Howard Zinn’s History Channel produced documentary, The People Speak, has come and gone; in its wake, I have been fumbling around with the appropriate words to express both my discouragement and my delight that this piece of revisionist history-revisionist in the sense that historical background, as Zinn describes it, is markedly flawed by neglecting to provide any reasonable, factual context for the idea of America, let alone its founding and subsequent existence-consumed two hours of HC time that would have otherwise been devoted to more important matters. Like Nostradamus’ alleged prescience regarding the Anti-Christ, who really was Jack the Ripper? (Francis Tumblety, says the latest HC piece), and the ever-lost Atlantis.
First, my delight: people care about history. There is interest-perhaps not abundant, but at least substantial- in knowing the story of our species. Hollywood figures, who like to attach themselves to causes, invested their time and talents in it. This is (not to sound too Peggy Noonish) good. As a nation, our best creatives should care about knowing who we are and where we came from, and why our republic works the way it does, for they are especially equipped to spread gospel.
But Zinn’s is an incomplete gospel, at best, and a false one at worst. And it begins with some slick sophistry: Zinn’s real “people”-his very own “real America” if you will-are not the Washingtons and the Nathaniel Greens, the Jeffersons or the Madisons, or the many who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their honor to secure this nation from the hands of the greatest imperial power of its time. Zinn’s America seems to be comprised of malcontents (some supremely justified) and radicals, evangelicals of a decidedly un-natural rights and natural law persuasion.
The way Zinn sees things, all life comes down to one thing: the have and the have-nots. And certainly there is some truth to that historical thesis. But where Zinn succeeds in drawing apathy for “the average Joe”, he does a great disservice to our nation’s history by neglecting to celebrate the triumph that is our republican form of government, rooted in the successes (and mindful of the failures) of the best Western Civilization has to offer. I pity Zinn for his disregard, and apparent contempt, for Rome and Greece, Edmund Burke, John Locke, The Federalist Papers, Washington’s Second Farewell Address, and the many other pillars of truth, justice, and liberty on which our grand nation was founded upon.