Cancel Howard Zinn

The nation has reached contentious times with the erosion of the very fabric of American civilization in a slow, but methodical manner. How did we get to this point? This is the question that is not commonly asked. When statues are torn down and team mascots changed because of a destructive sense of American guilt complex, how do we respond?  Its time we start to focus on the origins in order to avoid these destructive effects.

This problem has impacted every American whether they are a republican, democrat, conservative, liberal, male, female, religious believer, atheist or any race. The American culture is shared by all of these diverse groups, the time has come to make strides to preserve the culture. Yes, every nation has a dark past and imperfections at some point in their history, but also every nation has time periods of prosperity and cultivation, innovation and optimism. Today, in the American education system from the lowest to the highest levels there tends to be an engrained sense of American guilt complex most notably found in social studies, history, literature and civics courses. These courses help mold the moral compass and view of the world that is shared by young people who will one day grow to be leaders in society whether that be on the cutting edge of business or science or caring for a family. This guilt complex did not come about overnight, but over a period of several decades and years. In order to begin a healthy reform process, we must cut to the core of the problem. We need to focus on the seeds rather than the weeds that have sprouted. A bad seed that contributed to the origins of this problem were planted by an individual named Howard Zinn and we will examine how his philosophy has grown to become almost an uncontrollable weed on our education system, while simultaneously misguiding generations of Americans. Perhaps we should give cancel the Zinn legacy before it fully engulfs our nation.

Howard Zinn published a well-known historical book, called “A People’s History of the United States”.[1] It was ground-breaking in the sense that it articulated in a lone volume the American guilt complex that has grown to become a bedrock of our education system today. It concentrates on the concept of victimization that was brought on by colonial and corporate interests that have allegedly suppressed the people. It promotes a misguided and impractical sense of egalitarianism that if in fact allowed to occur would never have allowed for true progress defined by the authentically American trait of innovation. We break down 3 of the many points in his books that raise significant issues- Christopher Columbus, The Founding and World War II and address why we cannot accept the Zinn narrative of these critical points in history.

Christopher Columbus

Zinn emphasizes some major points in his distorted retelling of history. First, he presents Christopher Columbus as an imperialist bigot that sought the destruction of native people when arriving in the Americas. In his book on page 9 he makes the outrageous claim that “the treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arwaks) [Indian tribe] – the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress- is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders.”

 While we can acknowledge that conflict existed between explorer expeditions and tribal natives in the new world at times, to classify the overall intent of the exhibitions as a murderous enterprise is in error. Columbus pursued his mission and lined up his royal resources and funding based on stories of new land cultivation and treasure that was said to be ready for development in the new world. The mission for him to travel across the world was not embarked upon to commit murders and atrocities. While surely some men in his exhibition may have been dishonorable with their actions or in fact took arms to defend themselves – to generalize conflicts that would later arise and define the exhibition on those terms truly distorts history. This issue has a direct correlation to misinformed education that has now cultivated in tearing down statues of Christopher Columbus nationwide and making him an alleged scapegoat for a wholly unrelated tragic occurrence in Minnesota. To get to this point, to connect Columbus naturally with racism and genocide has been years in the making and has finally begun to bear fruit. In his revisionist history, Zinn conveniently brushes aside the many collaborative efforts with native peoples and explorers that led to a blossoming and prosperous relationship with communities in learning the land and appreciating its vast resources. It was also not uncommon for several of the explorers to mate and mix with native peoples, thus leading to a diverse family racial structure that remains visible today.

The Founding

Second, Zinn challenges the legacy of the Founding Fathers. On page 89 he takes a radical view in what he sees as the true purpose and end game of the revolution:

“The inferior position of blacks, the exclusion of Indians from the new society, the establishment of supremacy for the rich and powerful in the new nation- all this was settled in the colonies by the time of the Revolution. With the English out of the way, it could now   be put on paper, solidified, regularized, made legitimate, by the Constitution of the United States, drafted at a Convention of Revolutionary leaders in Philadelphia.”

This is minimizing the Revolution, founding of the nation and enactment of the Constitution as simply a rubber stamp to oppress those in society. Zinn conveniently fails to mention that the Constitution itself was a ground breaking document in establishing liberties and a cohesive government structure that would later serve as a beacon to the world.

For example, several founding fathers including Alexander Hamilton were abolitionists and fiercely detested the practice of slavery. Hamilton was among the founding fathers that fought tirelessly for the Constitution’s ratification in bridging many interests that needed to be balanced at that contentious time. Zinn declines to mention that the phrase, “slavery”, itself was not specifically provided in the Constitution. Although, the text references the 3/5 clause and connotations such as those held to service in labor, the word slavery is never used. If in fact the Constitution was to be a rubber stamp on encouraging this practice to continue for generations, why does it not even appear by name and feature as a heavy point of emphasis in the document? Furthermore, why is there an amendment procedure clearly outlined in the Constitution that allows for the document to undergo reform with the times as the generations progress? A rubber-stamped document with an emphasized mission to preserve prior controversial practices would not allow such flexibility and an amendment process that allows for change. This is the same process that would eventually allow for the United States to ban slavery and serve as a model for the world. The healthy seeds were planted for this monumental moment at the time of the founding. Howard Zinn carelessly disregards these facts to provide an alternate and destructive understanding of history.

Zinn is not finished with the founding, rather, he continues in his work on many occasions to not tell the entire story and establish a proper context. He cites to the creation of the Bank of the United States in the early days of the nation. This project was spearheaded by Alexander Hamilton. Zinn categorized this project in the following manner on page 101:

“Hamilton, believing that government must ally itself with the richest elements of society   to make itself strong, proposed to Congress a series of laws, which it enacted, expressing   this philosophy. A Bank of the United States was set up as a partnership between the government and certain banking interests. A tariff was passed to help the manufacturers. It was agreed to pay bondholders- most of the war bonds were concentrated in a small group of wealthy people- the full value of their bonds. Tax laws were passed to raise money for this bond redemption.”

While Zinn is correct here in pointing out some of the features and structure of the Bank, he does not provide the context as to why its establishment was so important and why Hamilton looked to some of the wealthier elements in society to help in its enactment. The way he has prepared this point- it seems worded to contemplate in a negative light, the concept of looking to those with economic resources to help provide a foundation for the project. Its more than just allying with rich interests and repaying a small group of wealthy people their bonds in full value, it’s creating an economic outline for the nation’s future growth.

Hamilton had recognized that the nation, having just come off war was in desperate need of financial organization. War debts were still owed and rival nations across the globe still posed as threats. The nation needed to be stabilized in its early days with a solid banking system to allow for channels of economic productivity and the capability to raise funds through taxing to maintain a military to serve national security interests and pay down the debts. The highest economic levels of society were prepared to assist in this mission and the Bank of the United States was formed.

World War II

Third, on WWII, Zinn makes several controversial points. One in particular that shows a shameful distortion of a historical narrative is his discussion on the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end WWII. On pages 422-423, he takes issue and challenges the Allied intelligence that estimated hundreds of thousands of troops would have died had an invasion been done on the Japanese soil. He further states that the Japanese would have eventually surrendered and were engaged in discussions of that nature, but were adamant against unconditional surrender which included the leadership of Japan as the Allies demanded. He even queries that it may have been the concept of money and effort that would have been squandered if the Allies did not in fact proceed with the bomb that led to the final decision.

These allegations portray a dangerous distortion of history and are not established in a fact appropriate context. As President Truman agonized over the decision to drop the atomic bomb, he considered the many Allied lives that were lost by this point in the war after a long 4 years of America’s involvement. He had the resources to avoid further serious bloodshed to the Allied troops and took action. A key point that is never mentioned by Zinn, however, is that 11 days prior to the first atomic bomb being dropped on August 6, 1945 over Hiroshima, he demanded formally with the Potsdam Declaration the Japanese’s unconditional surrender.[2] Leaflets were also dropped for civilians to heed the warning and evacuate the cities. The Japanese failed to respond and the first bomb was dropped.  Truman issued another warning via radio address that was not heeded before the second bomb was dropped a few days later on August 9, 1945.[3] The Japanese would then surrender shortly after the second atomic bomb was dropped.[4]

Permitting the leadership structure to remain intact in Japan and agreeing to not force an unconditional surrender would not have been a good decision. The Japan leadership during the war was responsible for many deaths in the Pacific Theatre during the war and that does not include the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 that would later bring America into the conflict. In order to move past this horrific era in history, there needed to be left no doubt that the evil stemming from the Axis powers would no longer be tolerated in any form post-war and not be permitted to return. It is also lost that there were opportunities for the Japanese to peacefully end the conflict, but the stubbornness and failure of the leadership to appreciate the stern warnings ultimately led to destruction. For several years after the war, the American with the Allied remained committed to rebuilding and restoring Japan following the destruction stemming from World War II. America did not abandon them despite the destructive conclusion of WWII.[5]

Zinn makes no mention of any of these points that establish a context for the actions at the end of World War II. Furthermore, his suggestion that perhaps monetary and prideful interests were major factors in Truman’s decision-making disrespect the honor of President Truman who was faced with a very difficult decision. If such interests were as compelling as Zinn would make us believe, there would not be a necessity to make the effort to warn Japan and their people. At any point Japan, could have chosen to heed the warning and Truman would not have had to act so decisively, but they exerted their free will and chose not to.


Overall, a common theme running through Zinn’s work is the concept of the people rising after being suppressed for generations. It is influenced from Marxist philosophy in which class warfare is desired to forcefully disrupt and overthrow the system. It lacks a sense of individualist and narrow focus, wholly abandoning reason for a generalized sense of emotion.

For example, even in addressing America’s dark time of slavery, Zinn fails to appreciate that reform did occur. Instead of praising the American way for being at the forefront of abandoning the practice and promoting the abolition movement he dwells on the slavery practice as defining us as an imperfect people incapable of removing its stain. He would rather us base our policy and philosophy today on past transgressions rather than appreciate the greater points of innovation and true progress of the American way that pushed for healthy societal reform. The interpretation of history articulated by Zinn, not only distorts the true historical narrative of America, but also creates a guilt complex that has culminated in societal unrest that we witness today. Education is key to the reform of society, but it also has the capacity to push society into the abyss with misinformation. As school begins this fall, let’s cancel Zinn and his distorted historical narrative.

[1] Zinn, Howard.  A People’s History of the United States.  New York, HarperCollins, 1980.