NRO Editors: We’re Glad Mitch Daniels Called Howard Zinn’s Book “anti-American”

Daniel Doherty

7/29/2013 2:00:00 PM - Daniel Doherty

It is self-evident fact that the books children are exposed to in public schools shape their worldview. Which is why the editor’s over at National Review Online are right to praise Governor Mitch Daniels’ (R-IL) now public condemnation of Professor Howards Zinn’s magnum opus, A People’s History of the United States, as nothing more than a left-wing and historically illiterate work of propaganda:

Mitch Daniels, whom some Republicans would like to see president of something more than Purdue University, is under attack because as governor of Indiana he objected to the use of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in public-school curricula. In recently published e-mails, the plainspoken Governor Daniels described Zinn’s work as “anti-American” and “crap,” which, when expressed in sufficiently polite language, is the professional consensus: “a polemicist, not a historian,” says Arthur Schlesinger; his work a “deranged” “fairy tale,” says Harvard’s Oscar Handlin; a man who traded in “every left-wing cliché with which the academy has abetted its sense of election these past several decades,” says Roger Kimball.

The book is full of errors and deliberate distortions, as Handlin noted in The American Scholar, and these are not limited to minor issues. Zinn misrepresents everything from slavery in the Chesapeake colonies to American involvement in Cuba to the Tet offensive. He reports as fact the story of Polly Baker, a woman persecuted for having an illegitimate child, when the story is in truth a work of fiction, penned by Benjamin Franklin. Zinn himself described A People’s History as “a biased account,” that bias being in favor of socialism, a political tendency that Zinn favored and thought would be popular but for the fact that “the Soviet Union gave it a bad name.” Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro didn’t help much, either, though Zinn had kind words for their revolutions. Zinn denied being a member of the Communist party, though he was identified as such by several other members and served as an officer in a CPUSA front group. Presented with evidence (including a confession) that Soviet spies Zinn had defended were in fact guilty as charged, his response was: “To me, it didn’t matter whether they were guilty or not.” Later in life, he trafficked in 9/11 conspiracy theories.

What’s more, the editor’s make an important distinction between censorship and good-judgment:

Governor Daniels’s illiterate critics notwithstanding, it was not an act of censorship – there was no talk of banning publication of the bestselling book, only of declining to use it in school curricula. From kindergarten through graduate school, American education is a sewer of left-wing ideology, and Zinn’s work is an especially ripe excretion. Governor Daniels’s office was right to bring attention to it — shoring up the integrity of public institutions is part of what governors are there for.

Given that the book is (a) historically inaccurate and (b) widely regarded as having a strong left-wing tilt, is Daniels’ objection to teaching this book in government schools really all that controversial? After all, the dissemination of these types of works is harmful to our constitutional republic. The purpose of a public education is to teach civics and responsible citizenship -- not to mention to equip students with the basic tools and skills to be successful. Left-wing indoctrination undermines the very institutions the nation was founded upon at least in part by completing ignoring (or trivializing) historical events of great importance. According to NRO’s editors, the Gettysburg Address, the Normandy Invasion, and the U.S. moon landing are all completely omitted. This is an immediate red flag. At the same time, they write, “[t]he thought of Joan Baez receives more prominent attention than does that of Alexander Hamilton.”

It’s hard to have a deep appreciation for one’s country when civics lessons are wrapped in revisionism and the chief architect of the “American experiment” is all but ignored. Still, this is not to say that the Left’s favorite failed utopias of the twentieth century -- communism and socialism -- should not be taught in public schools. They definitely should be. But they should be presented in ways that are factually accurate and do not inspire anti-Americanism.

Isn't that a reasonable request?