American history wars

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A Patriot’s History of the United States has Glenn Beck’s prominent endorsement on the cover. Gee, do ya think it’s fair and balanced? Why do I suspect that if the American fascists had their way, the book would be required reading for all Americans, perhaps especially in “re-education” camps? Below is the 1980 book that the 2007 A Patriot’s History apparently is a direct response to.

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Two very different versions of United States history are among amazon.com’s top-selling books as I type this sentence.

The late progressive historian Howard Zinn‘s A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, first published in 1980 and current to 2003 in the revised edition that is available now, is at No. 27 on amazon.com right now, propelled up the list by his recent death. (It probably would be higher, but a lot of us “socialists” who voted for Barack Obama — which would be 53 percent of those Americans who voted in November 2008 — already have the book.) 

And at No. 1 on amazon.com right now, unfortunately, is 2007’s deceptively titled A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror — the title of which appears to be a direct response to Zinn’s tome and which tells you the slant that its two authors (one of whom wrote another book titled 48 Liberal Lies About American History) take and which indicates that if you disagree with the two white male authors’ version of American history, then you aren’t a patriot; in fact, you probably hate your country, hate freedom, and you probably want the terrorists to win!

(Hey, at least Sarah Palin-Quayle’s book has dropped to No. 56; it was at No. 1 for weeks…) 

Now, a wingnut might come back with the “argument” that Zinn and/or his supporters would say that if you disagree with his take on U.S. history, then you’re not part of the “people,” but I don’t think that was Zinn’s intent. His intent, I believe, was to tell U.S. history from the viewpoints that usually are ignored, including from the viewpoints of the downtrodden and the conquered. Well, hell, in his own words, Zinn said:

…[Ours] is a beautiful country, but it has been taken over by men who have no respect for human rights or constitutional liberties. Our people are basically decent and caring, and our highest ideals are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, which says that all of us have an equal right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The history of our country, I point out in my book, is a striving, against corporate robber barons and war makers, to make those ideals a reality….

Agreed. Our nation is a long way from fully living up to its stated ideals — we’re still arguing whether or not it is OK to discriminate against non-heterosexuals, for fuck’s sake, and while we are a nation of immigrants, the wingnuts for some time now have been on an anti-brown-skinned-immigrant kick, and what happened not long ago enough at Abu Ghraib was not, as Sarah Palin-Quayle might put it, very American-y, was it? — but to the wingnuts, just having stated those lofty ideals centuries ago is enough.

The Glenn Beck-endorsed A Patriot’s History, I am sure, tells the viewpoint of the powerful and the conquerors — the viewpoint that always has been taught in our schools (as it’s the conquerors who get to write the history), the viewpoint that if a public elementary or high school teacher were to challenge, he or she very well might find him- or herself in hot water.

Did we really need yet another white man’s version of U.S. history? We don’t have enough of the white man’s perspective? Fuck a duck.

I have read much of Zinn’s account of American history, and far from being some foaming-at-the-mouth, anti-American screed, it seems to tell the historical accounts and facts that the wingnuts don’t want to be taught in our schools because they’re not flattering.

Didn’t the Nazis — I know you’re never supposed to bring up the Nazis, but fuck it, I’m going to — teach their young a whitewashed, hypernationalistic version of German history? What’s the fucking difference between the Nazis doing that and Americans doing that?

It is too bad, but perhaps inevitable, that history should become so politicized, that is has become about indoctrination rather than about telling, to the best of our ability, the truth.

The telling of history was a central point of George Orwell’s 1984, with the totalitarian government of the novel rewriting even recent history to suit its political desires.

History, and how it is told, matter.

I wouldn’t read A Patriot’s History first and foremost because I wouldn’t read anything endorsed by Glenn Beck, who, I am fairly certain, is the anti-Christ. I mean, isn’t that how the anti-Christ is said to be? Able to sway the masses with his talk of purity and piety even though his soul is as black as pitch?

And again, I wouldn’t bother with something like A Patriot’s History because it’s the version of U.S. history that we’re all already familiar with: White Americans are God’s chosen. They’re all about courage and bravery and independence and freedom and liberty and democracy and puppies and kittens, they can do no wrong, blah, blah, blah, hand me something in which I can vomit, please.

Traditional U.S. history is, in a nutshell, feel-good history. It isn’t about reaching the truth of what actually happened; it’s about feeling good about oneself and one’s nation. Worse, it’s about brainwashing the sheeple about how great their lupine overlords are and is part of the long process of beating the sheeple into submission to their overlords.

Nor do I believe in, as we progressives are accused of by the right, feel-bad history.

Problem is, anything that contradicts the traditional myths that are passed off as American history is labeled, immediately, as “anti-American” or the like. 

I believe in acknowledging what the United States of America has gotten right and what it has gotten wrong. Declaring independence from the British monarchy, for instance: right. Smacking down the pro-slavery South in the Civil War: right (but we Northerners should have finished the job…). Defeating Hitler and his allies hell-bent on world conquest in World War II: right. Decimating the Native Americans and stealing their land in violated treaty after violated treaty: wrong. Slavery: wrong. Interning Japanese Americans during World War II: wrong. The Vietnam War: wrong. Allowing the White House to be stolen in 2000: wrong. The Vietraq War and the Abu Ghraib House of Horrors: wrong. The election of the nation’s first non-white-male president in 2008: pretty cool.

We weaken, not strengthen, the nation by continuing to pass off jingoistic lies and half-truths and whitewashing as American history. You can’t fix weaknesses whose existence you won’t even fucking acknowledge.

A Patriot’s History: More of the same.

A People’s History: At least you get another view, a more complete picture, an idea of the nation’s weaknesses that need to be addressed.

Which is the more patriotic? To work to improve one’s nation, especially to ensure the expansion of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and liberty and justice for all, or to claim that the white-male geniuses created a perfect nation and that there is no more work to be done?

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