Patriot’s vs People’s – Part I – Patriot’s Introduction

Patriot’s vs People’s is an analytical review of two books about American history that most would assume are politically opposed – Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen’s A Patriot’s Guide to the History of the United States and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. It started as an idea after I bought Zinn’s book and was given Schweikart and Allen’s by an uncle who so rightly explained his gift as a way for me to read “the other side of the story.” I decided to read them side by side, chapter by chapter, in order to compare and contrast the two works to each other. It didn’t go so well. This is Part I, here are Part II, Part III and Part IV.

Everything leading up to Patriot’s first chapter, from the phrase on its spine to the introduction, not only has me looking for inspiration to read the rest of the work, but is carefully crafted to appeal to one particular type of reader. In my analysis below, I’ll number the clues to which type of reader Patriot’s is written for in order to make a nice and handy list when we’re done.

The phrase on Patriot’s spine, “From Columbus’ Great Discovery…,” starts off the tone on the work. It smacks of selfishness. The back isn’t much better. I’ll quote it here in full:
Is America’s past a tale of racism, sexism, and bigotry? Is it the story of the conquest and rape of a continent? Is U.S. history the story of white slave owners who perverted the electoral process for their own interests? Did America start with Columbus’s killing of all the Indians, leap to Jim Crowe laws and Rockefeller crushing the workers, then finally save itself with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal? The answers, of course, are no, no, no, and NO. [Emphasis not mine – JM]
One might never know this, however, by looking at almost any mainstream U.S. history textbook. Having taught American history in one form or another for close to sixty years between them, Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen are aware that, unfortunately, many students are berated with the tales of the Founders as self-interested politicians and slaveholders, of the icons of American industry as robberbaron oppressors, and of every American foreign policy initiative as imperialistic and insensitive.
The authors of A Patriot’s History think that an honest evaluation of the history of the United States must begin and end with the recognition that, compared to any other nation, America’s past is a bright and shining light. America was, and is, the city on the hill, the foundation of hope, the beacon of liberty. They utterly reject “My country, right or wrong” – what scholar wouldn’t? But in the last thirty years, academics have taken an equally destructive approach: “My country, always wrong!” Schweikart and Allen reject that too.
Cover design by Joseph Perez
Whew! It’s going to be hard not to take pot shots at this book. For starters, the first paragraph is right and wrong. While America’s past most definitely does include racism, sexism, and bigotry, the paragraph implies that America’s past includes more than these things. Whoddathunkit?
The second paragraph just baffles me. None of the textbooks I read in school ever said anything about U.S. history being “the story of the conquest and rape of a continent.” And how do Allen and Schweikart know that “students are berated with tales of the Founders as self-interested politicians” unless they’re doing the berating (sorry, that one slipped out).
The third paragraph elaborates on the selfishness of the phrase on the spine. Why does an “honest evaluation of the history of the United States” have to be a comparison? Also, empty phrases like “city on the hill” and “beacon of liberty” serve only to trivialize an honest evaluation of any country’s history.
After reading the back, the main concern I have about Patriot’s is that it will fall victim to pointing out the better aspects of America’s history while omitting the worse. I’m afraid it will deliberately tell only one side of the story. In People’s, Zinn warns against this by saying, “One can outright lie about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions […] outright lying or omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer.” (8) You can see my concern – I’m already rebelling against Patriot’s and I haven’t even opened it up yet.
Unfortunately, the beginning of Patriot’s doesn’t inspire any more hope in me, but it does help cement my idea of who this book is written for. Patriot’s starts with an interview of its co-author Harry Schweikart by Rush Limbaugh. There’s one of two reasons for doing this. Either they’re trying to further prove who the book is for (hint, hint, it’s conservatives) [clue #1]or they’re trying to sell more books. Neither possibility bodes well for Patriot’s since the authors/publishers either think their targeted audience is too dumb to realize that Patriot’s is written just for them or they don’t trust their book to stand on its own without the help of the big dog himself, Captain Restraint – Rush Limbaugh.
My real problem with the Limbaugh interview, however, is the bold message it sends to any reader who is not an out-and-out right-wing conservative (hey, that’s me!). As I already said, I’m afraid Patriot’s will be nothing more than just one long tome of chest-pumping, flag waving, “real” American patriotism wrapped up in the guise of history. If the Limbaugh praise is foreshadowing this, Patriot’s is going to get old real fast because the only purpose that type of prose serves is to make words like patriot, liberty, and freedom meaningless.
The interview could be picked apart, but it suffers from two problems, both of which are common with Limbaugh. The first is the antagonism inherent in conservatives like Limbaugh. You’re either with them or against them. They are right, so you are wrong. The second problem is the psychopathic desire to protect their beliefs. Do not try to confuse them with facts. There is only one side of the story worth telling and that is the side they believe in (surprise!). This desire is usually manifested by someone like Limbaugh claiming victimhood in order to rally any like-minded listeners to support whatever belief is the topic of the day. If you have any doubts, you are not needed. The white man marches on… without you.
The introduction of Patriot’s brings up another concern I have with this book. Patriot’s is aggressive to the point of insulting. The authors write as if the reader is a blank slate, completely incapable of forming independent thoughts or noticing contradicting statements. In the absence of such readers, the only way this works is when the audience wholeheartedly agrees with the authors before reading even the first sentence.[Clue #2]
In the introduction, Patriot’s authors claim that America and its Founding Fathers are extraordinary because they are full of character. Unfortunately for them, however, praising character in prose also means being selfish and delusional. They say, “No society is free from corruption. The difference is that in America, corruption is viewed as the exception, not the rule.” It makes one wonder why the US isn’t the least corrupt country in the world. I guess that in Chile and Qatar, less corruption than in America is viewed as the rule.
Patriot’s authors also fall into a trap of their own design in two ways. First, they can’t even beat the leftists/Marxists at their own game. The introduction mentions no women, no black men, no Native Americans, and only two Europeans – Andrew Carnegie and Arnold Schwarzenegger (seriously) [clue #3]. They quote Lincoln, but don’t give him credit (“the United States is the ‘last, best hope’ of earth”) and they completely fail to either quote or give credit to Martin Luther King Jr. (“But it was not the color of the skin of the people who came here that made them special, it was the content of their character.”). Come on, Patriot’s! Show them fascist/Marxist/commies whose boss! They are getting history all wrong because they focus on women and black people instead of character, right? So show them that it’s the character of women and black people that made this nation what it is.
But Patriot’s can’t beat any other version of history at its own game. It doesn’t work in their style of argument. Engaging with any other side, in any way except with knee-jerk insults, would lend validity to that other side, which can’t happen in Lambaughland because everything is black or white, right or wrong. History includes what they say and only what they say. For example, the authors write, “Honor counted to founding patriots like Adams, Jefferson, Washington, and then later, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Character counted. Property was also important; no denying that, because with property came liberty.” But they fail to mention that with a 21-year-old, white, property-owning penis came the right to vote. I guess women and black people didn’t count that much to the founding patriots.
Let’s tally the clues to see what kind of reader Patriot’s is intended for:
  1. They’re trying to further prove who the book is for (hint, hint, it’s conservatives)
  2. The only way Patriot’s works is when the audience wholeheartedly agrees with the authors before reading even the first sentence
  3. The introduction mentions no women, no black men, no Native Americans, and only two Europeans
So if you’re a conservative white male who wants a slap on the back, you’re in luck. So far, Patriot’s is for you. And it’s here to further solidify beliefs with cut and pasted facts. You won’t be wrong, you just won’t know the whole story.
I really hope Patriot’s doesn’t turn out this way, but everything before the first chapter leads me to believe it will. The authors are insulting to me and I’m their preferred audience member. I’m a white, American male. I’m their guy (sort of). I can only imagine how my mother or sister would feel reading this.

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Author: Joe McVeigh

I'm a linguist who researches email marketing. I also teach at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. I write about language and linguistics on my blog, ...And Read All Over, and I write about language and marketing on my other blog, Email and Linguistics.

12 thoughts on “Patriot’s vs People’s – Part I – Patriot’s Introduction”

    1. Thanks, Racahel. Updated.

      And now I notice how messy the code got in the import from Blogger to WordPress. To anyone reading this, I’ll get around to cleaning things up… eventually.

  1. The Limbaugh Letter interview wasn’t in the original hardcover. Clearly, the authors though the book could stand on its own – they just go right into the introduction.

    Also, the 10th anniversary edition (published 2014) shows a willingness to rethink their scholarship (the WWII conspiracy theories of types like Pat Buchanan are discarded, for example). Whereas, thirty-five years on, Oscar Handlin’s criticisms of Zinn’s book (in The American Scholar) are still holding true:

    “It simply is not true that “what Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortez did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots.” It simply is not true that the farmers of the Chesapeake colonies in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries avidly desired the importation of black slaves, or that the gap between rich and poor widened in the eighteenth-century colonies. Zinn gulps down as literally true the proven hoax of Polly Baker and the improbable Plough Jogger, and he repeats uncritically the old charge that President Lincoln altered his views to suit his audience. The Geneva assembly of 1954 did not agree on elections in a unified Vietnam; that was simply the hope expressed by the British chairman when the parties concerned could not agree. The United States did not back Batista in 1959; it had ended aid to Cuba and washed its hands of him well before then. “Tet” was not evidence of the unpopularity of the Saigon government, but a resounding rejection of the northern invaders.”

  2. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the comment and the background on these books. I’ll admit that reading these two side by side is an abandoned project for me. It’s probably best that people read both (and more history books), especially if the nonsense was taken out of Patriots. I don’t know about Handlin’s criticism. There’s a lot of history in that one paragraph. If I was more versed in the field, I would comment on it. But thanks for adding it.

  3. The title should make it clear that the book isn’t meant to be coldly objective. A patriot by definition loves his country and cares more for its virtues than its vices. The latter are abundantly covered by writers like Howard Zinn.

  4. Thank you for your review of Patriot’s. I began reading the 10th anniversary edition last night because it is required in the homeschool curriculum we are using. I was shocked. My husband and I are students of history and are widely read. My first impression of the introduction was that the authors have romanticized America. I quickly picked up on the inconsistencies that you pointed out. As I read these passages to my husband, he was shaking his head and coming up with a solution how to counter-educate our child. I found the text (I only got to page 7 – Columbus’ exploits) written at the level of an 8th grader (at best) and full of personal opinions. It is sad that this is the best that could be produced with a bibliography of over 30 pages. And even sadder that conservatives have lapped it up just because it has a conservative bias. Where is their discernment.

    1. Kathleen, I’m curious which homeschooling curriculum you were using. I’ve been discovering some disturbing trends related to radical conservatism and homeschooling. It appears that The Patriots History was written specifically as a response to The Peoples History, but has become a part of the right wing agenda to indoctrinate kids to the severely white washed version of history that amounts to a continuation of the idea of Manifest Destiny.

      1. Classical Conversations. I was surprised this book was used. The curriculum encourages free speech and peaceful exchange of ideas through debate. It is a good fit for those who are libertarians.

    2. @Kathleen George: I’m not surprised by your shock. I’m not even a student of history and I was shocked. I can imagine what you and your husband thought. It’s good (especially for your child) to hear that you are able to discern between the bias presented in a book such as Patriot’s, but you’re right, where is everyone else’s discernment? I had to put the book down because I saw it as a waste of time.

  5. Hi Joe, thank you for your critique. I was disheartened to see how much positive reception the book got on Amazon. I sure hope people pick up on the inconsistencies. I am thinking about comparing and contrasting that book with Zinn’s over the summer. You’re absolutely right, this book is meant to comfort extreme right-wingers, not meant for anything else. Going through the book, I was shocked at how disrespectful they were towards FDR (and I’m sure many other democratic presidents). I do not understand how the author is a UCSB grad… anyway, sorry for jumping. Thanks again for the review!

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