Thankful for Howard Zinn
Lucia Geglio | Friday, February 5, 2010
Dear Mr. Brendan O’Reilly,
Your critique of the legacy of Howard Zinn was almost as biased and selective as you claim the writings of the late historian were. You say that Zinn’s ‘A People’s History’ constantly presents battles between the brave and courageous proletariat and that most ubiquitous of villains, the evil white male. And you’re right, because that is a reoccurring theme in his book, just like it is in American history.
Zinn (who is, by the way, a white male) chronicled the plight of black slaves ruled by white landowners, women fighting for suffrage against extreme male resistance and laborers striking for decent working conditions from those ‘rich, elite’ business owners. Our nation has not been perfect — far from it. From the Trail of Tears to the the lynching era to the Vietnam War, huge injustices have been committed by elected officials and regular civilians. But glossing over these historical facts does not mean they didn’t happen, and it doesn’t allow us to take any lessons from them. Zinn’s take on American history is not revisionist or dishonest — it is finally a history told from a perspective other than that of the winner’s.
I think that you read ‘A People’s History’ as a condemnation of America, and I will not disagree that Zinn takes issue with and protests many instances in our past. However, what you failed to recognize in your review are all of the stories of those who resisted and fought against injustice, bigotry and inequality. For every chapter on racial discrimination there was a Rosa Parks, and for every tale of political corruption, there were corresponding stories of politicians who inspired and were trusted and for all of these stories we should be thankful there was Howard Zinn, who didn’t shy away from the ugly just like he didn’t cover up the good. I hope that you will reread ‘A People’s History’ with a less critical eye and see what a service Zinn has done.