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Howard Zinn’s fairy tale

The New Criterion, February 2008
EXCERPT: Some projects are born fatuous, some achieve fatuousness, some have fatuousness thrust upon them. Which melancholy comedy best fits the news that A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn’s anti-American fantasy masquerading as history, is—finally, at last, after so many failed attempts—going to be turned into a television show? Somehow the crowning glory of the farce was the news that the actor Matt Damon (who grew up next to Zinn) would perform in the four-hour miniseries titled “The People Speak.” “Matt Damon, Matt Damon”: the squeaky-voiced puppet playing Damon in the movie Team America offered the perfect epitome of his ostentatious, self-regarding political childishness. And here he is helping to dramatize a book whose message is that the New World, once a paradisal playground instinct with benevolence and creativity when Columbus met the gentle Arawaks, was ruined when rapacious, war-mongering white men overran the continent.

Ho-hum, you say. Another anti-American history of America: what else is new? Isn’t this just business as usual for academic historians? Yes, it is. But Howard Zinn’s book is not just any left-leaning diatribe. Published in 1980, it instantly became a bestseller; even today, more than twenty-five years later, it is number 88 on Amazon. It has gone through innumerable editions and updates. And it is, we’re told, the most widely assigned American history book in high schools across the country. In other words, it is a major source—in many cases, the major source—for students’ understanding of the history of their country. [Emphasis added]

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