Rating College History Textbooks, Part III

“Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” Vladimir Lenin  

This is the third of three columns in which I rate various history textbooks according to the degree of leftwing bias they demonstrate. In Part I, I discuss the text books America’s Promise, The American Journey, and Nation of Nations In Part II I review American Destiny and Making a Nation. Today’s column is on the two worst offenders, number two and number one on the propaganda scale:  Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty and Howard Zinn’s absurd A People’s History of the United States.

#2 Give me Liberty

The sole author of this textbook is Professor Eric Foner, a Columbia University alumnus like Howard Zinn. Like Zinn, he is pretty selective in his sources. Foner uses quotes from the far-left-wing magazines The Nation and The New Republic on twelve different pages of his textbook. By comparison, he cites the more mainstream newsmagazines Time, Newsweek, and US News a total of only six times.

Race Issues

Foner conflates racial justice with socialism and Communism. He speaks dismissively of black leaders like Booker T. Washington, the self-made man who founded Tuskegee University; and reserves his praise for leftwing radicals like Communist Party member W.E.B. Du Bois, who wrote this obscene eulogy for Josef Stalin, and Paul Robeson, a proud recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize.

In a section on the Cold War Foner complains that “blacks’ traditional allies on the left” were “decimated by McCarthyism,” implying that the only allies American blacks had were Communists and Communist sympathizers. One of the many things Foner leaves out of his textbook is the role J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI played in breaking up the Ku Klux Klan. Hoover was a mortal enemy of both the Communist Party and the KKK; hardly the kind of left wing hero Foner likes to credit with opposing racism.

Anti-Anti-Communism

Dr. Foner, even more than other textbook authors, displays resentment to the point of rage against anyone or anything anti-Communist. Incredibly, Foner admits that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg stole nuclear weapon secrets for the Soviet Union, yet still tries to portray the conviction and execution of the Rosenbergs as unjust and unfair.

Professor Foner mentions the word “Communist” on twenty-nine pages of his textbook, and the words “Communist Party” on twelve more, and always in a positive light.

In his writings on the supposed evils of “McCarthyism,” Foner repeats the word “hysteria” to the point of monotony. The worst thing about McCarthyism, he tells us, is that it “redrew the boundaries of acceptable Democratic liberalism to exclude both communists and those willing to cooperate with them.” – Oh the horror!

Senator Joseph McCarthy, says Foner, “made sweeping accusations with no basis in fact.” (In truth Senator McCarthy clearly identified many Communist agents, as I detailed in a previous column.) Foner is also very nasty in his portrayal of Director Hoover, who in the real world documented many of the facts that that formed the basis of McCarthy’s “accusations with no basis in fact.”

Religion

Like most of the other textbooks, Give Me Liberty basically describes the eighteenth century Enlightenment movement as a wave of truth and wisdom that liberated the smartest people among us from a childish belief in God. Thanks to the Enlightenment, Dr. Foner tells us, Deists like Ben Franklin came to view the Bible and its claims as “outdated superstitions that should be abandoned in the modern age.”  

Role of Government

In President Franklin Roosevelt’s second inaugural address, the President candidly described his reasons for increasing the size and power of the government. “Nearly all of us recognize,” said the President, “that as intricacies of human relationships increase, so power to govern them also must increase—power to stop evil; power to do good.”

And FDR had plans for all that power: “We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.”

Professor Foner approves of FDR’s vision; this comes through very clearly in his textbook. “Never in American history,” he crows, “had a president exercised such power or so rapidly expanded the role of the federal government in people’s lives.” 

Dr. Foner clearly thinks that Government is the answer to all of society’s problems. This attitude permeates his textbook, and is especially obvious in his writings on Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Foner applauds the New Deal for the way it “reshaped understandings of freedom” to mean more, rather than less, government. “The New Deal,” he tells his readers, “recast the idea of freedom by linking it to the expanding power of the national state.”

In a 1941 speech President Roosevelt equated “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear” with the Constitutional Principles of free speech and freedom of religion. He lumped the four things together under the title of “The Four Freedoms.” In his vision of America’s future, an all-powerful central government was to take on the role of Provider and Protector, thus liberating the masses from want and fear.

Professor Foner’s enthusiasm for this concept knows no bounds. Most mainstream textbooks don’t even mention the Four Freedoms, but Dr. Foner’s textbook talks about them on fifteen different pages! In one section Foner complains that conservatives removed a copy of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech from a 1947 “Freedom Train” tour of the United States that included truly historic documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Mayflower Compact.

What nonsense.

#1 A People’s History of the United States

It’s no coincidence that the two textbooks exhibiting the most extreme bias were both written by Columbia graduates. Columbia University has been a home for Communists since the Party was founded in 1919.

And it’s easy to pick a winner between the two. While Dr. Foner at least tries to frame his propaganda as an unbiased account of history, Professor Howard Zinn doesn’t even try. His ravings look like the stuff you’d see on a left wing message board.

Sadly, Dr. Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is widely used not only on college campuses, but in high school classrooms as well. Many teachers present this collection of lies and half-truths as an alternative providing “balance” to the supposedly more conservative views of other textbook authors.

Partisanship

The word “partisan” takes on a different meaning when you read the late Professor Zinn’s textbook.

Dr. Zinn was not partisan in the usual sense of the word. The authors of the other six textbooks tend to portray Democrats in a more favorable light, and Republicans in a more negative light. Professor Zinn, a Communist Party member, seems equally hostile to both of the mainstream American political parties.

Zinn is as critical of Democrat Harry Truman as he is of Republican Joseph McCarthy. The Truman administration, he says, “established a climate of fear – a hysteria about Communism – which would steeply escalate the military budget…This combination of policies would permit more aggressive actions abroad, more repressive actions at home.”

Where historians like Eric Foner paint a glowing picture of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, Dr. Zinn condemns them: “From the first, (Roosevelt’s National Recovery Act) was dominated by big businesses and served their interests.”

Where other scholars portray President Kennedy in a positive light, Zinn depicts him as an anti-Communist monster. He condemns Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress program as “mostly military aid to keep in power right-wing dictatorships and enable them to stave off revolutions.”  Kennedy, in Dr. Zinn’s view, was part of the “Democrat-Republican, liberal-conservative agreement to prevent or overthrow revolutionary governments whenever possible.”

Anti-Anti-Communism

There can be no doubt about why Dr. Zinn is hostile to all things anti-Communist. Zinn was, himself, a Communist Party member. In his book the professor is constantly quoting Karl Marx, people who corresponded with Marx, and “Marxist” journalists and authors. The Communist Party USA is mentioned every few pages, and always in a positive light. (In preparing to write this column I randomly opened the book somewhere near the middle, and started quickly skimming the next fifty pages, underlining the words “Communist” and “Communism” whenever I saw them. They showed up on nineteen of the fifty pages.)

Zinn even praises the vicious butcher Mao Zedong. According to Zinn’s book, Mao’s blood-drenched government was “the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.”

Negative Depictions of America

Dr. Zinn was aggressively and unabashedly anti-American. Some of the statements in his book sound almost crazy to a reader who knows anything about actual American history. He claims, for example, that Japan was about to surrender when US dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that the bombings were totally unnecessary. No other leftist I can think of has made that claim.

Zinn even disparages the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration, he tells his students, “talked about government and political rights, but ignored the existing inequalities in property. And how could people truly have equal rights, with stark differences in wealth?”

Economics

Dr. Zinn’s views on economics are Karl Marx’ views. Private property, business, and profits are irredeemably evil; and socialism is the only decent economic system.

Role of Government

Here is another area were Zinn’s wacky ideas differ from those of other history professors. Where an Eric Foner might see hope for society in the big government programs of liberal Democrats like FDR, Zinn sees the federal government only as a usurper, standing where a Communist government should be.

Conclusion

While every freshman textbook I’ve been able to find is written from a leftist perspective, some are much worse than others. The two worst, not surprisingly, are the ones written by Columbia University alumni. Professor Zinn’s book at least has the virtue of being so obviously unhinged that some students may take its claims with a grain of salt. Foner’s book, on the other hand, is presented as actual history, and has probably been a more effective disinformation tool.

Al Fuller

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