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 III, here are Part I, Part II and Part IV.
There’s a New U.S. History Book in Town… Because the Old One Sucked
Patriot’s was written because Schweikart and Allen thought that People’s was insufficient, while People’s was written because Zinn thought older U.S. History books were insufficient. And the authors of those history books most likely thought the U.S. History books of their day were insufficient. And on and on…
But since People’s clearly states that it is not a complete history of America, it’s pretty much off the hook. It subverts the U.S. History book model by focusing on everything part of American history that has been either ignored or pushed under the rug.
Patriot’s, on the other hand, sets itself up for a monumental task – and potentially a monumental failure. So let’s look at how it falls short.
Since Patriot’s specifically called out People’s in its introduction, I’m actively watching for it to fall into the trap that People’s warns against. Its claims of being written specifically to right the wrongs perpetrated on Americans and American history by books such as People’s, has me scanning it extra-closely. Patriot’s should at least try to be better without committing the errors that People’s accuses other history books of, right? They should be able to beat People’s at its own game, right? Right?
I guess not. In making his case for People’s, Zinn accused historians of justifying atrocities by focusing on other matters. Specifically, Zinn called out the Columbus historian Samuel Eliot Morison for focusing too much on Columbus’s sailing skills and not enough on his, ahem, people skills. What do the authors of Patriot’sPatriot’s do? They quote Morison’s praise of Columbus.
But that’s OK. Allen and Schweikart probably weren’t expecting an audience that had aslo read People’s.
Let the Crazy Begin – Did Columbus Really Do “You Know What” to the Indians?
The concern that People’s raised is good to be adapted. A concern for misleading statements can go a long way. The problem with Patriot’s is it lays down such idiotic statements as this:
“[Columbus] did not, as is popularly believed, originate the idea that the earth is round. As early as 1480, for example, he read works proclaiming the sphericity of the planet. But knowing intellectually that the earth is round and demonstrating it physically are two different things.”
What the hell does that mean? What group of shitheads “popularly” believes Columbus originated the round-world idea? On second thought, I don’t want to know. But what’s this nonsense about knowing something intellectually and demonstrating it physically. I can hear the Apollo 11 astronauts right now as they went around the moon – “I knew it! Buzz, you asshole! I knew the moon wasn’t flat!”
|Pictured, from left: The Moon is Round bet winner, Bookie, and bet Loser.
Patriot’s makes some other questionable statements, but they don’t amount to much more than ham-handed writing. In fact, while reading of Cortes’s military superiority of over the Aztecs, I couldn’t tell if Patriot’s was praising or condemning the Spaniards. I think this is a good thing and I hope Patriot’s keeps it up. While People’s has a narrow focus that could be praised for its goal, Patriot’s makes no small claims about it’s book. It’s trying to be the be all and end all of U.S. History books. It’s obviously going to make some mistakes on the way, but to write with an unbiased voice is impressive (especially since the beginning of Patriot’s was nothing but biased).
But then Patriot’s does something very strange. Right in the middle of the chapter, there’s an infoblock entitled “Did Columbus Kill Most of the Indians?” It comes out of nowhere and it includes nothing but misguided and misleading information. For example, here’s how the infoblock starts:
The five-hundred-year anniversary of Columbia’s discovery of was marked by unusual and strident controversy. Rising up to challenge the intrepid voyager’s courage and vision – as well as the establishment of European civilization in the New World – was a crescendo of damnation, which posited that the Genoese navigator was a mass murderer akin to Adolf Hitler. Even the establishment of European outposts was, according to the revisionist critique, a regrettable development. Although this division of interpretations no doubt confused and dampened many a Columbian festival in 1992, it also elicited a most intriguing historical debate: did the esteemed Admiral of the Ocean Sea kill almost all the Indians?
Besides “where the hell does this come from?” the next question is “what the hell is it doing here?” The authors go through five “reasons” that Columbus didn’t “kill most of the Indians, but the extreme carelessness of the authors to include this biased and misleading infoblock means one of two things. Either they don’t know that their arguments are misleading because they’re are idiots, or that they do know they are being misleading and they are just playing to the base because they’re assholes.
But let’s say it’s neither and that the arguments Patriot’s uses are valid. Since Patriot’s played the Hitler card first, would the same argumentative device would work for der Fuhrer? Let’s see. I’ll switch Columbus’s name for Hitler’s and “Jews” for “Indians” and leave you with the actual quote from Patriot’s.
Did Hitler kill most of the Jews?
1. First of all, estimating the number of Jews in Europe before Hitler’s arrival is very difficult. Some say there were as many as 8 million. [Actual quote: “Pre-Columbian native population numbers are much smaller than critics have maintained.” Remember, kids, you can’t kill what isn’t there.]
2. Jews were being slaughtered long before Hitler arrived. [Actual quote: “Native populations had epidemics long before Europeans arrived.” See that? The murder of thousands of Indians at the hands of invading Europeans is just another epidemic. This is where the authors of Patriot’s are being assholes. When germs kill millions of people, it’s called an epidemic. When people kill millions of people, it’s called genocide.]
3. There is little evidence available for estimating the numbers of Jews lost in warfare prior to Hitler. [Actual quote: “There is little evidence available for estimating the numbers of people lost in warfare prior to the Europeans.” So? What the hell does this have to do with anything? ]
4. Large areas of Germany and Central Europe were depopulated more than a hundred years before the arrival of Hitler. [Actual quote: “Large areas of Mexico and the Southwest were depopulated more than a hundred years before the arrival of Columbus.” Good thing Columbus didn’t land in Mexico or the Southwest. There would have been a lot less Indians for him to kill.]
5. European scholars have long appreciated the dynamic of small-state diplomacy, such as was involved in the Italian or German small states in the nineteenth century. What has been missing from the discussions about Jewish populations has been a recognition that in many ways the Jews resembled small states in Europe: they concerned themselves more with traditional enemies (other Jews) than with new ones (Nazis). [Actual quote: “European scholars have long appreciated the dynamic of small-state diplomacy, such as was involved in the Italian or German small states in the nineteenth century. What has been missing from the discussions about native populations has been a recognition that in many ways the tribes resembled small states in Europe: they concerned themselves more with traditional enemies (other tribes) than with new ones (whites).” That’s all fine and good, but that discussion about native populations resembling small states in Europe was missing from Columbus’ evaluation of them as well. Appreciating dynamics long after the fact doesn’t change the genocide brought on these native populations, dumbasses. Nice try.]
So you see, claims of the Hitler Holocaust are just silly. There is no way Hitler killed all the Jews. Sure, he’s responsible for killing millions of Jews, but he didn’t kill all of them. And don’t let any of those Marxist/leftist/communist/revisionist/elitist/whateverist historians tell you any different, ya hear?
The Best of the Rest
Surprisingly, the rest of the first chapter continues this flip-flop pattern between outlandish, American exceptionalist claims and even-headed, rational historical descriptions. It’s a little hard to take at times. Your senses will perk up to a sentence like, “English colonists found land so abundant that anyone could own it,” (“anyone” white, that is), when Patriot’s throws you a changeup with thoughtful sentences like, “New microbes transported by the Europeans generated a much higher level of infection than previously experienced by the Indians; then, in a vicious circle, warring Indian tribes spread the diseases among one another when they attacked enemy tribes and carried off infected prisoners.”
I could pick at other unsubstantiated and/or misleading claims in the first chapter – there’s plenty. I could praise the understanding and, yes, at times honest evaluations of history that Patriot’s makes. There are plenty of those too. But that’s not what I’m after with this series of articles. I’m trying to see which book offers a better view of U.S. History.
Unfortunately, Patriot’s isn’t very good at being a history book. It’s too basic so far. While none of the history in Patriot’s is news to me, I suppose it would be to someone who doesn’t know American history. The problem is, Patriot’s is 900 pages long. A competent scholar could write 900 pages on the arrival of Europeans in America and everyone from a business major to a history major would learn something. When Patriot’s covers the subject in 35 pages (and specifically omits the subject matter of People’s), don’t expect to learn much.
I’m really hoping that changes in the other chapters.