“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” Abraham Lincoln
The purpose of this website, as regular readers know, is to point out the liberal bias that permeates college history faculties and the textbooks they write. To that end I study and footnote seven of the most widely used freshman history textbooks. Every other week I post a new column about the biased way in which most of these textbooks cover some important topic in American History.
After doing this for over a year I’ve begun to notice patterns in the various books. While all of them reflect a left-leaning world view, some are certainly more biased, and less accurate, than others. In today’s column I will rate the three textbooks that show the least flagrant bias, starting with the one that comes closest to offering an even-handed representation of American history. Future columns will address the other four.
#7: America’s Promise1
The textbook America’s Promise is the best of a bad bunch. The notes on the back cover promise readers a “balanced approach to American history,” and to some extent that is true; this book is more balanced than any of the other six textbooks I’ve been studying.
America’s Promise is less partisan than any of the other books.
In racial issues, for example, the other six books edit history pretty shamelessly in order to tar the Republican Party, and “conservatives” in general, as racist; while portraying liberals and Democrats as the champions of racial justice. (As earlier Other Half of History columns point out, Democrats were generally the party of segregation.)
But America’s Promise is noticeably fairer to the Republicans. In its coverage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, for example, it is the only book that mentions how a group of racist Democrats filibustered for 57 days in an attempt to block the bill.
Where all seven textbooks disparage anything anti-Communist, this book makes some attempt at presenting the other side of the story. It is the only book, for example, that mentions that Cuban Communists were building a Soviet airbase in Grenada when the US invaded. The other books all make the invasion of Grenada look like unjustified imperialistic aggression by the Reagan administration.
Another area where this book makes at least some effort at balance is in its coverage of the issue of counter-espionage and anti-Communism (aka “McCarthyism”) during the Cold War. The book does disparage Joseph McCarthy personally, as they all do, and it does use at least one flat-out falsehood2 to make the Senator look bad; but it also concedes that there really were Soviet spies in the government during this period.
It is the only book to make any mention of the The Venona documents, which reveal that the US government intercepted extensive radio traffic between the Soviet government and its army of spies in the US.
America’s Promise also shows less of the anti-Christian bias that permeates the other six books. While it inaccurately ascribes the American values of democracy and equality to a “skepticism about religion” inherited from the French Enlightenment, it also admits of some positive effects of the Christian religion in our history. It states, for example, that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery book Uncle Tom’s Cabin “succeeded because it insisted that slavery was a sin for Christians.”
#6 The American Journey3
This book, while obviously biased, scores lower than most of the others on the propaganda scale.
It’s coverage of the Reagan administration, while slanted, is less negative than that of most of the other books.
It’s coverage of the segregation in the South is somewhat balanced; it explains pretty clearly that the real villain of the Jim Crow era was Southern governments. It is the only book to really describe how business interests and other conservatives resisted segregation, and how trade unions and the working class, traditional Democrat voting blocs, supported Jim Crow.
It also portrays pretty accurately the role of President Andrew Jackson, the founder of the modern Democratic Party, in promoting the racist and grossly unjust Indian Removal Act of 1830.
Every textbook I’ve read, including The American Journey, indulges in some unfair and less-than-honest bashing of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The American Journey repeats the usual mantra about all of McCarthy’s “victims” having been innocent of any connection to the Soviet Union, when the truth is that Senator McCarthy exposed many Soviet agents whose guilt cannot be honestly denied.
And like all but one of the textbooks, this one labors to portray the Soviet side of every question in as positive a light as possible. Americans are portrayed as the villains in Korea and Vietnam, and no mention is made of the many crimes of Communist leaders like Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong.
Still, The American Journey doesn’t go as far as the worst textbooks. Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty and Howard Zinn’s ridiculous A People’s History of the United States are both much worse than this book in their slanders against anyone and anything anti-Communist.
This book is also less bad than most of the others in its treatment of religion. For example, it describes pretty accurately how “Protestant missionaries” led the fight against the Indian Removal Act.
Role of Government
This book does take a decidedly pro-Government stand on economic issues, although no more so than most of the other textbooks. Its portrayal of FDR’s New Deal policies, for example, is overwhelmingly positive. “Roosevelt’s promise of a New Deal,” the book states, “revived hope among millions of Americans.”
The authors of this book rather laughably lament that “Despite the early New Deal’s pro-business character, conservatives complained that the expansion of government activity…weakened the autonomy of American business.”
Still, all things considered, this book is less bad than any of the others except America’s Promise.
# 5 Nation of Nations4
It’s easy to see that the authors of this book are all Democrats. There is a definite double standard used in its coverage of American politicians.
The authors of this book labor to put a positive spin on President Jimmy Carter’s disastrous term in the White House. All the hardships and humiliations America suffered under his leadership are portrayed as results of circumstances outside of the President’s control. (Example: “Even the weather seemed to conspire against Carter.”)
President Reagan, on the other hand, is described as a clever liar who “used his skill as an actor to obscure contradictions between his rhetoric and reality.”
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The book describes Senator J. William Fulbright’s opposition to the Vietnam War in glowing terms, but does not mention the Arkansas Democrat’s devotion to racial segregation; that he joined with other Democrats in a filibuster to block the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Segregation is portrayed as solely the work of “conservatives.”
Most history textbooks describe the complex history of racial interactions as a simple dichotomy: light skinned people are evil, and dark skinned people are virtuous, long-suffering victims. While Nation of Nations generally sticks to this narrative, it does make a couple attempts at balance. In its coverage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, for example, it does admit that many Cherokee Indians owned black slaves and operated cotton plantations before being forcibly relocated to Oklahoma.
The most biased section of every textbook I’ve read, without exception, is the section on the Vietnam War. While textbooks disparage anyone who ever fought against Communism the American GI’s who served in Vietnam suffer the worst slander.
Many of today’s male college professors were yesterday’s draft dodgers, and they clearly feel a need to take the moral high ground on the issue. Textbooks portray the American men who served in Vietnam as criminals and fools, and those who avoided service as martyrs taking a stand on principle.
Nation of Nations is as guilty of this as any of them. It is full of falsehoods like “Most Americans sent to Vietnam were chosen by the draft.” (Only about a quarter of the men who served in Vietnam were draftees, as any historian should know.)
In a further attempt to vilify our troops, the book claims that “GI’s regularly took out their frustrations on innocent civilians.” It states as proven fact left wing journalist Peter Arnett’s highly apocryphal claim than an un-named American officer told reporters “We had to destroy the village to save it” after a battle in the city of Ben Tre.
Like all the other textbooks, this one portrays religion and rational thought as incompatible opposites. Even in its descriptions of late twentieth century politics it brings up the eighteenth century French Enlightenment, claiming that the anti-religious attitudes of the Enlightenment had inculcated a “rational spirit of science and technology” that had “dominated Western thought for 200 years.” The book laments that this laudable devotion to pure reason was largely destroyed by religious conservatives during the 1980’s.
It’s hard to find anything to praise even in the best of the mainstream college history books. The left wing bias of the authors stands out like a sore thumb to anyone who has studied the history of this nation independently, although it might not be apparent to a typical eighteen year old college freshman. To go beyond a simple political indoctrination, and get an actual education, a student would have to go outside the classroom and study the other half of the story.
My next two columns will address some of the worst offenses of the worst textbooks.
1Rorabaugh, Critchlow, & Baker; America’s Promise
2McCarthy’s committee spent several months investigating security problems in the US Army before one of his assistants, David Schine, was drafted. Soon after Schine went on active duty, the Army brass accused McCarthy of trying to get special privileges for Schine. Many history textbooks, including America’s Promise, reverse the order of events. America’s Promise tells readers that McCarthy began investigating the Army “after” Army officials accused him of trying to get special treatment for Schine. The real chronology is described and footnoted in detail in M. Stanton Evans excellent book Blacklisted by History.
3Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, Barney, & Weir; The American Journey
4Davidson, Gienapp, Heyrman, Lytle, & Stoff; Nation of Nations