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Zinn’s (biased) history

Brendan O'Reilly | Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Howard Zinn’s death certainly marked the passing of a man with great intellectual talent. But at risk of being accused of speaking ill of the dead, it is critical that Zinn’s so-called “legacy” be clarified. It is unfortunate that he used his respected position as an academic as a bully pulpit of sorts to extol radical, revisionist views. His widely-read, iconoclastic polemic, “A People’s History of the United States” is a reductionist, quasi-Marxist depiction of American history as that of the inherently venerable masses of the poor pitted against the big, bad, perpetually evil, rich, elite villains (almost always white males). Zinn committed the cardinal sin against history-writing; that is, he put theory first and facts second. “A People’s History of the United States” is rife with inaccurate facts and glaring omissions in accordance with his social and political aims (Zinn does not include even a single source citation). As historian Michael Kammen wrote, “the people are entitled to have their history whole; not just those parts that will anger or embarrass them … If that is asking for the moon, then we will cheerfully settle for balanced history.” Zinn forced historical actors to comply with his own leftist heuristics, rather than attempting to understand them in the context of their respective time periods. “Persons of conscience” to whom Ms. Trionfero referred would be much better served reading “A History of the American People” by celebrated historian and Presidential Medal of Freedom Awardee Paul Johnson, a critical yet more balanced and optimistic account. But then again, if I disagree with him, I suppose I am one of those who do not qualify as “the people” in Zinn’s mind. I think I would rather not.


Brendan O’Reilly
Carroll Hall
Feb. 2