Ron Radosh

The Zinning of America: How to Watch "The People Speak" on The History Channel on Sunday Night

Part I

In 1997, Matt Damon played the part of a janitor who turned out to be not only a math wizard, but one of the most brilliant men you could find anywhere.  Trying to impress an arrogant Harvard student, who thought he knew everything, Damon’s character quotes from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.  He tells the Harvard kid and a psychiatrist at the hospital he works at that “you’re surrounding yourself with all the wrong fuckin’ books. You wanna read a real history book, read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. That book’ll fuckin’ knock you on your ass.”

A few years later, HBO’s “The Sopranos” had a Columbus Day episode. Tony’s kid informs him that they don’t celebrate it at school, because Columbus was a practitioner of genocide against the Indian natives in the new land. When Tony asks him where he got that from, he tells him it was from their school textbook , Zinn’s People’s History.

Zinn’s book has now gone through many editions, and became the single best selling text of history that has ever been published- selling over two million copies—some 128,000 each year since his first edition was published over twenty years ago! Schools around the nation actually use it as a textbook. As  Dan Flynn notes, the course statement for a history class at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA states that “This is an advanced class and all students should have read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States before the first day of class, to give us a common background to begin the class.”

So if you want to know why the current  generation  hews to a left-wing world view, look no further than the influence of Zinn. Lenin once famously quipped that “We will sell the capitalists the rope that we will use to hang them.” So true, except now the TV networks and its corporate owners are buying not the rope, but Zinn’s book for an even bigger mass market.

When Zinn’s book was just published, Matt Damon lived next door to him. He and his friend Ben Affleck spent long hours with Zinn.  For many years Damon and Affleck tried to fund a major TV mini-series based on Zinn’s book. Originally, it looked like Fox had signed a deal, but it was squashed by Rubert Murdoch. Now, they have managed to partially reach their goal, with this Sunday’s TV special on the History channel, called  “The People Speak: Democracy is Not A Spectator Sport.”

The hype for the show has been everywhere. On the TV talk shows you cannot have escaped its stars hyping it. If you read a popular news magazine or a daily paper, you’ve heard about it. Its adherents all make the same argument: for the first time, you get the real American story. The point is not to study and understand the past, but rather, as Damon told The New York Times,to show the past’s resonance for today, when the public is angry about banks and bailouts, and foreign wars. “That’s by design,” Damon said. “What they were up against oftentimes are exactly the same things we’re up against now.” Zinn added people rebelled in the past, and he hopes the series will spread rebellion now, and “lead into a larger movement for economic justice.” Zinn sees history as a tool to be utilized behalf of radical politics- not as a way to understand our country’s growth and development.

As The History Channel people present it, as do many of the actors and stars on the program, it is all so benign— simply a way to show the nation through dramatic readings, songs and Zinn’s narrative, some of the key documents that were at the center of our nation’s past. Viggo Mortensen says that it is history “from the standpoint of ordinary people often overlooked in our textbooks and our culture.” (This of course, is hardly the case. Indeed, for the past two decades, the new social historians have dominated the profession of history, and if anything has been overlooked in our universities and textbooks, it is plain old political history and narrative history.)  Mortensen points to the voice of an IWW member, who points out WW I “is a businessman’s war,” and hence the people shouldn’t be shot to “save the lovely state of affairs which we now enjoy.”  Just like today, when our troops are in Afghanistan and Iraq, of course, on behalf of the oil interests and Halliburton. Nothing has to be said about the actual causes and reasons for America’s entrance into the war—that would just confuse things.

The point is not to understand the past, according to the actors who participate, but to inspire people to make their voices heard today, not to tell it “from the standpoints of generals and kings and presidents,” which “encourages passivity, a sense of hopelessness.”  Change only comes to these people through dissent, struggle, strikes, boycotts and the like. Thus one of the major participants, actor Josh Brolin, says in the trailer for his video performance, that “there is a need to speak out” and the people who did in the past were not heard, and now we can hear “the gold in their words.” As for the present, Brolin adds, people have to “speak out” and that is “the only goal,” so people can be “empowered” to take action which is “fantastic.”  Does Brolin, I wonder, apply his view to the tea parties, where citizens who are empowered take action? No one seems to have asked him that question.

Damon also told USA Today that TV “is the perfect format for a history lesson. You’re getting the actual text verbatim, so there’s no spin, performed by these great actors.” If he went back to school today, he says, he’d be a history major. Spare us, please. But Brolin at least  is pleased that his daughter’s California high school uses Zinn’s book as a text, so at least she’ll know true history.

Of course, its defenders say in advance, “the lunatic right will howl to the heavens after seeing ‘liberal Hollywood’ perform the words of labor radicals, anti-racists, feminists and socialists.”  So all who might pay attention to critics, be forewarned by Dave Zirin at HuffPost, you are part of the “lunatic right.” I mean, who else would dare criticize this series? Indeed, to criticize this show is like Nazi “book-burning.”  Our country, Zirin writes, “is “dedicated to historical amnesia,” and those in power fear our radical past. “We need to rescue the great battles for social justice from becoming either co-opted or simply erased from the history books. Our children don’t learn about the people who made the Civil Rights Movement.” I wonder what school Zirin went to. It seems at times that is all they learn about, as everyone who has kids in school well know.

And of course, Zirin hints that Obama has already betrayed those who voted for him, by sending troops to Afghanistan, so that Obama “in practice has been like watching George W. Bush with a working cerebellum.” And he thinks the administration is “counting on the American people” to support him and pretend “we never saw this movie before.”  That is what   the TV series will, he hopes, prevent, so that it will “resurrect our past as a guide to fight for the future.” New generations will now not only hear the words of Socialist Party leader Gene Debs in the 20’s, but will themselves turn to the works of Zinn, who knows that history is not about “understanding the past,” but about “changing the future.” That alone, by the way, should disqualify anyone from ever calling Zinn a “historian.”

Part II

I must confess that I have not seen the actual program. The producers, knowing that the media is more than willing to cooperate with them in the hype, obviously do not want advance criticism from those who they know will have sound criticisms. So what one can write depends only on what is on the show’s website. Although we have some examples and videos of material that is on the program, what they do not give us is the narrative that ties the episodes together, that is written and spoken by Zinn and written with his co-author Anthony Arnove (who also is a co-producer of the program and co-author with Zinn of some of his books).

I tried to get the DVD in advance, but was unsuccessful. Arnove e-mailed an associate to send me one, but it never came. He did let me know he despises my ideology but was glad,  he wrote, that at least I wanted to see the show before criticizing it. (He also thanked me for taking him and my son many years ago, when they were in college, to a Bob Dylan concert.)

Zinn, I suspect, would like to paint all his detractors as nutty right-wingers, and he can easily write off criticism coming from people like Daniel Flynn, David Horowitz, or Mark Tapson who has blasted him at Tapson’s article speaks to those who already agree with him, and knocks Zinn for being the far leftist we all know he is already. It’s easy to prove that, and Zinn and company can respond that attacks like these are simply ideological, and not to be taken seriously.

As Zinn sees it, America is a story of dissent. A favorable critic, Mary McNamara, writes in The Los Angeles Times that democracy is a political activity, and that all social change came from the rebels who demanded it often using violence to gain their ends. She writes that the dramatic readings “provides a striking, exhilarating and at times horrifying reminder of not just our indomitable ability to change but also this country’s collective history of oppression.”  But even McNamara has her reservations. She writes:

Class division is a drumbeat throughout “The People Speak,” which is a primer of liberal ideology with a decided bent toward socialism; no one’s reading a few rousing passages of Ayn Rand’s, for instance. The letters and journals and speeches selected cover the American timeline, from the abolitionists through AIDS activists, but the theme of personal and political enfranchisement, tolerance, peace and American humility is the consistent theme. Equal rights, protection of workers, protection of children, even rent control are celebrated while concepts such as patriotism — the last refuge of scoundrels, according to pacifist and anarchist Emma Goldman — and national security are portrayed as the whip and cattle prod used by the power elite. Even World War II is cast as a false model for American military domination.

Evidently joining the likes of Pat Buchanan, the Zinn film (which she has evidently actually viewed) puts World War II in the pantheon of unnecessary wars and the result of America’s reaching for global hegemony.

The Critique of Michael Kazin

Therefore, one must read some of the brilliant serious critiques that have appeared over the years about Howard Zinn. The most important and serious comes from a first-rate historian who happens to be openly a man of the Left, but whose commitment to history rather than political ideology leads him to have authored the single most devastating attack written on Zinn. I urge readers to hit this link and read the entire article by Michael Kazin, which was published in a left of center journal that should be dear to Zinn’s heart, Dissent.

Kazin argues, and goes on to prove, that “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?”  As Kazin says: “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.”

In Zinn’s eyes, therefore, the people are rather stupid, since the rulers are always able to hoodwink them, somehow making them believe that the system they support and the country they live is not really evil. To learn the truth, all they have to do, of course, is read Howard Zinn and watch this program. One would wonder after reading Zinn, as Kazin notes, why anyone but the very rich would ever want to come to America and stay here. After all, whenever they win victories, even those are ruined when the capitalists take away all meaning. The civil rights movement smashed Jim Crow and ended segregation, but the black masses were not able to destroy capitalism, thus guaranteeing them perpetual misery. Kazin captures it perfectly. “Ordinary Americans,” he writes, “seem to live [for Zinn] only to fight the rich and haughty and, inevitably, to be fooled by them.”

Kazin paints Zinn as a propagandist, not a historian,  who “measures individuals according to his own rigid standard of how they should have thought and acted.” He never mentions those who came here and succeeded—immigrants who build 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, 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.

Naturally, as Kazin points out, Zinn never mentions conservatism which is obviously a disagreeable thing he would rather forget, or Christianity, a force that motivated much of the reform Zinn supposedly favors. His entire history is one of a catalog of American imperialism’s  onward march of oppression at home and power abroad. It is not surprising his TV film evidently treats WW II in the same way, since in Zinn’s eyes—again I quote Kazin—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 then America to Zinn had no real enemies.

Finally, Kazin makes an interesting point, that challenges Zinn’s supporters who believe his perspective is one opposed to passivity. Actually, Kazin argues, it is nothing but “an apology for political failure.” The people never win, because the rulers are so ingenious. They can be freed by learning how they are controlled, but never can win. As for the Left, it was always correct, and never did anything wrong. Zinn lived both through the Communist years of the 40’s and the New Left of the 60’s, but not once does he reveal the CP’s slavery to Stalin’s agenda or the New Left’s commitment to the guerrilla warfare fantasy of Bill Ayers and friends.

Kazin himself is dedicated to social change. He is a radical. But he understands that the rulers Zinn disdains keep getting elected by the people Zinn says he loves, or acknowledge that while revolution failed, reform in fact improved the lives of average people who eschew radical change.  Perhaps conservatives should be happy, since Kazin concludes that Zinn’s “fatalistic vision can only keep the left just where it is: on the margins of American political life.”

There are other similar critiques one should check out. At the indomitable History News Network, its editor in chief Rick Shenkman offers “The Left’s Blind Spot,”  in which he writes that  “Zinn plays the role in a self-satisfied often uncritical mainstream culture of the seemingly attractive dangerous rebel.” Zinn, he shows,  keeps up a relentless rage at American horrors abroad, never mentioning that the foreign policy he abhors has been supported over time by the same masses he claims to revere. The People are lionized when they endorse things Zinn favors; they are ignored when they support policies he detests.

The Critique of Aileen S. Kraditor

There is one other source readers should consult, if they have access to a university library or J-Stor. It is an article written by a major American historian, who when she wrote it in 1972, was one of the first generation of new feminist and social historians, Aileen S. Kraditor. Then a radical who was starting to ask difficult questions, she eventually became a rock-ribbed conservative.

In the British Marxist journal Past and Present (August 1972,) she wrote a path breaking  article called “American Radical Historians on Their Heritage,” a piece which had Zinn read, might have given him pause. Virtually everything Zinn has done wrong was taken up by Kraditor, who saw early on the a-historical direction towards which some radical historians were moving.

Kraditor began by noting that the first thing a historian has to do is respect “the pastness of the past.” She goes on to write that a new group of Left historians clearly ignore that. “I believe,” she wrote, “the judgement applies with particular force to those on the Left who have endeavored to find in American history justifications for and forerunners of their own party or movement,” and that many “have been interested in little else.”  History, in their eyes, becomes a “cheering section as they root for the same victims or reformers struggling against the same Oppressors or Interests.” It is a conflict paradigm shared by both liberal and Left historians. They believe only that the people fight the elites, and they never ask about the “consensus about all the values and beliefs that really matter to the maintenance of the established order.”  Instead of asking for examples of the people fighting the interests—as Zinn does today—she says the real question is “Who fought whom and over what issue,” and whether or not the fight affected “the basic structure of the system.” These are, of course, precisely the kind of questions Howard Zinn and his followers never ask.

Kraditor’s observations are so adroit it is as if she read Zinn’s book before he even wrote it. The Left historians, she writes, “have tended…to focus on Our Side’s heroism, dedication, love for
The People—non-historical qualities that they of course see in themselves and want their contemporaries to see in them. In both their views of historical events and their views of their own vocation as radicals they have often underestimated the importance of ideology as a mechanism of class rule.” When they deal with the radicals of the past they eulogize- they almost never discuss what the majority of the people believe or the ideas of the elites of the day. In fact, she argues, when the masses take positions they do not like, they simply see them as “obstacles to overcome, illusions to be dispelled.” They never look at their actual beliefs to see “elements of truth” that led common people in the past to not follow the radicals of their own day. She writes:

The penchant for asking yes-type questions reinforces this elitism, for the historian who seeks evidence that past radicals and the masses were forerunners of himself will tend to overlook the democratic racism, the docile slaves, the militancy of workers struggling for a larger slice of the pie, the customary isolation of socialist movements in the United States, and many other things that do not fit his picture of the past.

Keep this in mind when you see the famous actors reading the words of radicals of the past. Instead of historical context, you will have words uttered meant to show that the issues are the same today, not obsolete and conditioned by the time in which the words were uttered, as Kraditor insists. They cannot be depicted in our own image, as Zinn tries to do. Kraditor puts it this way:

To exclude from our definition…the movement to humanize slavery, or the movement to bar Catholics from office-holding during the nineteenth century, is to distort our image of the past by depicting it in the image of the present, just as it would be to exclude from our definition of past radicalisms that that did not adhere to the small-communitarian ideal. To consider as an unfortunate deviation…the nativist and racist aspects of the suffragist movement is to distort these movements by depicting them in our own image.

Anyone out there willing to make a bet whether “The People Speak” tells its views about the nativism and racism of its past heroes? Will we learn that Gene Debs’ Socialist Party had separate black chapters and saw no need to challenge white racism? I somehow don’t think so. As Kraditor notes, some of the same people who were radical in their political and social views were conservative in their economic views (like William Lloyd Garrison) and others were radical in economic views “and reactionary on the subject of race.” It was a little more complex than the world of Zinnite history has it. Her main point:

To construct a ‘radical’ or ‘reactionary’ tradition in our own terms and for our own purposes, in the way that ‘relevance’ historians do [Zinn, I would argue] not only do we have to lift whole movements out of their contexts; we must also split individual men’s minds and discard half, or, to put it another way, we must match disembodied ideas from the past with disembodies ideas in the present, ignoring the real world in both contexts that gave and give them the only meanings they can have.

Kraditor also raises another point that vividly calls into question Zinn’s beliefs that the words of these past figures inspires one in fighting for the need for revolution. She writes: “The majority of white abolitionists and the majority of suffragists worked hard to convince their compatriots that the changes they advocated were not revolutionary, that far from undermining the accepted distribution of power they would eliminate deviations from the democratic principle it was supposedly based on.” For good measure, she adds that “the racism and nativism in the [suffragist’s] movement’s thinking were not an aberration and did not conflict with the movement’s objective of suffrage.” Their movement was one for reform- a necessary one- but not “a threat to the established order.”

These reforms, she writes, showed what changes society could accommodate without endangering its fundamental structure. Reform movements helped change America, that “a redefinition of certain principles was necessary and possible,” and once enacted, helped stave off further dissatisfaction. But they worked to strengthen the people’s loyalty to the country that showed it could accommodate change—not to move them in the direction of revolution that Zinn presupposes was the case.  These words, I argue, sum up all that is wrong with Zinn’s history:

The point is that a historical account emphasizing how radicals, reformers, workers, have fought heroically to wring concessions from politicians and bosses tells only half the truth, for it focuses on individual men’s morality or clearsightedness, or their opposites, and ignores the system’s power structure and capabilities. The Old Left’s [Zinn’s] historiography is little more than the chronicle of how every working-class advance has been due to the workers’ struggles against ruling-class opposition. The other half of the picture is that each such advance was proved by subsequent events to have been perfectly compatible with the continued hegemony of the class that opposed it.

Thus they ransack the past, and here she finally mentions Zinn, “not for its own sake, but as a source of alternative models of what the future might become.” And this is not the job of the historian, but of the propagandist who distorts the past to present false examples for his own radical prescriptions for the present.

Part III

And so we get to tonight’s TV presentation, portions of which we have online. Let me take a few examples.  Let us examine Josh Brolin’s reading of Bartolomo Vanzetti’s letter to the court, proclaiming his innocence and announcing his willingness to suffer martyrdom on behalf of the truth. Brolin, of course, reads it with power. He is an actor. We expect that. He says he was convicted because he was “against the war,” not because he favored victory for the German enemy.  Vanzetti says he is proud to die, since he can show there is no liberty or prosperity in America; that all that the rulers say is a lie.

Now again, there is a hidden context to that case. Again, I have not seen the program, and I do not know what the Zinn-Arnove script says before Brolin reads his words. But I am certain of one thing. Viewers will not learn that Sacco and Vanzetti were members of a radical and violent anarchist sect led by Luigi Galleani, that believed in robbery, murder and violence in their quest to overthrow the State. There was at the time anti-immigrant and anti-Italian prejudice; there was a blatant disrespect for civil liberties, and the Judge called the two “anarchist bastards” in court, revealing his own heavily biased point of view. But that is the only side of the story that the TV program will reveal.

Nor will viewers learn that there is substantial proof that Sacco was guilty of murdering a guard in order to steal a factory’s payroll for the movement.  A few writes have cast doubt about this, but there is real controversy among historians and serious scholars.  The entry in Wikipedia accurately summarizes the differences and the controversy among historians. It is not a given that both of the men were innocent.

We also get Morgan Freeman reading the powerful oratory by Frederick Douglass made by the great black abolitionist on July 4, 1852. The actor- in this video Douglass is played by Brian Jones-speaks the words spoken by Douglass at the Corinthian in Rochester, New York. Yes, Douglass at the time made clear that he could not give a tribute, since the promises of the Declaration were not those given to the slaves. He emphasized “the disparity between us,” since the Negro was not part of the “blessings” that other Americans celebrated. The 4th was that of the whites, he said, “not mine.” It is an attack against slavery, meant to acquaint those outside the South of the reality they were ignoring.

The 4th meant nothing to the slave, Douglass had said. He was correct. But viewers will not learn that after the end of the Civil War, Douglass- the most radical and unforgiving of abolitionists-gave up protest for politics, and acknowledged the leadership and greatness of Abraham Lincoln, whom he called “the black man’s President.” One must read real history, in particular, James Oakes’ The Radical and the Republican, to learn  that while during Lincoln’s presidency, Douglass had heaped criticism after criticism at the President. Yet, in the major speech Douglass gave after Lincoln’s death, on April 14, 1876, Douglass told his audience that reality was “more complicated” than it appeared to himself and the abolitionists years earlier. “Abraham Lincoln,” he told his black audience, “saved for you a country,” and “delivered us from a bondage…one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your father rose in rebellion to oppose.” He told them that he and others took into account the “circumstances” of Lincoln’s position, and ignored his straying and hesitation and concentrated on what Oakes calls his “longstanding commitments.”  Douglass concluded: “We came to the conclusion that the hour and the man of our redemption had met in the person of Abraham Lincoln.”

The point is again that history is complicated, and Douglass himself changed positions and saw how America had grown and what Lincoln had accomplished, and joined the Republican Party and no longer stood outside the political system as a stranger. Oakes compares this speech with that of the July 4th oration.  What would Zinn’s viewers think if this was presented right after the earlier Douglass speech? It might teach the viewer something about history, although not the history Zinn seeks to convey. As Oakes writes: “So Douglass shifted perspective again, this time to see events from Lincoln’s point of view, that of a democratically elected official with legitimate obligations to all the people.” He realized that in this light, “Lincoln’s record soared to greatness.”  Douglass could acknowledge that; Zinn evidently cannot.

Change, in other words, came from both reformers and politicians, both of whom played a role, and both who at times conflicted with one another; and at other times coincided. History is complex—not that of a simple struggle between the forces of light and those of darkness.

Of course, much of the video will speak only to those already convinced. Marisa Tomei reads Cindy Sheehan’s speech “It’s Time the Antiwar Choir Started Singing.” Since the producers obviously chose to include this in the speech, Sheehan more than any other figure has become nothing but a laughing stock. Her words are so crude, so repellent, that those who watch it could perhaps be turned off forever. That Zinn and Arnove could include such a figure with the likes of Douglass is not only a case of bad judgment, but an example of the left-wing dogma that only an audience of fellow-travelers like those who applaud Tomei, are part of.

We also have Sandra Oh playing Emma Goldman, as she did in this appearance before an audience, who cheers Goldman’s words that “patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”  An outdated assault at patriotism, Goldman’s words are meant to show disdain at those who dissent from Zinn’s perspective, and believe that some who are patriots have solid reasons to support a war. It is assumed her pacifist screed is correct. Goldman’s argument, indeed, can easily be used to praise those who opposed World War II as well as World War I. But the speech is obviously meant for today’s America, since Goldman (or Sandra Oh)  says with a sneer that Americans think they are a peaceful people, while all they do is drop bombs on those who are innocent. America, she says, “plants her neck on all other peoples,” since that is “the logic of patriotism.” The speech ends with Goldman telling her audience, the workers will demand that the masters do their own killing; the people have done enough on their behalf.  The audience at this reading breaks out in applause.

Again, Goldman’s words are meant to rouse people today to oppose Obama’s war in Afghanistan, as many of Zinn’s supporters are calling it and will undoubtedly do. One must forget that from the start, when after 9-11 took place, Zinn blamed the united response of our country on America’s imperial stance and from the start, he opposed the war against the Taliban. The people did not have Zinn’s position; they supported retaliation against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Obviously, his hope is that this TV program will help them see what is really in their interest, which Zinn alone stands for. Goldman’s speech was made many years ago, about a different war, and in a different time and place. Yet, obviously, her words are meant to be taken as a guide for action today, as if the stand as a guide for all time, were not specific to time and place.

Finally, the audience will hear Josh Brolin reading from Dalton Trumbo’s anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun. I do not have the video, and hence do not know what the narration says as an introduction. But I am certain we will not hear how Trumbo wrote this and had it published during the years of the Nazi-Soviet Pact from 1939 to 1941, when Trumbo and his fellow Communist Party members abandoned their once proud anti-fascism, and proclaimed that Nazi Germany was a benign power, and that the enemy of “the people” was Franklin D. Roosevelt and imperial Britain, who were ganging up on all the European powers, like Germany and its Soviet ally, who wanted peace and an end to war.

Nor will it tell the audience of how once the Nazis invaded Soviet Russia on June 22 of 1941, Trumbo withdrew his own book from circulation, took the plates from the publisher, and made it unavailable. A book preaching pacifism would interfere with the need to call for arms against the Soviet Union. Not only did Trumbo do this, but he called the FBI, and asked them to come to his home. He had received letters from readers who having heard the book was good, asked where they could obtain a copy. Trumbo told the FBI he wanted to give them the names of his correspondents, since they might be opponents of the President, might be pro-Nazi, and could be traitors. In other words, he not only named names, but asked the FBI to investigate people he knew nothing about, who only wanted to read his book, because they might even engage in politics and “oppose” the Commander-in-Chief.

Years later, when the Vietnam War broke out, Trumbo quickly had the book republished, and soon Hollywood came forward with a film version. Once again, the book he once banned on his own was now available. After all, it was useful as a tool against a war of which he disapproved. And obviously, Zinn wants it out there again to serve a similar use today.


This has been a long piece. There will be more to say about this film after it is on television, and the extended version is released on DVD. But the final version will not change the critique I have offered here about Zinn’s view of history, and his approach to politics.

That a major TV cable channel has seen fit to put this on the air, says much about the state of our culture today.