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Howard Zinn "The true holder of the REAL History of this country"

DBTrek

The Deacon of Beacon Hill
I was shocked to hear David refer to Howard Zinn as a "Fantastic Historian" and "The true holder of the REAL History of this country". As someone who holds a degree in History I must strongly disagree. Mr. Zinn writes an entertaining, opinionated, highly speculative view of History. He has no problems 'spinning' the facts to imply false conclusions, or stating certain assumptions as fact.

Who cares?

Well . . . up until I heard David express this opinion I was under the assumption that he was a serious, intellectually minded researcher in the paranormal. The type that could read opinion and separate it from fact. After his gushing praise for the "fantastic Historian" Howard Zinn I now how to wonder what other authors/sources he considers "fantastic". It's akin to someone claiming Rush Limbaugh is a "Fantastic News Anchor".

This is not meant to be a slam . . . I'm simply surprised. Don't take my word for it, go check out "A People's History of The United States" from the library and read a few chapters. Ask yourself as you go through the pages "is this fact or opinion" and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. It's a decent read but it would be a mistake to take Zinn's (or anyone's) interpretation as the "REAL" history of the US.

-DBTrek
 

Aaron LeClair

Paranormal Maven
"A People's History of The United States" from the library and read a few chapters. Ask yourself as you go through the pages "is this fact or opinion" and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

Can you give some examples?
 

DBTrek

The Deacon of Beacon Hill
Well, first I'd start by clarifying there is little or no "factual history", much less a "True holder of the REAL History of this country" as Biedny claims. History is pieced together by pulling on a variety of sources. Some of these sources are physical in nature (archaeology sites, genetic testing, soil sampling, etc). Other sources are non-physical and rely on the written or verbal accounts of long dead people.

The non-physical sources are broken into primary sources (i.e. a letter written by someone who witnessed the historical event first hand) and secondary sources (accounts from those who did not witness an event first hand.) I'm simplifying a bit, but bear with me.

So . . . historical accuracy relies largely on the quality and amount of physical evidence a historian can gather as well as the strength of his non-physical sources. Some things obviously can not be known by historians, such as what a nation or group of people "think" during a certain time period. At best we can only know what they've written about thinking.

As an example (and I just randomly flipped the book open to this page knowing that no matter what page I hit there would be an excellent example of bad history) take this paragraph from The People's History of the United States, p.101 20th Anniversary Edition softcover. This is a paragraph from a chapter where Zinn is talking about theAmerican Revolution:

"Were the Founding Fathers wise and just men trying to achieve a good balance? In fact, they did not want a balance , except one which kept things as they were, a balance among the dominant forces at that time. They certainly did not want an equal balance between slaves and masters, propertyless and property holders, Indians and whites."

Ok, let's analyze that:

1. Zinn states that "The Founding Father's" did not want "balance". Three obvious problems emerege here.

The first is trying to define "The Founding Fathers". Who specifically are they? Until we know all of the individuals that belong in this group (as well as everything they've written regarding property, slaves, and Indians) we are unable to determine whether his claim is accurate or not.

The second is stating that this nebulous, ill-defined group all share the same intentions . . . that being the desire to have "balance" among the dominant forces at the expense of the slave, the propertyless, and the Indian. It only takes one dissenter in the group of FF's to render this claim false.

The third is his crafty use of the word "balance". He states the FF's don't want balance . . . but then later clarifies that they DO want balance, just not the kind of balance he (the author) is talking about.

By the end of the paragraph we have an ill defined group of people all sharing one the exact same collective goal of not having "balance" . . . or rather having it, but not having the "real" balance that the author envisions.

That's not solid History, that's general speculation.

I hope that long-winded explaination helps. The above is simply one paragraph from a book containing 688 pages. It's an interesting read but not "good" history, much like Sean Hannity may make an interesting interviewer but he's not a "good" newsman.

-DBTrek
 

David Biedny

Paranormal Adept
DBTrek,

Perhaps I didn't get the right words out, I think very highly of Zinn, but I'm definitely more of a Chomskian thinker in my attitudes.

As far as history, one thing I'm sure of is that it belongs to those with the financial clout to document it. The TRUE history of the world, and the US, is far darker than anything committed to the written word. How will those 100, 200 years ahead of us look back on this period of history? What will our actions look like from that vantage point? I'd be willing to bet that future historians will be shocked and dismayed by what the masses - as in all of us - allowed to be done in our names.

dB
 

DBTrek

The Deacon of Beacon Hill
David Biedny said:
How will those 100, 200 years ahead of us look back on this period of history? What will our actions look like from that vantage point? I'd be willing to bet that future historians will be shocked and dismayed by what the masses - as in all of us - allowed to be done in our names.

dB
Quite possibly. Hopefully future historians will realize that the American Government acted largely separate from "the will of the American people". Of course, with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Vlad the Impaler behind us we can hope that our time period willl not be remembered as darkly as that which came before.

Thanks for clarifying your views on Zinn.

-DBTrek
 

DVS

Skilled Investigator
While any historian is somewhat biased in his/her view of history. Howard Zinn, is not the "The true holder of the REAL History of this country" whatsoever. Far from it. 'People's History of the US' is an attempt the deconstruction of the values of the U.S. based on selective historical references taken out of context in order to replace these with communist doctrine which he peppers throughout the book. The purpose of this book is to essentially make its readers question the the entire history and basis of the United States and reevaluate what they believe and introducing them to communist ideals.

Chomsky is basically worshipped, but I never quite understood why since I have listened to many of his speeches and find that he isnt intellectually honest as people might think. I also have read William Blum's books also he also ignores historical context when demonizing the U.S.

I do know the history of the CIA and the wars we have been involved and while they obviously won't be entirely positive and I will never defend them in most cases. They should be kept in historical context. This is just my opinion after reading their material. No offense David. :)
 

Yakuzablitz

Paranormal Novice
I'm also a big fan of Howard Zinn, if only for the fact that he causes his reader to question the often sanitized version of history that most of us are taught in school. This was especially relevant for me, as my first exposure to Zinn was in an AP American History course my senior year of high school. We combined a "normal" history textbook, with selected reading from Zinn's book, combined with readings of primary sources. Zinn was especially refreshing after so many years of school history that denied the greed, confusion, and violence that often guided the actions of historical figures.

DBTrek - you're obviously more knowledgeable in the field of history than many of us. If you regard Zinn as a "bad" historian, who would you then recommend as "good"? Who are some thorough and politically unbiased researchers whose writings would also appeal to and be comprehensible by the layman? I don't mean to disparage you but it seems that your standards for doing "good history" are so exacting as to be almost impossible to fulfill.

DVS - I'm intrigued by your comments but I hope you realize that tossing around such a loaded word as "communist" may be seen as overly provocative. Do you have any evidence or passages you can refer to that would back up your assertion that Zinn is pushing some kind of communist agenda on his readers?
 

DVS

Skilled Investigator
Yakuzablitz, Its common to have people, I guess one would say left leaning, be huge fans of Zinn, Chomsky, etc.. and are quick to point out the failures of capitalism and the 'social injustice' it causes to the 'people' while ignoring the social injustices that communism has caused throughout history. This is just to demonize the U.S. as if communism never had greedy people that wanted to advance their agenda or killed millions in its wake. Only the U.S. can be that terrible, so why dont we just question the very fabric the US was created, and think 'better' form of government more suitable to the 'people'. What would that government be? Gee I wonder....communism! All these communist buzz words are flying around 'social injustice' .. the 'people', etc.. I even know what kind of debate you are getting prepared for as in using the word 'communist' isnt the same as marxism, and that all those evil dictators really messed up the name of marxism and warped communism, etc...I still don't believe this subversive propaganda is being used in schools, it really is 'bad history' in that its extremely biased, manipulates history in order to put forth a specific agenda, not to mention containing incredible historical inaccuracies and lacks historical context - a perfect school textbook!

Since you asked, I can suggest some reading on what I am talking about (not that it would change your mind): :)

Howard Zinn's Biased History
 

Yakuzablitz

Paranormal Novice
DVS - thanks for your reply. Let me clear up a few things. Like you hinted at, I would be prone to argue that people conflate communism, marxism, and socialism. But, I'd rather not even bring communism into this discussion at all. Like I said before, while Zinn may be pointing out the faults of capitalism and the excesses of greed that it can lead to, I don't think he's necessarily pushing a communist agenda. Knocking capitalism and critiquing some of the US's actions doesn't automatically make you a commie. :p

One of the reasons I like Zinn and find his work valuable is summed up by the man himself:
“I am not troubled by (my admittedly biased account) because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction—so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people’s movements—that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.”
I did however read the article you linked to and found the author's critique of Zinn interesting. The next time I can summon the energy to reread "The People's History", I'll try to look at the material Zinn presents in a more critical light (at least as much as my limited knowledge of history will allow). However, the author of that article (Daniel J. Flynn) is not without bias himself. Someone who commented on the article put it quite well:
I don't agree with Howard Zinn on a number of topics. Obviously, his ideology does interfere with his objectivity and I don't think one can argue that his scholarship is flawless, but it's humorous to have this pointed out by someone like Mr. Flynn who has written a book with the hilarious title, "Why the Left Hates America: Exposing the Lies That Have Obscured Our Nation’s Greatness".

Maybe I'm just ignorant, but which Americans on "the Left" hate America? Most of them? Certainly not all, because, though I'm not a Leftist (finding them as frustrating as I do the Right), I have many friends who are and they all LOVE America.

And which lies, exactly, have obscured America's "greatness"? I mean besides Nixon's and Reagan's and Bush's and Clinton's?

Mr. Flynn claims that the Contras' candidate won the first free elections in Nicaragua after the Sandinistas took control. But Daniel Ortega won the first free elections in 1984 which were monitored by representatives of scores of countries and found to be free and fair by all of them, except one, of course (care to guess?). I'm no fan of the Sandinistas, but the facts of the matter are more important than my opinion of the Sandinistas. I wish Mr. Flynn understood this.

I tend to agree with Mr. Flynn regarding Zinn's opinions of Castro, Mumia Abu-Jamal and even some of the sloppy arguments against our war in Afghanistan, but to say that "Readers of A People’s History of the United States learn very little about history" is even more ludicrous than Zinn's most ludicrous assertions. The fact is that readers of Zinn's book have learned and will learn many, many things about American history that they didn't learn in high school. Things that are absolutely necessary in order to grasp the complexity of what the U.S. has been and what it is today.

As an aside, I'm pretty sure most historians believe that the Americas were unpopulated by humans when Asians crossed the Bering strait.

I think that Mr. Flynn has missed the point of this book, which (horror of horrors) is not to celebrate America. It's not meant to repeat the stories of greatness we've been told time and again (lest we forget how great we are), but rather to point out the weaknesses we've experienced. Arrogance and deceit mark as much of our history as ingenuity and strength. But our strength will never increase until we, as a nation, have the courage to look back and take responsibility for the lives (at home and abroad) we've destroyed. It's easy to look at the accomplishments and puff up our chests, but it takes something more to look at our faults honestly and admit them. I mean, I don't know of any winning football teams that only review the plays that went right on the Sunday before. That's because improvement doesn't arise from focusing only on what went right.

There are many who despise those who point these things out. They bristle at the notion that America might not be the greatest nation in the history of civilization. And while I think it's possible that our Constitution might be the greatest governing document ever created, to suggest that our government or our citizens have been somehow superior to all other governments and all other citizens is to engage in the same kind of ideological myth-making of which Howard Zinn is regularly accused.

The promise of our Constitution and our ideals are doomed if we adopt the attitude of George H.W. Bush when he said, "I'll never apologize for the United States. I don't care what the facts are."
It seems that no one is neutral and everyone is defending an ideology, doesn't it? *sigh*
 

DBTrek

The Deacon of Beacon Hill
I don't think expecting historians to base their conclusions on the best available historical evidence is too much to ask. That's not setting the bar too high . . . that's expecting honesty in the analysis of what evidence we possess. Anyone can selectively pick and choose sources to support whatever agenda they want, but that's not good history. That's editing history in order to advance ones own agenda.

Any historian that minimizes speculation/personal interpretation and maximizes factual assertions regarding primary and secondary sources would be 'good' in my opinion. James Loewen wrote a decent book called "Lies My Teacher Told Me" that would appeal to fans of Chomsky and Zinn. Unlike Zinn he doesn't make broad, sweeping statements intended to exaggerate events for the purpose of inciting a particular emotion in the reader. Instead Loewen takes the most widely distributed Highschool history textbooks and demonstrates where they present an inaccurate version of history (or in some cases flat out lie). He backs his assertions with solid historical evidence. For example, in one chapter he debunks some of the myths we've all read about Christopher Columbus by citing the actual ships logs of Columbus's fleet. It's hard to argue that a highschool textbook is correct when a primary sources like the ship's log disagrees with it.

There are other good Historians, but their material might be considered pretty "dry" to the average reader. Dr. David Musto comes to mind, with his work "The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control". If you're interested in how America's drug laws evolved it's a good text . . . if you're not then it's pretty boring.

-DBTrek
 

Moshi Dayan

Skilled Investigator
We (the US) have murdered many more than the people know or will ever acknowledge.
America (Turtle Island) was not an uninhabited wilderness.
The US government still acknowledges over 500 (remaining) tribes.
If you are knowledgeable and begin now to name indian tribes, you will still be naming tribes this time tomorrow. Start with the easy ones, Apapahpo, Enuit, Cherokee, Cherokee-Nation, Souix, Lakota Souix, Apache, Comanchee, Menomeni, Kickapoo, Alqonquin, Navaho, Pawnee, Creek, Blackfoot, Wautaga, Narragansset, Paspaheg, Powhatten, Pontiac, Creek-Nation, Cadillac, Wampanoag, Huron, Abenaki, Pequot, Lenni-Lenap Nation, Pueblo, Iroquoi, Chicamaugas, Shawnee, Tejas, Yaqui, Chocktaw, Chippewa, Lumbee, Muwema Ohlone, Pistcataway Indian Nation, Winnenem Wintu, Seminole, Jicarilla, Lipan, Flathead, Mescalero, Nawathenahwa, Arikara, Osage, Kiwas, Quapaw, Otoe, Mandan, Cree, Crow, Tonkawa, Ponca, Witchita, Apalachi, Catawba, Cado, Calupa.
Well, You get the point, there were THOUSANDS of tribes.
The friendly tribes paid in blood and agony.
The white man became to be seen as a demon.
The tribes could not escape him, he had smelled their blood and wanted more.
The actions of the white man proved that estimation to be true, he was a demon, a terror, an undeserved curse on the peoples.
most (american) people here carry some indian blood, but do not carry the memory of the inhuman treatment of aboriginal americans.
Columbus did not find an empty frontier.
America was founded by murderous theives, land grabbers, and rapists.
Our methodology of settlement was the genocide of those who were here before.
The "reservation" indian today used any substance available to get it out of his mind...he becomes insane many times from the incorrect way things are.
On topic? Off topic?
Just more under the heading of "truths my teacher neglected to tell me".
 
P

pixelsmith

Guest
"America was founded by murderous theives, land grabbers, and rapists."

hmm, it still is up to this very minute.
 

Aaron LeClair

Paranormal Maven
daiello said:
M&F'n Noam Chomsky
He's the guy that said, "If you don't believe in freedom of expression for those you despise, you don't believe in it at all." I think. Nice saying.

As for history, I'm not a history buff. Never even heard of Zinn, so far as I know.

I wonder if Japan has the same take on history in regards to Pearl Harbor as the US does.
 


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