Howard Zinn was a polemicist of decidedly left-wing views on politics, foreign policy, and history. He made no effort at concealing his partisanship or biases, and was quite open about the reasons he decided to write A People's History of the United States. In the "Afterward" to a later edition of his well-known 1980 text, Zinn described a talk he gave in 1998 that, as well as any other testament to his convictions and to the purpose of his book, summarized the perspective he incorporated into his history:
"I was invited, sometime in 1998, to speak at a symposium in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, on the Boston Massacre. I said I would be glad to do that, so long as I did not have to deal with the Boston Massacre. And so my talk was not about the killing of five colonists by British troops in 1770. I thought that had been given an inordinate amount of attention for over two hundred years, because it served a certain patriotic function. Instead, I wanted to talk about the many massacres of nonwhite people in our history, which would not reinforce patriotic pride but remind us of the long legacy of racism in our country, still smoldering and needing attention."
This quote by Zinn captures very well his main purpose in writing A People's History of the United States. Zinn had long abhorred the ways students were being taught the history of their country -- a history strong on accomplishment and patriotism and short on the consequences for millions of Native Americans, African Americans, and others of the European intervention in North America and the later United States of America's policies regarding foreign affairs. Zinn resented very deeply the way students were taught about America's role in the world, with the eminently patriotic but -- to Zinn -- highly misleading presentations omitting the devastation wrought by American policies and practices. He felt lessons on World War II that ignored the internment of Japanese American citizens, for instance, were guilty of deceit by omission. His text, therefore, emphasized precisely those negative experiences in America's history.
Zinn was not without his critics, including on the left-side of the political spectrum. These critics, including liberal historians Arthur Schlesinger and Sean Wilentz, took issue with Zinn's polemical attacks on American history without providing any sort of context, for lying, and for committing the same sin of which he accused others. His text, however, remains very popular on college campuses, where the average professor shares the political biases of the late Zinn.