WS>>Charleton Heston's Speech at Brandeis College

carl william spitzer iv cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Sun Oct 22 18:54:02 MDT 2000

           "Question Authority.  .  .  Think For Yourself"
                   Tuesday, March 28, 2000

          Thank  you,  thank  you.  Thank you  very  much.   It's
     common when you're greeted with this kind of a response   to
     [pauses].  It's very hard to deal with it, I must tell  you,
     I'm  deeply moved.  Usually, when a public face  is   intro-
     duced  to  a gathering like this, the master  of  ceremonies
     says,  "And now ladies and gentleman, the man  who needs  no
     introduction." Believe me, you can always use a good  intro-
     duction  [audience laughs].  No, no,  you laugh,  you  laugh
     but it's true.

          I  have a story that proves it, true story.  It  didn't
     happen  to  me, it happened to a good friend of  mine,  Kirk
     Douglas.   This was some years ago when Ben-Hur was  playing
     more  or less everywhere.  And Kirk said  he'd been  walking
     in  the street near his home in Beverly Hills,  one  evening
     after  supper,  when he was  approached very politely  by  a
     strange man who said, "Excuse me sir, I don't like to inter-
     fere  in the private  lives of public people, but  I  cannot
     let pass this opportunity to tell you what a deeply  moving,
     enormously   creative performance you gave in Ben-Hur."  And
     Kirk  said,  "Well, thanks very much, but  that  wasn't  me,
     that was another fellow." And the man stood back amazed.  He
     said, "Well, if you're not Burt Lancaster,  who the hell are
     you?" [audience laughs].  So, I'm glad Mr.  Rudnick made  it
     perfectly clear to you that I'm  not Burt Lancaster.

          I  do  thank you, all of you, for the  tenacity  you've
     shown  in  having me here.  I know the university  gave  you
     the financial and logistical burden of my visit and I appre-
     ciate what you've done against those heavy odds.    So,  for
     me, please give yourselves a big round of applause [audience
     applauds].  You deserve it.

          I remember my son, when he was five years old, explain-
     ing  to  his Kindergarten class what his father did  for   a
     living.   "My  daddy,"  he said, "pretends  to  be  people."
     Fortunately,  there have been quite a few of them.     There
     were prophets from both the Old and New Testaments, a couple
     of Christian saints, generals of  various nationalities  and
     different  centuries, several kings, three  American  Presi-
     dents, a French Cardinal, and  a couple of geniuses, includ-
     ing Michelangelo.

          It's  been my good fortune, indeed my good fortune,  to
     explore several great men who have made a  difference, risen
     above  the ordinary, to change the course of  human  events.
     So, as I pondered my visit here  tonight, it struck me -  if
     my  Creator gave me the gift to connect you with the  hearts
     and  minds of these great  men, then I should use that  same
     gift  to reconnect you with something even more important  -
     your own  sense of individual purpose.

          When  he dedicated the memorial at Gettysburg,  Abraham
     Lincoln said this about those troubled, stirring  times: "We
     are  now engaged in a great civil war, testing whether  this
     nation  or any nations so conceived and  so  dedicated,  can
     long endure." In many ways, those words ring true again.   I
     believe  that today, right here,  now, we are again  engaged
     in a great civil war, and this campus is one of many battle-

          The war I'm referring to is cultural rather than  mili-
     tary.  But there's something, something very vital at stake.
     Today  the  battle  is for your hearts and  minds,  for  the
     freedom  to  think the way you choose to think,  to   follow
     that moral compass that points to what's right for you.

          Let me offer you an example.  A couple of years ago,  I
     was  sworn in as the President of the National Rifle   Asso-
     ciation  [applause  from audience].  Thank you.   I  believe
     strongly  in  the Bill of Rights and the  Second   Amendment
     provision  to  keep  and bear arms as one  of  those  rights
     [applause from audience].  Thank you.

          I felt I could make a difference, that it was the right
     thing to do, and that's when the bombshells of the  cultural
     war  began  to  blow  up all around me.   To  some,  I  went
     straight  from  "Moses" to "the Devil." To  others,  I  fell
     from  celluloid  saint  to cultural sinner  because  I  felt
     obligated to defend an individual freedom our   Constitution

          At  first,  at first I felt the issue  was  just  about
     guns.   Should law abiding citizens be able to own  them  as
     the   Founding Fathers mandated, or should a  "Big  Brother"
     government  be allowed to dismantle the Bill of  Rights?  It
     seemed simple to me.  Simple enough, right?

          Well, since then I've learned that the gun debate is  a
     lot  more  complicated  than I'd  thought.   When  I  became
     President  of the NRA, there was an  overwhelming  Orwellian
     tyranny sweeping this country; a fanatic fervor  of  politi-
     cally  correct  thought  and language.  Zealotry  is  not  a
     pretty thing, it's ugly; in the streets of Tel Aviv,   where
     misguided young men strap bombs to their bodies and  shatter
     not only mortar and steel, but also the  lives of the  inno-

          We used to think, we were above all that in this  coun-
     try.  Then a federal building in Oklahoma City exploded  and
     we  realized that the very same ugliness can  smolder  among
     us.  More and more, more and more we are  fueled by anger, a
     fury fed by those who profit from it.  Democrats hate Repub-
     licans, gays hate straights,  women hate men, liberals  hate
     conservatives,  vegetarians  hate meat-eaters,  gun  banners
     hate gun owners.    Politicians, the media, even the  enter-
     tainment  industry is keenly aware that  heated  controversy
     wins  votes,  it  snares ratings, and keeps the  box  office

          They're all experts at dangling the bait and  Americans
     are  eager  to  rise to it.  Our culture  has  replaced  the
     bloody arena fights of ancient Rome with stage fights on  TV
     with Sally, Ricky, Jerry, Maury, Jenny, and  Rosie [laughs].
     Sorry,  I  can't help laughing at that lady  [applause  from
     audience].  Fear of ideas creates even  more divisions As  a
     result, we're becoming increasingly fragmented as a  people.
     Our  one nation under God  with liberty and justice for  all
     now seems more like the fractured streets of Beirut, echoing
     with anger.

          Back  in the midst of another troubled era, as  a  very
     young actor, I did something that was definitely not   fash-
     ionable  in  Hollywood - I marched with Dr.   Martin  Luther
     King in 1963 [applause from audience].  It  was long  before
     it  became fashionable in that strange city.  It could  have
     cost  me my career.  That was a time  when  black  Americans
     couldn't  even get a job as a union stagehand.  Those of  us
     in the civil rights movement  battled the studios over  this
     blatant  discrimination  and we won,  finally.   Now,  black
     actors and directors and  writers are among the best in  our
     business.   I'm  proud  that some of us  helped  open  those

          Two  years  later, as President of  the  Screen  Actors
     Guild, I walked behind Dr.  King, leading the arts   contin-
     gent in his march on Washington.  My wife was not allowed to
     walk  in the front with us big dogs, but  she walked  beside
     an old black man with holes in his shoes and she said after-
     wards, "I bet I had more fun  than you guys did,"  [laughs].
     It was a proud day.

          Now,  I'm going to fast forward thirty-five  years.   I
     recently  told an audience that I felt that white  pride  is
     just   as  valid as black pride, or red pride,  or  whatever
     color  of  pride  you want [applause  from  audience].   For
     those words in that auditorium, I was called a racist.  I've
     worked with brilliantly talented homosexuals all my  career,
     but  when I told another audience that gay rights should  be
     given  no  greater  consideration than your   rights  or  my
     rights, I was called a homophobe.  I served in World War II;
     if  you  saw "Saving Private Ryan,"  you have  some  insight
     into  that part of our history, that savage conflict.   But,
     when  I  told an audience that I   thought  law-abiding  gun
     owners  were  being singled out for  cultural  stereotyping,
     much like the Jews were  under the Axis powers, I was brand-
     ed an anti-Semite.  Moses? [laughs] I love this country with
     all  my heart,  but when I challenged an audience to  resist
     cultural  persecution,  I was compared to  Timothy  McVeigh.
     After  a couple of years with the culturally correct  cross-
     hairs trained on my chest, I must admit, it was a  whole lot
     easier to be Moses.

          But  I can say this - get involved with  a  politically
     unpopular  cause  and  you'll  quickly  find  out  who  your
     friends  are.  I've been blasted from TIME Magazine  to  The
     Washington  Post to the "Today Show" and the  guy  down  the
     street.   They say, "Look, that's enough Chuck.  It many  be
     your  opinion, but it's not language  authorized for  public
     consumption."  Well,  if we'd been enamored  with  political
     correctness,  we'd  still be  King George's  boys  [applause
     from audience].

          Seventeen seventy-six wasn't all that long ago.   We've
     got  plenty  of good genes left to fire up our  passion  for
     freedom  [applause from audience].  In his book The  End  of
     Sanity,  Martin  Gross  writes  that  blatantly   irrational
     behavior  is  rapidly becoming established as  the  norm  in
     almost every area of human endeavor.    There seem to be new
     customs, new rules, new anti-intellectual theories regularly
     forced  upon  us from every   direction.   Underneath,  this
     nation is roiling.  Americans know something without a  name
     is  undermining the  nation and turning the mind mushy  when
     it  comes to separating truth from falsehood and right  from
     wrong  and they don't like it.

          Let's stroll around your own campus, just for a minute,
     and  see  if we can find a couple of  examples.   One   that
     comes  to  mind is Freedom Magazine.  Last  year  I'm  told,
     funding  for this conservative campus  publication  was  cut
     out  entirely  because some members of  the  Student  Senate
     didn't  care for its message.    Didn't care for  it's  mes-
     sage? Now, I don't know if the philosophy expressed on those
     pages  was right or  wrong, but it sure Lord deserves to  be
     heard  don't you think [applause from audience]?  I  thought
     that was  what college was all about, examining a  diversity
     of ideas before you draw conclusions.

          I've always been told that on campus there's a push for
     more affirmative action in the admissions process.     Well,
     I'm  for affirmative action, I'm much for it.  I believe  it
     starts  in  grammar school, survives the growing   pains  of
     high  school, and reaches fruition during  college  entrance
     exams, and I also believe it should be  colorblind [applause
     from  audience].  I have fought against racism all my  life,
     so  why  would  I tolerate racism  in  reverse?  Skin  color
     litmus tests? That harkens back to carpetbaggers and  Recon-
     struction.   I  believe in a  level playing  field  and  the
     equality  that comes with accomplishment.  One standard  for
     all - no more, no less.

          But we have to be careful here because telling us  what
     to  think  has  evolved into telling us what  to  say.   So,
     telling  us  what to do can't be very far  behind  [applause
     from  audience].  I argue passionately for the  freedom   to
     keep  an  open mind because in audiences like  this  one,  I
     sense  and see America's best and brightest  [applause  from
     audience].   Brandeis remains a fertile cradle  of  American
     academia  and each of you are the  best hope we have  for  a
     productive, livable, spiritual future.

          But I submit, that you and your counterparts in colleg-
     es from coast to coast, also appear to be the most  socially
     conformed and politically silenced generation since  Concord
     Bridge.   As long as you shrug your  shoulders and abide  by
     it,  then  by the standards of your  grandfathers,  you  are
     cultural cowards.  If you talk  about race, it doesn't  make
     you a racist.  If you see distinctions between the  genders,
     that  doesn't make you  a sexist.  If you  think  critically
     about  a given denomination, it doesn't make you  anti-reli-
     gion.  If you accept  homosexuality, but don't celebrate it,
     it  doesn't make you a homophobe.  A free people can  use  a
     new   revolution everyday and I challenge you to resist  the
     dogma  of cultural and social stereotyping  [applause   from

          I  beg you, don't let America's universities  serve  as
     incubators  for  a  rampant epidemic of this  new  brand  of
     McCarthyism [applause from audience].  Stand up, speak  out.
     Follow your heart, even if it goes against the  conventional
     grain.  Take heart in the fact that others have walked  that
     same path - Jesus, Joan of Arc,  Gandhi, Jefferson, Lincoln,
     Martin Luther King, Susan B.  Anthony.  I think the germ  of
     disobedience  is in our  DNA.  Who here doesn't feel a  cer-
     tain kinship with the rebellious spirit that tossed that tea
     into Boston  Harbor? It's the same spirit that sent  Thoreau
     to  jail, that refused to sit in the back of the  bus,  that
     filled our  streets with Vietnam War protesters.  But let me
     warn you, it ain't easy.  Dr.  King stood on a lot of balco-
     nies.     The police dogs in Montgomery were  vicious.   The
     water cannons in Selma were painful, they hurt a lot.

          Modern versions of the same weapons of oppression exist
     today.   Just  a few weeks ago, my good  friend   Wayne  La-
     Pierre,  the Executive-Director, head of the National  Rifle
     Association,  spoke pretty candidly on  national  television
     about  the  President's  gun policies.  In  return,  he  was
     personally and professionally crucified  for daring to speak
     his  mind.  During the past eight years,  President  Clinton
     has  fought  hard  for every kind  of   firearm  restriction
     imaginable  [applause  from protesters].   It's  true,  it's
     true.   Yet,  at  the same time, he has a as   a  matter  of
     policy  refused to vigorously enforce the 22,000  gun  laws,
     federal gun laws already on the books  [applause from  audi-

          Wayne said that prosecuting felons with firearms is the
     only  proven policy that has cut gun murders by half.     He
     watched it work in Richmond, Virginia under a program called
     "Project  Exile."  Every  felon, every man   with  a  felony
     record  caught  with a firearm - whether he's  committing  a
     crime or not - serves a mandatory  five years in prison.  No
     plea bargaining, no deals [applause from audience].

          I  must  tell you, that started with  a  brave,  young,
     federal  assistant  district  attorney who  was  working  in
     Richmond.   And he came home one night and his daughter  was
     sitting  in front of the television - there had   been  some
     sort  of a gunfight in the streets - and she  said,  "Daddy,
     can't  anybody do anything about this?"  And he said,  "Yeah
     honey,  your  daddy can." And he did, with the help  of  the

          Well,  we gave him close to a million dollars and  it's
     working.   Believe  me, not many felons  carry  firearms  in
     Richmond  anymore.  The NRA helped fund that, as I've  said,
     when  the  Clinton administration wouldn't.   So,  I   think
     Wayne  LaPierre spoke the truth when he said  the  President
     seems willing to accept a certain amount  of firearm related
     violence  because enforcement interfered with  his  personal
     anti-gun agenda.

          The  words were no more out of Wayne's mouth  when  the
     media  erupted.   For two solid weeks,  he  was   demonized,
     scorned,  vilified.  But during those same weeks, the  media
     was  far more interested in reporting  what Wayne said  than
     investigating  what Clinton did, or failed to do.  In  fact,
     the  President has been  miserably lax in enforcing  federal
     gun  laws.   But  it was easier to condemn a  good  man  for
     making  a politically  incorrect statement, than it  was  to
     dig  out the facts and exonerate a victim of  cultural  war-
     fare.  To me,  political correctness is tyranny, just tyran-
     ny with manners [applause from audience].  The spectacle  of
     Wayne   LaPierre's media crucifixion appalled me.   Yet,  at
     the  same time, it stiffened my determination to speak  out,
     even louder, with all the breath I have about this  cultural
     cancer that's eating away at our society.

          So,  in closing, let me challenge those  good,  strong,
     young  minds of yours.  Dare to consider both sides  of  any
     issue  and  find the courage to question  authority.   Don't
     always  believe everything you hear from a Bill  Clinton,  a
     Dan  Rather, a George Bush, or an Al Gore.  Dig deeper  than
     the  headlines,  or the stump  speeches, or  the  television
     news.   Don't  trust any of us, not a Michael  Jordan  or  a
     Dennis  Miller, not even  Charlton Heston [laughs],  because
     we all have our prejudices and it's your job to sort through
     all  the  rhetoric, weigh and measure each word, and  decide
     on  your  own.  Then, just as I [interrupted  by  applause].
     Thank  you, I take my applause where I can get it  [applause
     from  audience].  Then, just as I felt compelled  to   stand
     with Dr.  King, you'll find yourself compelled to act, too.

          When  a fatherless kid in a crack house finds a  stolen
     gun and shoots his schoolmate, stand up and say giving  drug
     dealers trigger locks isn't the solution here [applause from
     audience].   When a mugger sues his elderly  victim for  de-
     fending herself, jam the switchboard at the district  attor-
     ney's  office,  raise the roof in outrage.   Or   when  your
     university is pressured to lower its standards until  eighty
     percent the students graduate with  honors, choke the  halls
     of  the  Board of Regents in a unified show  of  disgruntled
     force.  When an eight year  old boy pecks a girl's cheek  on
     a  playground and gets hauled into court for sexual  harass-
     ment,  descend  on  that school like avenging  angels  until
     someone in charge exercises some common sense [applause from
     audience].   And, when someone you've elected is seduced  by
     the power of the office and betrays you,  muster the collec-
     tive  will  to banish them from public life  [applause  from

          Because, unless you do these things, freedom as we have
     known  it for two centuries cannot endure.  So I   challenge
     you  to take up the torch that freed exiles,  founded  reli-
     gions,  defeated tyrants, and provoked an  armed and  roused
     rabble  to  break  out of bondage and  build  this  country.
     There is still some of them in all of  us, so don't give  up
     just  yet.  We're not quite finished with their  revolution.
     Thank you [standing ovation].

          Transcribed  by  Michael  Sturm,  Editor-in-Chief   and
     Chairman of Freedom Magazine.

          ) 2000 Freedom Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.

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