I was struck by the aggrieved tone of Roger Kimball’s article on Howard Zinn (“Professor of Contempt,” February 22). I came across A People’s History of the United States a couple of decades ago just by chance. I enjoyed it not because it bashed the United States, but because it detailed the history of so many people whose stories were never part of the history I studied in high school and college. Instead of feeling bad about the U.S., I was uplifted by what I learned of the efforts and personal sacrifices and fortitude of so many Americans.
Just as when one reads conventional history books and one has to divine the impact that wars and depressions and explorations had on ordinary people, so with Zinn’s history one has to divine the motivations and character of the politicians and decision-makers and business leaders. Two sides of a coin. You need to see both, but you must acknowledge that at any time you are seeing only one side.
Roger Kimball replies: Mr. Phillips’s letter reminds me of Hazlitt’s description of the commonplace critic: the chap “believes that truth lies in the middle, between the extremes of right and wrong.” This is an insalubrious place to be. What we are dealing with in Howard Zinn’s book is not another “side” of a coin; it is (to continue Mr. Phillips’s metaphor) counterfeit specie, whose hollow ring tells us that its aim is not to enlighten or inform but to indoctrinate and politicize. The first duty of the historian is to register facts accurately. This, Howard Zinn ostentatiously failed to do. A People’s History is a tapestry of politically motivated misrepresentations of America. Mr. Phillips writes that he was “quite uplifted” by some of the stories he read in Howard Zinn’s book. Alas, he was borne aloft by a lie.
In “The Week” (February 22), I was more than amused by the editors’ Walter B. Wriston–esque phrase, “Working for the government is a sweet gig; not only will your employer never go out of business, but . . .”
Wriston’s “Countries don’t go broke” had the same flavor — but then Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina went belly-up and floated down a river of abrogated sovereign debt.
The supercalifragilisticexpialidocious level of deficit spending today could well turn the PIGS into the PIGSUS, and those lavish government pensions into a Madoff Memory.
William B. May
New York, N.Y.