Dinesh D’Souza’s “America” was not what I was expecting.

In the promotions for the documentary, D’Souza states, “America. Imagine what the world would be like without her.” It was a fascinating concept to me, to see one person’s interpretation of what the world would look like if America had never existed (perish the thought).

At the outset, the viewer is taken on a journey into history, where Gen. George Washington is killed by a “sniper’s bullet” during the Battle of Brandywine in 1777. I was hoping for a look at the effect on humanity on a global scale, had history played out that way.

However, D’Souza doesn’t quite go down that road. Rather, the film turns into a takedown of the left’s five current indictments of this country. That’s fine, that’s a worthy pursuit in and of itself, but I felt the docudrama was hyped to be something it wasn’t.

The producers of the film tell us, “Today the notion of the essential goodness of America is under attack, replaced by another story in which theft and plunder are seen as the defining features of American history, from the theft of Native American and Mexican lands and the exploitation of African labor to a contemporary foreign policy said to be based on stealing oil and a capitalist system that robs people of their ‘fair share.'”

D’Souza spends the most time discussing the conquest mentality that pervaded the globe at the time the first explorers hit our shores. He shows with a visual graphic the different empires and countries that were conquered over and over again for centuries, all around the world.

In the late 1400s, for instance, the Spanish and Portuguese were busy exploring (and conquering) not only North America, but Central and South America. It was the Spanish who obliterated the Incas by the 16th century, but even they had been engaged in a civil war of their own prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who brought not only his desire to conquer Peru, but his diseases.

That human beings would explore and conquer the world countless times over going back to ancient history is a fact. That humans came to these shores and other humans lost their lives as a result is not a crime unique to the United States of America. We are not uniquely evil in that sense.

With regard to the land of the United States being stolen, D’Souza doesn’t say that it was OK that Native Americans were treated the way they were, but their own history of warring with and conquering each other was no different from the people who came here and were warring with and conquering them. He seems to link it to a fate of mentality of the human beings of the time.

He also discusses the history of slavery in this country. He reminds viewers that slavery existed in many places around the globe, long before any European explorers landed in America. Native tribes in the Americas captured and enslaved other tribes. Every continent on the globe is marked with a history of slavery and the slave trade at one time or another, including human beings with black skin enslaving and selling other human beings with black skin, as well as indentured servants with white skin being kidnapped and sold into a different kind of slavery in America. (Not a fair comparison, but he makes the point nonetheless.)

It was a worldwide humanitarian crisis of epic proportion that had gone on for millennia. The argument he makes is that America was the first country to fight a war over the elimination of slavery (debatable), and that over 600,000 men lost their lives because of it. He of course points out that Abraham Lincoln won election in 1860 as the first Republican president on a platform pledging to keep slavery out of the territories, and touches on Sarah Breedlove, the first black woman in America to become a millionaire in her own right.

He also touches on the issues of the “theft” of the southwest United States from Mexico, and that somehow our free market system (and our foreign policy) are also forms of theft.

His real target in the film, however, is the late Howard Zinn, the author of “A People’s History of the United States,” which he claims is being taught on college campuses around the U.S. At this point in the documentary the list of colleges flies by so quickly across the screen you cannot see them. Personally, I would like to know where this text is being given to students. If an opposing view is also given air time in a classroom, then I don’t have a problem with it.

The topics that D’Souza touches on in his latest docudrama are worthy of discussion. The problem he has with the issues he brings up is that he sees indoctrination going on in our classrooms and on our college campuses to the left-sided view of our country and our history. I can’t say that I disagree with that assessment.

The problem with the film, however, is that it takes such weighty issues as slavery and war and reduces them to snippets of America’s past that can be glossed over in only minutes on the screen. The film takes highly complex issues that a person could spend a lifetime researching and writing about and throws them in with about 10 other highly complex issues that a person could spend a lifetime researching and writing about.

To his point, though. America is an idea. We all have a choice in how we view that idea. We can see America as a force for good in the world, or a force for evil. If the view prevails that America is in fact a force for evil, then perhaps we will find out what the world will look like without her.

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Julie McDonald-Smith lives in North Yarmouth. She is a registered nurse, former Capitol Hill staffer, and former chairwoman of the Cape Elizabeth Republican Committee. Her column appears every other week.

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