What’s a patriotic conservative to do? So often, history textbooks have been accused of peddling a leftist mishmash of America-bashing and skewed intellectual flag-burning. As we’ve argued in these pages, for generations conservatives from the American Legion to David Barton have attempted to publish their own history textbooks that tell a more patriotic, more Christian story.
One of the most successful of those textbook efforts has been Larry Schweikert’s and Michael Allen’s 2004 A Patriot’s History of the United States. The book tells the story of the United States in a way that celebrates the triumphs and tragedies of America from a traditionalist patriotic viewpoint. According to the book’s Wikipedia page, one reviewer from the Heritage Foundation wrote in 2005 that the book centered on a simple premise: “that there are principles and purposes reflected in American history that make this imperfect country worthy of our affection.” Other reviewers had more hostile opinions. David Hoogland Noon wrote in the pages of the History Teacher that this book was “written for an audience of the previously converted . . . hardly worth anyone else’s time.”
Via Andrew Palmer at Conservative Teachers of America we see that Schweikert is hoping to turn the book into a movie. Schweikert has published a four-and-a-half minute trailer. Tellingly, the dramatic intro promises the film will tell viewers “the history you always knew.” In other words, the approach of Schweikert and Allen has been to confirm the traditional story of America’s greatness. Not that this story has been one of unalloyed heroism, Schweikert and Allen might say, but overall the sweep of history has proven the United States to be the greatest nation on earth.
The choice of bits and pieces for this trailer tells us something about the movie’s approach. First of all, it begins and ends with fireworks. It includes scenic panoramas of cherry blossoms on the Mall in Washington DC, Ansel-Adams-like vistas of rocky outcroppings, and other traditional American eye candy. As I watched, I took sketchy notes of some of the featured elements:
- Happy colonists
- Heroic suffering in the Revolutionary War
- Heroic racing in wagons to settle the West
- The Civil War
- An Industrial Revolution with awesome achievement
- D-day and Iwo Jima
- Immigrants as ardent patriots
- The Green Bay Packers!
- Mount Rushmore
- The Moon Landing
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- A jet in Vietnam napalming a field
- Reagan calling on Gorbachev to tear down this wall
- The hockey “Miracle on Ice” of 1980
- Lots of Fireworks.
Clearly, any movie trailer tells only part of the story. This one certainly skews toward the positive elements of American history. Unlike some academic histories, the story of the settling of the West is told as a heroic race to fill in land with settlers, not as the invasion of Europeans and the genocide of the native inhabitants. As much as what was included, this trailer leaves out some important elements. I saw no suggestion of race slavery, for example, nor of the systematic extermination of native peoples.
Will conservative teachers and schools embrace the film as conservatives embraced the book? I don’t see why not. In my experience, conservative intellectuals don’t want children to read patriotic lies about America’s past, but they do want children to read patriotic truths. In the case of the American Legion’s 1926 textbook series, for example, as soon as the Legion leadership found out that the book was riddled with errors, the Legion pulled its support. And as soon as David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies accumulated accusations of inaccuracy, its original publisher yanked it.
My hunch is that the makers of A Patriot’s History would argue that they do tell the full story of America’s past. The trailer, for example, did include clips of America’s troubling policy of napalming villages in the Vietnam War. To be a success, I’m guessing, this film will have to convince conservative audiences of two things. First, it must seem like a full and true history of these United States. Second, it must make clear that this country—despite its historical blemishes—is the greatest nation on the earth.
The hard question remains: Would you want your kids to watch it?