The United States of Amnesia
Many leftists work hard to erase from public memory America’s most positive stories.



Lee Habeeb

It was an important moment in China’s history, memorialized by an iconic photograph. A lone anonymous man, two shopping bags in hand, took it upon himself to stand in front of a line of moving tanks in defiance of the crackdown by the Chinese government at Tiananmen Square. AP photographer Jeff Widener snapped that picture on June 5, 1989. Over two decades later, writer Louisa Lim visited four of Beijing’s top universities and showed students a photo of “Tank Man.” Out of the 100 students she approached, only 15 correctly identified the picture.

Those results were no accident. As Lim explains in his new book, The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, the Chinese authorities had determined to blot out public memory of the protests that gripped their nation 25 years ago.

George Orwell knew why. “The most effective way to destroy a people is to deny and obliterate their understanding of their own history,” he once wrote. Orwell was right. Battles over the past are always about the future.

In America, we face a very different problem. Many on the left who don’t much care for America, free enterprise, or the Constitution are working hard to promote only the most shameful aspects of our history while trying to erase from public memory our most positive stories.

It’s China in reverse. And a very different kind of amnesia is being promoted. “What I find striking is the highly selective view of history that is routinely taught not only in colleges but also in the public schools,” author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza recently explained. “This is a view that trolls through American history, isolates a half-dozen facts, pulls them all together, and passes them off as a narrative of American shame.”

And there is real shame in America’s past. From the original sin of slavery to segregation, it seems almost impossible now to conjure up an America where it was legal to own another human being as if he or she were a cow or horse. And it’s hard to imagine an America where it was not legal for black people to swim in the same pool as white people in large parts of our country. Let alone attend the same school or eat in the same diner.

But what irks D’Souza, whose film America: Where Would We Be Without Her opens during the July Fourth weekend, is all of the important American history that’s skipped over. “Most of our young people think that is our history, the shame part alone, and what they don’t realize is that this is an account that jumps all over decades, even centuries, and leaves out huge episodes of America, which is the Industrial Revolution, the spreading of the railroads, the great entrepreneurial and innovation history of America, and the First and Second spiritual awakenings, which transformed the country.”

Regrettably, the American story is being told in large measure by people who don’t like our country and want to change it by erasing those parts of our history that don’t comport with their view of man’s relation to government — and to God. The storyline goes something like this: If only America were less American, the world would be a better place. If only we toned down the emphasis on the individual, and turned up the emphasis on the collective, America would be a better place. If only our Constitution were a “living Constitution,” less concerned with limiting government’s power and more like South Africa’s, a work in progress with an almost endless list of rights and entitlements, we’d be a better country.

As if the document our Founders wrote over 200 years ago isn’t alive and thriving. As if it hadn’t unleashed the God-given potential of a people as no other single document in human history has done.

 In America, the government receives its limited powers from the people. That was a revolutionary idea in the 18th century. It still is. We who care about such things have not spent enough time or money on the story of our country. And in the culture wars we are fighting, the biggest cultural battle of them all is over our story.

“We have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we’re headed,” American storyteller David McCullough explained in a 2005 Hillsdale College Leadership Series speech in Phoenix. “How can we not want to know about the people who have made it possible for us to live as we live, to have the freedoms we have, to be citizens of this greatest of countries in all time? It’s not just a birthright, it is something that others struggled for, strived for, often suffered for, often were defeated for and died for, for us, for the next generation.”

One thing is certain. The troubles we’re facing today are nothing compared to troubles we’ve faced in the past. “The Revolutionary War was as dark a time as we’ve ever been through,” McCullough continued; and “1776, the year we so consistently and rightly celebrate every year, was one of the darkest times, if not the darkest time in the history of the country.”

Signers of the Declaration of Independence
As Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, here's a look at the men who signed their name to the nation's founding document, the Declaration of Independence.
Fifty six names appear on the Declaration of Independence, representatives to the Continental Congress from the original thirteen colonies. Most were born in America, with eight born abroad. They were men of means, more than half of them lawyers, along with merchants from a variety of trades. All had much to lose if the fight for independence were to fail.
Some of the signers went on to play key roles in the early years of the new nation, including helping to draft the federal Constitution.; two later became president. Others are less well known to history, with a few having done little in public service save for their time on the Continental Congress.
As a group they pledged to each other “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor,” a pact with terrible gravity given the threats issued by King George against the independence movement and the Continental Congress itself.
Their assertion of the right of independence, and the inalienable rights of all men, would echo through the nation's founding and beyond.
John Adams (Massachusetts): Adams, who would go on to become the first vice-president (under George Washington) and the second president of the United States, was one of the core Founding Fathers, whose work in advocating independence earned him the appellation "Atlas of American Independence."
Samuel Adams (Massachusetts): The "Firebrand of the Revolution" was a true believer in independence who played a major part in the agitation that led to the Revolution, most famously in helping to incite the Boston Tea Party. His spirited and successful career as a polemicist contrasted with his personal and professional shortcomings.
Josiah Barlett (New Hampshire): One of several physicians serving in the Continental Congress, and would put those skills to use with a Continental army regiment from New Hampshire during the Revolutionary War.
Carter Braxton (Virginia): Braxton had signed on to the Virginia Resolves, which protested British regulation of colonial affairs, in 1769, but initially opposed the independence movement as a congressman.
Charles Carroll (Maryland): The lone Roman Catholic signer, Carroll was also one of the wealthiest men in the colonies, and once travelled with Benjamin Franklin to try to obtain a union between Canada and the colonies.
Samuel Chase (Maryland): A lawyer known as the "Demosthenes of Maryland" for his skilled oratories, Chase would later serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Abraham Clark (New Jersey): Though he failed to be admitted to the bar, Clark was known as a "poor man's counselor" who would give legal advice in trade for goods. Two of Clark's sons were captured by the British and kept on the prison ship Jersey.
George Clymer (Pennsylvania): A financier who acted as a Continental treasurer before the Revolution, Clymer represented Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where he signed that founding document as well.
William Ellery (Rhode Island): Ellery tried his hand at several professions before settling on law, and after the Revolution — during which his Newport home was destroyed by British troops — he worked in the Continental Loan Office.
William Floyd (New York): British soldiers used Floyd's home on Long Island as a barracks during the Revolutionary War, and drove his family to exile in Connecticut. He later deeded the estate to his son and built a new home in Westernville.
Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania): The oldest signer of the Declaration, at 70, Franklin was a self-educated renaissance man, scholar, scientist, inventor, and philanthropist who helped develop the first draft of the Declaration, and later served as commissioner to France.
Elbridge Gerry (Massachusetts): Gerry served on the Continental Congress's council of safety, which prepared the colonies for war, and barely eluded capture by British troops in 1775. He was nicknamed the "soldiers' friend" for his advocacy of better pay and equipment.
Button Gwinnett (Georgia): Born in England, Gwinnett lost his island estate to creditors, and was forced to watch as British troops replenished their supplies from the livestock on his estate. A year after the Revolution, he was killed in a duel.
Lyman Hall (Georgia): Trained as a Congregationalist minister, Hall later hung a shingle as a physician, and put his medical skills to work dealing with the malarial swamps that bordered his estate.
John Hancock (Massachusetts): Famous for his oversized signature on the Declaration, Hancock was a wealthy Boston merchant wooed by Samuel and John Adams to join the independence movement. Though lacking military experience, he entertained hopes of heading the Continental Army, a job that went instead to George Washington.
Benjamin Harrison (Virginia): The "Falstaff of Congress" was an early agitator for separation from Britain, and would later serve three terms as governor of Virginia.
John Hart (New Jersey): Hart was a jurist and legislator before joining the Continental Congress, Hart lost his wife to illness when British redcoats sacked his home and his family was scattered. He died a few years after the Revolution.
Joseph Hewes (North Carolina): A very successful merchant from a Quaker family, Hewes would later leave the faith. At first opposed separation while serving in the Continental Congress, he is said to have had a transformation during a debate, pronouncing: "It is done! And I will abide by it."
Thomas Heyward (South Carolina): A lawyer who served in the South Carolina militia, Heyward was captured by the British in 1780 and spent a year in prison. Shortly before his release he celebrated Independence Day by substituting patriotic verses into the British national anthem.
William Hooper (North Carolina): Raised in an aristocratic loyalist family, Hooper spent ten months on the run from the British in 1781, but due to his aristocratic airs as a politician he lost favor with the public after the war.
Stephen Hopkins (Rhode Island): An early supporter of revolutionary politics, Hopkins suffered from palsy, which affected his signature on the Declaration. Said Hopkins: "My hand trembles, but my heart does not!"
Francis Hopkinson (New Jersey): Hopkins supplemented his work as a lawyer with a talent for art and music, making hime one of the America's first native-born composers, and he frequently penned satirical essays that advanced the patriot cause. His eldest son Joseph would later write "Hail Columbia."
Samuel Huntington (Connecticut): A self-made man born to humble origins, Huntington tight himself law, and later served as the King's Attorney before resigning to join the revolution. As a presidential elector in 1789, he earned two votes himself as a "favorite son."
Thomas Jefferson (Virginia): The chief author of the first draft of the Declaration and a man of wide-ranging curiosity and erudition, Jefferson would later serve as secretary of state, vice president, and the third president of the country he did so much to bring into being.
Francis Lightfoot Lee (Virginia): Joining the cause of revolution at the time of the Stamp Act in 1765, Lee participated in many protests and assembles in Virginia. After the revolution he largely retired from a life of public service.
Richard Henry Lee (Virginia): It was Lee who formally introduced the resolution for independence on June 7, 1776. At the Constitutional Convention his opposition to a strong central government led him to oppose the federal constitution and campaign for the inclusion of a bill of rights.
Francis Lewis (New York): Lewis was once captured during the French and Indian War and served time in a French prison, quickly rebuilding his fortune upon his return. Lewis was an early revolutionary, and was one of the Sons of Liberty. His wife suffered during imprisonment by the British, and died in 1779.
Philip Livingston (New York): A prosperous merchant, Livingston stood with the Whigs in their quarrel with the royal governor but resented the tactics of the Sons of Liberty. During the war General George Washington planned the evacuation of Long Island in his home.
Thomas Lynch (South Carolina): The second-youngest signer, Lynch was an aristocratic farmer who served alongside his father on the Continental Congress. Both were seriously ill at the time of the signing. Lynch died just three years later when his shop foundered in the West Indies.
Thomas McKean (Delaware): Thought he broke a crucial tie vote on Delaware's delegation to the Continental Congress, McKean was the last to actually sign the Declaration, waiting until January 18, 1777. During and after the Revolution he served three stormy terms as governor of Pennsylvania.
Arthur Middleton (South Carolina): A graduate of Cambridge from a wealthy aristocratic family, Middleton campaigned against the royal governor of South Carolina and advocated the tarring and feathering of Loyalists. He was captured by the British during the siege of Charleston.
Lewis Morris (New York): During the Revolutionary War Morris served as a brigadier general in the Westchester County militia, and his three eldest sons served under General Washington.
Robert Morris (Pennsylvania): Morris was dubbed the "Financier of the Revolution" for his work in keeping the Continental Army supplied, which sometimes meant taking out personal loans to fund General Washington's war effort. After wild financial speculation in his later years, Morris died penniless in 1806.
John Morton (Pennsylvania): A surveyor and farmer, Morton was a crucial swing vote in favor of independence on the Pennsylvania delegation, where he served alongside Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson. Morton was the first to die, passing away in the spring of 1777.
Thomas Nelson (Virginia): An outspoken proponent of separation from Britain, Nelson helped obtain munitions and supplies for the Continental Army when his own poor health preventing him from serving, sometimes personally guaranteeing loans from wealthy plantation owners.
William Paca (Maryland): Paca worked tireless to drum up support at home to help push the Maryland delegation to vote for independence, and during the war outfitted troops with his own money.
Robert Treat Paine (Massachusetts): Paine served as a prosecuting attorney at the Boston Massacre trial, arguing against defense counsel, and later fellow Contingental Congress delegate, John Adams. His habit of contesting proposals earned him the nickname "Objection Maker."
John Penn (North Carolina): A country lawyer whose time at the Continental Congress comprised most of his time in public service, Penn was once challenged to a duel but managed to talk his way out of it.
George Read (Delaware): Read was the only signer to vote against independence on the final congressional vote on July 2, 1776. At the Constitutional Convention, Read defended the rights of smaller states.
Caesar Rodney (Delaware): One of only two bachelor signers, Rodney once road all night through a thunderstorm to cast an affirmative vote for independence after learning of fellow Delaware delegate George Read's no-vote.
George Ross (Pennsylvania): A latecomer to the revolutionary cause, Ross leaned to the loyalist side when he was elected to the Continental Congress, but was not actually seated during the voting on July 1-2, signing the Declaration a month later.
Benjamin Rush (Pennsylvania): A pioneering physician, Rush's time serving on the Continental Congress was brief. He served as a surgeon in the Philadelphia militia during Washington's New Jersey campaign. He was later a vocal advocate of abolition.
Edward Rudledge (South Carolina): The youngest signer, at 26, Rutledge initially opposed independence in favor of first securing a confederation and forging foreign alliances. After voting against the resolution on July 1, Rutledge convinced his peers to change their vote for the sake of unanimity.
Roger Sherman (Connecticut): A member of the Declaration's drafting committee, Sherman was one of only two men (the other was Robert Morris) to sign all three founding documents: the Declaration, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.
James Smith (Pennsylvania): Born in Ireland, the eccentric Smith was an early Whig Party leader who found politics after attempts at working as a lawyer and iron maker failed to pan out.
Richard Stockton (New Jersey): Politicized in part by the Stamp Act crisis, Stockton at first advocated colonial self-rule under the British crown. In the early months of the Revolutionary War he was turned out by loyalists and imprisoned by the British under harsh conditions.
Thomas Stone (Maryland): Stone heartily advocated reconciliation with the British crown right up until voting on independence, and argued for peace negotiations with British Lord Howe just two months after signing. Serving on the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation, Stone did not sign them.
George Taylor (Pennsylvania): Born in Ireland, Taylor came to America as an indentured worker, later taking control of his employer's business (and marrying the man's widow). During the war his Durham Furnace turned out bullets and cannonballs for the army.
Matthew Thornton (New Hampshire): Born in Ireland one of a handful of physicians among the signers, Thornton did not enter the Continental Congress until three months after the formal signing, but was allowed to affix his signature.
George Walton (Georgia): Wounded and captured during the British siege of Savannah and held prisoner for nearly a year, Walton had been an early advocate for independence while in the same city.
William Whipple (New Hampshire): Whipple left his maritime shipping business in 1775 to devote time to public affairs. He advocated for an aggressive military campaign over negotiation in confronting the excesses of British rule, and favored severe punishment for loyalists and speculators.
William Williams (Connecticut): After studying for the ministry during the French and Indian War, Williams later became a merchant. During the Revolutionary War, Williams wrote newspaper tracts promoting the colonial viewpoint.
James Wilson (Pennsylvania): As a Whig leader, Wilson denied the British Parliament's authority over the colonies but did not question allegiance to the Crown. He later became a leading voice in the debate over and drafting of the Constitution, and went on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
John Witherspoon (New Jersey): The only active clergyman among the signers, Witherspoon, born in Scotland, gravitated to revolutionary sentiments against the British, and while president of the College of New Jersey he advocated resistance to the crown during a commencement address.
Oliver Wolcott (Connecticut): A soldier as well as a lawyer, Wolcott found his martial experience invaluable during the Revolutionary War, where he served as a brigadier general during the New York campaigns of 1776-77.
George Wythe (Virginia): As a law professor Wythe counted among his students future American presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Wythe was an early advocate of separate nationhood for the colonies.
Updated: Jul. 04, 2014