The Influence of Howard Zinn on the Loss of Patriotism, and the Antidote to Zinn, Dinesh D’Souza’s America
Those of you who have already seen Dinesh D’Souza’s America, or are planning to see it on this July 4th weekend, might know that a theme running throughout the film is the distorted and far left “history” of the late Howard Zinn, whose A People’s History of the United States has become a vehicle by which the Left has reached hundreds of thousands of American students with its message that the story of America is that of oppression. While many critics of D’Souza’s film have disparaged him for taking on Zinn’s narrative, which they believe is true, his film is the perfect antidote to the Zinn anti-American narrative. I’m proud to have contributed my input in an interview that appears in the movie.
I have been a critic of Zinn for decades, and perhaps of all that I have written about him, this old column I wrote for PJ Media sums up my critique of his method of writing history. I agree with the honest left-wing historian Michael Kazin, who writes that Zinn was a propagandist, not a historian, who measured “individuals according to his own rigid standard of how they should have thought and acted.” Zinn never mentions those who came here and succeeded—immigrants who built businesses and trade unions, women who were both suffragists and in favor of temperance and opposed to abortion, African-Americans who supported the doctrine of improvement favored by Booker T. Washington, and not only the militant path espoused by W.E.B. DuBois. To Zinn, there is only one kind of rebel, and all complexity goes out the window.
Zinn never mentions conservatism, which is obviously a disagreeable thing he would rather forget, or Christianity, a force that motivated much of the reforms Zinn favors. On foreign policy, Zinn’s entire history is one of a catalog of American imperialism’s onward march of oppression at home and power abroad. It is not surprising that Zinn treats WW II in the same way, since in Zinn’s eyes, as Michael Kazin writes, the war is brought down to its “meanest components:profits for military industries, racism toward the Japanese, and the senseless destruction of enemy cities.” Even during World War II, America to Zinn was as immoral as the nations it was fighting.
D’Souza’s arguments in his film, discredited by leftist reviewers in the most scathing terms possible, reveals their own ignorance of history. As in the past, they have responded by branding all those who disagree with them (including D’Souza) reactionary, far-Right zealots, know-nothings, and virtually any such similar charge they can come up with. This too is not new. Indeed, before Zinn’s TV special The People Speak was aired, his admirers criticized in advance anyone who dared challenge Zinn with the same labels. At that time, Nation magazine writer Dave Zirin wrote in the Huffington Post that to criticize Zinn puts you in the ranks of “the lunatic Right,” and is similar to “Nazi book-burning.”
Now, on this July 4th, The Zinn Education Project and the Huffington Post have greeted their readers with their own Zinnian tribute to the meaning of this day, written by a former high school teacher, Bill Bigelow.
Starting with a brief screed against fireworks on the holiday, he quickly progresses to his main point: “There is something profoundly inappropriate about blowing off fireworks at a time when the United States is waging war with real fireworks around the world.” Bigelow goes on to give us the statistics about drone attacks. Whatever one thinks of these, he seems unconcerned or perhaps even unaware of the very real threat facing our nation from Islamic terrorists, viewing July 4th celebrations as nothing more than “part of a propaganda campaign that inures us…to current and future wars half a world away.”
As to the American Revolution, he argues that it was the regular common folk who protested the British actions, which to the Zinn school is all that counts. The importance of the intellectual work done by the Founding Fathers in writing the Declaration of Independence is played down, and said to be derivative. He quotes from an article on the Zinn group’s website titled “Re-examining the Revolution” by Ray Raphael, who writes : “’The body of the people’ made decisions and the people decided that the old regime must fall.” The struggling people, in other words, on their own, created America, not the would-be “Great Men,” as he calls them. And for good measure, he reminds us that these same people “burned Iroquois villages…to deny food to Indians.” He is referring here to the campaign waged by Major General John Sullivan in 1779.
In America, D’Souza makes the point when talking to Ward Churchill that it is incorrect to say that America from the start committed genocide against the Native Americans; genocide, he points out, is the purposeful policy of destroying an entire people because of who they are, as Hitler did to the Jews of Europe. To prove that it is indeed guilty of genocide, Bigelow quotes a letter from George Washington to Sullivan of May 31, 1779, in which Washington writes that his expedition “is to be directed against hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians with their associates and adherents. The immediate object is their total destruction and devastation and the capture of as many persons of every age and sex as possible.”