“A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” Mark Twain
This the second of a three part series on the most widely used college freshman history textbooks. The first installment looked at the political bias in the textbooks America’s Promise, The American Journey, and Nation of Nations; the three least biased of the seven textbooks reviewed. Today’s installment examines books #4 and #3, American Destiny and Making a Nation. The next column will critique the two most shamelessly biased propaganda vehicles: Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty and Howard Zinn’s ridiculous anti-American screed A People’s History of the United States.
#4 American Destiny1
This book is not only long on bias, it’s short on scholarship. Many of the inaccuracies in this book come from its leftist agenda, and are similar to the less-than-accurate statements in other mainstream textbooks; but some of the weaknesses in American Destiny come from plain laziness on the part of the authors.
The famous photograph of the last American helicopter to leave Saigon is reprinted in the book, with a caption that erroneously states that the helicopter was on top of the American embassy. This is an urban myth that shouldn’t be repeated in history books; the helicopter in the photo is perched on an apartment building in downtown Saigon, as any historian should know.
The authors of American Destiny even fluff up their “textbook” with a series of two-full-page articles about popular movies. The section on Titanic, for example, informs readers that “The romance begins when Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a struggling artist, spots Rose (Kate Winslet), a wealthy socialite, climbing over the railing and looking despondently into the water below…This tale of young lovers, held apart by society, is a nautical ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ a brief, pure instant of love, tragically ended by death.”
Interesting reading for movie fans, perhaps, but it doesn’t belong in a history textbook.
This book is, perhaps, a little less partisan than some of the others, although it does give President Reagan a pretty rough going-over: “Reagan’s tendency to depend on popular magazine articles, half-remembered conversations, and other informal sources for his economic ‘facts’ reflected a mental imprecision that alarmed his critics.”
American Destiny is very nasty in its portrayals of the American GI’s who fought against Communism in Vietnam. Of the seven textbooks I’ve studied, three, including this one, repeat as fact Peter Arnett’s apocryphal claim that an un-named American officer rationalized American atrocities by saying “We had to destroy the village to save it.”
The book uses a lot of ink describing the only available example of actual war crimes by American soldiers, the My Lai massacre; which, the book says, “revived the controversy over the purposes of the war and its corrosive effects on those who were fighting it.”
And Vietnam veterans are not the only anti-Communist fighters who are disparaged in American Destiny. Senator McCarthy has to take his beating in the book, as do other anti-Communist figures.
True to form, the authors of this book adduce very little hard data about McCarty’s activities. For the most part they settle for value judgments, rather than facts or figures. McCarthy “was totally unscrupulous,” and had “disregard for every human value,” the book says.
To make up for the lack of specific facts about McCarthy the authors return to Hollywood. The section on McCarthyism includes a two page article about George Clooney’s anti-McCarthy picture “Good Night and Good Luck.”
Negative Depictions of America
This book goes very far in re-processing as “history” the talking points of far-left-wing political websites, especially on domestic issues like crime and punishment.
One chapter opens with a full page polemic blaming the Second Amendment for the nation’s most heinous crimes, and making a political case for stronger gun control laws. The same chapter contains a half-page diatribe about how America executes and imprisons too many criminals. Moving from Hollywood to the music industry for inspiration, the book laments that “the recurrent refrain of rap performers – that America was a prison – had become, for many, an everyday reality.”
On another page the authors call capital punishment a “symptom” of conservative politics.
The authors of American Destiny really show their left wing colors when they try to undermine the image of America as a land of opportunity, and denigrate the values and principles that have made it a land of opportunity for so many people.
“The unrealistic expectations inspired by the rags-to-riches myth more than the absence of real opportunity probably explains why so many workers, even when expressing dissatisfaction with life as it was, continued to subscribe to such middle-class values as hard work and thrift – that is, they continued to hope.” (Italics added)
Hope, according to the authors of this book, is something dispensed by political leaders, not something that an individual can base on his own skills and efforts.
#3 Making a Nation2
This textbook reads like something George Soros might have sponsored. Every left wing talking point is supported, even when the facts of actual history have to be adjusted to suit the political agenda.
In its blatantly biased coverage of the Vietnam War, Making a Nation states that “A disproportionate number of poor African-Americans, unable to go to college and avoid the draft, were being sent to kill nonwhites abroad on behalf of a racist United States.”
This statement is as untrue as it is inflammatory. Only about twelve percent of the soldiers who served in Vietnam were black. Demographic information on the soldiers who served in Vietnam is available at any number of veteran-oriented websites, like this one, so it is hard to imagine that professional historians would have had any trouble finding these statistics, if they had been more interested in accuracy than in politics.
The chapter on the Cold War starts out with a sob story about Esther and Stephen Brunauer, who are portrayed in the book as good honest Americans who “should have looked forward to a happy, prosperous future,” with Mr. Brunauer working on top-secret weapons programs for the US Navy and Mrs. Brunauer pursuing her career in academia. Their life together, according to the book, was unfairly destroyed when a demon named Joseph McCarthy fabricated some crazy story about the two of them being Communists.
Making a Nation conveniently leaves out most of the important facts of the Brunauers’ story, starting with the mountain of hard evidence that led McCarthy to the conclusion that the Brunauers were Communist agents. The evidence against them is all laid out in detail in M. Stanton Evans excellent and abundantly footnoted book Blacklisted by History.
A little later in the same chapter, the authors make time flow backward in order to accuse McCarthy of launching his infamous investigation of espionage in the US Army only after the army denied one of his aides a draft deferment. In fact he’d been investigating the problems in the Army for several months before the draft deferment incident.3
Making a Nation also portrays left wing political leaders in a consistently positive light. Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution in Cuba is held up in the book as “an example for the rest of Latin America.”
The authors of this book demonstrate their contempt for traditional religious values in the way they contrast the humanistic movement known as “the Enlightenment” with a religious revival known as the “Great Awakening” in 18th century America. Readers are told that these two movements were “separate and distinct, even opposite,” because the Enlightenment leaders focused on “emphasizing the power of the human mind” while Christians leading the Awakening were guilty of “disparaging it.” No mention is made of what happened in France, the birthplace of the Enlightenment, when the Jacobins built a government on Enlightenment principles. (The result was a bloodbath known to history as “The Terror.”)
Making a Nation goes even further than American Destiny in undermining the image of the United States as a land of opportunity. It’s coverage of the great success stories of the nineteenth century is flat dishonest. While admitting that one man, Andrew Carnegie, was able to go from childhood poverty to great wealth, the book claims that “most of America’s leading men of business were raised in relative prosperity.”
The book specifically names John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and three other industrialists; implying that these five men were examples of the “raised in relative prosperity” variety of millionaire. The opposite is true. All five grew up in poverty, just as Carnegie did. Rockefeller was born in a three room shack, then abandoned by his father at the age of sixteen, as Ron Chernow details in his excellent biography of Rockefeller, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
As in American Destiny, the message is that success comes not from individual effort, but from good luck or government benevolence.
The best thing that can be said for either of these books is that it’s not as tendentiously dishonest as Foner’s or Zinn’s. Click here to see my review of the two most biased books in the field.
1Mark Carnes & John Garraty, American Destiny
2Boydston, Cullather, Lewis, McGerr, & Oakes; Making a Nation
3Footnote 3: The Aide’s name was David Schine. The real chronology of the “Army-McCarthy” conflict is laid out in detail in Evans’ excellent Blacklisted by History