January 16th, 2020

pacificparlour

THERE'S HISTORICAL TRUTH, AND THEN THERE'S HOWARD ZINN'S TRUTH.

There's a large pile of books still to be reviewed, and I'll start the 2020 count with Mary Grabar's Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America.

This Book Review No. 1 will not deal with the content of the book to any length, as I am more interested in its usefulness in helping teachers, whether as home-schooling parents or as employees of a school system, teach the controversies, where the book is deficient, than I am in the specific illustrations of elisions, omissions, and falsifications Ms Grabar points out.

I'm not a fan of People's History, and Ms Grabar located a review by Cornell's Michael Kammen who, years before I wrote that post, described People's History as a "scissors-and-paste-pot job."  Yup.  I'm troubled that some useful histories offering a different point of view, including naval historian S. E. Morison's investigation of Columbus's voyages are out of print and generally de-accessioned from the libraries.  On the other hand, the teacher or home-schooler wants to read up on the Founding or the Civil War or the Gilded Age or World War II, he's got to do his own research to identify where the controversies are introduced or contested,  That the Oregon Association of Scholars are conducting a campaign to get Debunking into public libraries and schools and supporting a talk by Ms Grabar at Portland State might be taking the fight to the enemy; and yet it's still going to be on that teacher or home-schooler to figure out what to do next.

That matters, as there is still much work to be done.  I borrowed my title from page 161 of DebunkingIt comes from Ronald Radosh, historian of inter alia several Communist plots and author of a generally favorable review that raises several of the points I could have raised here.  By all means, go there, read and understand.

Note, though, his conclusion.
Grabar has done a great service in writing the first serious book exposing Zinn’s scholarship and offering a corrective to his fables. It is unfortunate, however, that her book is not likely to receive the broad audience it deserves. It will likely be read by those who already know Zinn was an ideological partisan who used history to enforce his own political agenda. How better would it have been had a mainstream press undertaken this effort, one willing to buck convention and the publishing industry’s liberal clientele and give the book the chance it needs to effectively confront all those committed to what I call “the Zinning of America.”
Put another way, the book is a Regnery product, and, although the Regnery polemical touch is lighter than normal, that marque probably taints what's between the covers as not useful per se.  It's crucial, though, to understand that "Howard Zinn's truth" or "The Party's Truth" (Mr Radosh's original formulation) is something that's been granted legitimacy by the kind of radical skepticism that allows truth to be surrounded by a bodyguard of sneer quotes and falsehood, such as the smearing of Justice Kavanaugh, be rationalized as simply the accuser's truth.

It is useful for people, particularly people charged with the education of the young, to recognize nonsense masquerading as scholarship.  It is more useful for those people to be able to help the students in their care to understand the nature of the controversies and weigh the evidence.  Neither People's History nor Debunking contribute to that effort.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)