Peter Heck - Guest Columnist - 2/22/2010 10:30:00 AM Imagine that I offered to give you a tour of Walt Disney World. Having never been there â€“ but having heard much about it â€“ you excitedly accept the offer. But when we went, imagine that I only showed you the insides of the port-o-potties that sit along the back edge of the park's property, and then urged you to conclude that Disney World was one disgusting destination. Honest and fair of me?
Welcome to the Howard Zinn method of teaching American history. About a month ago, this Marxist storyteller (too many people insult the field of history by conferring upon him the inappropriate and undeserved title of historian) died, leaving behind a legacy of contempt, fraud, and a herd of acolytes sure to carry on his life-long crusade of rewriting the pages of this country's story.
My genuine opposition to Zinn's work is not based in his zealous anti-American bias. It is rooted primarily in his blatant anti-intellectualism that is so often glossed over by adoring crowds of media and entertainment types who share his contempt for America.
I first encountered Zinn's magnum opus, A People's History of the United States, when I was a first-year American history teacher. A friend had recommended that I read the book, "for a different perspective." Admittedly, I struggled at first to even take it seriously. What kind of a history text has no documentation and footnotes? What kind of American history text leaves out Washington's Farewell Address and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, leaves out the moon landing and D-Day, leaves out Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright brothers...but makes plenty of room for Joan Baez and the Berrigan brothers? This had to be a joke â€“ some sort of parody, right?
On that count, I was in many ways correct. Regarding Zinn's work as a chronicle of American history is indeed a cruel joke â€“ one that is being played on the minds of countless young Americans across the country. For despite the fact that the Marxist Zinn admits, "There is no such thing as pure fact...I wanted my writing of history and my teaching of history to be a part of social struggle," countless high schools and universities (including Indiana University, Penn State, the University of Colorado-Boulder, etc.) require students to read his fairy tales for completion of some courses.
The hatred Howard Zinn holds for his country (he rails, as any true Marxist does, against the evils of the American capitalist system...yes, the same one that made him very wealthy and allowed him to live a life of privilege) pales in comparison to the contempt he holds for responsible historical research.
Zinn sees both the writing and teaching of history not as what it is: a noble profession bearing responsibility to transmit an accurate retelling of past events to new generations; but rather as a weapon to use in advancing a social and political agenda. Announcing that "objectivity is impossible...and it is also undesirable," Zinn attempts to absolve himself of any duty to accurately portray the events of the past. What results is the worst kind of revisionism that only the ignorant or indoctrinated could embrace:
Maoist China â€“ the most murderous state in human history â€“ is praised as the closest thing to a "people's government" China has known; the oppressive Sandinistas in Nicaragua were "welcomed"; Castro's Cuba "had no bloody record of suppression"; the American revolution was a clever trick by the Founders to ensure oppression of Americans; emancipation of the slaves was motivated only by greed; America, not Japan, was responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor.
And of course this is only the beginning. Zinn's pathetic retelling of the settler/Indian disputes would be embarrassing to the point of laughter if it were not for the fact that this pseudo-history is being taught as fact to countless students.
Following its initial printing, respected historian Oscar Handlin dismantled Zinn's book in a review as being "deranged...fairy tales." Yet, regardless of his shoddy methodology, apparently non-existent research, and glaring bias, Zinn has become a cultural hero for the American left. They see his as the voice that gives historical justification to what they have always believed about America: that she is a force for wickedness and evil, a country that should be ashamed of itself.
Perhaps the real shame we should feel is that people like Zinn can still find such success in using the openness, opportunity, and freedom that this country provides to belittle it. Upon his passing, it is important to remind ourselves that America is far greater than Howard Zinn -- and her inspiring story overwhelms the feeble attempts of radical ideologues like him to erase or dismantle it.