Debunking Howard Zinn

Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America

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I happened upon an article from Michael Huemer while reading this book. Huemer asks: Can Teaching the Truth Be Racist? He proposes a thought experiment:

Suppose you learned that there was a school staffed mainly by right-leaning teachers and administrators. And at this school, an oddly large number of lessons touch upon, or perhaps center on, bad things that have been done by Jews throughout history. None of the lessons are factually false – all the incidents related are things that genuinely happened and all were actually done by Jewish people. For example, murders that Jews committed, times when Jews started wars, times when Jews robbed or exploited people. (I assume that you know that it’s possible to fill up quite a lot of lessons with bad things done by members of whatever ethnic group you pick.) The lessons for some reason omit or downplay good things done by Jews, and omit bad things done by other (non-Jewish) people. What would you think about this school?

I hope you agree with me that this is a story of a blatantly racist and shitty school. It would be fair to describe the school as promoting hatred toward Jewish people, even if none of the lessons explicitly stated that one should hate Jews. I hope you also agree that no parent or voter should tolerate a public school that operated like this.

Now, what if the school’s right-wing defenders explained that there was actually nothing the slightest bit racist or otherwise objectionable about the school, because it was only teaching facts of history? All these things happened. You don’t want to lie or cover up the history, do you?

I hope you agree with me that this would be a pathetic defense.

Author Mary Grabar convinces me that Howard Zinn was up to that sort of thing throughout his career, especially in his famed book A People's History of America: presenting carefully selected "facts" that leave his readers seriously misinformed, some ready to man the barricades with pitchforks and tumbrels.

Except when it comes to the "facts" part. Zinn wasn't above making up his own as well. In addition, Grabar shows, his methods included out-of-context quoting, omitting relevant details if they complicated his narrative, plagiarism, and overall dishonesty in service of his primary thesis, namely the unsurpassed evil of the United States and free-market capitalism. Unsurprising, because Zinn was no traditional historian. Despite his academic positions over his lifetime, he was every inch the hard-left activist, preferring propaganda and advocacy over traditional scholarship.

And (boy) was he ever adored for it. Grabar notes his citation in the movie Good Will Hunting from writer/star Matt Damon where he tells Robin Williams that the People's History was a "real history book" that would "knock you on your ass".

Must be true, because Damon's playing a genius. And then he eventually moved on to plugging cryptocurrency in slick TV ads.

Grabar takes on the People's History chapter by chapter, providing her own counter-narratives to Zinn's on Christopher Columbus, Native Americans, civil rights, the Founding Fathers, World War II, Vietnam, and the "Red Scare". I'm pretty sure if Zinn had said somewhere that the sky was blue, Grabar would respond "Of course, Zinn conveniently forgets to mention the nighttime sky, which is mostly black." But she scores enough points to (at least) convince the fair-minded reader that you get a story from Zinn, but not the whole story. And you should turn your skepticism filter up to eleven.

Unfortunately, at a number of spots, Grabar's rhetoric becomes sarcastic and strident. That's likely to turn off otherwise persuadable readers.

(FYI: I found Huemer's quoted article above via Bryan Caplan's Substack post on the "mainstream media", Worse Than Silence, also worth reading if you're interested in that.)

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:37 AM EDT