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Howard Zinn: Expanded Profile

By Discover The Networks

Howard Zinn is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Boston University. He is best known for authoring the 1980 book A People's History of the United States, an unoriginal Marxist tract which claims to present American history through the eyes of workers, American Indians, slaves, women, blacks and populists. This is one of the most influential books on college campuses today. Since its publication twenty years ago, A People’s History has been through many editions and has sold more than a million copies. It is an assigned text in many high school and college classes, and a bible of the campus left.

“Objectivity is impossible,” Zinn once remarked, “and it is also undesirable. That is, if it were possible it would be undesirable, because if you have any kind of a social aim, if you think history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race; should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.” Zinn believes that socialism and Communism are systems that advance the cause of humanity, and that America is a reactionary, terrorist state; those beliefs form the foundation of his tendentious and error-ridden book.

Through Zinn’s rose-colored glasses, Maoist China, site of history's bloodiest state-sponsored killings, is transformed into “the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people's government, independent of outside control.” The Marxist dictators of Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, were in Zinn’s accounting “welcomed” by the people, while the opposition Contras, who  backed the candidate that triumphed when free elections were held as a result of U.S. pressure, were a “terrorist group” that “seemed to have no popular support inside Nicaragua.” In fact, the Contras were the largest peasant army in Latin America’s modern history. Castro’s Cuba, readers of Zinn learn, “had no bloody record of suppression.”

In A People’s History of the United States, greed is the explanation for every major historical event. According to Zinn, the separation from Great Britain, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II—to name some central examples—all were driven by base motives involving rich Americans seeking to enrich themselves even more at the expense of others. Rather than providing a beacon of freedom that inspired democratic constitutions around the world, the American Founding is portrayed as a diabolical scheme to ensure the oppression of blacks, women, and people without property. “The American Revolution…was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have received over the centuries. They created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command.” This is an absurd view that will make sense only to other Marxists who have no sense of history.

In Zinn’s perspective, the answer is the same whatever the question. Thus Zinn describes antebellum America as a uniquely cruel slaveholding society whose goal is subjugating man for profit. On the other hand, the war of the Union against the slaveholding is system is portrayed in exactly the same terms: “It is money and profit, not the movement against slavery that was uppermost in the priorities of the men who ran the country.” The same explanation is given for America’s entry into World War I (forget the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman memorandum in which Germany promised Mexico the American Southwest for joining a war against the U.S.): “American capitalism needed international rivalry—and periodic war—to create an artificial community of interest between rich and poor.”

The explanation for World War II is identitical. Zinn titles his chapter “A People’s War?” and suggests that America, not Japan, was to blame for Pearl Harbor. The fight against fascism was a manipulated illusion. America’s real goals were empire and money. “Quietly, behind the headlines in battles and bombings,” Zinn writes, “American diplomats and businessmen worked hard to make sure that when the war ended, American economic power would be second to none in the world. United States business would penetrate areas that up to this time had been dominated by England. The Open Door Policy of equal access would be extended from Asia to Europe, meaning that the United States intended to push England aside and move in.” Yet postwar history refutes this Marxist fiction. Despite defeating Japan and helping to vanquish Germany, America rebuilt the economies of both countries. Both are now the chief economic rivals of the U.S., not its colonies.

“I wanted my writing of history and my teaching of history to be a part of social struggle,” Zinn writes. “I wanted to be a part of history and not just a recorder and teacher of history. So that kind of attitude towards history, history itself as a political act, has always informed my writing and my teaching.” The part of history Zinn wants to be a part of is the Communist part, and subsequently the part of America’s post-Cold War enemies, whoever they are. According to Zinn it is America that is the terrorist state. Among Zinn's many anti-American statements are the following:
  • “I suggest that the history of bombing--and no one has bombed more than this nation--is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like ‘accident,’ ‘military targets,’ and ‘collateral damage.’”
  • “The ‘war against terrorism’ has become a war against innocent men, women, and children, who are in no way responsible for the terrorist attack on New York.”
  • “Is it really an accident when civilians die under our bombs? Even if you grant that the intention is not to kill civilians, if they nevertheless become victims, again and again and again, can that be called an accident? If the deaths of civilians are inevitable in bombing, it may not be deliberate, but it is not an accident, and the bombers cannot be considered innocent. They are committing murder as surely as are the terrorists.”
  • “[T]he use of military power abroad, in the history of this country, has not been for moral purposes, but to expand economic, political and military power. . . . I think the real objectives have to do with the control of Mideast oil, and with the expansion of military bases to even more countries in the world . . . and with the political advantages seen by a ‘war on terrorism’ which is used to rally the public behind the president.”
  • “It’s not right to respond to terrorism by terrorizing other people” [as Zinn alleges the U.S. has done].
  • “There is a reservoir of possible terrorists among all those people in the world who have suffered as a result of U.S. foreign policy.”
  • “People need to ask, ‘Do we want our children and our grandchildren to be living in a state of perpetual warfare, with more and more of the world becoming hostile to us, and with the United States responsible for more and more human casualties in the world?”
  • “The government says it is determined to close terrorist camps, yet here in the United States the School of the Americas has trained people who have engaged in terrorism, trained people who then became organizers of death squads in Central America.”
  • “In its foreign policy, the United States has consigned several million people to their deaths and supported terrorist governments in various parts of the world, especially in Latin America and the Middle East.”
  • “The terrorists of Sept. 11 did a horrible thing to us, so we do terrible things to the people of Afghanistan. That is immoral and puts us on the same level as a terrorist.”
  • “ . . . it is safe to say that since World War II, there has not been a more warlike nation in the world than the United States.”

Zinn was a signatory to a February 20, 2002 document, composed by the radical group Refuse & Resist, condemning military tribunals and the detention of immigrants apprehended in connection with post-9/11 terrorism investigations. Titled “National Day of Solidarity with Muslim, Arab and South Asian Immigrants,” the document read, in part, “[T]hey [the U.S. government] are coming for the Arab, Muslim and South Asian immigrants. Based on their racial profile, over 1500 have been rounded up and the government refuses to say who they are, where they are jailed and what the charges are!!! Already, a Pakistani man has died in custody. Who will be next? The recent ‘disappearances,’ indefinite detention, the round-ups, the secret military tribunals, the denial of legal representation, evidence kept a secret from the accused, the denial of any due process for Arab, Muslim, South Asians and others, have chilling similarities to a police state. We will not allow our grief for the tragedy of September 11 to be used to justify this new repression. We are clear that being an immigrant is not a crime; Muslims, Arabs and South Asians are not terrorists.”

Zinn has been a vocal supporter of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal, claiming that it was Mumia's “race and radicalism,” as well as his “persistent criticism of the Philadelphia police” that landed him on death row in the early 1980s.

In addition to A People’s History of the United States, Zinn has authored numerous books, including: Laguardia in Congress (1959); The Southern Mystique (1962); The New Abolitionists (1964); Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967); Disobedience and Democracy: nine fallacies on law and order (1968); The Politics of History (1970); Postwar America: 1945–1971 (1973); Justice?: eyewitness accounts (1977); Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (1991); Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian (1993); You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times (1994); The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy (1997); The Future of History (1999); Marx in Soho: A Play on History (1999); Howard Zinn on History (2000); Howard Zinn on War (2000); Terrorism and War (2002); The Twentieth Century: a people's history (2003); and Passionate Declarations: essays on war and justice (2003).

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