A Review of Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America by Mary Grabar
As a teen growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s, Howard Zinn was invited to a political demonstration in Times Square. He found himself agreeing with the protestors, and from that moment on, he was, in his own words, "no longer a liberal [but] a radical, believing that something was fundamentally wrong in this country." After serving as a bombardier in World War II, he studied history and politics on the GI Bill and then taught history at Spelman College in Atlanta, from which he was fired, and Boston University, where he remained until he retired in 1988.
In 1980, he published his magnum opus, A People's History of the United States. The hefty 700-plus-page tome was to be a "new kind of history," a "bottom up" telling of the story of America from the perspective of the oppressed—the Indian, the slave, the factory worker, and so forth. A People's History has since sold more than 2.5 million copies, and it's widely used in U.S. education. It's also appeared in such pop culture backdrops as The Sopranos, The Simpsons, and the History Channeldocumentary The People Speak.
A People's History has clearly made its way to the people, but is it a fair and honest telling of the American story? Not even close, according to Mary Grabar. In Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America, the history professor and daughter of escapees from Communism meticulously consults historical documents contemporaneous with the eras Zinn covers, along with many of Zinn's own cited references, and judges his accounts by the historiographical standards of the American Historical Association. In the court of scholarly opinion, she concludes, Zinn's work is more of a fraud than a work of scholarship.
Grabar shows how A People's History is shot through with deceitful rhetorical tricks—selective quotations that twist the original meaning to its exact opposite, explicit rejection of historical balance, misuse of ellipses such that quotations are grossly distorted, and outright falsification. Was Columbus a genocidal maniac, as Zinn accused him of being? No, says Grabar. He defended Indians. Was the U.S. founded to protect white privilege and wealth? No, it was founded to protect liberty. Were the Viet Cong well-meaning community leaders advocating for Vietnamese self-rule? No, they were committed Communists backed by the Soviet Union. And so on for World War II, the Cold War, "America the Racist," and more.
Oddly for a historian (though not for an ideologue), Zinn read his own ideology backward in time. For example, the English who came to America were driven by their depraved appetite for private property, while the peaceful Indians had perfected the art of living in "egalitarian communes." The upshot of it all is that A People's History is an attempted takedown of America from the pen of a hard-left Communist sympathizer.
To his credit (sort of), Zinn made no pretense of objectivity, but rather openly espoused the use of history as a tool to effect a revolution. There would have been nothing wrong with chronicling a history from the perspective of the underdogs, but there is something infernally wrong about falsifying a people's backstory to advance a political agenda antithetical to their founding identity. Debunking Howard Zinn is a long-overdue counter to Zinn's ideological weaponization of history, and fair-minded Americans would do well to brush up on actual history and set about recovering a sense of that identity before it's too late.Terrell Clemmons
has a BS in Computer Science and worked as a software engineer with IBM until she hopped off the career track to be a full-time mom. She lives in Indianapolis, IN, and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #51, Winter 2019 Copyright © 2020 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo51/f-for-fraud-a-radicals-tale-amp-a-scholars-reproach