The following letters to the editor appeared in the Wall Street Journal in response to an article that was published in the WSJ on August 13 regarding Marxist inspired historian Howard Zinn whose published work, A People’s History of the United States, was widely recommended reading in our universities since the 1980s.   Scroll down to read the original August 13 article.    Nancy

The Wall Street Journal

A Bleak View of America From the Wilderness of Zinn

Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the U.S.” is a left-wing view. It shouldn’t be the only one students read.

Regarding David J. Bobb’s “Howard Zinn and the Art of Anti-Americanism” (op-ed, Aug. 13): News flash! Howard Zinn was a socialist and his books are leftist. Since when are educated people, including students, not supposed to read stuff that they may not or even should not agree with? Young people of all political persuasions should read “The Communist Manifesto,” “Mein Kampf,” “The Conscience of a Conservative” and “God and Man at Yale.” How else can we expect students to develop the capacity to think and reason critically?

Left-wing and right-wing dictatorships censor and control what people are allowed to read because that is the most effective way to prevent the ability to question or even think about questioning the government. David Bobb’s opinion piece would have delighted Zinn himself, for it gives credence to the fact that the “paranoid style” in American politics is still alive and well.

Allan A Bloom

Raleigh, N.C.

Zinn’s acceptance of accolades from the university “owned” by one of history’s worst serial human-rights abusers is interesting. It would have been refreshing if Zinn, after being awarded his doctorate at the University of Havana, had decided to stay in Cuba and write a revisionist (i.e., truthful) history of Fidel Castro’s Marxist regime and its effect on the Cuban people, and what Marxism had “accomplished” in Cuba. Perhaps languishing in a Cuban prison with real political dissenters for a few years would have helped Zinn appreciate the “beastly” American system, with all its faults, somewhat more favorably.

Zinn obviously chose the more comfortable decision to criticize the U.S., where his free speech wasn’t punishable by imprisonment, and his philosophy would be feted by our current crop of movers and shakers. Typical.

Richard T. Groff Jr.

Huntersville, N.C.

How long can a successful nation long endure an endless diatribe of self-hate, coming from an intelligent, committed, yet misery-loving minority, which has ironically succeeded in achieving an active following of equally committed elites, particularly among academia, the media and Hollywood? How long will the good, the brave and productive of this country be willing to sit quietly and watch the damage being done in the false narrative of social justice, before they say: “Enough”?

Jim Farr

Sarasota, Fla.

Mr. Bobb seems to equate criticizing America with anti-Americanism. But criticizing one’s country can be a deep expression of patriotism. I’m sure Mr. Bobb didn’t think himself anti-American when in a lecture he said, “Washington, D.C. has banned common sense and fiscal sanity.”

I wouldn’t want Howard Zinn’s books to be the only ones my kids were taught, but I would definitely want them to be part of the mix. All my schooling until college taught me Columbus was a hero. Zinn was the first person to complicate that picture (in large part by quoting extensively from Columbus’s own journals). I’m grateful to have been brought nearer to the truth, even if I did lose a bit of innocence.

I was a student of Howard Zinn’s in the late ’80s. His classes always ended with an extended discussion. There were plenty of conservative voices, and Zinn treated everyone with respect.

As for pessimism, Howard Zinn was a harsh critic of this country, but he had great love and sympathy for its citizens. He celebrated courage, compassion, people who fought for survival, dignity, basic rights and peace. I find Mr. Bobb’s extended ad hominem dismissal of such a man the height of pessimism.

Dan Kaufman

Los Angeles

I obtained a copy of Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.” In the index I discovered that George Washington receives five references, the same number accorded to Karl Marx, and that W.E.B. DuBois, an African-American socialist, gets 11. It is easy to understand how the Zinn method works. One simply recounts everything bad that can be said about the U.S. and its history and remains silent about what has happened elsewhere, for instance, the almost unimaginable killing in the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the dismal fact that the long history of man has been one of rapine and slaughter. Given a reasonable perspective on the U.S., it turns out to be one of the best and most enlightened of countries. But apparently our young people aren’t being taught that.

David Shale

West Chester, Pa.


The Wall Street Journal

David J. Bobb: Howard Zinn and the Art of Anti-Americanism

Hollywood and the academic left have made the late Marxist historian more influential than ever.


  • DAVID J. BOBB  Mr. Bobb, director of the Hillsdale College Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C., is author of “Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue,” forthcoming from Thomas Nelson

Upon the death of the Marxist-inspired historian Howard Zinn in 2010, eulogies rang out from coast to coast calling him a heroic champion of the unsung masses. In Indiana, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels refused to join the chorus and instead sent emails to his staff wondering if the historian’s “execrable” books were being force-fed to Hoosier students. The recent revelation of these emails provoked an angry backlash.

High-school teachers within Zinn’s vast network of admirers blogged their disapproval of the governor’s heresy, and leading professional organizations of historians denounced the supposed threat to academic freedom. At Purdue University, where Mr. Daniels now serves as president, 90 faculty members hailed Zinn as a strong scholarly voice for the powerless and cast the former governor as an enemy of free thought.

An activist historian relentlessly critical of alleged American imperialism, Zinn managed during his lifetime to build an impressive empire devoted to the spread of his ideas. Even after his death, a sprawling network of advocacy and educational groups has grown, giving his Marxist and self-described “utopian” vision a wider audience than ever before.

Zinn’s most influential work, “A People’s History of the United States,” was published in 1980 with an initial print run of 4,000 copies. His story line appealed to young and old alike, with the unshaded good-guy, bad-guy narrative capturing youthful imaginations, and his spirited takedown of “the Man” reminding middle-aged hippies of happier days. Hollywood’s love for Zinn and a movie tribute to his work has made him even more mainstream. As his acolytes have climbed the rungs of power, still seeking revolution, “A People’s History” has increased in popularity. To date, it has sold 2.2 million volumes, with more than half of those sales in the past decade.


© LAN/Corbis

Matt Damon and Howard Zinn at “The People Speak” premier, Nov. 19, 2009.

In Zinn’s telling, America is synonymous with brute domination that goes back to Christopher Columbus. “The American system,” he writes in “A People’s History,” is “the most ingenious system of control in world history.” The founding fathers were self-serving elitists defined by “guns and greed.”

For Americans stuck in impoverished communities and failing schools, Zinn’s devotion to history as a “political act” can seem appealing. He names villains (capitalists), condemns their misdeeds, and calls for action to redistribute wealth so that, eventually, all of the following material goods will be “free—to everyone: food, housing, health care, education, transportation.” The study of history, Zinn taught, demands this sort of social justice.

Schools with social-justice instruction that draw explicitly on Zinn are becoming more common. From the Social Justice Academy outside of San Francisco to the four campuses of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, in Washington, D.C., social-justice academies relate their mission mainly in terms of ideological activism. At UCLA’s Social Justice Academy, a program for high-school juniors, the goal is that students will “develop skills to take action that disrupts social justice injustices.”

While social-justice instruction may sound to some like it might be suited to conflict resolution, in practice it can end up creating more discord than it resolves. Several years ago, the Ann Arbor, Mich., public schools faced complaints from the parents of minority students that the American history curriculum was alienating their children. At a meeting of the district’s social-studies department chairs, the superintendent thought that he had discovered the cure for the divisions plaguing the school system. Holding up a copy of “A People’s History,” he asked, “How many of you have heard of Howard Zinn?” The chairwoman of the social studies department at the district’s largest school responded, “Oh, we’re already using that.”

Zinn’s arguments tend to divide, not unite, embitter rather than heal. The patron saint of Occupy Wall Street, Zinn left behind a legacy of prepackaged answers for every problem—a methodology that progressive historian Michael Kazin characterized as “better suited to a conspiracy-monger’s website than to a work of scholarship.”

Yet despite the lack of hard evidence in three-plus decades that using “A People’s History” produces positive classroom results, a number of well-coordinated groups recently have been set up to train teachers in the art of Zinn. Founded five years ago out of a partnership between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change, the Zinn Education Project offers more than 100 lesson plans and teachers’ guides to Zinn’s books, among a variety of other materials, including “Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practice Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development.” Already, the project claims to have enlisted 20,000 teachers in its efforts.

Before Zinn launched his own teaching career, he became a member of the Communist Party in 1949 (according to FBI reports released three years ago), and worked in various front groups in New York City. Having started his academic career at Spelman College, Zinn spent the bulk of it at Boston University, where on the last day before his retirement in 1988 he led his students into the street to participate in a campus protest.

Today, Boston University hosts the Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture Series, and New York University (Zinn’s undergraduate alma mater) proudly houses his academic papers. In 2004 Zinn was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Havana, an occasion he took to excoriate the lack of academic freedom in America. As recently as 2007, “A People’s History” was even required reading at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy for a class on “Leaders in America.”

Thanks in part to an endorsement from the character played by Matt Damon in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting,” Zinn’s magnum opus has also turned into a multimedia juggernaut. Actor Ben Affleck (like Mr. Damon, a family friend of Zinn’s), and musicians Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Eddie Vedder and John Legend all have publicly praised Zinn. A History Channel documentary produced by Mr. Damon, “The People Speak,” featured Hollywood A-listers Morgan Freeman, Viggo Mortensen, Kerry Washington and others reading from Zinn’s books. There are “People’s Histories” on topics including the American Revolution, Civil War, Vietnam and even science. Zinn die-hards can purchase a graphic novel, “A People’s History of American Empire,” while kids can pick up a two-volume set, “A Young People’s History of the United States” (wall chart sold separately).

In 2005, as a guest on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” Zinn delivered his standard wholesale condemnation of America. Surprised by the unrelenting attack, host Jon Stewart gave the historian an opportunity to soften his criticism. “We have made some improvements,” the comedian asked, “in our barbarity over three hundred years, I would say, no?” Zinn denied there was any improvement.

As classes resume again this fall, it is difficult not to think that despite the late historian’s popularity, our students deserve better than the divisive pessimism of Howard Zinn.

Mr. Bobb, director of the Hillsdale College Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C., is author of “Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue,” forthcoming from Thomas Nelson.


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