Just Using it for Dramatic Effect.
Here at American Creation, we've been debating ad nauseum the "scholarly" works of Christian Nation Apologist David Barton. In her most recent post, fellow blogger Lindsey Shuman used the excellent work of author Chris Rodda to debunk many of Barton's claims. In addition, Ms. Shuman capitalized on these allegations by labeling David Barton as an outright liar, and many of our contributors/readers have agreed. And while there is no doubt that Barton has clearly "twisted" the historical record to fit his own agenda, some of us (who are NOT Barton apologists by the way) have been reluctant to jump on the "Liar, liar, pants on fire" bandwagon. In addition, a number of David Barton and Christian Nation apologists have come out of the woodworks to defend the man against the onslaught of attacks that I am sure Barton has learned to live with.
In light of this recent topic here at our fair little blog, I thought it would be fun to apply these same standards to the other side of the extremist revisionist coin and see what happens.
Historian and author John Fea of Messiah College has written an excellent post on his blog that deals with Howard Zinn, one of the secular left's biggest extremist. Dr. Fea writes:
Personally, I couldn't agree more with Dr. Fea's summation of the "historical" works of Howard Zinn. In his best selling book, A People's History of the United States, Zinn attempts to portray American history (and for our purposes the founding era) as a masterful attempt by the founding fathers to dupe the former British American colonists into accepting a new kind of crowd control that was obscured by the clever camouflage of "liberty" and "independence." Zinn writes:
In this course we have been reading some of the writings of those who defend the notion that America was founded as a "Christian nation," including the works by David Barton and Marshall and Manuel. (We have also read Mason Locke Weems's Life of Washington--a 19th century work of Christian nationalism). I have tried to make the argument that these writers are really more political activists or theologians than they are historians. Yet, their writings often pass as history to thousands of conservative Christians and are used as history textbooks in Christian schools and among Christian homeschoolers.
A few weeks ago one of my students asked me privately if there are writers on the left who are comparable to these Christian nationalist writers. Howard Zinn immediately came to mind. I am always amazed at the popularity of Zinn's "A People's History of the United States." Several years ago I decided to lurk on an internet forum for Advanced Placement U.S. History teachers and found that Zinn is used by many of them as the primary textbook in their classes. Last month I was talking to a group of history majors at a big university and they all wanted to know "what I thought of Howard Zinn." Many of my more lefty students at Messiah College read Zinn--his books work well with the kind of social-justice Anabaptism one finds at such an institution...
Zinn writes well and is quite inspiring, but his book is bad history. In fact, I would not even call it history. A People's History of the United States is a political tract that uses the past to promote a presentist agenda. It is basically, to paraphrase the words of Bernard Bailyn, political indoctrination by historical example. Now I have no problem if Zinn wants to use the past to advance his leftist agenda. In fact, there is a lot I can agree with in Zinn's criticisms of his country. But please don't call this history and pass it off to students as a model of how to write history. Zinn's book violates virtually every rule of good historical thinking [my emphasis].
"They [the founders] created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command" (59).Such a portrayal of deceit and cunning on the part of the founders is every bit as appealing to the hard-core secular leftist, who is always looking for examples of national treachery, as Barton's work is to the Christian conservative, who is in constant need of reassurance that America is indeed "Jesusland."
And make no mistake about it, Zinn most certainly is in the business of rewriting history. As he stated at a 2004 town meeting of the Organization of American Historians (which met to honor Zinn's work interestingly enough):
"The mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction--so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people's movements--that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission."If that doesn't reek of historical revisionism than what does?
I guess my point is this: political, religious, secular activists on the fringe of either side are rarely if ever credible sources. They clearly use (and manipulate) history to gain notoriety for their respective causes. And while I was happy to see the thorough debunking of David Barton in the post below, I would hate for us to adopt a de-facto policy of only exposing and debunking Barton and his fellow right-wing "shock-jock" artists. It would be hypocritical to denounce the Christian Nationalists while giving the secular revisionists a free pass. And make no mistake, they are every bit as cunning and inaccurate.
So, to all those who proclaim David Barton as a liar (I will agree that his history is complete crap but that I am unwilling to call the man a liar) I now call on you to do the same for Zinn. After all, it seems that this standard MUST be applied across the board. Any takers???
To read a very thorough debunking of Zinn's People's History click here.