Young America's Foundation

Join Our Email List

  • New Guard Inner
  • Howard Zinn: Intellectual Moron

    1/28/2010 5:04:24 PM Posted by Patrick Coyle

    Dan Flynn ImageHoward Zinn died yesterday of a heart attack in Santa Monica, CA. Instead of reading a fawning piece from the mainstream media, we thought it would be helpful to offer another viewpoint. Foundation graduate and author, Dan Flynn, in his book, Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas exposes Zinn's flawed ideas:

    “Objectivity is impossible,” self-styled “peoples’ historian” Howard Zinn once remarked, “and it is also undesirable. That is, if it were possible it would be undesirable, because if you have any kind of a social aim, if you think history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race; should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.”

    History serving “a social aim,” rather than chronicling the past in a detached manner, is what readers get in A People’s History of the United States. With any luck, “The People Speak,” the History Channel documentary based on the book will be, like so many Hollywood productions, unfaithful to the original. Given A People’s History of the United States’ infidelity to facts, this might be the only chance viewers have of seeing anything resembling an accurate retelling of history.

    Through Zinn’s looking-glass, Maoist China, site of history’s bloodiest state-sponsored killings, transforms into “the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.” The authoritarian Nicaraguan Sandinistas were “welcomed” by their own people, while the opposition Contras, who backed the candidate that triumphed when free elections were finally held, were a “terrorist group” that “seemed to have no popular support inside Nicaragua.” Admitting some human rights abuses, Zinn writes that Castro’s Cuba “had no bloody record of suppression.”

    Readers of A People’s History of the United States learn very little about history. They learn quite a bit about Howard Zinn. In fact, the book is perhaps best thought of as a massive Rorschach Test, with the author’s familiar reaction to every major event in American history proving that his is a captive mind long closed by ideology.

    If you’ve read Karl Marx, there’s no reason to read Howard Zinn. In fact, reading the most important line of The Communist Manifesto makes a study of A People’s History of the United States a colossal waste of time. The single-bullet theory of history offered by Marx–“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle”–is relied upon by Zinn to explain all of American history. Economics determines everything. Why study history when theory has all the answers?

    Thumb through A People’s History of the United States and one finds greed motivating every major event. According to Zinn, the separation from Great Britain, the Civil War, and both world wars—to name but a few examples—all stem from base motives involving rich men seeking to get richer at the expense of other men.

    Zinn’s projection of Marxist theory upon historical reality begins with Columbus. According to Zinn, those following the seafaring Italian to the New World did so for one reason: profit. “Behind the English invasion of North America, behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilizations based on private property,” maintains the octogenarian scribe.

    Intellectual MoronsA materialist interpretation continues with the Founding. “Around 1776,” A People’s History informs, “certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years. They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from the favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.”

    Zinn sarcastically adds, “When we look at the American Revolution this way, it was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have received over the centuries. They created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command.” Rather than the spark that lit the fire of freedom and self-government throughout much of the world, he portrays the American Founding as a diabolically creative way to ensure oppression. If the Founders wanted a society they could direct, why didn’t they put forth a dictatorship or a monarchy resembling most other governments at the time? Why go through the trouble of devising a constitution guaranteeing rights, political participation, jury trials, and checks on power? Zinn doesn’t explain, contending that these freedoms and rights are merely a facade designed to prevent class revolution.

    Zinn paints antebellum America as a uniquely cruel slaveholding society subjugating man for profit. Curiously, the war that ultimately results in slavery’s demise is portrayed as a conflict of oppression too. Zinn writes, “it is money and profit, not the movement against slavery, that was uppermost in the priorities of the men who ran the country.” Rather than welcoming emancipation, as one might expect, Zinn casts a cynical eye towards it. “Class consciousness was overwhelmed during the Civil War,” the author laments, placing a decidedly negative spin on the central event in American history. America is in a lose/lose situation. The same thing, according to Zinn, caused both slavery and emancipation: greed. Whether the U.S. tolerates or eradicates slavery, its nefarious motives remain the same. Zinn’s jaundiced eye fails to see the real issues surrounding the Civil War. Instead, he envisions the chief significance of the grisly conflict as how it allegedly served as a distraction from the impending socialist revolution.

    By the time the reader reaches World War I, Zinn begins to sound like a broken record. “American capitalism needed international rivalry—and periodic war—to create an artificial community of interest between rich and poor,” the Boston University emeritus professor of history writes of the Great War, “supplanting the genuine community of interest among the poor that showed itself in sporadic movements.” Yet another diversion to delay the revolution!

    “A People’s War?” is Zinn’s chapter on the war in which he served his country. Zinn suggests that America, not Japan, was to blame for Pearl Harbor by provoking the Empire of the Sun. The fight against fascism was all an illusion. While Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan may have been America’s enemies, Uncle Sam’s real goal was empire. Regarding America’s neutrality in the Spanish Civil War, Zinn asks:  “[W]as it the logical policy of a government whose main interest was not stopping Fascism but advancing the imperial interests of the United States? For those interests, in the thirties, an anti-Soviet policy seemed best. Later, when Japan and Germany threatened U.S. world interests, a pro-Soviet, anti-Nazi policy became preferable.” Reality is inverted. It’s not the Soviet Union that went from being anti-Nazi to pro-Nazi to anti-Nazi. Zinn projects the Soviet Union’s schizophrenic policies upon the United States. While Zinn awkwardly excuses the Hitler-Stalin Pact, he all but proclaims a Hitler-Roosevelt Pact.

    The reader learns that the Second World War was really about—surprise!—money. “Quietly, behind the headlines in battles and bombings,” Zinn writes, “American diplomats and businessmen worked hard to make sure that when the war ended, American economic power would be second to none in the world. United States business would penetrate areas that up to this time had been dominated by England. The Open Door Policy of equal access would be extended from Asia to Europe, meaning that the United States intended to push England aside and move in.” Yet, this didn’t happen. The English Empire expired, but no American Empire took its place. Despite defeating Japan and helping to vanquish Germany, America rebuilt these countries. They are now America’s chief economic rivals, not its colonies.

    The profit motive certainly is central to numerous major events in American history. The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Fort in 1848, for example, undeniably stands as the primary reason—alongside the favorable outcome of the Mexican War—for the subsequent population explosion in California. The Gold Rush is one of several historical occurrences that conform to Zinn’s overall thesis. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. For every major figure or event whose catalyst was economic interests, scores were sparked by some unrelated concern.

    To question Zinn’s method of analyses is not to say that economics does not influence events. It is to say that one-size-fits-all explanations of history are bound to be wrong more than they are right. History is too complicated to find a perfect fit within any theory. For the true believer, this inconvenience can be overcome. When fact and theory clash, ideologues choose theory. To the true believer, ideology is truth. Time and again, A People’s History of the United States opts to mold the facts to fit theory, leaving the reader to wonder what “people” he is referring to in the book’s title. Dishonest people? Left-wing people? Delusional people?

    “Unemployment grew in the Reagan years,” Zinn claims. Statistics show otherwise. Reagan inherited an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent. By his last month in office, the rate had declined to 5.4 percent. Had the Reagan presidency ended in 1982 when unemployment rates exceeded 10 percent, Zinn would have a point. But for the remainder of Reagan’s presidency, unemployment declined precipitously. While Zinn teaches history and not mathematics, one needn’t be a math whiz to figure out that 5.4 percent is less than 7.5 percent. Despite unleashing an economy that created nearly 20 million new jobs during his tenure, Reagan continues to be smeared by historians—and it’s not hard to figure out why. Reagan’s free market polices were anathema to Marxists like Zinn. Upset at the pleasant way things turned out—Reagan’s policies unleashed an economy that continuously grew from late 1982 until mid 1990—historians prefer to rewrite history.

    These are but a few of Zinn’s errors, which curiously seem to always bolster the left-of-center position. No error goes against the grain of the author’s general thesis. Every author makes mistakes. Zinn, it seems, would make less of them if he used his mind rather than his ideology to do his thinking.

    By now one might be thinking: On what evidence does Zinn base his varied proclamations? One can only guess. Despite its scholarly pretensions, the book contains not a single source citation. While a student in Professor Zinn’s classes at Boston University or Spelman College might have received an “F” for turning in a paper without documentation, Zinn’s footnote-free book is standard reading in scores of college courses.

    More striking than Zinn’s inaccuracies—intentional and otherwise—is what he leaves out.

    Washington’s Farewell Address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and Reagan’s “tear down the wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate all fail to merit a mention. Nowhere do we learn that Americans were first in flight, first to fly solo across the Atlantic, and first to walk on the moon. Alexander Graham Bell, Jonas Salk, and the Wright Brothers are entirely absent. Instead, the reader is treated to the exploits of Speckled Snake, Joan Baez, and the Berrigan brothers. While Zinn highlights immigrants that went into professions such as ditch-digging and prostitution, he excludes success stories like Alexander Hamilton, John Jacob Astor, and Louis B. Mayer. Valley Forge rates a single fleeting reference, while D-Day’s Normandy invasion, Gettysburg, and other important military battles are left out. In their place, we get several pages on the My Lai massacre and colorful descriptions of U.S. bombs falling on hotels, air-raid shelters, and markets during 1991’s Gulf War.

    How do readers learn about U.S. history with all these omissions? They don’t.

    Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008) and Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas (Crown Forum, 2004), from which this essay is adapted. Copyright © 2004 by Daniel J. Flynn.

    • Readers' Comments

    • well observed and written...
      Posted by Eben Jones on 01/28/2010
    • Of the items (probably) "left" out, let us not forget the horrible thing we did to that "baby milk factory" during the Gulf War. While Peter Arnett did a "service" by informing the world of our pernicious ways, you may wish to visit http://www.psywarrior.com/PSYOPMistakes.html to get a more well rounded story.
      Posted by Steve Bridges on 01/30/2010
    • Zinn's comment about Cuba is a classic case of taking part of a larger commentary out of context. Here is the complete version of the story from page 657 in a discussion of the Clinton Years "Human rights clearly came second to business profit in U.S. foreign policy. When the international group Human Rights Watch issued its 1996 annual report, the New York Times (December 5, 1996) summarized its findings: The organization strongly criticized many powerful nations, particularly the United States, accusing them of failing to press governments in China, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia to improve human rights for fear of losing access to lucrative markets. This criticism was borne out by the Clinton Administration's bizarre approach to two nations, China and Cuba, both of which considered themselves "communist." China had massacred protesting students in Beijing in 1991 and put dissenters in prison. Yet the United States continued to give China economic aid and certain trade privileges ("most favored nation" status) for the sake of U.S. business interests. Cuba had imprisoned critics of the regime, but had no bloody record of suppression as did communist China or other governments in the world that received U.S. aid.
      Posted by Patrick on 01/31/2010
    • Danny, old friend, you are rank in this? renodtiin of the Fourth Of July I am so sorry to tell you that both you and James Earl STINK on the Fourth Of July Speech that is if you read this you will know who this you are still my brother and you've given other fine performances but here no no YOU STINK!
      Posted by Moises on 04/27/2013
    • 4Gbx2f <a href="http://jsqyuxbswznc.com/">jsqyuxbswznc</a>
      Posted by nnzkamfofur on 04/28/2013
    • cwaNJB <a href="http://qbgnvuzgbwlk.com/">qbgnvuzgbwlk</a>
      Posted by jbjncgq on 05/01/2013
    • BtVJdw , [url=http://izqdcvcgbruf.com/]izqdcvcgbruf[/url], [link=http://kfqkdeqrcjrj.com/]kfqkdeqrcjrj[/link], http://mzaplmywyhpe.com/
      Posted by qybmzd on 05/01/2013
    • Ha7AYO Im obliged for the blog article.Really thank you! Really Great.
      Posted by 1894 on 09/07/2013
    • O4SUBB A big thank you for your blog article.Much thanks again. Fantastic.
      Posted by 8326 on 09/13/2013
    • 132dhe Wow, great article. Great.
      Posted by 659319 on 09/24/2013
    • 1lezml wow, awesome blog article.Much thanks again. Awesome.
      Posted by 731791 on 10/16/2013
    • KVuCAq Great, thanks for sharing this article.Really looking forward to read more. Really Cool.
      Posted by 1876 on 10/24/2013
    • vFaKyx Say, you got a nice post.Really thank you! Great.
      Posted by 8159 on 10/30/2013
    • 606vp7 I am so grateful for your article.Thanks Again. Great.
      Posted by 760902 on 11/18/2013
    • DWTGFL I truly appreciate this blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Fantastic.
      Posted by 8727 on 12/14/2013
    • jta6SZ Thank you for your blog article. Great.
      Posted by 59430 on 01/15/2014
    • zAuGlI Looking forward to reading more. Great blog post. Fantastic.
      Posted by 72580 on 02/28/2014
    • Ic2g5q Thanks for the blog post.Really thank you! Much obliged.
      Posted by 1513 on 03/22/2014
    • lPJ5Ru Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on...
      Posted by 74653 on 04/01/2014
    • F9WE3z Hey, thanks for the post. Will read on...
      Posted by 249134 on 05/11/2014
    • gSag54 I really enjoy the article post.Really thank you! Much obliged.
      Posted by 658137 on 06/04/2014
    • ZoiWNv wow, awesome blog.Really thank you!
      Posted by 982582 on 06/19/2014
    • 9ewmgB Really appreciate you sharing this blog post.Much thanks again. Really Cool.
      Posted by 3156 on 07/04/2014
    • 3EmSmt Thanks a lot for the blog.Much thanks again.
      Posted by 3133 on 07/18/2014
    • zW6ZU4 Muchos Gracias for your blog.Thanks Again. Cool.
      Posted by 315647 on 08/01/2014
    • jhXhqh Appreciate you sharing, great blog article. Really Great.
      Posted by 53821 on 08/04/2014
    • QsdAdI A round of applause for your article post.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on...
      Posted by 59565 on 08/05/2014
    • iVXqd1 A big thank you for your article post.Thanks Again. Want more.
      Posted by 28500 on 08/06/2014
    • t4na7p <a href="http://jltvblcopqho.com/">jltvblcopqho</a>, [url=http://ubehygiwjvis.com/]ubehygiwjvis[/url], [link=http://urhbxmxwzzvt.com/]urhbxmxwzzvt[/link], http://vrwpsqpljvnn.com/
      Posted by qthbaysd on 09/18/2014
    • FHjPb4 <a href="http://igacrgqfnthh.com/">igacrgqfnthh</a>, [url=http://voffugpgdwzw.com/]voffugpgdwzw[/url], [link=http://jlpibmvzjgpj.com/]jlpibmvzjgpj[/link], http://elfjpjfzvjtf.com/
      Posted by osviebb on 09/19/2014
    • 290kog I'll right away take hold of your rss feed as I can't in finding your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service. Do you've any? Kindly permit me know so that I could subscribe. Thanks.
      Posted by 2889 on 10/20/2014
    • PrXTJh http://www.QS3PE5ZGdxC9IoVKTAPT2DBYpPkMKqfz.com
      Posted by 45453 on 12/13/2014
    Leave a comment
    Name
    Email
    Comment
Copyright 2014 Young America's Foundation | 11480 Commerce Park Dr., Suite 600, Reston, VA 20191-1556 | Ph. 1.800.USA.1776 | Fax 703.318.9122
www.yaf.org | www.reaganranch.org | www.nationaljournalismcenter.org