“Revised”, indeed

Steven Den Beste led off a post with a reference to and a quote from my earlier post about my confusion over the inevitability of the USSR’s collapse.

In particular, he mentions a point about contradictions in Howard Zinn’s A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. Several years ago I was given the book by my mother-in-law, who had returned to college to earn her teaching degree. “I know you like history,” she told me when she gave it to me. “There was a LOT of stuff in here that I had never heard of.” The book had been a textbook in an American history class she took at Western Michigan University.

That right there is a little scary, folks. First of all, the book was a textbook in a college history course. Second of all, a future teacher was taking the class.

(Remember at the end of THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK when they open the Ark of the Covenant and that energy shoots out, first hitting one German, then splitting out and hitting two Germans? The beam from each of those two splits out and hits two others and so on and so on and so on. Pretty soon they’re all wiped out. This is sort of like that, except this ain’t the power of God we’re talking about.)

I have a softcover edition of the book, ISBN 0-06-092643-0. The cover says


I’ve always been amused that this is a “revised” edition.

To support my earlier claims about statements concerning the military power of the Soviet Union, I refer you to page 404. In a chapter entitled “A People’s War?” that mostly tries to make the argument that our part in World War Two was unpopular with the American public, Zinn writes

And, at the same time, the Russian victories over the Nazi armies (the Russians, by the time of the cross-Channel invasion, had driven the Germans out of Russia, and were engaging 80 percent of the German troops).

And on page 406 he writes

But the U.N. was dominated by the Western imperial countries–the United States, England, and France–and a new imperial power, with military bases and powerful influence in Eastern Europe–the Soviet Union.

The reason I quote this is to provide reference for my claim that Zinn wrote that “the USSR that defeated Nazi Germany, since the American, British, and Canadian forces that invaded the Continent were so small compared to the masses on the Eastern Front. The Soviets, through the superiority of their system and motivation of their people, beat the Nazis. The USSR was the true military power on the planet.”

Pages 416-428 explain how the threat of the Soviet Union was really just American aggression, with a fair amount of the expected “MacCarthy was a madman blah blah blah” (I’m paraphrasing). Although I was just plain wrong about the use of the term “agrarian”, on pages 428-429 Zinn explains how the US military budget ballooned and the US arsenal expanded greatly despite

a false “bomber gap” and a false “missile gap”

And he goes on to explain how we had 10 pounds of TNT for every man, woman, and child on earth. Coupled with the claim on pages 413 and 414 that using nuclear bombs on Japan was not necessary, I think my interpretation of Zinn’s intended message was pretty close.

Also interesting is the fact that I cannot find any reference to “D-Day”. It’s always “cross-Channel invasion”. Although I may certainly have missed it somewhere, “D-Day” is not present in the index. I find it amusing that he chose not to use the term. It tells me a lot about what he thinks of the event.

And, though it’s been quite a while since I read the book, I keep it on my bookshelf. As a reminder. Also, Matt Damon’s character in the film GOOD WILL HUNTING expresses his belief that the Zinn book is an important text.

As I flip through the pages again, I’m reminded of why my mother-in-law didn’t remember learning about a lot of what’s written on them. Sadly, she will probably remember learning this history more clearly than she remembers the history she was taught in the 50s and early 60s.


  1. Not only the Matt Damon character, but Matt Damon himself seems to think it’s quite important. He’s the narrator of the Book on Tape version, which I purchased for a long car trip once. I don’t recommend doing this yourself, as it is difficult to roll one’s eyes and keep them on the road at the same time.

  2. Since I have the ‘luck’ to live in France I have got some practice refuting arguments about USSR’s role in WWII 1) It is not well known but in 1944 Germany’s war production began to overcame the Soviet one. Add Germany’s technological edge, its much better tactics and more experienced soldiers and we can’t but conclude that without D-DAY and allied bombardments far from Soviet Union occuppying all of Europe what we would have had in 1945 is Germany going to the counteroffensive and reoccuppying Poland and Belarus. Context: Because they feared population’s reactions to shortages the Nazis didn’t put the German economy on war foot until after the fall of Stalingrad. Before that N tons of steel,M megawats of electricity resulted, according to Soviet figures, in two to three times less guns or planes than in Soviet Union. The difference went to the civilian economy. Full economic mobilization was announced by Goebbels the day of the fall of Stalingrad. It really began to bear fruits in 1944 but then Germany lost the most industrialized of its conquests at the hands of the Anglo-Americans. We also have to keep in mind the huge resources that German had to commit for defending its industry against allied bombers (in addition to the effect of bombardments) 2) The Soviets have used the figure of twenty million dead for propaganda purposes. It is not that credible demographically specially if we compound it with losses in Gulag (you would have a _big_ cut in birth rate in the following years due to lack of men). I suspect they are far less than that. But that number have been used to arise a sentiment of guilt in the allies. True or false we have to remind that the high number of casualties was largely self inflicted a) absurd strategy in 1941 who caused hundreds of thousand soviet soldiers to be surrounded. b) Lack of care by the Soviet government about soldier lives: Soviet Union never cared about producing smoke, it never cared about having a decent ambulance and sanitary service, it used uncamouflaged ‘punishment battalions’ for drawing fire or clearing minefields (by walking on them). c) Soviet governmant completely abandonned its prisonners who died by millions from starvation and illness in German lagers. And when they returned they were sent to Gulag. So it is unfair to measure Soviet’s contribution to victory in terms of lives lost respective to Allied lives 3) The Soviets have belittled the effect of Allied supplies. While it its true that the Soviet tanks were probably better (British tanks were junk and American ones not that great except for reliability) and that the Allied planes were generally obsolete models (but as least as good that what the Soviets produced) Allied aid still played a key role in the following areas: a) transport: tanks go nowhere if they haven’t trucks bearing ammoand fuel. Look at photos of Soviet operations in 1945 and you will see most trucks are GMCs b) trains: the Soviet industry stopped producing locomotives after the invasion and you can’t run a war without a LOT of new locomotives transporting the coal, steel and tanks you are producing. It was allied the influx of allied locomotives who allowed the soviets to convert their plants to producing tanks c) industrial machines. The Allies largely equipped the Soviet industry with state of the art machines (who later helped to produce the tanks and planes of Korea…) d) radios. Soviet radios were junk. Without good radios you have torely on field phones for directing your artillery meaning that you cannot use it in fluid situations and that in static ones you are at a big disadvantage e) clothing: Soviet-made uniforms and boots tended to quickly fall apart. America, Canada and the UK maufactured millions of them under Soviet specifications 4) After the fall of France any effort to set foot in the continent had to overcome the huge tactical disadvantage of a disembarkment. That is why we have to keep firmly in mind Soviet Union’s role in helping Germany with Poland and France. When Germany invaded Poland its army was still mediocrely equipped (most of its tanks had only machine guns) and green. In fact the Poles mounted a counterattack (I think it was around Spetemeber 13) and several German divisions lost ground. But on September 17 Soviet Union stabbed Poland in the back. Without Soviet invasion it is not unlikely that the Poles could have resisted until the arrival of bad weather who would have seriously grounded the Luftwaffe and hampered German operations in a country who had few paved roads. And in the meantime Germany’s west border was guarded by a mere token force, all the plan hinged on the Wehrmacht knocking out Poland and returning to man it before the French were able to mount on attack or more exactly before the pusillanimous French high command decided to mount an attack: the sight of a Wehrmacht enegaged in a difficult campaign against the Polish Army and Polish mud could have done wonders to strengthen French resolution. Even if the French hadn’t seized the opportunity, a Wehrmacht bloodied in Poland would have been far less likely to be able to kock out France. But Soviet treason made it a moot point. We also have to remind that Soviet Union helped German war effort with prime materials and much of the oil used to invade France. We also have to remind of the antiwar propaganda of the French Communist party aimed at destroying French morale, of the French tanks sabotaged by communist workers in the factories and of French s, of the antiwar propaganda and I know of at least a case where communists were shot for a sabotage who caused the death of French pilot. So much for Soviet Union contribution to victory. Now let’s remember that without the fall of France the allied armies wouldn’t have needed to wait until 1944 before starting large scale ground operations against Germany and they would have been in far better position to strike at the Ruhr so we would not have the Soviets and the leftists telling that it was Soviet Union who did all of the work.

  3. I leafed through Zinn’s book after an admittedly socialist professor recommended it. I found a sloppy, stupid and dishonest mistake almost immediately — Zinn critized the statement made by Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson that ‘What’s good for America is good for General Electric.’ Zinn said that proved that America was run for corporations, since Wilson was formerly CEO of General Electric. Two things wrong with this — (1st, stupid and sloppy) Wilson was formerly CEO of General Motors (and said ‘motors’ in that statement). (2nd, dishonest) After making the statement, Wilson explained that it was important to keep America were free, strong and safe, and if it were then General Motors and other businesses would prosper. Zinn twisted the statement by not using the context of it. And he obviously did it intentionally. The prof and I had a pretty strong argument about this, although I know it never affected any of my grades from him (I had at least three courses with him).

  4. From IMDB tria for Good Will Hunting ‘ When Will (Matt Damon) and Sean (‘Robin Williams’ ) meet for the first time in Sean’s office, Will recommends that Sean read Howard Zinn’s ‘People’s History of the United States’. As a boy, Matt Damon was Zinn’s neighbor and provided the voice for the CD recording of that book.’