History is a Weapon: A People’s History of the United States

Editor’s Note: This is a selection from the late Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States. –efc

Chapter 24: The Coming Revolt of the Guards

By Howard Zinn

The title of this chapter is not a prediction, but a hope, which I will soon explain.

Historian Howard Zinn speaking in 2009. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As for the subtitle of this book, it is not quite accurate; a “people’s history” promises more than any one person can fulfill, and it is the most difficult kind of history to recapture. I call it that anyway because, with all its limitations, it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people’s movements of resistance.

That makes it a biased account, one that leans in a certain direction. I am not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction-so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people’s movements-that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.

All those histories of this country centered on the Founding Fathers and the Presidents weigh oppressively on the capacity of the ordinary citizen to act. They suggest that in times of crisis we must look to someone to save us: in the Revolutionary crisis, the Founding Fathers; in the slavery crisis, Lincoln; in the Depression, Roosevelt; in the Vietnam-Watergate crisis, Carter. And that between occasional crises everything is all right, and it is sufficient for us to be restored to that normal state. They teach us that the supreme act of citizenship is to choose among saviors, by going into a voting booth every four years to choose between two white and well-off Anglo-Saxon males of inoffensive personality and orthodox opinions.

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12 Responses to History is a Weapon: A People’s History of the United States

  1. Lea Burning River says:

    Thanks, dear Fe.

  2. stormilarue stormilarue says:

    happy to share Brendan, hope it helps!

    i think you’re right, contextualizing our story is the only way each of us can truly relate to it, and thus, gain deeper understanding. i knew that somehow in public education, but really grokked that later, in college. one of my favorite US history classes was in grad school where the professor had us read a book a week, all of them first person accounts of the period. for me, it brought the time alive in such a phenomenal way, that memorization could never do.

  3. stormilarue stormilarue says:

    you can actually view the entire book text here -
    http://www.historyisaweapon.com/zinnapeopleshistory.html

    note the Emergency Message at the top of the page, which includes a response link regarding a cease & desist order from the publisher for posting the book FREE online – accordingly, with Dr. Zinn’s permission.

  4. Amanda Painter Amanda Painter says:

    the thanks go to Fe Bongolan to sending it along to us so i could pop it into a post here.

    thanks Fe!

  5. Lea Burning River says:

    His recent passing ( a year ago or so?) was a great loss to us all. Thanks for publishing this brilliant chapter, Eric.

  6. Brendan says:

    Thanks Stormi!

    I’ve bookmarked the page for future reading, and no, I had not heard of it.

    What I really appreciated was his big picture approach, something I especially like to have my students learn. Details, shmetails, it’s about what happened and how it affected nations/peoples/zeitgeist that is really important. Dates are good for maintaining the chronology of events but that’s about all. I try to put historical events into a context that today’s kids can relate to, because so often history is simply presented as facts to be memorized, and not actually understood.

  7. stormilarue stormilarue says:

    Brendan,
    The most recent edition is 2005. As an undergraduate in social sciences, I don’t remember ever hearing of Zinn either, but he’s been part of the core in my graduate experience in education. As a teacher, you may or may not know about or enjoy this project: http://zinnedproject.org/
    I teach teachers and it’s been a great resource not only for them to grasp how to engage their current/future students, but for their own awareness as well since much of their own educational experience is traditionally similar in the one-sided exposure to history rather than Our*Story. In my experience, many either hate or have no interest in history/social studies coming in, and leave either (more) full of hope or a new found love.
    Cheers!

  8. Brendan says:

    Is this from a later edition? The one I read a couple of years ago did not seem this up-to-date vis a vis technology nor the overall decline scenario included.

    Very apt, no matter what edition we read. When I did my bachelors’ in history, no one mentioned Zinn at all in regards to an alternate view of US history. I can’t say that I always agree with his theories, but I did find that his evolutionary view of periods was spot on, and overall I thought it an excellent read.

  9. stormilarue stormilarue says:

    Len,
    This book is a staple in my department, but intimidates some readers. I provide the audio version for them as well, in case you’re interested.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xwq_jiTjAuY

  10. stormilarue stormilarue says:

    i had just shared this video in class this week
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Arn3lF5XSUg

    “the power of the people on top is only possessed by them as a result of´╗┐ the obedience of the people below. when people withhold their obedience they are topless.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8UB6HYj4DE

  11. Len Wallick Len Wallick says:

    Eric,
    Thank you for publishing this piece from a book i have not (yet) read. Hopefully the words of thanks i addressed to Mr. Zinn himself will find their way from the collective consciousness of cyber space to where ever he is now.

  12. Len Wallick Len Wallick says:

    Mr. Zinn,
    Thank you. i have never read anything quite like this. Over some length, you maintain a tension and continuity commonly associated with brevity. You mind, and your ability to express it in a clear and compelling manner are a privilege to behold. Those chills i’m feeling are not of fear, they are of inspiration.

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