Howard Zinn and “A People’s History of the United States”

Howard Zinn was a life long social and political activist known for his far-left views and for his tremendously popular book “A People’s History of the United States”. The book continues today, 11 years after his death, to have massive influence on American society and education and has been the bestselling account of American history for several decades now, with no competitor in sight. It is widely taught in American schools, public and private, and is promoted by Hollywood actors and activists like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Bruce Springsteen.

The New York Times declared that the book should be “required reading” for students and professors at the University of Colorado-Boulder, UMass-Amherst, Penn State, and Indiana University have followed this advice. The book is so popular that it can be found on the class syllabus in such fields as economics, political science, literature, and women’s studies, in addition to its more understandable inclusion in history. The book, however, is greatly flawed and thus I have endeavored to learn much about Zinn and his book.

A People’s History not only teaches a false history but also makes students cynical about their country, about historical truth, and about the possibility of reasoned debate. In the book Zinn charged Christopher Columbus and other explorers with genocide, picked apart presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated communist regimes, militant workers, feminists, and war resisters.

As examples, according to Zinn, Maoist China, becomes “the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.” Zinn paints Communist China under Mao as glorious and ignores the fact that under Mao SIXTY FIVE MILLION people were starved, executed, or enslaved as the regime fought to remake their country and redistribute wealth and property. It is undoubtedly the bloodiest and cruelest regime in the history of mankind.

To bolster his arguments against putting criminals in jail, aggressive law enforcement tactics, and President Clinton’s crime bill, Zinn contends that “violent crime continued to increase under Clinton.” Objective facts and data show this is false. According to a Department of Justice report released in September of 2002, the rate of violent crime while Clinton was in office was cut in half during his time in office.

But as you read through Zinn’s teaching what will become an overarching theme is that peaceful protests are not enough. He barely mentions Martin Luther King but glorifies violent groups like the Black Panthers. Never is peace, love, or forgiveness ever mentioned. He simply teaches one group or race to hate the other.

But who was Howard Zinn and how did he become so revered by Hollywood and liberals across the country?

Zinn grew up Jewish in Brooklyn in a working-class, immigrant household. At the age of 18 he became a shipyard worker and later joined the Air Force and flew bomber missions during World War II. He went to college under the GI Bill and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in history. He taught at Spelman College and was active in the Civil Rights movement as political activist. As a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) he advocated for freedom by participating in sit-ins and other political rallies, often with students from Spelman.

At the end of the 1963 school year Zinn was fired by Spelman due to his extremist views and numerous clashes with then Spelman President Albert Manley. The fact he was caught by police while making out with a teenage Spelman student did not help his case. In 1964, he accepted a position at Boston University after writing two books and participating in the Civil Rights Movement in the South. His classes in civil liberties were among the most popular at the university with as many as 400 students subscribing each semester to the non-required class. A professor of political science, he taught at BU for 24 years and retired in 1988 at age 66.

Zinn led antiwar protests, participated in the civil rights movement, went to Vietnam with Daniel Berrigan, and often incited violence and riots. His politically engaged life brought him into many arenas: imprisonment for civil disobedience, fights for open debate in universities, and antiwar activism. After retiring as a professor, he spoke across the world promoting his book and his ideas on remaking society, replacing capitalism with socialism, and demolishing the government of the United States.

Zinn believed that the point of view expressed in traditional history books was often limited and written only from the point of view of the white, Christian, European Capitalist. Biographer Martin Duberman noted that when he was asked directly if he was a Marxist, Zinn replied, “Yes, I’m something of a Marxist.” However, in later life he moved more toward anarchism and total overthrow of American government and our constitution.

Zinn simply did not write a true account of history and frequently took quotes and passages out of context, out of order, or falsified them all together. And, amazingly, he did not deny this. In “The People’s History of the United States” he states “Objectivity is impossible, and it is also undesirable. That is, if it were possible, it would be undesirable, because if you have any kind of a social aim, if you think history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race; should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.”

Even liberal historians were uneasy with Zinn. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once said: “I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don’t take him very seriously. He’s a polemicist, not a historian.”

Sam Wineburg, one of the world’s top researchers in the field of history education, raises larger issues about how history should be taught. He says that Zinn’s desire to cast a light on what he saw as historic injustice was a crusade built on secondary sources of questionable provenance, omission of exculpatory evidence, leading questions and shaky connections between evidence and conclusions.

Zinn was tireless in his efforts to re-write the history of the United States into one where the United States is seen as founded by evil capitalists who were no better than the monarchies we broke away from or from Fascists such as Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, his views are accepted by most of our universities and high schools and is the basis for Critical Race Theory, the 1609 Project, and other educational programs looking to remake America and destroy our constitution.

This must stop. People need to understand objective truth and realize we will never get anywhere with this hateful and devisive rhetoric. Martin Luther King once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

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