January 27, 2010

"If you want to read a real history book, read Howard Zinn's 'A People's History of the United States.' That book will knock you on your ass."

So said Matt Damon's character in "Good Will Hunting." Maybe you were knocked on your ass by "A People's History of the United States." Were you?

Howard Zinn died of a heart attack today. He was 87.

Here is a video of his "A People's History of American Empire":

57 comments:

tim maguire said...

Didn't read it, may, but have no plans to.

Probably the best line in "Good Will Hunting" was uttered by Robin Williams, "you're just a stupid kid" (or words to that effect).

No matter how brilliant the Damon character was, he was still stupid because he had no experience of the world to help him process and apply his intelligence in an intelligent manner.

Diamondhead said...

A People's History knocked me right on my ass. So did Triumph of the Will and Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

Matt said...

Zinn was a really nice guy with some strong opinions. Fought in WWII as a fighter pilot. Was part of the Civil Rights Movement. Was very anti-war and wrote an influential book that gave a different perspective on American History - i.e. one that didn't focus on history as a set of big name biographies but rather the consequences of history and the way regular folks were affected by it. " A Peoples History..." is good read. Some say it is a liberal perspective but really what it is not is a right wing patriotic perspective. And that's actually one reason it is so good. Zinn wasn't into mythmaking. He saw that the policies of the US regardless of what political party was running the country had flaws.

I met him once at a film festival where he gave a talk on 'Stories Hollywood Never Tells", which is available on CD.
RIP

chuck said...

" A Peoples History..." is good read.

And also non-factual. An alternate history, if you will. There aren't many of whom I would say good riddance, but Zinn is one.

Keir said...

While it is clear Zinn was a part of the anti-war and socialist movements,his People's History cannot be ignored by libertarians and some conservatives for it is full of examples of what happens when liberty and individual freedoms are compromised, be it from a government, corportation, or in more cases than not a combination of the two.

XWL said...

They say the good die young...

countercultureconservative said...

I read Zinn's history book back in my Lib days. And I would agree it's an accurate view of the United States-- in the same way a proctologist's view of his patient is an accurate view of humanity.

pst314 said...

"Zinn was a really nice guy with some strong opinions."

"Strong opinions" like supporting Mao and Castro and other mass-murdering commie thugs.

"Was part of the Civil Rights Movement"

Only because it was a way to attack America. He never cared about the civil rights of the millions murdered by commies or the billion terrorized and enslaved.

"was very anti-war"

No, he only objected to non-communists defending themselves from communist aggression and oppression. He was enthusiastically in favor of commies making war on everyone else.

"Zinn wasn't into mythmaking."

Only if you also think that Josef Goebbels was not into "mythmaking".

His career reminds of something that said of Stalin apologist Lillian Hellman: "Everything she says is a lie, including the words 'and' and 'the'."

Matt said...

chuck
Other than just pure provocation why exactly would you say that about Zinn? I mean what exactly did he do that somehow you think was worthy of your scorn? He wasn't a politician or someone making actual policies. He was a writer / professor and activist. But the things he fought for - from Civil Rights, to community work to being opposed to wars to being wary of the power of governments and corporations - were hardly bad or destructive positions to take. Quite the opposite, actually. He wanted to not only make people see how their government treats them but also to make government see its people as more than mere pawns.

Not such a bad goal no matter what political party you stand with.

Rialby said...

There is a special place in the afterlife for people like Zinn and Walter Duranty.

Dennis Prager asked Zinn if he thought the world was worse off or better off for the existence of the United States. He chose worse.

The Crack Emcee said...

Fuck Zinn.

And Zen, too.

traditionalguy said...

Yes, the American Empire came of age in 1900 and played a small part among the European Empires only after two internecine wars there was only one left called Russia. Damn, we forgot to take over Britain, France, Italy, Greece, and Spain, not to mention those snooty Canadians, which was a moment of shear oversight.Is it too late now? He was a superficial guy that discovered the obvious.

Rialby said...

I wonder if Obama will give him a shout out tonight. They share(d) same worldview.

JAL said...

No intention. Read enough about Zinn's revisionist history.

Matt Damon's great uncle, a US Army officer who was ambushed by a German Nazi sniper in France, is rolling over in his grave.

JAL said...

Anytime anyone says something is a "people's" anything my internal strobe lights flash, my red flags pop up and start waving and sirens go off.

I take that as a clue.

Matt said...

The Crack Emcee,
pst314,
Rialby,

Stay classy guys. Keep giving Conservatives a 'good' name.

And maybe read some Zinn some day rather than second hand right-wing views that tell you how to think about Zinn. pst314 in particular has no idea what he is saying. Hilariously off base.

EDH said...

After reading Zinn's simplistic anti-American narratives, always bereft of mitigating historical context, I found it hard to determine whether he really believes what he writes, or just craves the “authority” he gains pleasing a na├»ve, sophomoric, trendy following that will eat it up his screeds in desperate search of radical chic.

When he started showing-up backstage at rock concerts in the last couple years in connection with media projects, I think I got my answer.

Oxbay said...

David Chase had the Sopranos' son studying that book in high school and commenting on it.

I didn't actually puke on my TV screen but I'd puke on David Chase's screen if I'm ever in his house.

Well, probably not...

rcocean said...

A good book for those don't like facts getting in the way of their ideology. An American history book for those who hate America.

pst314 said...

"what exactly did he do that somehow you think was worthy of your scorn?"

I can't speak for Chuck, but spending a lifetime supporting thugs and monsters and evil ideologies seems like sufficient grounds for contempt.

"But the things he fought for - from Civil Rights..."

No supporter of the Soviet Union or Mao's genocidal thugocracy can in any sane sense be called a supporter of civil rights.

"...to community work..."

Only to undermine America--or are you unaware of how the communists he praised ruthlessly destroyed independent labor unions and community organizations? As Mussolini said, "everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state." Funny how little difference there is between a fascist and a communist.

"...opposed to wars..."

No, only opposed to people fighting back against communist aggression.

"...being wary of the power of governments"

Which is why he was a life-long supporter of totalitarian regimes?

"He wanted to...make government see its people as more than mere pawns."

Except that the governments he supported treated their citizens as pawns and less than pawns.

"Not such a bad goal no matter what political party you stand with."

I don't stand with the Communist Party (or any other far-left society of monsters) so I don't see his goals as "not so bad".

pst314 said...

"Stay classy guys. Keep giving Conservatives a 'good' name."

So I have to praise advocates of totalitarianism in order to "earn" your respect? No thank you.

pst314 said...

"pst314 in particular has no idea what he is saying. Hilariously off base."

Oh please.

It's obvious that you need to learn some real history, but before you do that you'll have to unlearn a boatload of falsehoods.

Here it is 2010, the sins of the Soviet Union, Maoist China, Communist Vietnam, Castro, the Sandinistas and others are well-documented, and we still have leftists defendig the apologists of those regimes.

Rialby said...

Defend him don't attack me.

Daniel Fielding said...

I say good riddance to bad rubbish.

Freeman Hunt said...

Gave me a knock until chapter two when it got to a subject I knew something about. Then I realized just how dishonest the book was, and it knocked me back in a different way.

Did you know that they have a kids' version of that garbage?

jayne_cobb said...

-Sir Humphrey Appleby: East Yemen, isn't that a democracy?
-Sir Richard Wharton: Its full name is the Peoples' Democratic Republic of East Yemen.
-Sir Humphrey Appleby: Ah I see, so it's a communist dictatorship.


This quote seemed rather appropriate in light of his book's title.

JAL is right about how the word "people's" should set off alarms. Now if it is followed by "democratic republic" or "liberation" it would probably be safer just to flee.

knox said...

The Bible of Political Correctness disguised as a history book.

barf.

knox said...

They say the good die young...

LOL

Rockeye said...

Zinn would have written about America's assistance during the Indonesian tsunami crisis by homing in on a puppy run over by a truck delivering medical supplies. Then he would give careful consideration to Hugo Chavez's assertion that the CIA caused the entire disaster by using their secret earthquake-creating weapon.

lucid said...

Zinn's book is simply a Marxist account of American history told in soft and friendly language. It snuck a lot of dumb and now thoroughly discredited ideas into the minds of naive and foolish people while they weren't really thinking.

lucid said...

Zinn's book is simply a Marxist account of American history told in soft and friendly language. It snuck a lot of dumb and now thoroughly discredited ideas into the minds of naive and foolish people while they weren't really thinking.

Tom Spaulding said...

87? Damn that American health care system...

Henry said...

I thought it was kind of boring.

Diamondhead said...

Zinn never got around to mentioning that with very few exceptions, the "evils" perpetrated by America were heartily endorsed by healthy majorities of said people. The "people" didn't oppose Nixon, just like they didn't oppose Manifest Destiny. In secret Zinn must've thought the people were evil, stupid, or both. He should have called his books A History of The Small Minority of Folks I Think Are Pretty Swell.

John Lynch said...

No. Sorry, the 1877 crisis wasn't as important as the civil war.

The main problem with this book isn't the content, it's that history is so badly taught that someone exposed to it doesn't know any better.

Palladian said...

"The main problem with this book isn't the content, it's that history is so badly taught that someone exposed to it doesn't know any better."

That's the idea.

And it's a good summary of how and why leftism thrives in the world.

Charlie said...

He was my political science professor at BU for two semesters in 1976. He taught us that Americans suck (I'm paraphrasing).

AprilApple said...

Hollywood people tend to love fake history.

Cedarford said...

Howard Zinn was just another anti-American Red Jew. With Germany gone, they needed another nation to blame for the magic failure of Marxism to succeed and the Soviets to prevail - so they settled on US hatred in the 50s.
Chomsky, Zinn, the Schiffs, Marcuse, Derrida, Freidan, the Rosenbergs - all Stalinist peas in a pod.

In the small world category, the Damons were Zinn's neighbors in Cambridge and Matt Damon grew up as a kid with his Lefty parents dragging him over to the Zinns for dinner. Zinn was one of Damons childhood Gods.

Oxbay said...
David Chase had the Sopranos' son studying that book in high school and commenting on it.
I didn't actually puke on my TV screen but I'd puke on David Chase's screen if I'm ever in his house.


You miss the sarcasm. Chase had cast Anthony Jr as the clueless asshole of the family, an obvious unworthy future mob boss that was Tony's burden as a father to endure- like Jackie Aprile... So anything coming out of Tony Jr's mouth was Chase's way of anouncing "here's another dumb asshole belief."
Meadow was Tony's hope.

William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gahrie said...

The true tragedy is tha this piece of garbage is used as the textbook for most AP history classes.

William said...

Howard Zinn was a handsome man with the kind of earnest manner that undergraduates find convincing. I'm sure his personal life was admirable, but for all that, he was a left wing bigot....I read part of his book. Nothing is more biased than simple facts. He presents those facts--and there are many--that reflect poorly upon the United States as the important, salient facts of our history. Those facts that are exculpatory or explanatory are ignored. There are losers in American life, but many more winners than losers. The two car garages of steel workers tells more of the history of labor in this country than the Haymarket riot.....He seems to have been opposed to most American wars, but it is worth noting that he, personally, was willing to drop napalm on babies in order take his stand against facism. His tolerance and irony did not extend to his own enemies.... He doesn't seem to have the moral imagination to reckon that North Korean Communism was a worse cause than American Imperialism.

Skyler said...

Gag, I couldn't take that drivel.

I had to stop after he said he went to college via the "GI Bill of Rights." What an ignoramus.

wv: hydrama: Over emoting and ending up all wet

David said...

In fairness to David Chase, he also showed a character sitting in his living room reading Anarchy, State, and Utopia. I hadn't smiled so much since I saw Onslow reading Principles of Condensed Matter Physics.

Chase said...

Howard Zinn died today: Good.
(Apologies to his family).

The damage he has done and the lies he has told have given wings to the very idiots in charge of our government today.

Rest in Peace, Howard. Your evil works are finally over.

Stephen Snell said...

I read a couple chapters into Zinn's "people's history" and thought I had figured it out. So I went to WW2 and he used some quote from a Commerce Department bureaucrat about economic opportunity as the primary motivator for our involvement in the war in Europe.

Scumbag. Nevertheless, RIP.

wv: sedrab - what zinn did when looking at vibrancy.

Bruce Hayden said...

I got the book a couple of years ago from one of my brothers who was a history major. And, my views of it are very similar to many others here.

That said, my brother's point was that in order to understand history, you need to understand different views of it. So, this history book shouldn't be your first, second, or probably even third book on U.S. history.

And, from that point of view, the book may have some merit. It is said that history is written by the winners of a war. And that may also possibly be said of movements. Finding out what some of the losers said about history may have benefits at times understanding what really happened.

hawkeyedjb said...

A "People's History" is history in the same way that a "People's Republic" is a republic.

Which is to say: it's not.

CJWilly said...

Why is everyone so hateful? All Zinn did was provide a history of the U.S. which, for the first time, didn't say it was all sweetness and love and milk and cookies given to us on high from a handful Great Men.

It told us. Yes, White men without property had to fight for suffrage. Women had to fight for suffrage and legal personhood. Black people and Native Americans were not considered human beings, they were enslaved, hunted from their land or exterminated. They too had to fight for the full rights of legal citizenship in this country.

That also, yes, the American government asked Americans to die to conquer the Philippines and "save" Vietnam by destroying it. We free people should always be skeptical of our government and its ideology.

Zinn's history isn't a full account, it is a rebalancing of the triumphalism and self-serving vanity of traditional accounts. Yes there is freedom of speech, yes America was very free compared to Europe in the nineteenth century, yes the U.S. played virtually the role of the "savior" of Europe between 1940 and 1950. But that isn't all American history is about.

If you can't acknowledge the negative side of something then you are not recognizing it at all. There is no shame in it. French history would be false if didn't talk about Vichy and French Algeria. The same goes for American history. If you cannot recognize the bad with the good, then you are lying to youself.

FormerTucsonan said...

I'd be very interested to know if Damon's ever read any history other than Zinn's.

pst314 said...

"Why is everyone so hateful?"

What's wrong with despising someone who hates America and supports America's enemies?

"All Zinn did was provide a history of the U.S. which, for the first time, didn't say it was all sweetness and love and milk and cookies given to us on high from a handful Great Men."

Bzzzz! Wrong!

Standard history texts (including grade school texts) dealt honestly with all sorts of "problematic" issues. The "sweetness and light" BS is just a lie that leftists constantly repeat in order to present themselves as noble bringers of light into a world hitherto wrapped in the darkness of eeevil-western-white-male-racism-and-imperialism.

"White men without property had to fight for suffrage."

That was in my grade school texts.

" Women had to fight for suffrage"

That too.

"Black people"

Slavery and Jim Crow and etc? Yup.

"and Native Americans"

Trail of Tears? and etc? Yup again.

"exterminated"

There was no program of extermination. Nearly all the Native American deaths were due to diseases that they had no resistance to. Using the word "extermination" to imply intention is just part of the left-wing program of defamation.

"conquer the Philippines"

That was covered too.

"'save' Vietnam by destroying it."

Um, you've packed a lot of lies and half-lies into those five words, so I'll just say that if you want to talk about 'destroying' you should take note of what the commies did--and compare the lying promises they made to Vietnamese peasants to what they actually did.

"We free people should always be skeptical of our government and its ideology."

How about we be skeptical about liars like Zinn who masquerade as honest truth-tellers? And if we believe liars like him we risk ceasing to be free people.

"Zinn's history isn't a full account, it is a rebalancing of the triumphalism and self-serving vanity of traditional accounts."

Again: the claim of "self-serving triumphalism" is a caricature, not the reality.

"If you can't acknowledge the negative side of something then you are not recognizing it at all."

That same lie again. There was plenty of acknowledging of negative sides.

" There is no shame in it."

Except that Zinn spent his career portraying America as evil, in order to shame and discredit it. He loathed our democratic, limited government and wanted a totalitarian socialist state.

"If you cannot recognize the bad with the good, then you are lying to youself."

The liar, again, was Zinn.

Robin Goodfellow said...

Say what you want about American "empire" but the facts speak for themselves. Being conquered by the US is one of the better things that can happen to a nation. Countries that we've bombed the hell out of and occupied tend to end up pretty well off. It may not compare well to some hypothetical ideal, but compared to the track record of any other country America's track record fares pretty damned well.

pst314 said...

"It may not compare well to some hypothetical ideal..."

Thanks for that comment Robin. It reminded me of an old observation about the dishonesty of apologists for communism: They compare the actual or claimed failings of America to the promised utopia of Communism.

TosaGuy said...

I'm a historian and Zinn was useful in exploring other aspects of US history. We should know about the regular American and their struggles, but where he failed methodologically was that he picked sides and inserted his modern views to make judgements of the society he was studying. Historians have to understand their biases and account for them in their work. Zinn had difficulty with that concept because like many crappy liberal artists using art to practice their liberalism, Zinn used history to practice his liberalism.

This is not to say that Zinn was necessarily a bad historian and I cannot use his work within mine, but it does force me to heighten my degree of historical skepticism and be exceptionally judicious to the point that in many cases it is not worth the effort.

The Crack Emcee said...

Matt,

"Stay classy,...and maybe read some Zinn some day rather than second hand right-wing views that tell you how to think about Zinn."

Maybe, my friend, you should listen to others instead of living in the world of delusion - and typical left-wing assumptions - that you apparently do (Like when I've disagreed with liberals only to be accused of being brainwashed by FOX News - when I don't even have cable - you now assume I don't have first-hand experience with Zinn's "work" and have only got what I know by "second hand right-wing views that tell you how to think about Zinn"). It just so happens, I don't have all my books, recordings, etc., with me but right here on my computer, I have a copy of Zinn's "You Can't Blow Up A Social Relationship" from 2005. Was that put out by "second hand right-wing" folks, Matt? Can I judge Zinn based on it? It's a collection of his speeches. Does it qualify as pure?

Howard Zinn was a horse's ass, requiring the massive doses of relativism and ignorance, that only students could provide, to prop up the empty-headed "rebel" pose he carved out for himself.

Good riddance.

Dewave said...

Most of Zinn's books are atrociously bad in that they are factually inaccurate, inadequately sourced, and very incomplete. They are mostly advocacy pieces designed to advance Zinn's worldview. I believe they are largely responsible for the terribly confused view of history most students today have.

However, we do owe thanks to Zinn for two things, so he's not all bad.

-his books are (at least in my opinion) more readable than previous history textbooks. Let's face it, most history textbooks are extremely high level abstract affairs that read more like a phonebook and are incredibly, incredibly dull. It's no wonder they put kids off of history.

-his books illustrate very well the dangers of giving a government (even one as enlightened and benign as that of the US) too much power or too much trust. You can't read his books and come away from them with a happy belief that government is just a collection of dedicated, efficient, intelligent experts who can solve all our problems.

On the whole, however, I'd have to say the field of history is worse off for Zinn's existence.

Fr Martin Fox said...

I'll comment not on the book, but on the video that was offered as digesting his book--which I recall browsing once upon a time...

He sure comes off as rather shallow. Especially to present his argument in the fashion of being so idealistic that the thought of U.S. foreign policy being anything but pure and noble was too discordant to entertain. I thought Forest Gump was a made-up character?

So from that, he swings to complete cynicism about American foreign policy? The Korean War was all about a "beachhead" in Asia? So communism was entirely a phantom threat?

I'm sure the people of Cambodia will be relieved--millions of corpses are actually people who are still alive, someone let them know!

It's possible, you know, to avoid extremes here. Without agreeing with the Iraq war, one can see how Bush and others believed it better served the long-term safety of the United States to go in and supplant Hussein, and set up a friendlier and less extreme state; just as someone can disagree with that.

And given the trajectory of Iranian history for the last 30 years, a reasonable person might conclude that the Shah, bad as he was, may have been a less-bad alternative--not just for the U.S., but for everyone. Have the Iranian people been noticeably less oppressed under the mullahs? I don't recall the Shah hanging gay teenagers in public squares.

The video ludicrously suggested that Abu Graib and the deaths of our soldier in Iraq somehow equal the horrors visited by other examples of imperialism and expansionism--then to segue back to even "the good war" (WWII) is to suggest an obscene equivalency.

But aside from that, the general approach of the left to equate ways we have failed our own ideals, to the evils perpetrated consciously and zealously by our enemies--Cuba will do for an example--shows a real poverty of thought and moral acumen.

It is just so sad that there are Americans who, seeing our nation's inevitable flaws and failures, are incapable of realizing what an astonishing thing our nation is. One only contemplate what the world would become were the U.S. to vanish.

Oh but if only we were all we claim to be and aspire to be! Yes, and if only food weren't fattening, alcohol exhilarated without being intoxicating, and money and bacon grew on trees. We don't live in that world. We are what we are; what's remarkable is that such a thing as the United States of America came to be, and still exists!