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The Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn: Review of Chapters 1 through 5 - Book Report/Review Example

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Howard Zinn is arguably the most important American historian. He brought a radical transformation to the construction of history that was previously unheard of. By siding with the oppressed, the underprivileged, the victims, the poor and the weak, he made their voices heard through his writing. …
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The Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn: Review of Chapters 1 through 5
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Download file to see previous pages The book has brought balance to the historical recounting of events, where erstwhile only the elite point of view was accepted and made available to the public. In this context, it is interesting to scrutinize the rationale and the thought process of the author in his choice of chapter titles and their contents. The rest of this essay is an attempt to do the same with respect to the first five chapters of the book in question.
The first chapter is titled ‘Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress’. The irony is writ large in this title, as the contents of this chapter are about one of the greatest undertakings of genocide in human history. With wry humor and a deep sense of loss, the conscientious Howard Zinn reminds us that the so-called ‘discovery’ of America is as much the ‘decimation’ of indigenous peoples of the land. Columbus Day is taught to young kids as a day of celebration and patriotic reminiscence. But as Zinn offers by way of copious factual evidence, starting from the islands of the Caribbean to lands in central America to later landings in Jamestown, Virginia, the European ‘discovery’ of America in unequivocally the start of the demise of native cultures and populations that had rightfully claimed it its home. (Chapter 1, page 7) The term ‘human progress’ is again included for its irony, for, the European settlers invariably carried out systematic displacement, enslavement and massacre of native Indians – all under the noble guise of ‘human progress’. In fact, Christopher Columbus and subsequent Spanish conquistadors in South America sincerely seemed to have believed that they were acting the will of Jesus Christ even as they were ordering the most heinous of crimes. (Chapter 1, page 9) The second chapter is titled ‘Drawing the Color Line’. This is a straight forward title representing one of the earliest and deep-rooted malice in American society – that of racism. The skin color of the native Indians as well as African slaves were both taken as sufficient justification for their subordinate status. As the opening lines to the chapter notes, “There is not a country in world history in which racism has been more important, for so long a time, as the United States. And the problem of “the color line,” as W. E. B. Du Bois put it, is still with us. So it is more than a purely historical question to ask: How does it start?—and an even more urgent question: How might it end? Or, to put it differently: Is it possible for whites and blacks to live together without hatred?” (Chapter 2, p.61) Right from the days of early corn and tobacco plantations in Jamestown, the labor force for working on these plantations were developed on color lines. The blacks and natives were recognized for their physical strength and dexterity to do farm work. Even between the two groups, blacks were preferred to the natives for reasons of pride. It is documented by early pioneers, how, despite their superior technology and civilization, European settlers could not compete on equal terms in taming the land and availing of its resources. Native Indians were masters at exploiting natural resources to their best advantage. The challenges of early settlers were largely to stave off starvation in light of lack of agricultural expertise. Hurt by pride to learn from the natives and adopt their savage way of life, the settlers ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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