Michael Medved thinks that America’s involvement with slavery is hyped. Seriously. And he’s here to set us straight with an offensive little bit of revisionist history.
He lists "six inconvenient truths about the U.S. and slavery" in attempt to convince you, the reader, that — "Hey! Slavery was no biggie!"
In his preface, he opens with this:
Those who want to discredit the United States and to deny our role as history’s most powerful and pre-eminent force for freedom, goodness and human dignity invariably focus on America’s bloody past as a slave-holding nation. Along with the displacement and mistreatment of Native Americans, the enslavement of literally millions of Africans counts as one of our two founding crimes—and an obvious rebuttal to any claims that this Republic truly represents “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
It is an obvious rebuttal. We enslaved literally millions of Africans. You just said so. That alone makes it a black mark on this country’s history.
But Medved is going to — uh — whitewash — the significance of slavery:
An honest and balanced understanding of the position of slavery in the American experience requires a serious attempt to place the institution in historical context and to clear-away some of the common myths and distortions.
Yes, Michael. Let’s see your "honest" understanding.
1. SLAVERY WAS AN ANCIENT AND UNIVERSAL INSTITUTION, NOT A DISTINCTIVELY AMERICAN INNOVATION. At the time of the founding of the Republic in 1776, slavery existed literally everywhere on earth and had been an accepted aspect of human history from the very beginning of organized societies…
Actually, this is Medved’s best argument. And even then, it’s a little pathetic.
Yes, America didn’t invent slavery, although that’s largely beside the point, and does nothing to further Michael’s thesis. It’s kind of like saying the Holocaust wasn’t so bad because the Nazis weren’t the first to systemically oppress or annihilate the Jews.
2. SLAVERY EXISTED ONLY BRIEFLY, AND IN LIMITED LOCALES, IN THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLIC – INVOLVING ONLY A TINY PERCENTAGE OF THE ANCESTORS OF TODAY’S AMERICANS. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution put a formal end to the institution of slavery 89 years after the birth of the Republic; 142 years have passed since this welcome emancipation….
Well, having argued in Point #1 that slavery was "universal", Medved now argues that it was "limited". Bit of a bait-and-switch there.
Of course, in this particular point, Medved’s "honest and balanced" understanding of slavery in America completely ignores the fact that slavery existed throughout the New World.
Furthermore. he arbitrarily sets the start date as 1776, completely ignoring the "inconvenient truths" that the first American colony to legalize slavery was Massachusetts (in 1641), the first slave revolt in English colonial territory was in 1712 in New York, and so on.
But besides all that — well, Sadly No nails this, so I defer to them:
And the ham fisted rhetorical trick of claiming that slavery only existed for 89 years in the United States is beyond horrid. I had a girlfriend once who had lived with a guy who beat her for eight years before she married him. They divorced after two years. If you claimed that “well, she was only married to someone who hit her for two years”, you would be technically correct. You’d also be a pompous, condescending asshole of the first order by minimizing the eight years she spent with him without being married.
Yup. But believe it or not, it gets worse….
3. THOUGH BRUTAL, SLAVERY WASN’T GENOCIDAL: LIVE SLAVES WERE VALUABLE BUT DEAD CAPTIVES BROUGHT NO PROFIT. Historians agree that hundreds of thousands, and probably millions of slaves perished over the course of 300 years during the rigors of the “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic Ocean.
He’s right. Slavery wasn’t a genocide technically speaking, because only millions of slaves died, rather than all of them. Make sense?
You see, in a genocide, the intent is to kill. And that wasn’t our intent. And why not? Michael explains:
[N]o slave traders wanted to see this level of deadly suffering: they benefited only from delivering (and selling) live slaves, not from tossing corpses into the ocean…
See? Since slave traders didn’t intend to kill slaves on the way over, because that would eat into their profits, how can they be held morally culpable for slavery?
And you can tell that "no slave traders wanted to see this level of suffering" from the wonderful accomodations that the slaves got on their trip to the New World..
See the great care that slave traders took to make sure their product arrived in America intact?
Medved even has praise for the slave owners: "And as with their horses and cows, slave owners took pride and care in breeding as many new slaves as possible". No, really, he actually wrote that. I am not making it up. What great guys, those slave owners!
4. IT’S NOT TRUE THAT THE U.S. BECAME A WEALTHY NATION THROUGH THE ABUSE OF SLAVE LABOR: THE MOST PROSPEROUS STATES IN THE COUNTRY WERE THOSE THAT FIRST FREED THEIR SLAVES.
Well, let’s assume that is true. Is it even relevant? Certainly some people profitted from the abuse of slave labor — otherwise they wouldn’t have done it to begin with. And of course, others profitted indirectly from slave labor, even if they didn’t live in slave-holding states (cotton goods were cheaper, etc.)
I mean, what is Medved saying here? Slavery isn’t a blot on America because not everybody in America profitted directly from it?
5. WHILE AMERICA DESERVES NO UNIQUE BLAME FOR THE EXISTENCE OF SLAVERY, THE UNITED STATES MERITS SPECIAL CREDIT FOR ITS RAPID ABOLITION. “In the course of scarcely more than a century following the emergence of the American Republic, men of conscience, principle and unflagging energy succeeded in abolishing slavery not just in the New World but in all nations of the West.”
Well, this is just plain bullshit. We were among the last of the major nations in the world to abolish slavery.
Year the British ended slavery throughout the Empire: 1833. Number of wars it took to do so: 0.
Year the Spanish Empire ended slavery (except in Cuba, where the ban was not enforced by local governors until 1886): 1811. Number of wars to do so: 0.
Year the U.S. ended slavery throughout the country and its territories: 1865. Number of wars it took to do it: 1, the bloodiest one in American history.
In fact, all European powers abolished slavery before the United States did. (for more info, see here).
So, no, we as a nation don’t deserve "special credit" for a bloody damn thing. We were below average, even by the standards of the day.
And even after slavery was abolished, we still lagged behind most developed nations in the area of civil rights for minorities for many many decades to come.
6. THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT TODAY’S AFRICAN-AMERICANS WOULD BE BETTER OFF IF THEIR ANCESTORS HAD REMAINED BEHIND IN AFRICA.
Ah, yes. You just knew this racist chestnut had to come: the not-so-subtle argument that we did those African savages a favor by enslaving them. We brought them civilization, and Christianity! Without us, they would be running around with bones in their nose and eating each other. Reparations? Hell, no. If anything, they owe us!
Future articles by Michael Medved:
"Six Inconvenient Truths About Rape" [e.g., "Hey, at least women are gettin’ some!"]
"Six Inconvenient Truths About The Salem Witch Trials" [e.g., "Well, we did get rid of witches, didn’t we? You see any around you? No? Case closed."]
"Six Inconvenient Truths About Auschwitz" [e.g., "The Jews got free room and board"]
"Six Incovenient Truths About Indian Massacres" [e.g., "The Indians that survived learned how to wear clothes. Oh, and the casinos! ‘Nuff said."]