Howard Zinn: Can You Really Trust Him?

Howard Zinn, the author of “Tyranny is Tyranny” (from A People’s History of the United States) has brought up many interesting arguments to the American History table. However, I won’t go further than “interesting” for now, as their validity and supporting evidence are questionable. To the inexperienced eye, Zinn’s statements might hold true, but many other historians have called him out on some of his biased standpoints.

But, as anything in history, people have tried explaining his rather odd positions and views. Born into a Russo-Ukrainian family, Zinn was interested in politics since a very young age. He was especially fascinated by the Marxist ideology. It is very likely that those were the years in which he build his left views that he based many arguments off of. Rather than staying neutral when talking about clashes between people, Zinn has demonstrated a prominent pattern of siding with the weaker people in a conflict– natives during Jackson’s presidency or the poor people in the lead-up to the revolution. But Zinn has also revealed in interviews that taking those sides was intentional.

Sure, there are sides to an argument, you can take one. While many historians criticize Zinn for doing that, I’ll let it slide. But he has committed much worse historical crimes.

Zinn’s arguments are eloquently written and enchanting on the surface. This appeals to the general audience, but giving them a second look reveals how shallow they are. Zinn admitted that, quote, “selection, simplification, and emphasis were inevitable” when he was writing “A People’s History of the United States”. How does that sound? He was purposefully picking details that supported his argument, and simplified them to leave an inducted interpretation to the reader, all while writing a book set to tell the “people’s history of the United States”. He intertwined a lot of his own opinion with some unique interpretations of events, which left little room for much needed evidence. Generally, a historian does not want to go through such a process when talking about such a broad topic. Especially if their book happens to sell millions of copies.

I’ll admit, I did not know about what he did prior to reading Tyranny is Tyranny and I believed all that he said. I was indeed convinced that the Revolution was largely caused by the rich diverting the lower classes’ hate to be against Britain. While I was convinced, the excerpt was largely one-sided, and when you’re studying history, you’d want to have accounts from both sides. Without knowing the counterarguments to what you’re reading, you can derive wrong conclusions. Wrong conclusions lead to misconceptions and misconceptions can cause some embarrassing situations.

So kids, always look at both sides of an argument, and take anything you may read (especially if it’s from Howard Zinn) with a grain of salt.

“Howard Zinn’s influential mutilations of American history”, David Greenberg, March 19, 2013

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