What does Howard Zinn mean by the American "image in American high-school history textbooks, but not its record in world affairs?"

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mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question refers to Howard Zinn's influential book A People's History of the United States. Zinn suggests that American history books portray World War II as a "people's war" because of the overwhelming popular support that the war garnered. The quote you reference is from the beginning of Chapter Sixteen:

For the United States to step forward as a defender of helpless countries matched its image in American high school history textbooks, but not its record in world affairs.

Zinn believes that American textbooks attempt to portray the United States as the defender of freedom and democracy and the protector of weaker countries. The author feels that the true historical record of the United States has not always reflected what is depicted in the history books. The chapter gives a number of examples to demonstrate this disconnect.

  • The United States government did not support the revolution in Haiti against the oppressive French imperialists.
  • The Mexican-American War was instigated by the United States against a weaker power which resulted in Mexico losing significant land.
  • America's imperial aims in the Pacific after the Spanish-American War including a war to acquire the Philippines.
  • America's intervention in Cuba against the Spanish was meant to look like aid, but in reality the United States dominated the island until the 1950's.

These examples prove the United States does not always advocate for freedom and does not always protect weaker countries.  This is a stark contrast to the image of the United States that is forwarded by traditional American history textbooks.  

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