Monday, June 26, 2006

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

“A People’s History of the United States”

By Richard E. Noble

What is “A People’s History” you might be asking yourself. Mr. Zinn explains it as a history written from the point of view and in sympathy with the minorities involved as opposed to the traditional elitist style histories. Most histories are written from the established order downward. A People’s History is written more from the masses upwards. It certainly provides a different perspective. For example we see Christopher Columbus arriving in 1492 from the eyes of the Indian tribes waiting along the shoreline rather than from onboard Chris’s ship. I must say I knew that Christopher Columbus wasn’t all that he had been cracked up to be over the centuries - but I never saw him portrayed quite so horrendous. I felt much the same when reading about Ferdinand Magellan in William Manchester’s “A World Lit only by Fire”.
Mr. Zinn is what most analyst would call a “radical”. He does not provide the established approved interpretation of historical events. One might be inclined to call this book a “negative” history of the USA. I’m sure that some would find it very depressing.
I have done considerable radical reading, so I was not shocked by Mr. Zinn approach to history.
I have been reading now, for several years, Mr. Page Smith’s a “Peoples History of America”. It contains eight or nine volumes, each volume being approximately the size of Mr. Zinn’s work. Most of what Mr. Zinn had to say I had already been exposed to in one of Mr. Smith’s volumes or elsewhere and in greater detail. But yet I have no doubt that most Americans would be quite shocked at much of what Mr. Zinn has to say in His People’s History.
Mr. Zinn’s book, though it is over 700 pages is a good brief synopsis of American history - comparable, say to Bertrand Russell’s single volume of “A History of Western Philosophy”.
It is claimed that Mr. Zinn’s book has now sold over one million copies. I am surprised, but I consider that fact a very good sign. Anyone interested in American history should read Mr. Zinn’s book - or one like it.
After finishing Mr. Howard Zinn’s a People’s History of the United States, I wanted more background on the author himself
Howard Zinn is an historian and college professor. He is also a social activist. Being a social activist is a nice way of saying that he probably gets washed down with a fire hose quite often; is more than likely familiar with the effects of tear gas; and has spent several nights or weekends in various jail cells about the United States.
He served in the military in World War II and participated in the act of dropping bombs on people and things. The experience left him with a very sensitive conscience, and not much in favor of the concept of war. I have never understood why more veterans don’t feel similarly.
Believe it or not, dropping bombs on civilian populations was once considered morally and ethically inhumane. Since World War II the argument rarely surfaces anymore.
I would say that he is a very outspoken individual. And when one is saying the types of things that he is saying, this takes a great deal of courage. Most people do not want to hear the negative tales of their nation’s history or read about the history of their country from a critical perspective. Most people will admit that their country has made mistakes but they would like to think that nevertheless their leaders and their ancestors did the best that they could under the circumstances. Nobody really wants to hear that their country not only made mistakes but that maybe many of the mistakes weren’t mistakes at all - but were contrived and done with positive intent; nor do they want to hear that many of their ancestors weren’t really all that great - in some cases maybe even criminal.
There is no doubt in my mind that reading Mr. Zinn’s book will make any reader think about things. The reader may rethink many of his positions, or he may think that books like this should not be allowed to be published - but one way or another he will think.
Mr. Zinn would be considered Left in our current political spectrum - but from where we are today everything is Left. I think that we are about as far Right as this country has ever been at any time in its history – maybe the Wilson Administration could compare. But, nevertheless, Mr. Zinn I am sure would be considered very Left.
For my part, I find Left and Right very confusing. Neither Left nor Right is what they used to be. I like Mr. Winston Churchill’s remark on this issue; A conservative is a person who today adamantly defends the liberal policies of the past (paraphrase). We don’t live in a Conservative world - if we did we would all be wearing powdered wigs and practicing feudalism.
I enjoyed reading Mr. Zinn’s History even though I felt that he injected considerably more personal opinions and views than I have found in most history books. I am not saying that he tried to pass off his personal opinions as history - he didn’t. But he does
become much more familiar and personal than most historians whom I have read. I found myself on a few occasions questioning some of the author’s positions and interpretations but I must admit that I really don’t have enough information to actually deny any of the author’s viewpoints. And the more I investigate our “true” history, I’m afraid Mr. Zinn’s point of view will appear more and more accurate.
In a way his personal touch is refreshing. It certainly makes reading a history book more entertaining and enjoyable. When you are finished reading Mr. Zinn, you feel you know the man - heart and soul. What you read is what you get - he is certainly not holding anything back.
I intend to read more by Mr. Zinn - but not right away. I’ve got to let this book sit in my mind for awhile; or maybe in my gut, where it can be digested more thoroughly.

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