I know I shouldn’t, but I always feel a sense of personal responsibility when Sean Penn says something stupid. You see, it was my father who taught him history — or at least sort of. For some, Sean Penn’s most famous role — something he might regret — is as the pothead surfer dude Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. His strict, disciplinarian U.S. history teacher in that film, Mr. Hand, was my dad. I don’t mean the actor who portrayed Mr. Hand, Roy Walston. I mean the real U.S. history teacher at Clairemont (Ridgemont) High on whom Mr. Hand was based.
If you haven’t seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High, don’t. But whenever I hear Sean Penn spouting off in Hollywood leftist style, I can’t help but think that Mr. Hand should have had some more time with Jeff Spicoli.
Penn’s latest inanity is to have called the Falkland Islands “the Malvinas Islands of Argentina” and to say that “the world today is not going to tolerate any ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology” — this in reference to Britain’s defense of the people of the Falkland Islands, most of whom (about 70 percent) are of British descent (most of the rest are Scandinavian), and who have been ruled by Britain since 1833 (the British originally claimed the islands in 1765) and don’t want to be conquered by the Argentines.
In the British press, Penn has already been urged to take his anti-colonialist ideology to its logical end and give his Malibu estate to the Mexicans who are presumed to work on it. One could go further of course. Perhaps he could call for California’s return to Mexico — it has been part of the United States for a shorter period of time than the Falklands have been British. Or perhaps he should go further still and demand that Argentina be returned to the Indians. Argentina, after all, was made by Spanish colonialism, and more than four-fifths of Argentines are of European stock. Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, with whom Penn visited, is herself of Spanish and German heritage. And Sean Penn would not be living in California were it not for an even earlier act of colonialism — that of Britain seeding the United States with colonies in the first place and British traditions that make for a prosperous economy and freedom of speech, the sort of things that allow Sean Penn to be Sean Penn.
Insofar as we see free speech, a free economy, representative government, and an independent judiciary as global standards, norms, or aspirations — and given Penn’s penchant for admiring leftist dictators like Hugo Chavez, he might not — we really have to tip our hat to the British Empire. In fact, we should give three cheers for British colonialism. It is the British who established these rights and institutions at home and spread them abroad from Hong Kong and Australia to Canada and Barbados. In the twentieth century’s darkest hours — when they were most threatened — it was someone with an “archaic commitment to colonialist ideology,” Winston Churchill, who led the British Empire, and the West, into hot war against the National Socialism of Adolf Hitler, a revolutionary who might have succeeded, and cold war against Soviet Communism, which Churchill knew was ultimately doomed to fail of its own contradictions. (Though of course Penn might not appreciate that last fact either.)
Like Jeff Spicoli, I went to Clairemont (Ridgemont) High. I didn’t take my dad’s history course, but I still managed to learn a fair bit. And as I recall the surfer dudes in my class were smarter than the average student. I can’t imagine any of them thinking or talking like Sean Penn. When the Falklands War erupted (while I was in college), the surfers I knew thought Britain’s imperial response — the Royal Marines, the Harrier jump jets, Prince Andrew in his Sea King helicopter — was “totally bitchin’.” I’m with them.