Politics & Policy

Mitch Daniels Was Right

Mitch Daniels, whom some Republicans would like to see president of something more than Purdue University, is under attack because as governor of Indiana he objected to the use of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in public-school curricula. In recently published e-mails, the plainspoken Governor Daniels described Zinn’s work as “anti-American” and “crap,” which, when expressed in sufficiently polite language, is the professional consensus: “a polemicist, not a historian,” says Arthur Schlesinger; his work a “deranged” “fairy tale,” says Harvard’s Oscar Handlin; a man who traded in “every left-wing cliché with which the academy has abetted its sense of election these past several decades,” says Roger Kimball.

The book is full of errors and deliberate distortions, as Handlin noted in The American Scholar, and these are not limited to minor issues. Zinn misrepresents everything from slavery in the Chesapeake colonies to American involvement in Cuba to the Tet offensive. He reports as fact the story of Polly Baker, a woman persecuted for having an illegitimate child, when the story is in truth a work of fiction, penned by Benjamin Franklin. Zinn himself described A People’s History as “a biased account,” that bias being in favor of socialism, a political tendency that Zinn favored and thought would be popular but for the fact that “the Soviet Union gave it a bad name.” Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro didn’t help much, either, though Zinn had kind words for their revolutions. Zinn denied being a member of the Communist party, though he was identified as such by several other members and served as an officer in a CPUSA front group. Presented with evidence (including a confession) that Soviet spies Zinn had defended were in fact guilty as charged, his response was: “To me, it didn’t matter whether they were guilty or not.” Later in life, he trafficked in 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Zinn’s book is as notable for what it excludes as it is for its distortions. It is a history of the United States in which there is no Gettysburg address, no Wright brothers, no moon landing, no D-Day landing at Normandy. The thought of Joan Baez receives more prominent attention than does that of Alexander Hamilton.

Liberals can be relied upon to object to the teaching of the Christian creation story as an alternative to evolution in a science class on the very reasonable basis that whatever Genesis is, it is not high-school biology. Similarly, whatever A People’s History is, it is not history. Schools, especially government schools, have a duty to eschew political propaganda and offer an honest education. If there were a course in the use of dishonest rhetorical devices, then Zinn’s oeuvre could occupy a prominent place in that course prospectus.

Governor Daniels’s illiterate critics notwithstanding, it was not an act of censorship – there was no talk of banning publication of the bestselling book, only of declining to use it in school curricula.  From kindergarten through graduate school, American education is a sewer of left-wing ideology, and Zinn’s work is an especially ripe excretion. Governor Daniels’s office was right to bring attention to it — shoring up the integrity of public institutions is part of what governors are there for. 

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Broward’s Cowards

It is impossible to imagine circumstances under which Broward County sheriff Scott Israel could attempt to perform his duties with the confidence of the public. He should resign immediately, and if, as he promises, he refuses to go quietly, then he should be shown the door by the people he professes to ... Read More
Culture

Courage: The Greatest of Virtues

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Or Listener), As the reporter assigned the job of writing the article about all of Sidney Blumenthal’s friends and supporters told his ... Read More
Immigration

My American Dream

This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American. I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

CNN’s Shameful Town Hall

CNN recently hosted an anti-gun town hall featuring a number of grieving children and parents from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who aimed their ire at the National Rifle Association, politicians peripherally associated with the NRA, and anyone who didn’t say exactly what they wanted to hear. ... Read More
U.S.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More