“What is that?” My father asked as i walked out of one of Harvard Squares many bookstores.
“It is a radical history of the US”, i flashed him the cover of Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States.
“There is no such thing as radical history, there is just history.” My father replied.
He was a bright man, but i never got him to read this or Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, which might have been more effective in convincing him that the history writing business is far from unbiased.
Turns out that in 2009, then Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was also unhappy about Zinn’s most popular work that he wrote the below message to top state education officials shortly after Zinn’s death:
This terrible anti-American finally passed away. The obits and commentaries mentioned that his book “A People’s History of the United States” is “the textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.” It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.
Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before any more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?
Recently, this email was leaked and has created a boom in interest in the book. Rather than make the book mandatory for students, instead lets just keep proposing to ban and restrict it, which will insure eager and ample readership.
What is so shocking in Zinn’s history? Well there is Columbus as the architect of genocide, reducing the population of Hispaniola from 3 million to a mere 60K in 14 years. Or that Lincoln was a racist and political opportunist with quotes like the following:
I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races (applause); that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.. . .
And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.
Or that Kennedy was not the peacemaker or one who respected international boundaries:
When Kennedy took office in early 1961 he continued the policies of Truman and Eisenhower in Southeast Asia. Almost immediately, he approved a secret plan for various military actions in Vietnam and Laos, including the “dispatch of agents to North Vietnam” to engage in “sabotage and light harassment,” according to the Pentagon Papers.
Governor Daniels has no interest in verifying these pieces of history, instead he simply wants them to go away, so that his heroes can continue to be heroes, unblemished by the crimes and deceptions they committed.
And while a Peoples History is Zinn’s best known book, it is (from my perspective) not his most important one. If you can only read one, or if you are looking to get radicalized, i would recommend Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology.
If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, nor as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one’s country, one’s fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government, when it violated those principles.
- Declarations of Independence (1991): “Obligation to the State“