Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Howard Zinn, the Boston Bombers, and school propaganda.

One day I subbed in a Washington State middle school, and noticed student papers on the wall of a classroom entitled, "The Life of Mohammed."  Looking the reports over, I found them universally flattering of the prophet, and not terribly accurate historically.  Why, I wondered, were students in a state school being asked to write hagiographies of the founder of Islam?  Is parroting sectarian propaganda -- and foreign propaganda, at that -- how we are supposed to learn history in American schools?

A couple years later, reading the history text used both in middle and high school in our school district, I discovered the probable source of this propaganda.  The text book, which I plan to analyze in some detail in a later post, included several chapters lauding Islam, and making excuses for the crimes of Mohammed -- or rather ignoring them.  The man comes across as a model citizen, a liberal country gentleman.  No mention is made of his murder of 700 Jewish men in Medina, attacks on neighboring tribes, enslavement of those he conquered, assassinations or torture of enemies, or the fact that he consummated marriage (at over 50) to a nine year old girl. 

In short, our children were being systematically lied to about history. 

Why?  To make peace.  So that Americans would be more kindly disposed to Islam, and not blame it for any unpleasantness in the daily headlines. 

Meanwhile, the same textbook said practically nothing positive about Christianity.  Jesus was given, not a whole chapter like Mohammed, but a single, ambivalent paragraph.  Evils done by the Church were headlined in the sections on the Medieval Era and the so-called "Enlightenment."  (Which was also treated with the adulation of the ignorant and gullible.) 

Does this strategy of berating our spiritual heritage in favor of Islam really help us make peace with the Muslim world? 

Judging by the Boston Bombers, apparently not. 

What are nice young boys like
these doing, committing acts
of terrorism?
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev went to a liberal high school in the Boston area called the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, which prides itself on including young people from more than 80 nations among its student body.  There the older brother became friends with Larry Aaronson, former chair of the Social Studies Department.  (Though Aaronson retired before the boys attended, the older boy seemed to have spent quite a bit of time chatting, which left a distinct enough impression on Aaronson that he recalls quite a bit of the conversation.)  Among Aaronson's own students were Matt Damon and his brother. 

Aaronson was also a friend of Howard Zinn, the radical anti-American historian (see my review of his famous People's History of the United States).  Here's Aaronson's report on how Aaronson taught Zinn's version of history in high school, and how that teaching radicalized students at the school the Boston Bombers attended: 

 You wanna read a really good American History book? Read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I will knock your socks off!” -Will Hunting (Matt Damon), “Good Will Hunting”

Larry Aaronson, radical former
teacher at CRLS. 
The world famous historian, retired BU professor, playwright, poet, novelist, and “radical” peace and civil rights activist, died Jan. 26th, the same day President Obama delivered his State of the Union message. Howie was 87, active until the day he died, struck down by a massive heart attack. His famous history book, The People’s History of the United States, has sold well over 2 million copies, and counting. Last Dec. 11th, “The People Speak,” produced in part by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (’88 and ’90) appeared on the History Channel. Before moving to Cambridge in the mid-70’s, Matt Damon grew up next door to the Zinns. Both households equally sharing progressive politics, they became life long “family.” September ’81, Kyle Damon, Matty’s older brother, enrolled in my US History class. It was Kyle’s freshmen year, my “rookie” year at The Pilot, the very first year “A People’s History” appeared. This was pure serendipity, all to the delight of their mom. Soon after I was invited over for dinner with the Zinn’s. The rest is history.

Howard Zinn’s history book  A People’s History of The United States, has a compelling connection with CRLS. Rindge was one of the very first US urban high schools to allow teachers to use the controversial revisionists (sic) history book. I was one of the very first history teachers allowed to teach Zinn’s revisionist history in an American public high school. The year was 1981, less than a year after the book appeared. I taught 20-some years at The Pilot School, the progressive alternative school program housed in CRLS. I taught extensively from “The Peoples’ History” for the next two decades.

I submit there is a direct correlation between the introduction of Zinn’s book and the extraordinary awakening of student leadership in Cambridge Rindge and Latin during the 80’s and lasted until early 90’s. The change in the political activism in the school was palpable. Student leaders angered by US indifference to the Apartheid in South Africa, drove out all Coca-Cola dispenser machines from CRLS when they learned the corporation lied about their divestment policy. Students’ response to the California jury’s acquittal of the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King was to organize with teachers and alumni to produce their own revisionist multicultural curriculum writing project (Onesimus), dedicated to combat racial, gender and class prejudice and stereotypes in our schools. When a former CRLS student was senselessly murdered outside a housing project, students established Students Against Violence and For Equality (SAVE). When local educators, parents and civic leaders feared the worst– a rampaging AIDS epidemic, youth peer leaders organized a condom distributions program in our school’s Teen Health Clinic, one of the very first such projects in any public school in America. Student activists also helped establish Project 10 East, the second in-school support youth program for GTLB community in the country, another first! I actively joined my students in their endeavors.

Howie died promoting his latest project, “The People Speak.” He wanted it to inspire students to find their voice and take courage to fight for social justice and human rights. How will we be able to get this curriculum into our public schools?

But in fact, Howard Zinn did not speak up "for social justice and human rights."  He spoke up for just and human rights whenever they could be used to make the United States look bad, never to save (for instance) the millions of innocents oppressed by left-wing totalitarian regimes around the world. When it came to the victims of the communists, all through People's History, Zinn walks by on the other side, as in Jesus' story, in silence. 

Aaronson also seems strangely giddy, this May Day, considering what communism has wrought in the name of this holiday.  Here are his comments on Facebook today:

MAY DAY!!!! MAY DAY!!!! MAY DAY!!!! It's blessed May Day! Shall this be a call to socialist revolution for social justice??? Or a call sounding "Alert" "Help" "Vigilance" "Emergency" ????? Or both????

Apparently, Aaronson takes it for granted that it is right to brainwash his students in standard Marxism, rather than in Islamic jihad.  So how could Aaronson or his fellow ideologues at CRLS possibly be responsible in any way for the crimes that the misguided young Tsarnaevs committed?  The curious thing about the Tsarnaevs is that even having been welcomed into the United States, even having their education and welfare paid for by American citizens, even having a liberal school bend over backwards to welcome them, they nevertheless justified and nursed a powerful grievance against Western civilization in general, and the United States in particular -- to the point of murdering the innocent.  What the two ideologies share in common is the presumption that America is generally in the wrong, a determination to focus on the evils of the United States.  Zinn also is determined in ignoring the greater evils of America's foes, in particular, the gross injustices perpetrated by communist ideology, which America nobly and successfully opposed. 

During the Cold War, the European and American Left sometimes distanced itself from communism.  (Though Howard Zinn did not -- he was a communist, as were some of Barack Obama's mentors.)  But they shared a principle that was sometimes formulated, "No enemies on the Left."  Those who actively and vocally opposed communism were the "real" enemies, to many (not all) on the Left.  

After the fall of communism, and especially after 9/11, many leftists found it natural to transfer their distaste for those who vocally criticized communism, to those who vocally critized radical Islam.  A mild expression of that distaste was, "Aren't we just as guilty as they are?  Don't we have religious radicals a  lot like the Taliban?"  (To which, of course, the honest answer is, "No, not really.") 

But more radical expressions are also common.  The textbook used in my school district is an example: to be "fair," History Alive criticizes only Christian civilization, and gives Islam a complete pass, to the extent of baldly misrepresenting history by means of out and out lies. 

What is a young Muslim boy to think, exposed to such propaganda? 

It's a likely bet that like my students in Washington State, after 9/11, the Tsarnaevs were taught to adore the "prophet Mohammed," and despise the real or imagined evils of Western civilization.  And it seems probable, though we will see what direct evidence shows up, that some of those lessons stuck.  Certainly, the two boys turned out as "politically involved" as their friend Mr. Aaronson brags were their radical liberal fellow students, and shared with them a jaundiced perspective on America.

It is time to rethink American (or should we say, anti-American) education.  Let's get rid of the pinkos, the reds, and the Islamicist quislings, and begin to teach our kids the truth about world history, again.


GreekAsianPanda said...

I'm a high school senior who took A.P. World History last year. We watched a documentary produced by P.B.S. about the rise of Islam and the Islamic empires that followed. I am not exaggerating when I say it literally refused to acknowledge any intolerant act ever done by Muslims, except al-Hakim's burning of churches, but he was dismissed as being insane and the exception. The worst, most horrible thing about the film was the portrayal of the Ottoman Empire's confiscation of children from Christian subjects for the Jannisaries.

I cried during the documentary--Christians were portrayed as terrible, backwards people and Muslims universally good. I hate it that teachers act like they need to inform us students that we shouldn't hate Islam whenever the subject comes up, often aiming this admonition exclusively at Christian students, when the school has many secular students who hate Christianity. They're never told to remember all the evil atheists of history--never. It's very stupid.

David B Marshall said...

Thanks! Now I'm really ticked off.

You make a very good point, the assumption that attacks on Christianity will humble Christian students, rather than provoke anti-Christian bigotry among non-Christians.

See my Amazon review of Oxford History of Islam, for more in the same key.

I'd love to hear from other students, or recent grads. (But not, necessarily, from my employers!)

Brian Barrington said...

Zinn is clear why he focuses primarily on the evils and crimes perpetrated by the West and by America. The reason is actually very simple: it is hard to criticise yourself (or your own group) and easy to criticise other people. Anyone with even elementary moral self-awareness knows this. For example, Jesus says, “why do you behold the mote in your brother's eye, but do not consider the log that is in your own eye? First cast out the log from your own eye.” One is not in a position to criticise others without hypocrisy unless one has first fully acknowledged one’s own sins – the primary responsibility consists of acknowledging one’s own sins (including the sins of one’s own tribe or group, if one is talking about politics) where such acknowledgement might even have some positive effect, by raising understanding. In contrast, hypocritically condemning others it has no effect on them at all, since they instantly see the hypocrisy and completely ignore what is being said, or they even become enraged at the hypocrisy, thus producing a negative effect.

But there will, of course, always be more people who condemn others while going easy on themselves, since doing so is easy and pleasurable and allows one to feel good about oneself - also most people are largely blind to their own faults (i.e. they cannot even see their own crimes or the crimes of their own tribe).

David B Marshall said...

Brian: Poppycock. If Zinn were following that good advice, he would (a) begin by describing his OWN sins; (b) move on to the sins of his family; (c) then the sins of the faculty he is a part of; (d) then, and spend most of the book on this, the sins of the Marxism religion he is committed to. On Marxist premises, we are first of all a part of our class, not our nation.

What it really becomes for Zinn, is "You are guilty," the "you" being "people I despise in the nation I happened to have been born within." He ignores communist evils that were magnitudes greater than the evils he focuses on, because the commies were on his side, and because in that context, the American response (at times) not only doesn't look so bad, but often looks positively necessary, even morally praiseworthy.

Jesus was not talking about some phony collective we that is used as a bludgeon to attack one's own enemies, rather than to confess one's own sins.

But you'll notice that even so, my review of his book was not entirely negative. We do need our critics, as do (even more) the communists, and in some cases Zinn makes good points.

Brian Barrington said...

If one is talking about politics and history then that means focusing first on the sins of your own country, which is precisely what Zinn did, to his great moral credit.

David B Marshall said...

Sorry, Brian, but other people in your nation are still other people. And if you're committed to a class warfare religion, then "your people" are yourself and your comrades, first. This is clear from the very title of Zinn's book: "Peoples' history." If, like other Marxists, Zinn is claiming to speak for "the People," then by your logic, he ought to speak first of "the Peoples'" sins (well, first, his own, if you're going to evoke Jesus' teaching on this). Plus, a lot that Zinn says is BS, as I recall.

Why do you suppose the Left loves Said so much? Said wasn't examining the sins of the Palestinian Arabs. He was examining the (alleged) sins of the West. Like Zinn, he hated the right people, and therefore was cool to the Left.

Brian Barrington said...

The more powerful a country is the more sins it is likely to have – and even small failings in the powerful can have terrible consequences. Given that Zinn was from the most powerful country in the world at the time, his critique was even more valuable and admirable, since the powerful always have an even greater tendency than others to think too well of themselves, and to be blind to their own crimes and failings.

As for Said and Palestine, the crimes of the West against the Palestinians are enormous, so the first thing any Westerner has to do is acknowledge that, which is why decent Westerners are partial to Said. Said himself was American as well as Palestinian, but you might say that, by my own criteria, Said himself should have focused on criticising Palestinians – well, as far as I recall he was a relentless critic of the Palestinian political leadership i.e of any Palestinians who had even a modicum of power. All the same, I do think that if one comes from a largely powerless and oppressed group of people, as is the case with the Palestinians, then it is far more forgiveable not to be endlessly criticising that group, since they will be oppressed and relentlessly condemned enough as it is by far more powerful forces.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: Zinn was also from the most powerful "religion" of his time, and more committed to it than to his nation. So I'm afraid that excuse doesn't wash. Or if he took a gun out and shot a bunch of Americans, would you regard that as an act of self-abnegation, since he was also an American? The imagination plays funny tricks with the word "we," often involving cant and sanctimonious hypocricy.

I've admitted, though, that America does need its critics, so Zinn can be helpful, if one takes his claims with a grain of salt. But take him too seriously, and one becomes just a different kind of bigot, and a mad form of hypocrite, because you pluck the mite out of your own country's eye, and leave the log in your enemy's eye, without being so crude as to mention it. A morally serious person would have stood up against the communists, who were murdering millions of people in Gulags around the world. It's unconscionable to pass by on the grounds that the folks starving in the Gulag were mostly not American, or persecuted by Americans. And it's dishonest not to recognize the great good the Anglo Alliance did by standing up against so many tyrannies.

We're never going to agree about the Palestinian Arabs. Of course I think our real sins are against the Jews, while the Arabs have been pampered beyond justice or sense. But you got my main point with Said, so Heaven keep us off that topic on a Thursday morning / evening. (Especially if the weather is as nice in Ireland as it is in Seattle right now.)

Brian Barrington said...

As far as I know, Zinn had a blameless family life (married faithfully to the same woman for his entire life). He fought for his country in WWII and appears to have fought bravely and honourably, although he was always tormented about whether it was morally right to bomb innocent civilians. He was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Within a US context Zinn always stood up for the poor, the vulnerable, the exploited and the powerless, and he criticised the wealthy, the exploiters and the powerful. So, yes he was on the side of the ordinary people against the powerful and the privileged. All in all then, he was a really good person.

Brian Barrington said...

I’m not sure where do you get the notion that Zinn supported the tyranny in the Soviet Union.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I'm glad that Zinn had his good qualities: so does his book:

I don't have a copy of the book in my office, so I can't quote him on the USSR. But his comment about China is bad enough. Here's an account of those wonderful early years:

Brian Barrington said...

Revolutions and their aftermaths are nearly always terrible – the way to avoid revolutions is to avoid excessive inequality and injustice within a society, since that is what creates the circumstances that make revolution likely. My guess is pre-Revolutionary China was an extremely unjust and unequal society where a tiny elite lived lives of unbelievable luxury while the rest of the population starved or lived as serfs in conditions of near starvation. That is what created the conditions where violent revolution became likely, if not even inevitable. And the trouble with revolutions is that it’s impossible to predict what will happen afterwards – it can be even worse than what it replaces.

Since I am a deeply conservative person who abhors revolution, I favour relative wealth equality combined with extensive state programs to help the poor and disadvantaged. That helps to avoid the circumstances that give rise to revolutions. Societal stability can be increased, and revolution avoided, if there is moderate redistribution of income, as well as extensive social welfare, free healthcare for everyone, free education for everyone, strong trade unions, strong employee rights, high taxes (especially on the wealthy) and so on.

David B Marshall said...

I know you're a liberal, not a Marxist. We'll see how Europe and America do in the coming years in dealing with the unforseen consequences of your favored policies. But certainly, I don't ascribe the particular form of evil to statist liberals that I ascribe to Marxist revolutionaries -- whether in poor Third-World countries, or in liberal, wealthy Boston or Seattle. (Apparently they were out in the streets again, last night.)

Frederick Froth said...

I am quite a fan of Howard Zinn and all of the rest of his fellow truth tellers that can be found on this site.

Anonymous said...

"Since I am a deeply conservative person who abhors revolution, I favour relative wealth equality combined with extensive state programs to help the poor and disadvantaged."

So you think your idiosyncratic fears and preferences justify theft and totalitarianism? That's nuts. Why do you think that's the only solution? Why do you think that will get you the results you hope for?

Anonymous said...

Another consideration: even if they do get you the results you want, the ends do not always justify the means.

Brian Barrington said...

Jgmachen2,  I object to the fact that over the last 30 years the share of national income going to corporations and profits has exploded, while the share of income going to wages and workers has collapsed - living standards and incomes for large parts of the populace have stagnated or declined, and reliable middle class jobs are becoming a thing of the past, making normal family life increasingly impossible for a larger and larger proportion of the population. Meanwhile, the top one percent have become massively wealthier while the middle class slowly bleeds to death. All of this happened as a result of deliberate policies that favour the wealthy corporate sector. And you are happy about this? 

I presume you are talking about the theft of the financial organisations, corporations and the wealthy in general, who rig the system to their own benefit and profit from the existing system of socialism for the rich - and free-markets for everyone else? Your reference to totalitarianism is perhaps a reference to our system of corporate tyranny, an essentially feudal system where profit-making organisations are legally obliged to behave like psychopaths while simultaneously receiving massive state support, as was clearly seen during the recent massive government bailout of banks? 

David B Marshall said...

And over the same period, government has grown enormously.

The weird thing is, liberals seem to think that is a coincidence -- that rich people who can hire rich lawyers and bribe congressmen, get even richer when the congressmen take more money from the folks, and the poor become ever more dependent on Big Brother.

But maybe we actually agree that government should get out of the business of subsidizing businesses?