Howard Zinn Use and Abuse of History

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana), History is important to humans because it is the result of their ancestors’ actions. Just as humans have different fingerprints, history has different stories because those stories are the result of people’s personal experiences. Personal history, morals, and individual responsibility play a significant role in history because they all teach the reader important lessons from the past. Therefore, history books should include all of the events that happened so future generations can learn from them.

The appearance of personal history is really important in an historical dialogue because personal history is the result of many experiences of a person’s life. For example, some people who have served in the military may become disenchanted with war. In other words, a person who has served in the military may have believed in wars but after fighting and seeing the death of humans he/she may change their opinion. Furthermore, soldiers know more about the consequences of wars. Howard Zinn, an American historian and a soldier in the U.S. military, said “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” Zinn’s perspective on the American history was different than the perspective of people who didn’t serve in the military. For example, Zinn criticizes the people who supported using the atomic bombs against Japan “because wars, especially in our time, are always wars against children, indeed our children” (Zinn). Clearly, personal history is really important in our world because people like Zinn changed many people’s thoughts about history. Without multiple perspectives or stories history would not be accurate so people would learn from it and not repeat it.

Personal morals and values have a place in historical education because it is important to learn about the behavior and ideas of people who were moral, which can teach us about how to deal with obstacles in the future. Personal morality should not be taught to a great extent because people need to be able to draw their conclusions instead of being told what to believe. For example, in Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States, he mentioned his personal morality and values about acknowledging ordinary people: “Ordinary people are ignored” (Zinn 60). He shows the reader how ordinary people should be mentioned  and are worth studying, but he doesn’t tell us what to believe. In other words, although he does not tell us what to believe, he shows in his writings the truth about how ordinary people suffered and in the end some of them were not mentioned in history books.   Similarly, history books talk about morals and values, but they don’t tell the reader about what to believe. For example, “I have a dream” is a famous quote by Martin Luther King.  Students learn what the quote means in a history class and how King, who represented all the black people, dreamed to give freedom and equality to black people who were ignored around the world.  Also, history books mentioned how King suffered and died for his values of wanting everyone, regardless of race, to live in freedom. However, it does not teach readers what to believe, but it does tell the reader about the consequences of his personal morals and values. The consequences of King’s morals and values can teach us about dealing with future obstacles, such as racism. In other words, Zinn and King’s morals and values had a place in historical education, which taught us about how freedom and equality are important and were needed to ordinary people.    

Individuals can play a big role in presenting a fair portrayal of history by looking at it from different corners. For example, Zinn talked in his writings about the people who were not mentioned in history because “historians select what they think is important” (Zinn 59). Zinn didn’t like the idea of celebrating the Christopher Columbus holiday because he was thinking about the thousands of indians who died on that day. Also, people can present  history in a fair image by writing books or stories of racism that was ignored by history during President Wilson’s days. Although some people used to call him a hero, but history didn’t mention the black people during his time who didn’t like him and who were treated poorly. In addition, people who had a power back to their time, such as President Wilson were more mentioned in books than simple people. For example, Helen Keller, who was politically active in her support of women’s suffrage while she was deaf and blind, was not mentioned in history books as much as President Wilson: “President Wilson and Helen Keller were both mentioned in history textbooks. However, President Wilson received extensive textbook coverage. Keller, on the other hand, only one of all the history textbooks I surveyed includes her photograph. Most books don’t even mention her” (Loewen, Handicapped by History). It’s really important for the this generation to study history and look at it in a different way for the future, so the future generations would learn from a more accurate history. Similar to Zinn, who worked hard to show the right image of history, all people around the world should work on presenting a fair portrayal of history so future generations can learn from it.

Although not all people are mentioned in history, it is today generation’s turn to continue Zinn’s work by presenting history in a fair way so that future generations can learn from history’s mistakes and make the world a better place. Finally, it is really important to include personal history in history books, like Zinn did, so we can learn new ideas and look at history from different angles. However, not including the ignored part of history risks making people less empathetic to people who have been marginalized.