The Cascadia Weekly, the local free Weekly in Whatcom County, Washington, recently published an odious letter smearing Howard Zinn. This is the reply I submitted to be published, in which the language is not as strong as I would have liked it to be.
In his work, Howard Zinn warned us against people who claim to be committed to “objectivity.”
Allen Peterson suggests that Zinn was an admirer of both Cuba and China, and an apologist for the crimes of their governments. His evidence is a fragment from “A People’s History of the United States” [Chapter 24, page 657] in which Zinn says that Cuba had “no bloody record of suppression.” Peterson’s implication is twofold: that Cuba is in fact a repressive state, and that Howard Zinn is committed to falsifying the facts to defend its regime. The full sentence in “People’s History” is: “Cuba had imprisoned critics of the regime, but had no bloody record of suppression, as did communist China”. In other words, Zinn acknowledges the repressive nature of the Cuban regime, while pointing out that China’s domestic repression is much worse. In that paragraph, Zinn was pointing out the hypocrisy of US policy in extending ‘most favored nation’ trading status to the tyrants in Beijing, while continuing to impose an embargo on Cuba. Peterson’s implied criticism of Cuba is particularly egregious when compared to our own government’s track record of supporting murderous tyrants who have engaged in mass slaughter (the Guatemalan generals and Indonesia’s Suharto, to name two) – a point which Zinn makes in the very next sentence.
Furthermore, if one reads “People’s History”, one can indeed find the government of China described as “the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.” A cursory examination of that paragraph [Chapter 16, page 427] will reveal that the description refers to a particular historical moment, in January of 1949, at the end of the Chinese Civil War, and does not imply approval for any actions taken later by that government, as Peterson suggests. .
Finally, Howard Zinn was not a Marxist: he was an Anarchist. He rightly held in contempt the bureaucratic totalitarianism of China and the Soviet Union, just as he actively opposed to the myriad private and public tyrannies in our own country.
I am thankful to Howard Zinn for providing me with the tools to unmask the deceptions of presidents, generals, CEOs, as well of those of his detractors.
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