Working at a library as I do, I get to see what books are popular, which are newly in print, etc. Sadly, a noticable amount of book traffic is composed of right-wing screed-a-thons by our favorite jackasses– O’Reilly, Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, etc. But today one caught my eye that pissed me off even more.
You can tell from the cover that it’s a riff on Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” And the name of this new book manages to imply that Zinn and his book are traitorous dogs. Here’s how it describes itself”
For at least thirty years, high school and college students have been taught to be embarrassed by American history. Required readings have become skewed toward a relentless focus on our country’s darkest moments, from slavery to McCarthyism. As a result, many history books devote more space to Harriet Tubman than to Abraham Lincoln; more to My Lai than to the American Revolution; more to the internment of Japanese Americans than to the liberation of Europe in World War II.
Now, finally, there is an antidote to this biased approach to our history.
What the hell?
I took my high school history classes about a dozen years ago, which falls within that 30 year range. When we learned about the history of the world, we first learned about the “Fertile Crescent”, Mesopotamia, the “cradle of civilization” between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers (which, I don’t think anyone ever bothered to point out, is in modern day Iraq). Once we were done with Mesopotamia, we never, ever spoke another word about the region. What happened to the Mesopotamians, how did their civilization develop? The people in my history class will never know.
We then learned about Ancient Egypt, and the pyramids and the Pharoahs. Then Ancient Greece, again casting the previous culture to the dustbin of history. After Greece, Rome. From Rome, the Dark Ages, with a subtle, unspoken shift to Western Europe. We followed Western Europe through the Dark, into the Middle Ages, into the Renaissance, and then into the Age of Exploration. We then hitched a ride with the conquistadors into the Western Hemisphere, and pretty much ignored Western Europe from there on out, except as the setting for World Wars 1-2.
We then followed American history, from Columbus to the pilgrims, to the colonies, up into the mid 1950s. At this point, my history teachers invariably realized that there was little time left in the school year, and we hastily covered the remaining 40 years, arguably the ones most relevant to us. It’s no wonder American kids care so little about American politics, with no knowledge of the most recent past, they’re left trying to tie current events to Cotton Mather and the Teapot Dome scandal.
Where were Asia, Africa, Australia, and pre-Columbian North and South America in my world history class? We didn’t get any of that.
My world history classes seemed to be a clear narrative about civilization, progress and modernity. We followed human society from its primitive birth, to, apparently, its pinnacle: the US. And even when telling us about the dark stains of America’s past, these problems were either overcome (sort of), or were slowly dissolving naturally. Progress was a natural evolutionary process; so although sexism and racism still exist, we don’t need to worry about them because they’ll go away on their own. Just sit back and enjoy the ride to inevitable human perfection.
That’s what I learned growing up, that Americans are higher up the evolutionary ladder than other people of the world. And the patriotic jackasses above are condemning it because it’s too “PC”?
Zinn has always described his book as a project or supplement, independent of a real history ciriculum. He’s never said “my book is the Truth, it should be read instead of regular textbooks.” He’s always said that his book was just a look at American history through different sets of eyes– usually the eyes of the people getting the most fucked over in a given time period. That is evidence of a bias, as he could just as easily told the story of through the eyes of other “people”, instead of telling the story of the Civil War through the eyes of slaves, he could’ve told it through the eyes of, I dunno, milkmaids or steamboat captains or church ministers. He made a choice, a valid one, with a purpose.
But no, we get Mr. Patriot America here to save us from the mighty Zinn and his “history has many points of view” ilk as Stalinists, who have imposed their will upon the nation. Huzzah to the brave patriots, huzzah!
Just to jab those guys again, let me invite you to read this new piece by Zinn, about the process of positive social change by exposing reasonable people to factual evidence that might make them change their political stances.
It was an effort to deprogram myself of my schooling. Sometime during college, after some re-education and introspection, I wrote a nice response: a tiny, bitterly satirical history book, combining the patronizing tone of my elementary school textbooks, with the “American evolution” theme that permated high school, sprinkling liberally with jabs at American racism, sexism, and nationalism, and then threw in some eccentric stuff that probably lives just in my head. I posted it on my first website, “Jake’s ‘Wacky’ Page of Politics and Nihilism”, in a super bare-bones html format.
Then I lost the file for about 4 years.
But now, now I have found it again, and here is that history book in all its plain, boring, bitter glory. It’s… old. Hope it still stands up.
(I also thought of naming it “Let Freedom Wring”, but I didn’t know if everyone would catch the joke).
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