February 1, 2010

"If you believe that history is all about irony, paradox and unforeseen consequences, Howard Zinn is not your man."

"If you believe that history is the eternal struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and you like to cheer for the underdog, Zinn should be your hero."

Joseph J. Ellis, one of 6 historians opining on the value of the newly dead author's "People's History of the United States.


Salamandyr said...

I would have probably phrased it "...and if you like to cheer for the slavemasters,"

SMGalbraith said...

I never read a "People's History" in its entirety but the section on the Cold War is just unbelievably tendentious.

How can one write about that conflict and only (largely) discuss the actions of the United States? This is what Zinn did.

Here it is online: Zinn and the Cold War.

The section on the civil war in Greece is remarkable.

This is like writing about the Civil War/War Between the States and only documenting the actions of the South. Or North.

He didn't care really about history; he cared about politics and he used his "history" as the vehicle for that purpose.

traditionalguy said...

One suspects that Zinn also hated the NY Yankees for winning instead of losing their games. Winners are really the bad cheaters and losers are the innocent and good people. Knowing that makes me wiser than the rest of you nerds, said Jim Jones as he mixed another batch of stawberry cool-aide for the innocent good people that he had convinced he was a safe man to follow.

SMGalbraith said...

For Zinn, after World War II the US assembled an empire in Western Europe and the Soviets assembled an empire in Eastern Europe. No difference.

The fact that the west European nations had multi-party systems with a free press and elections while the east European nations has one party dictatorships was overlooked by him.

That's not history; that's propaganda.

The Crack Emcee said...

The battle between the forces of light and dark is A useless quack device which cannot perform any other function than separating naive persons from their money. It’s a fake, a scam, a swindle, and a blatant fraud. Prove me wrong and take the million dollars.

TosaGuy said...

I had to read alot of Sean Wilentz and Eric Foner in grad school. Both are lefty, but one was a good methodological historian who let the evidence speak first and his opinion second. The quotes of both confirm my respective opinions of each.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a plagarist (worst sin of a historian) yet journalists still consult with her. This further lowers my opinions of journalism.

A very interesting book by Willentz on pre-Civil War NYC is "Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850".

Big Mike said...

Professor, I cannot understand your interest -- almost bordering on obsession -- with this obscure quasi-historian. He doesn't seem to have had much influence, but from the little I've read thanks to your links, that's because he was a propagandist and polemicist, and not really a historian.

Kevin said...

Ellis... isn't he the fraud that taught a course for years based on his "experiences in Vietnam" that turned out to be, er, taken from such documentaries as The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now because he never made it further west than West Point (where he sat out the war as a history instructor).

Why, yes, it is.

If there's a bigger joke than bar association discipline loose in the world, it's "academic integrity." Mount Holyoke will address Ellis's fraud... as soon as they're done helping OJ find the real killer.

Just in the first few letters of alphabetical order, we've had Ambrose, Bellesiles, Churchill, Ellis and Goodwin, ... all of whom have been exposed as frauds recently. All of whom continue carrying the ball in the strange moral vacuum that is the academy. (Well, Ambrose stopped when he croaked. I thought Goodwin croaked too, but she shows up in the article, apparently still live and plagiarizing. Figures that of the six eminent historians quoted in the article, two are frauds).

The Drill SGT said...

If you believe that history is the eternal struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and you like to cheer for the underdog, Zinn should be your hero.

Lot's of folks believe that. The only issue is that many of us have a different opinion from Zinn about who wears the white hat's.

In Zinn's world, the West aways wears the black hats.

Freeman Hunt said...

Big Mike, Zinn managed to get his book used in many high schools, especially AP US History classes. There is also a "Young People's" version of his book for ages 10-14. The Zinn Education Project seeks to expand the influence of these books in education.

He was very influential.

William said...

These things happened in my lifetime: In China, little girls were sent out to pull up rose bushes with their hands. The Communists felt that roses, like Mozart, like anything that gave life grace and flourish, were bourgeoise affectations. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge executed people based on the fact that their hands were insufficiently callused. In America, Patty Hearst was kidnapped, held in a dark closet for nineteen days, and periodically taken out and raped. This was done because her father was rich. The people who did it were, for the most part, upper middle class kids who considered themselves committed and idealistic. All of these things happened prior to Howard Zinn's writing of his great opus.....Fire and ice. If the world had to perish twice, the resentments of the poor are just as pernicious as the smugness of the bourgeoise and the voracity of the capitalists....It is pleasant to think that all the misfortunes of history were caused by "them" and not by "us". This is how most people understand history. As such, Zinn is indeed the people's historian.

Big Mike said...

@Freeman, huh???

You mean there were school boards who actually let that drivel get used in their schools??? I can't even begin to imagine that the kids who had that textbook for AP US History got more than a 3 on the AP test unless they knew everything when they came into the class.

Who needs a whole year of studying Zinn's drivel? Everything the US did was wrong. Or if it turned out right, then we did it for the wrong reasons. See? Two sentences. Twenty seconds, tops. Saves a whole year of study.

John Burgess said...

Zinn's writings--like Michael Moore's or Oliver Stone's films--are insidious. Ellis nailed their approach exactly. Remove nuance, remove ambiguity, remove mixed motivations, remove ignorance, and you can draw a clear black & white picture. It sort of resembles reality but is oversimplified to the point of tediousness.

Zinn is certainly influential. His 'history' is part of the curriculum and forms the basic understanding of US history held by many young people. That's a tragedy.

I was pleased to see him likened to A.J.P. Taylor, the British revisionist historian. Both corrupted their fields

Tibore said...

I don't mean to take Professor Althouse's irony theme in a different direction than she may have intended with this thread, but: I say that we can write with reasonable certainty that there is definitely an irony in calling Zinn a historian. The irony isn't even removed when you insert the qualifier "revisionist". I only believe accuracy occurs when you prefix the term "inaccurate" to "historian". And to go further, I believe this goes beyond opinion; I assert that it can actually be demonstrated.

Something's wrong when you're so inaccurate a historian that even the left-leaners call you out on issues you'd expect them to sympathize with you on. Oliver Kamm - UK, Labour Party, socialist sympathizer - wrote rather scathingly about Zinn:

"The man was not just a charlatan and a fanatic - of whom there are many in public life - but was also perfectly incompetent to be a teacher of history."

Kamm also went on at length regarding his inaccuracies:

"As I mentioned in my own tribute to him, the one exchange I had with Zinn... (was on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings)...

He knew less than nothing of the subject, in the sense that the only things he seemed to "know" were urban legends. He gets names wrong... repeats long debunked claims,... shows himself unversed in the literature about casualty estimates for a conventional invasion of Japan; totally misunderstands the significance of supposed diplomatic overtures from Tokyo to Moscow; and relies (completely, so far as I can see) on a derivative revisionist account by Gar Alperovitz that is famous for playing fast and loose with historical source material.

I've pointed these things out repeatedly to Zinn's acolytes, aware that it will do no good. If your heart is in the right place, so the assumption seems to be, then it doesn't matter if your scholarship is sloppy or risible. Well, it does matter, because historical truth matters for its own sake. Zinn had no conception of it. To him, an example of "admirable and painstaking research" was - seriously - a popular book claiming that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job. What a pitiful, foolish charlatan the man was."

(Bolding above by me to emphasize the bullseyes in Kamm's pieces)

I don't know if Zinn was openly a 9/11 truther, but just the fact that he considers any of the truther books (most likely David Ray Griffin's multiple tomes of misrepresentation and contextless accusations) "admirable" is disappointing. Especially given DRG's reliance on canards and demonstrable errors. But, why be surprised; it's Zinn we're talking about, after all.

I never celebrate a person dying - although in certain cases, like Saddam Hussein, the world unquestioningly becomes better - and I won't celebrate here. It would be malicious, unfair, and untrue to say that his death improves the world. But I confess, I do believe historical scholarship will improve, just like any endeavor does when sources of error cease to contribute noise to research. And I can say that the world can certainly mourn Zinn as a fiction writer, even though fiction was never his aim with his work.

rcocean said...

"SMGalbraith" thanks the link. This section alone convicts Zinn of being a liar and left-wing ideologue. There's so much wrong with his "history" it'd take forever to refute. Sometimes Zinn reminds me of Nazi "history" of the Jews.

Lying by omission seems his stock in trade. Zinn speaks with forked tongue.

rcocean said...

Woops. Meant to write "Zinn's historical methodology reminds me..."

Tibore said...

rcocean said...
Lying by omission seems his stock in trade."

You mischaracterize him by implying that he only had one distortive trick in his repretoire. He also lied by misrepresentation, lied via inaccuracies, and lied via presentation of "mythologica popularia" as fact. He in reality had many ways to lie; "omission" was merely one of his tricks on his toolbelt.

TosaGuy said...

"Professor, I cannot understand your interest -- almost bordering on obsession -- with this obscure quasi-historian. He doesn't seem to have had much influence, but from the little I've read thanks to your links, that's because he was a propagandist and polemicist, and not really a historian."

My non-historian liberal friends have read more Zinn history than real history and it has had a heavy influence on their world view.

Zinn hasn't really corrupted the professional historian ranks, what he has done is far worse -- he has had a significant impact on the history that is read by sectors of the general public. He "confirms" what many America-hating lefties think about this nation and western civilization. He has lent a guise of historical academic intellectualism to political ideology.

traditionalguy said...

World empires are nothing new. The Persians went after the Greeks after which the Greeks went after the Persians, after which the Romans did it for 700 years. We call the end of Roman power the beginning of the Dark Ages interrupted by the Viking raiders. Then the European partial Empires of Spain, England, and France, Netherlands, and and the Moslem Turks did there best to conquer the weak people. So the USA that split off from England's empire also did its best to be a player. The non-players are the weak losers. Zinn really thinks that winning wars and ruling territory overseas isagainst the USA's morals. He is wrong about that. Losing the wars is 1000 times worse. The Usa is only bad when we do not export Democracy along with the sales reps.

rcocean said...

"he in reality had many ways to lie; "omission" was merely one of his tricks on his toolbelt."

Agree - but I think lying by omission is the most effective historical lie and hardest to refute. You can "tell the truth" and yet leave out enough to in effect lie. Its very effective when dealing with students and young people who don't know squat.

Turtledove said...

Freeman Hunt: My oldest son took that AP History class with Zin's book. I used to ask him: "So who were we oppressing today?" He survived it though. He is now a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army.

EDH said...

I like how Doris Kearns Goodwin uses the opportunity to plug her next book.

rcocean said...

This brings up the question:

Why is this charlatan so widely used in teaching US History?

There are any number of texts that are both better written and historically accurate.

I assume its because left-wing teachers like his POV and don't care for the truth anymore than Zinn did.

From Inwood said...

Below is an excellent obit of Howard Zinn, who did not write “revisionist history” but counterfeit history. Zinn was a Stalinioid, & wrote a history which is "hate America and whites" pseudo history:


Those who learn their "history" from the Zinns are much smarter than George Bush. You know, like The Anointed One who claimed that there are 57 states & noted in his State of the Union that the Constitution says that all people are created equal.

Trooper York said...

"One suspects that Zinn also hated the NY Yankees for winning instead of losing their games. Winners are really the bad cheaters and losers are the innocent and good people."

Wait a minute,Lem is really Howard Zinn. That explains it.

Oh. And one more thing.


bagoh20 said...

A young mind can read such drivel and no amount of later scholarship will totally cleans it out. Then they can become President and apologize for their country.

The Crack Emcee said...

"He was very influential."

In case you've missed the last few decades, Zinn being included in a school's program doesn't make him influential but a symbol of Liberal corruption. They stuck him in there - not based on merit, but because they wanted him there.

He's dead now, in more ways than one.

Freeman Hunt said...

Crack, it means his work, horrible as it is, is influencing a generation of young minds. I'd call that influential. And bad.

Freeman Hunt said...

And I have his book, so I'm well-aware that people aren't using his work based on merit.

LoafingOaf said...

Should I gasp in horror at comments telling us they have assigned this book in AP history classes? I will in the classrooms where it's the only assigned text and is presented as the authortative history of America in an attempt to indoctrinate young minds. But, if it's used to provoke classroom discussions, show students that history is open to interpretation, and there's more than one side to every story, I don't have a problem with that.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Crack, it means his work, horrible as it is, is influencing a generation of young minds.

I wouldn't sweat it much Freeman. History of all subjects tends to rank pretty low on the subject list of the childrens so I don't think they're being influenced very much.

Then there are those like the usual suspects here who have an interest and morons like Zinn just confirm their ingrained belief system that the US and the West is the epitome of evil. But they would believe it without guys like Zinn anyway.

Comrade X said...

HoZinn: The principal justification for obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that it "saved lives" because otherwise a planned US invasion of Japan would have been necessary, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands. Truman at one point used the figure "a half million lives," and Churchill "a million lives," but these were figures pulled out of the air to calm troubled consciences; even official projections for the number of casualties in an invasion did not go beyond 46,000.

The battle for tiny Okinawa, April 1945-June 1945, resulted in over 50,000 American caualties and possibly more Japanese military & civilian casualties than Hiroshima & Nagasaki combined. Did Zinn depend on his readers having little historical knowledge?

Big Mike said...

Backing up Comrade X, the soldiers on Okinawa witnessed large numbers of civilians leaping from the cliffs to their deaths rather than surrender to the Americans. Women throwing their children off cliffs and then following them over the edge. Old "Victory at Sea" footage shows this happening, and it's still hard to look at it. So, how many Japanese civilian casualties would there have been above and beyond those lost to "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" had we invaded in 1946 if Japanese civilians felt this way?

At any rate, the responsibility of the President and his military staff is to win the war with minimum American casualties. Trust me, if Truman had withheld the bomb and the US Army suffered "only" tens of thousands of casualties, he would have been strung up from the nearest light post as soon as the public became aware of what had happened.

Brian said...

Yeah, Comrade, over at Pajamas Media, Bill Whittle did a takedown of Jon Stewart after he said on the Daily Show (with a guest defending the war on terrorism, I think) that what we did at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a war crime, because we did it without warning. That we should have done a "warning shot" and dropped a bomb off the Japanese coast, that the Japanese would have surrendered without actually bombing the cities.

Bill Whittle thoroughly trashed this point of view and showed that (like you said) the Japanese fought even more viciously the closer we got to their homeland. A quarter million casualties on the American side alone was projected (conservatively). Japanese military propaganda told the people to arm themselves with anything they could get (including sharpened sticks) to be ready for the invasion, and be ready to die to the last man.

Meanwhile, during the time Truman was deciding whether or not to use the bomb, we were air raiding Tokyo and other cities on a daily basis. We would have simply ramped up the carnage from conventional bombing had he decided not to use the A-bombs. Secondly, the idea that it was a sneak attack is belied by the fact that millions of leaflets were dropped over Japan warning of continued attacks on their cities and to seek shelter outside them.

Also, Japan would not have immediately surrendered after a "show and tell" by dropping an A-bomb off the coast, because they didn't surrender after bombing Hiroshima. Fighting continued for three days (including conventional bombing of other cities) until Nagasaki was bombed.

Freeman Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

Shakespeare's history plays contain a lot of agit-prop for the Tudors. But there was an ironic, paradoxical, unforeseen consequence of making Richard III the great villian of history. Just about every well read person knows a little about this undistinguished, medieval king and knows that Shakespeare exaggerated the case against him. Being a smart ass is a progressive disease. If students read Zinn to question this or that view of history, they will go on to question Zinn's view as well.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

LoafingOaf said: "I will in the classrooms where it's the only assigned text and is presented as the authortative history of America in an attempt to indoctrinate young minds. But, if it's used to provoke classroom discussions..."

I think that's fair, but I'm not seeing any indication that it was used to provoke discussion. I think back to my AP History class (1997-ish), and we had no such discussions. I don't think that we ever read Zinn, so I'm just saying that sort of discussion wouldn't have fit into the course. I don't get the impression many high school courses delve that deeply, even at the AP level.

Maybe someone who is familiar with AP classes using Zinn can chime in re: how his work is being used?

raf said...

@lyssa: My exposure to AP classes, including USHistory, is limited to observing my kids go through them, but I would say the focus and purpose of the course is to prepare the students for the AP exam. Period. No time for anything beyond that.