Interview with Larry Schweikart: Patriotic HistoryHistorians in the News
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Larry Schweikart, a history professor at the University of Dayton. He is the co-author (with Michael Allen) of the new book, A Patriot's History Of The United States: From Columbus's Great Discovery To The War On Terror.
FP: Dr. Schweikart, welcome to Frontpage Interview. It is a pleasure to have you here.
Schweikart: Thanks, Jamie. I only wish Mike could be here with us, but he's busy promoting the book on the West Coast.
FP: What inspired you to write a patriot’s history of America?
Schweikart: It began years ago when I was teaching U.S. history and found a numbing similarity in all the U.S. history textbooks: they all seemed heavily tilted to the left. One of the first things that really convinced me to write a survey was a chart on debt and deficits in the then-Bailey and Kennedy book, "The American Pageant," dealing with the Reagan years. The upshot was that federal debt and deficits just went off the screen under Reagan, and the authors had two charts to emphasize this--in case the students missed it. But I then noticed that their dollars were not in "real dollars," and so I re-calculated the charts in real dollars as a share of GNP and found that they not only were wrong, they were so seriously distorted as to be meaningless. The worst deficits in American history, as a share of GNP, occurred under FDR, not Reagan, and the national debt levels under Reagan in real dollars as a share of GNP were about where they were under Kennedy.
So I decided then to begin writing a U.S. history survey---and was already in the process of writing "The Entrepreneurial Adventure" for Harcourt, which is a history of American business. But I had some gaps in my knowledge and areas of emphasis, so I contacted Mike Allen, whom I had met before at the Western History Assoc. meeting, and we hit it off. Not only did our areas of emphasis compliment each other, but our interpretations and world view on the "big questions" were quite sympatico. It was a great match-up. We also agreed on the marketing strategy of making an "end run" around the textbook companies (and faculty committees) by going the "trade" route, and got a terrific publisher who really believes in the book in Penguin/Sentinel.
FP: How do you think your book will do in academia? Will it be included in the curriculum of any courses? What do you think can be done to improve the intellectual balance and diversity in academia?
Schweikart: We not only think it will do well, we are counting on it. Already people from Duquesne and Hillsdale had adopted it, as have a half-dozen instructors from junior colleges and smaller colleges. This, in fact, is where we will get great sales---in those schools where the uber-leftists do not dominate what the non-tenure track and part-timers can use. As a sidebar, it’s funny that in many schools, as you well know, the teaching of the “core” history classes, including Western Civ (if they still allow that to be taught) and U.S. History is foisted off on part-timers or non-tenure track people. My experience is that many of these teachers, though certainly not a majority, are conservatives. They come from the ranks of business people who just like history; conservatives who were blacklisted in “mainstream” academia; lawyers; housewives; and retired military people. We think the book will have a huge appeal to them.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In March, Mike and I will have a booth provided by Penguin/Sentinel at the Missouri Valley History conference and the “buzz” is that there is great excitement over Patriot’s History. My personal experience is that many teachers have been waiting a long time for a book like this. Then we have the homeschoolers. I can’t tell you how many e-mail questions I get on website chat threads about whether this book is appropriate for homeschoolers, and the answer is yes. Homeschoolers as a rule are ahead of their public-school counterparts, and the book is perfect for a Junior or Senior homeschooler. I should add, though, that Patriot’s History does not have the typical “boilerplate” of a “textbook,” what with “study questions” and “review topics.” But it has a hefty notes/sources section. Maybe in the second edition we can add a few maps and charts. Still, students just don’t read most of that stuff. When I teach a freshman course, I often have to begin with “How to Read a History Book.” The study habits are that bad out there.
As to your second question, Jamie, I’m less optimistic. The academy is unique in the social and economic culture of the United States, in that it is essentially immune from the market forces that discipline every other activity. I highly recommend a book by my fellow Ohioan, Richard Vedder, Going Broke By Degree, on this topic. But here’s what we have: the faculty (aided and abetted by leftist administrations) sets the intellectual agenda. Trustees cannot control them, parents cannot control them, and even the students---who are less willing to put up with left-wing demagougery---really can’t control them. In the first place, faculty have an iron grip on hiring. No conservative can even get close to a final three cut-down in a search. Mike and I are rare, rare exceptions, and there are a few. But you’ve seen the numbers. In most universities it’s 10:1 liberal to conservative.
Worse, there is no competition, because the mind-set of those at the top convinces them that all of their competitors have the same views they do, so they steadily drift further left. Vedder argues that on-line universities, like the University of Phoenix, will eventually provide an important alternative. I don’t know. One central aspect of college life is the social interactions on a campus, and the electronic campus will never significantly replace that, any more than homeschooling can replace traditional schools.
However, I can’t completely lose hope. In my lifetime, I’ve seen something occur that I would have thought impossible---the demise of the MainstreamMedia (MSM) and the rise of “alternative” or “conservative” voices with almost as much power and influence, including the Internet and sites such as Frontpagemagazine.com . Twenty-five years ago, who would have predicted that the “big three” would be in a news ratings free-fall, or that a radio host like Rush Limbaugh would have as much influence over a large part of the country as the New York Times? So given that it happened in the media, anything’s possible. But right now, I don’t see educational reform on the horizon. I hope I’m wrong.
FP: What do you think motivates many Americans to loathe their own country?
Schweikart: I think this has its origins in several underlying factors. One is, liberals hate capitalism because it's been my experience that they just don't understand it. Most haven't read Adam Smith and certainly don't get that "self interest" is not selfishness. So right off the bat, any country that is primarily capitalist is "evil."
Second, they rightly recognize (but usually won't admit) the fact that Americans are blessed by God, and that as a nation we have honored Him, and therefore can be blessed by Him. They hate that about us---that we are, for all of our sin and rebellion, still pretty much a Christian nation. Liberals hate God-talk, whether it comes from an Orthodox Jew or a "fundamentalist" Christian (by which they mean any Christian who practices what he or she preaches!) They want to rely solely on themselves, which is the ultimate rebellion against God. Yet deep inside, they know this is wrong, and it eats at them. Jesus encountered the "rich young ruler" who "went away sad" because he would not do what Jesus told him to do, with the implication being that his sadness came because he knew what was the right thing to do, but his ego got in the way. Liberals hate that little voice that keeps telling them, "There is a God, and you're not him." It makes them angry people.
Third, they loathe the notion that America has a special role in the world---a GOOD role---and to them the notion that any one country is "better" than another is anathema. So they get themselves in this remarkable pickle: they rail against "oppression" and "violations" of "human rights," yet hate the only country in the world capable of doing anything about it. More important, since most of the time, the only way to deal with tyrannies is to defeat them militarily, liberals are even more exorcised because they can't stand the use of military force.
FP: What do you think of many segments of the Left now cheering for radical Islam? Tom Hayden and Michael Moore have clearly come out supporting the Islamist enemy. This is bizarre, as our totalitarian enemy extinguishes all rights that are supposedly at the heart of leftist values. What gives here?
Schweikart: It is entirely predictable. Years ago, I took history courses from Robert Loewenberg, who has gone on to head up the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS) in Jerusalem. He even wrote a paper about how the “pacifist” Quakers were supporting the PLO---this was in the 1970s. These radicals always supported the Soviets and their slug-like apprentices, and I think we on the right assumed that it was because they had so much in common ideologically with communism. But perhaps an even more important factor was that the Soviets were anti-American. Perhaps it is that these people so hate America, and the concept of what this nation stands for, that they would gleefully align with anyone who opposes us.
That’s why I think the modern so-called “left” in fact greatly resembles the Nazis: they are anti-religious (unless it is their state, secular religion of “man” or Gaia); they are anti-Semitic; they hate freedom; and they are ruthless in their speech and behavior codes.
When it gets right down to it, both the Islamofascists and the modern Moore-ish left are terrified of the freedom of ideas. As a Christian, I’m convinced in the rightness of my ideas and that they will win out without force. It’s interesting that new research, which we cite in Patriot’s History, shows that the more competition there is in religion, the better the so-called “fundamentalist” denominations do. I don’t know if that applies to Orthodox Jewry---that wasn’t included in the study---but from my perspective, if all ideas are able to be expressed, the best ideas will always win. This doesn’t sit well with the Left and the Islamofascists. Many Muslim countries strictly prohibit missionaries and evangelizing. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but 20 years ago contractors working in Saudi Arabia were told they could not bring Bibles, crosses, Stars of David, or many other religions items that challenged Islam.
Well, if you think about the Left’s “enemies list,” God is at the top, and especially Jesus. A generic “god” is ok for now, but of course, they want to get rid of that concept too. I think, then, they see the Judeo-Christian God as the central threat to everything they do, and don’t take Allah as much of a threat at all. Therefore, the Islamic nations aren’t a problem in their book.
Oh, and one more thing: even if they were a problem, the Left is stuck because actually doing something about them is going to require military force, pure and simple, and the Left hates the use of military power for whatever purpose.
FP: What is it that makes America a beacon of liberty?
Schweikart: America remains a shining city on the hill because, despite steady erosion in some cases, we are a nation that celebrates individuals---individual freedom, individual initiative, and even individual failure. We tolerate failure more than any country in the world, and everyone learns from failure. We rejoice in cultural differences, but unlike many Euros, we insist that at some point you become "American." I know many people think this is unravelling, especially with Hispanic immigration. But it's interesting that in 1910 there were more daily German-language newspapers in the U.S. than there are Spanish-language newspapers today; that in the late 1900s it took about three generations before the majority of the language in the home of an immigrant was English, whereas today it's closer to two generations.
The United States, among all nations, also remains a beacon of liberty because we are a nation of LAW. We still respect, for the most part, the right to property. Citizens, unlike most places in the world, can be armed. We uphold, in most cases, sanctity of contract. And so on. It isn't just that we have unfettered liberty in America, but that we have a structure of law that generates a climate of responsibility to go along with it.
FP: Do you think the Bush administration did the right thing by liberating Iraq?
Schweikart: Absolutely. After 9/11, Bush faced up to a threat that, frankly, his own father and Bill Clinton ignored: Islamofascism. This was a very tough call. It would have been so easy to topple the Taliban and declare victory, then, two, three, or ten years later have a bio weapon go off in Chicago or have a dirty bomb make Manhattan unliveable for the next fifteen years. Instead, Bush did what a leader needs to do. He saw the threat and acted, not merely for short term results, but for long-term stability. This is something Woodrow Wilson didn't do with the communist revolution in Russia. And we note in the book that even though FDR was almost alone in seeing the Nazi and Japanese threats for what they were, he never used his own political capital to mobilize the country to face them. But Bush did.
Almost everyone knew that to effectively deal with the islamofascist threat, after Afghanistan we needed to take on Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, in no particular order and with a variety of methods. Bush chose the most obvious, I think, and, in a sense, the easiest. But we still are going to have to change the governments in Iran, Syria, and possibly Saudi Arabia, and Khaddafi wisely decided he'd rather rule as a prince without his weapons than sit in a jail as a one-time dictator.
Of course, the issue has been the WMDs, and I would remind everyone that as we geared up to go into Iraq, France and Germany said Saddam had WMDs; Britain said he had WMDs; Russia said he had WMDs (and also said that he provided support for 9/11); all of NATO said he had WMDs; Iran said he had WMDs; Israel said he had WMDs; Australia said he had WMDs; the King of Jordan and the president of Egypt BOTH told Tommy Franks that Saddam had WMDs; the UN said he had them; and lastly the CIA said he had them. Saddam himself easily could have proven he didn't, but chose not to. Now, my question is, why does only the CIA and Bush get blamed, when every darn country in the world, most of them using independent sources of intelligence, came to the same conclusion?
My own thought is that the weapons likely were there, and were moved. During the war, we found 140 JETS buried in the desert for 10 years that we didn't know about. If Saddam could hide 140 jets, how easy would it be to hide some drums of VX or other chem/bio weapons? His own army had chem/bio suits en masse. The bottom line is, Bush would have been a fool if he had not taken the WMD threat seriously and de-throned Saddam in light of the 9/11 attacks.
This is the defining issue of our day. Yes, Bush has made some mistakes by sighing Campaign Finance Reform and allowing that monstrosity of a prescription drug bill to pass. But overall these are very minor issues compared to what I believe is our very survival, and he has been a great leader on this defining issue of the time.
FP: If you were asked for your advice by the Bush administration on the next steps in fighting the terror war, what would you recommend?
Schweikart: First, finish pacifying Iraq. This will not be a short-term thing. Since 1899, the U.S. or western nations have fought something like eleven major anti-guerrilla or anit-”insurgency” campaigns, including the Philippine insurrection, Malaya, and Vietnam. The established government or the West won eight of those. Almost all of them took a minimum of five years to win. In other words, victory is nearly assured, but patience is an absolute necessity.
Second, make plans to foment a revolt in Iran. We should already be slipping agents inside Iran and destabilizing that government. Once we are satisfied with the situation in Iraq, lower the boom. I don’t think Iran will require direct military intervention, but it may need some special forces and a well-placed precision-guided-weapon or two.
Third, get it set in our minds now that this isn’t over until we deal with Syria. At that point, with a democratized Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran in place, who knows what would develop. I suspect the Saudis would see the writing on the wall, but you never know.
Finally, but certainly this could be done right now, tighten our borders. Illegal immigration is going to be the issue of the 2008 election, in my opinion. The fact that She-Who-Mus-Not-Be-Named has already made noises about this shows that the Dems are not totally blind. Of course, the Democratic Party cannot propose any serious immigration reform, because that would finish it as a party. So the key will be the Republican contenders. But sooner or later, someone must step up and say “enough.” We cannot allow millions of illegals to keep coming into this country---it is, above all, a security threat.
FP: What is the future of America?
Schweikart: Right now, the future looks incredibly bright. The increasing conservatism of youth, the growing awareness of a need for spiritual things, and the continued growth of the economy all are very positive signs. The “Greatest Generation” is going to die out and with them, the entitlement mentality of the New Deal will die too. Most of the students I speak to are upset about Social Security---and they tend to not get upset about anything. But they easily see the injustice of that program. More and more, they see the inherent destructiveness of “anti-poverty” programs, and while they don’t lack compassion, they do have common sense, and know that having babies without fathers just ain’t gonna work! The aforementioned revolution in the media is a spectacle to behold, and with it, the phenomenal success of the Passion of the Christ suggests that even Hollywood is losing its grip on our culture.
Heck, merely the appearance of books like A Patriot’s History, Slander, Radical Son, and Bias reflects the loss of control over the intellectual discussion in the United States that once was completely in the hands of the Left. But there are still major hurdles remaining. I’ve mentioned the university system. Hollywood and the music industry still have far too much influence over all citizens---not just the young. Rap is particularly destructive---and, in my view, boring. (This from a former rock drummer who opened major concerts back in the 1970s!). There is a lot yet to do, and evil never takes a holiday.
FP: Dr. Schweikart, thank you. It was a pleasure to have you here. We hope to see you again soon.
Schweikart: Thanks very much. I love FPM and am honored that you guys took the time to discuss our book. It's a long war, and I hope this is one of many small victories we experience.
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