A book review I wrote recently focused on a dissection of the work of historian Howard Zinn that appeared in the recently published Intellectual Morons by my predecessor at Accuracy in Academia, Dan Flynn. That review drew a sharp retort from one of Zinn’s many admirers in Academia.
Dennis Mueller, who teaches theater at Bowling Green State University in Ohio pointed out to me that “Zinn has risked his life in WWII” and “worked along with SNCC in the civil rights movement.”
“I guess you were against that and in favor of the terrorism that existed in the south,” Dr. Mueller concludes.
Actually, neither Dan nor I took issue with Professor Zinn’s service in World War II. What we took issue with was Professor Zinn’s accuracy. Let’s just take one example, Professor Zinn’s claim that “unemployment grew in the Reagan years.”
As it happens, during President Reagan’s first term, I worked for an organization that faced imminent layoffs. Specifically, I was working for a state unemployment office that was contemplating laying off clerks like me because of jobless claims that were dropping off. This gave me a unique opportunity to watch the unemployment rate drop, not grow, during the Reagan years.
At the end of President Reagan’s second term I found myself poring over data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics while examining the job growth during the 1980s. Both of these exercises, as you can see, involved accumulating and digesting data from primary sources. What sources did Professor Zinn draw on for his unemployment assertion? Historians are usually clear on such matters.
As for Dr. Mueller’s civil rights charge, in the old days they would call it a “red herring.” Dr. Mueller, please don’t try to guess at what my position on civil rights is, particularly as I would have been in violation of the miscegenation laws on the books south of the Mason-Dixon Line pre-1964. By the way, thanks to U. S. congressional committee reports and FBI files, we know that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics exploited the Civil Rights movement for at least a half a century. And David Horowitz, who, as a ‘60s radical leader turned current conservative icon, is in a position to know, points out that the left threw over Martin Luther King as insufficiently radical before the civil rights leader’s untimely death.
Dr. Mueller produced a documentary on Zinn that is entitled You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train. “I guess you think Columbus was a sweet guy,” Dr. Mueller theorized in his e-mail to me. Well, Dr. Mueller, it’s a better guess than your civil rights theory.
I would recommend to Dr. Mueller, and to everyone interested in our history for that matter, a book entitled Christopher Columbus, Mariner by Samuel Eliot Morison. Not content to read the diaries, ship logs, royal proclamations and accounts of just about everyone involved in the voyages of Columbus, Morison also sailed the same routes as the man who sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Really, I’d like to see Zinn take such a voyage. Maybe you could go with him, Dr. Mueller.
Morison’s research is quite illuminating. He found, for example, that the abuse of the Indians that modern historians attribute to Columbus actually occurred when the Admiral made a trip back to Spain to secure more funding for his expedition from the Crown.
One last nugget from Zinn’s acolyte: “By the way, our founding fathers endorsed slavery via the Constitution.” Are we talking about the three-fifths rule overturned by the 14th amendment to the Constitution(1868)? I just happen to have a copy of both in my desk. Do you?
By the way, did you know that slavery had a shorter life span in the United States than it did in many countries on the planet, such as the Sudan? Check out either the U. S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices or Amnesty International’s Annual Yearbook.
Dan Flynn wondered whether Zinn’s millions of copies sold resulted from teachers and professors requiring the book. Flynn, as usual, poses a good question.
I still get calls from parents who are concerned that their children have been assigned Zinn’s Peoples History of the United States as required reading.
Dr. Mueller himself gives some credence to this theory. “My students loved the book,” he writes. Yes, Dr. Mueller, and I loved Woody Allen’s Without Feathers, but I can’t honestly say that I learned anything from it.