Critical overview of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States

Essay by specialK255High School, 11th gradeA, May 2005

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In Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, history is told from the point of view of the oppressed rather than of the oppressors. Therefore, instead of trying to find a middle ground of truth, Zinn deems it a moral crime to side with oppressors (as he believes traditional American history text books do), and then simply sides with the other extreme (the oppressed). As a result of viewing history through the eyes of the oppressed, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States ends up being even more skewed and partisan than traditional history texts.

Zinn's argument for siding with the oppressed rather than the oppressors is that "in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners."(Page 10) Zinn uses the comparison o executioner vs.

executed to emphasize the heinousness of historical figures who are lionized by traditional texts. He naturally believes that the viewpoint of an executioner is unreliable, and that the viewpoint of the person under the executioner's blade is. Zinn makes a critical mistake here- he assumes that one side of the argument must be more accurate than the other. He does not take time to contemplate whether someone with an axe about to fall on their neck, someone with adrenaline, fear and resentment surging them, is really any more reliable than the person who brings the ax down.

Zinn refers to "the taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history" as being "inevitable." (Page 10) Why he believes this to be the case remains unclear; he simply states it as fact. In this way, Zinn makes the same mistake as the historians whom...