Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn: Political propagandist

From "Howard Zinn's Biased History," by Daniel J. Flynn:
"...The recently released updated edition[of a People's History of the United States] continues to be plagued with inaccuracies and poor judgment. The added sections on the Clinton years, the 2000 election, and 9/11 bear little resemblance to the reality his current readers have lived through.

In an effort to bolster his arguments against putting criminals in jail, aggressive law enforcement tactics, and President Clinton’s crime bill, Zinn contends that in spite of all this 'violent crime continues to increase.' It doesn’t. Like much of Zinn’s rhetoric, if you believe the opposite of what he says in this instance you would be correct. According to a Department of Justice report released in September of 2002, the violent crime rate has been cut in half since 1993.

According to Zinn, it was Mumia Abu-Jamal’s 'race and radicalism,' as well as his 'persistent criticism of the Philadelphia police' that landed him on death row in the early 1980s. Nothing about Abu-Jamal’s gun being found at the scene; nothing about the testimony of numerous witnesses pointing to him as the triggerman; nothing about additional witnesses reporting a confession by Abu-Jamal—it was Abu-Jamal’s dissenting voice that caused a jury of twelve to unanimously sentence him to death.

Predictably, Zinn draws a moral equivalence between America and the 9/11 terrorists. He writes, 'It seemed that the United States was reacting to the horrors perpetrated by the terrorists against innocent people in New York by killing other innocent people in Afghanistan.' Scare quotes adorn Bush’s 'war on terrorism,' post-9/11 'patriotism,' and other words and phrases Zinn dislikes..."

The full text of Flynn's piece here.

From "Howard Zinn's History Lessons," by Michael Kazin

"...Zinn's big book is quite unworthy of such fame and influence. A People's History is bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions. Zinn reduces the past to a Manichean fable and makes no serious attempt to address the biggest question a leftist can ask about U.S. history: why have most Americans accepted the legitimacy of the capitalist republic in which they live?

His failure is grounded in a premise better suited to a conspiracy-monger's Web site than to a work of scholarship. According to Zinn, '99 percent' of Americans share a 'commonality' that is profoundly at odds with the interests of their rulers. And knowledge of that awesome fact is 'exactly what the governments of the United States, and the wealthy elite allied to them-from the Founding Fathers to now-have tried their best to prevent.'

History for Zinn is thus a painful narrative about ordinary folks who keep struggling to achieve equality, democracy, and a tolerant society, yet somehow are always defeated by a tiny band of rulers whose wiles match their greed. He describes the American Revolution as a clever device to defeat 'potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.'

His Civil War was another elaborate confidence game. Soldiers who fought to preserve the Union got duped by 'an aura of moral crusade' against slavery that 'worked effectively to dim class resentments against the rich and powerful, and turn much of the anger against 'the enemy.'

Nothing of consequence, in his view, changed during the industrial era, notwithstanding the growth of cities, railroads, and mass communications. Zinn views the tens of millions of Europeans and Asians who crossed oceans at the turn of the past century as little more than a mass of surplus labor. He details their miserable jobs in factories and mines and their desperate, often violent strikes at the end of the nineteenth century---most of which failed. The doleful narrative makes one wonder why anyone but the wealthy came to the United States at all and, after working for a spell, why anyone wished to stay..."

The full text of Kazin's piece here.

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