Who was Howard Zinn? More important, does it matter?
According to Wikipedia, Zinn was born in Brooklyn in 1922 to European Jewish immigrants. His parents had worked in factories and along the way Zinn hung out with various communists in his neighborhood. Prior to World War II, he briefly worked in the U.S. Navy Yard as a shipfitter, where he associated with an early union (the Apprentice Association), before joining the U.S. Army Air Force when war broke out. As a bombardier in the 490th Bombardment Group, Zinn was personally responsible for dropping bombs on various targets, including napalm on Royan, France, in April 1945. Writing an anti-war article in The Progressive in 2006, Zinn claimed that during the war there “was a need to defeat the monstrosity of fascism,” but that “after the war [he began] to question the purity of the moral crusade” (The Progressive, January 1, 2006).
Returning from war, Zinn used the G.I. bill to attend New York University, then received an M.A. from Columbia, followed by a Ph.D. in history in 1958. His doctorall dissertation about Fiorello LaGuardia in Congress was turned into a book an nominated for the American Historical Association’s Beveridge Prize. Later, Zinn took a post-doctoral fellowship in East Asian Studies at Harvard, though the connection between his training in American history and East Asia was never explained. Zinn got a job a the all-black Spelman College in Atlanta—a task he assumed with relish, thinking he was there to radicalize the young students—then took a position at Boston University. By then, according to his biographer Martin Duberman, he had labeled himself “something of a Marxist.” (Martin Duberman, Howard Zinn, 2012, p. 199).
Yet Zinn’s upbringing did not necessarily condemn him to being a communist. There were a number of other “red diaper babies,” including Ronald Radosh and David Horowitz, who became fierce critics of leftism. Rather, Zinn simply liked the ideology of oppression. “He had a deep sense of fairness and justice for the underdog,” recalled Caryl Rivers, a professor of journalism at Boston U. (Wikipedia).
In 1980, Zinn published A People’s History of the United States, concentrating exclusively on those “underdogs” as he saw them. He would later say he intended a “quiet revolution” that would allow “people to control the conditions of their lives.”(“The Conscience of the Past: An Interview with Historian Howard Zinn,” Flagpole, https://web.archive.org/web/20010525003828/http://www.flagpole.com/Issues/02.18.98/lit.html). Yet that assumed that people did not have control over the conditions of their lives on the one hand, or that forces over which no one could control would be fixed by Zinn’s “quiet revolution.”
In fact, Zinn’s revolution was quite well established in numerous books. What Zinn did was combine a vast array of leftist history into a single volume. Some 30 years before I had ever heard of Howard Zinn, a professor at Arizona State University, Robert J. Loewenberg, had assigned us a book by Robert James Maddox, The New Left Historians and the Origins of the Cold War. Maddox’s book, first published in 1973, examined seven prominent New Left works on diplomacy and the Cold War, including The Tragedy of American Diplomacy by William Appleman Williams, The Cold War and its Origins by D. F. Fleming, The Politics of War by Gabriel Kolko, and four others.
Maddox showed that all seven were based on massive and extensive abuse of historical practices and standards. All their misuse, however, leaned in the same direction: the U.S. was evil or, at best, stupidly selfish, while the Soviet Union with its good-hearted communists was warm, cuddly, and honest. How did these scholars arrive at their conclusions that the Cold War was unnecessary?
Let’s go back to our “history no-nos” again. The New Left historians would use what would become one of Zinn’s favorite tools, the ellipses. which are the “ . . .”. These mean that the author has omitted something. Now, in accepted and honorable historical practice, the ellipses should never, ever, omit something important or relevant to the discussion. It is acceptable to leave out something totally irrelevant, or, in order to make something clear or shorten missing material, use brackets with the historian’s own inserted words. For example, say you are discussing someone telling a long story. “We went fishing, and drove all the way to Springerville, Arizona. It was my two brothers and me. Oh, did you know Springerville only has one gas station? Anyway we reached the lake and began to fish.” It is pretty evident here that the insertion of “Oh did you now Springerville only has one gas station?” is irrelevant to the story of fishing. So a historian might record it like this” “We went fishing, and drove all the way to Springerville, Arizona. It was my two brothers and me . . . . [W]e reached the lake and began to fish.”
Unless at some later point (say, the story goes on to say they ran out of gas and because Springerville only had one gas station and it was closed, they were stuck for the night) there is some significance (there’s that word again!) to the single gas station, it is perfectly acceptable to omit that reference and stay with the story. You haven’t changed the key elements of the story at all with the ellipses. In this case there are four ellipses instead of three because it denotes the sentence ending. I also left out the “Anyway” because that was superfluous. But that required me to start the new sentence with a capital “W” hence “[W]e” shows something is missing that ended a sentence.
Ellipses are perfectly acceptable so long as they do not change the meaning or leave out key explanatory material. For example, “He confronted me . . . . I had the gun. He was dead.” This looks like a man attacked another man who shot him. But what if the omitted material looked like this: “He confronted me and I backed up. He had a gun, but as he raised it to shoot, a policeman shot him. The gun flipped out of his hand to me. I had the gun. He was dead.” Gee, that’s a totally different story, isn’t it?
But there is another very important rule when it comes to writing accurate history and using ellipses. Never, and I mean, never, are you to join separate conversations or events from different times and different circumstances into a single sentence or set of sentences. Doing so would give you the old maxim that you can prove anything by the Bible: “Judas went out and hung himself.” “Do ye therefore likewise.” “Whatever ye do, do quickly.” Yet this is precisely how the New Left historians created this “America bad” foreign policy story out of thin air. They joined together statements made by President Harry Truman on different days and different times about different subjects! They didn’t do this by accident, but with a clear intent of making Truman (especially) look bad in the narrative of who caused the Cold War.
Zinn did this with regards to his discussions about Columbus noting that the Arawak Indians would “make fine servants,” and joining it to earlier discussions without informing the reader that Columbus was noting that the Arawaks had been in an ongoing conflict with other Indians who wanted to enslave them, and he was impressed that the Arawaks were strong, healthy looking people who to other Indians would “make fine servants.” (See Zinn, People’s History, p.1) But the point is, Zinn was hardly the first to do this, and had learned at the hands of these master historical manipulators.
But there were other currents swirling at the time that were causing the New Left no end of problems in history. We will next look at the Alger Hiss case and how that historical battle again produced fireworks that would further shape the historical world of Howard Zinn.
Ellipses are never to be used to connect statements or sentences form documents across time or space. Moreover, if you see four elipses (“ . . . .”) it means that the author has actually connected two sentences.