own. Heston, the actor and
conservative activist, delivered a stem-winder to about 200
listeners about "a cultural war that's about to hijack
your birthright to think and say what resides in your
heart." "He knew he was coming to a
liberal environment, and clearly a group of his listeners was
conservative and another was more liberal," said David
Christopherson, president of the forum. "About half
respectfully challenged him during the questions. It
generated a lot of debate around the campus. But what happened
caught us off-guard." What happened was Rush
Limbaugh's radio talk show. On March 15, Limbaugh read the
entire speech on the air, only to find himself bombarded
with thousands of requests for a copy of it. The same
happened at Harvard Law. "We couldn't keep up with
all the requests," said Mike Chmura at Harvard
"It really didn't have legs and might have been forgotten
if Mr. Limbaugh hadn't decided to deliver it."
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 boiling.
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
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 resign. 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."
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 by it ...you are-by your grandfathers'
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. 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
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, DC, 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 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. 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.
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. None other than
Time/Warner, the biggest entertainment conglomerate in the world, was
marketing it. 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 ad
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. "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. 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
sick lyric brimming with racist filth, where Ice-T fantasizes about
sodomizing two 12-year old nieces of Al and Tipper Gore. "SHE
PUSHED HER BUTT AGAINST MY ..."
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 Warner's, or get a good review from Time
magazine. But disobedience means you must be willing to act, not
just talk. When a mugger sues his elderly victim for defending
herself ... jam the switchboard of the district
When 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 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 disobedience's 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
If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree.
Not certified by the Texas
Board of Legal Specialization