Debunking Howard Zinn by Mary Grabar
Debunking Howard Zinn – Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America is a thorough analysis of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Mary Grabar goes through Howard Zinn’s connections with socialist or communist society to paint a plain picture of a most distorted view on history.
Starting off, Grabar explains the countless accolades Zinn and his “history” have received. She also discusses how many schools, including universities, teach from this “textbook”. And while the book is definitely popular, it is not without its heavy criticism, much of which has been ignored academically.
A People’s History of the United States is entrenched in our culture; from the movie “Good Will Hunting” to “The Simpsons”. However, popularity does not mean accurate or worthwhile.
Columbus Bad, Indians Good
In the first chapter, Grabar covers Zinn’s take on Columbus. This is where the idea that the explorer was nothing more than a perpetrator of genocide. Zinn selectively uses quotes to misinterpret Columbus’s own words. He also completely ignores the atrocities of the natives, painting a simplistic view of “Columbus Bad, Indians Good”.
While you can argue Christopher Columbus is overrated, he should not be dismissed entirely nor treated with complete degradation as Zinn does.
And, as Grabar notes, huge sections of A People’s History are plagiarized. This goes against all established ethics in historical (or any) writing. It also displays Zinn’s lack of character.
The next chapter focuses not on A People’s History but on Zinn the person. Zinn was a socialist and possibly a communist. He was a radical with far left ideas and a bent towards activism.
While Zinn denied being a communist, this chapter shows that Zinn’s bias is clearly present in his famous work. His politics could not be separated from his writing, another clear violation of what historical texts should strive for.
Note: Every piece of work written or spoken has some layers of bias built in because they are created by people. But the point of history is to limit this and showcase what actually happened by using available sources. Zinn’s goal of creating a history from “the side of the oppressed” is a noble goal. But selectively choosing quotes in an attempt to rewrite history is not.
Chapter three covers the relationship between whites and Indians. Here Zinn lumps all Indians together as one (whites are also lumped together). Zinn ignores the many tribes that fought against the atrocities of the Aztecs. He also doesn’t bother to include that in 1487 “…over eighty thousand captured prisoners were slaughtered…” by the Aztecs.
The relationship between whites and Indians is much more complex but Zinn needed to use the natives as props to fulfill his agenda. He ignores some tribes’ participation in cannibalism, slavery and torture. Yet he easily rates Indian (again lumped as one) culture as superior to European.
“Zinn’s idea of woman’s power in military matters includes stitching, hoeing, and grinding meal: ‘And since they supplied the moccasins and food for warring expeditions, they had some control over military matters.’”
Interestingly, Zinn ignores that Indians fought in WW I and II in proportionally great numbers. Ira Hayes a Pima Native American was one of 6 marines in the iconic flag raising photo on Iwo Jima.
With the use of clever rhetoric, Zinn makes numerous claims that can not be verified by sources, are doubtful, or proven to be false. This is what the modern day media is constantly under attack for. The mainstream media will make a top headline claim without a source. Then days later when proven incorrect, issue a correction buried where hardly anyone will see it.
Slavery has been going on forever and is still going on. Mauritania banned slavery in 1980. The idea to abolish it was a western idea and the United States did it.
Zinn blames racism and slavery on capitalism. He claims African slavery was more like serfdom. And yet, why would the United States fight a civil war and abolish slavery when it is not good in terms of capitalism.
Because of obvious moral reasons!
Zinn continues to dig himself deeper into his own worldview saying Lincoln was “concerned about public opinion” and ignoring that Frederick Douglass was an advisor to Lincoln. He also considers Lincoln part of the ruling class elites, doesn’t care that Lincoln felt bound to the Constitution, and believed in the truth of the Declaration of Independence. Zinn also gives no credit to Lincoln for freeing the slaves.
This distorted view of history is fine for left wing ideologues, but taught in schools is dangerous.
Communism Versus Capitalism
Chapters 5 through 8 in Debunking Howard Zinn explain Zinn’s backing of communist regimes over evil capitalist America.
Zinn believed America fought World War II to protect capitalism, not defeat the evil of Hitler. He says the US provoked Japan to attack Pearl Harbor, and states all US Presidents are capitalist warmongers.
Here Grabar does a poor job of trying to defend internment camps. While not nearly the same as Nazi concentration camps, forcing Japanese Americans into internment camps is indefensible.
Also, one of the sources Grabar uses is Wikipedia. Yuck!
Zinn uses the cold war to explain that the US military was all about making profits over “hysteria”. He ignores the millions of people who died as a direct result of communists.
Chapter seven covers how communists directly sought black people, trying to use them as “oppression” pawns. Zinn ignores the black leaders completely against communism. He assumes all literature, especially poetry, is written exclusively for other black people.
Zinn provides a heavy focus on Malcolm X over Martin Luther King Jr. and grossly misrepresents black community support of Malcolm X.
The socialist revolution wanted, and still wants, to convince black people to be violent against capitalism. But the goal is to consider them as disposable.
Predictably, Zinn considers the founders as nothing more than rich white elites. The American Revolution was not enough because it still meant the rich ruled. Zinn finds the middle class a buffer to keep the rich wealthy and the poor destitute.
The middle class is what stands in the way according to Marxism.
A People’s History of the United States could be dismissed alone because of the overt plagiarism. But Grabar does an excellent job of picking the entire work apart.
“Zinn did everything – misrepresented sources, omitted critical information, falsified evidence, and plagiarized. His rhetorical strategies included leading questions, logical fallacies, and ad hominem attacks.”
No matter how you lean politically, this type of distorted history should not be allowed taught as truth. Students deserve better. America deserves better.
Pair this with all-American Bison Union Coffee.