Thursday, May 7, 2020

A deplorable "historian"

Almost all of my thirty-five years teaching history in high schools I taught 9th grade US History. Toward the end of that time some of my colleagues used Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a supplemental text. I didn't. If you were among those subjected to reading that ideological polemic you might appreciate reading "The Disgraceful Howard Zinn." From that review of Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America:
.... A tireless left-wing activist with a Ph.D. in history, Zinn (1922–2010) urged fellow historians, as Grabar relates, to eschew “disinterested scholarship” in order to bring about “a revolution in the academy.” Not all radical academics agreed with his anti-capitalist take on history. Eugene Genovese declined to review Zinn’s opus, which he privately described as “incoherent left-wing sloganizing.” Michael Kammen called it “a scissors-and-paste-pot job” that devoted too much attention to “historians, historiography, and historical polemic” and hence provided “little space for the substance of history.” Kammen acknowledged the need for “a people’s history; but not single-minded, simpleminded history, too often of fools, knaves and Robin Hoods.” ....

Grabar argues that deplorable as was Zinn’s misguided treatment of the discovery of America, slavery, and the Civil War, worse still was his treatment of World War II, which she calls “obscene.” Zinn compared internment camps for Japanese Americans to the death camps of Nazi Germany, suggested that the U.S. provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor, insinuated that Franklin Roosevelt’s failure to take special steps to protect Europe’s Jews made him as morally culpable as Hitler, argued that America’s policy of having its army segregated meant that the country was little better than Nazi Germany, and contended that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki rendered the U.S. as guilty of war crimes as the Japanese, who perpetrated atrocities on a vast scale (e.g., the rape of Nanking). ....

In explaining the popularity of Zinn’s book among “the young and uninformed,” Grabar emphasizes what Stanford education professor Sam Wineberg called its ability to “speak to our inner Holden Caufield,” the sneering adolescent protagonist of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, to whom “our heroes are shameless frauds, our parents and teachers conniving liars, our textbooks propagandistic slop.” “They’re all phonies,” Wineberg concluded, remains “a message that never goes out of style.” .... (more)
The Disgraceful Howard Zinn - Claremont Review of Books

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