Thursday, January 28, 2010

Radosh on Zinn

There's a good piece by Ron Radosh on "historian" Howard Zinn, who died yesterday:
Howard Zinn's death yesterday affords us the opportunity to evaluate the remarkable influence he has had on the American public's understanding of our nation's past. His book A People's History of the United States, published in 1980 with a first printing of 5000 copies, went on to sell over two million. To this day some 128,000 new copies are sold each year. That alone made Zinn perhaps the single most influential historian whose works have reached multitudes of Americans. Indeed, Zinn found that his book was regularly adopted as a text in high schools and most surprisingly, in many colleges and universities.


Zinn ransacked the past to find alternative models for future struggles. That, of course, is not the job of the historian, but of the propagandist. Zinn did serve his country during the Second World War as a bombardier, for which he should be commended. Possibly he felt guilt at the collateral deaths of civilians his wartime service may have caused. That is understandable. It does not, however, excuse his distortions of the past or his use of it to promulgate left-wing solutions in the present.
I've had Zinn's book on my shelf for a long time, and I've read parts, though not all, of it. I can't take much. One of the reasons that I've never seen "Good Will Hunting" is the praise that Matt Damon's character gives it. The highlighted line in the quote is, I think, a good description, as is Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin's comment that Zinn "reduces the past to a Manichean fable..."

De mortuis nil nisi bonum, but it would be an understatement to say that I'm not a Zinn fan...

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