Ron Radosh

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.”

Why would General Washington not want to destroy tribes  fighting with the British army against the rag-tag troops fighting in the war to save the new nation? Did our desire during the Second World War to destroy the German troops fighting for Hitler’s Third Reich mean our intent was genocide? Of course not. But one wonders whether Bigelow would make that same accusation against the U.S. in WWII. That is a rhetorical question, to which we know the answer. For Zinn, the American war against the Nazis is also to be condemned. Bigelow, referring to Washington, writes that the general’s orders “are the orders of a war criminal.”

So to the Zinn group, it’s not just Harry Truman for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan or George W.Bush and Dick Cheney for leading us to war in Iraq who are war criminals, but our first commander-in-chief and all our leaders ad infinitum. I could go on…

Bigelow ends his article quoting the words of Frederick Douglass’ famous speech “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro,” which indeed is depicted in D’Souza’s movie. But what D’Souza does is provide the context for Douglas’ speech, noting that he changed his view after meeting Lincoln, and worked to urge American blacks to work within and support the Republican Party, and to help realize the promise of America as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Zinn does not quote from the later portions of  Douglass’ speech, in which he tells his audience: “Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery.”

So even then, while condemning the inconsistences of the American republic in sanctioning slavery while standing for freedom, Douglass told his audience that the 4th of July was still “the first great fact in your nation’s history — the very ringbolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.” Nor does Zinn have Danny Glover, who recited the speech in the TV special, add Douglass’ lines in which he said that “pride and patriotism…prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance,” and that the principles of the Declaration of Independence “are saving principles” to which all black Americans should stand, and should be “true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

Douglass was not, as the Zinn project writer argues, telling Americans “to abandon the empty ‘shout of liberty and equality’…and to put away the fireworks and flags.” He was, indeed, urging Americans to live up to the principles of its birth as a nation, and give blacks the same freedoms due them as free Americans.

Today’s New York Times has an article by Lynn Vavreck reporting on a study that shows that “patriotism in America is on the decline.” Past generations, she writes, retain their faith in and love for America. It is younger generations for whom patriotism means much less. They begin their adulthood, she writes, “with much lower levels of fondness for the symbols of America,” such as the American flag. Ms. Vavreck believes that having less faith in our symbols means that the new generation, living in multicultural America, is simply developing a new patriotism, based on egalitarian principles. Where does Ms. Vavreck get that interpretation from?

I guess that we know this. After all, Ms. Vavreck, who seems to be of this new generation herself, is the product of an age when her peers were educated by Howard Zinn and his followers, who have come to believe that patriotism is passé, and that the start of wisdom is to view America as itself an evil nation, no different than our enemies, be it today or during the Second World War.

There is no better antidote than to take those you know to see Dinesh D’Souza’s America this 4th of July weekend. Someday they may thank you for it.