by James C. Sherlock
A People’s History of the United States
In pursuit of an understanding of the sources of so much nihilistic rage by some of America’s young people in the streets, I recently read Howard Zinn’s book, ‘A People’s History of the United States’, originally published in 1980. It has sold more than 2.5 million copies. At 729 pages it is a heavy lift.
It’s genre is specified as non-fiction – history. We’ll see.
It is assigned in high school and college classrooms to teach students that American history is an endless rosary of oppression, slavery, and exploitation, hoping to establish truth by early and repeated assertion, after which the case is closed.
Zinn’s book, first published in 1980, is perhaps the most famous American history textbook ever written, and certainly the most pessimistic. His goal was to change the way Americans saw their own history by writing his interpretation of the perspective of those not discussed in most histories.
Remember that in 1980, the type of proud Marxist that Zinn represented could still see in the Soviet Union and Cuba models they admired and thought most surely would succeed.
Fair enough. He is entitled to his ideals. And certainly America historically has struggled to achieve the goals so clearly laid out in founding documents. Slavery will always be a stain. But those truths were explored by historians long before 1980.
Any objective historian when discussing the shortfalls in 500 years of American history must explain why America has lasted so long, accomplished so much, is the freest land on the planet and is still the place where the world’s strivers want to come and stay.
So what does Mr. Zinn’s book do, how does it do it and why?