All posts by Ron Radosh

Ronald Radosh is author or co-author of more than 16 books, including The Rosenberg File, Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War, and A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel. He is Adjunct Fellow at The Hudson Institute and a columnist for PJ Media.

92 Professors Go After Mitch Daniels

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The vultures in academia are out to get Mitch Daniels Jr., the president of Purdue University and former governor of Indiana. Inside Higher Ed reported last week that in e-mails he sent out while Governor, Daniels tried to get Indiana universities to stop using the best-selling A People’s History of the United States, written by the late uberleftist professor Howard Zinn.  Now, the site reported on Monday, historians nationwide are demanding Daniels be called to task for his position. In one e-mail that especially offended the online higher education magazine, Daniels wrote: “This crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state. No student will be better taught because someone sat through this session. Which board has jurisdiction over what counts and what doesn’t?”

Daniels quickly posted an explanation for his position on Purdue University’s website. Daniels wrote:

My emails infringed on no one’s academic freedom and proposed absolutely no censorship of any person or viewpoint. In fact, the question I asked on one day in 2010 had nothing to do with higher education at all. I merely wanted to make certain that Howard Zinn’s textbook, which represents a falsified version of history, was not being foisted upon our young people in Indiana’s public K-12 classrooms.

After establishing that serious historians think little of Zinn, he added: “I want to be equally clear that if Howard Zinn had been a professor at Purdue University, I would have vigorously defended his right to publish and teach what he wanted. Academic freedom, however, does not immunize a person from criticism and certainly does not confer entitlement to have one’s work inflicted upon our young people in the K-12 public school system.”

The Reading List

Daniels’ statement was not sufficient for the historians, including 92 professors in various fields teaching at Purdue. Daniels got in touch with Inside Higher Ed’s editors, and told them that he simply did not want his teachers exposed to “falsifications” of history, and that his position had no “implication for academic freedom.” On that, as we learned last week from my PJ Media colleague Roger Kimball, Daniels is also correct.

The historians offer the following arguments. Prof. Robert J. Helfenbein, who teaches something called Urban and Multicultural Education–whatever that might be–says he tries to teach future social studies teachers in high schools “multiple perspectives,” and that even those who disagree with Zinn “see a worth in reading a historian take on this very different perspective.”

Let me pose a hypothetical question to Prof. Helfenbein. If he taught biology and evolution, would he assign a creationist textbook to his students, informing them that the perspective and theory had to be considered, alongside those authors who wrote from a Darwinian perspective? I think we all know the answer. It is the same one given to the claim by Holocaust deniers that their point of view too must be considered. As Prof. Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University has often argued, one should not debate such a purveyor of untruth, and thus give legitimacy and credibility to unscientific and false arguments that have no merit whatsoever. There are no grounds whatsoever that all arguments have to be considered, no matter how many followers, in this case, that Howard Zinn has.

In a separate statement offered by historian Michael Kazin of Georgetown University, who authored his own harsh critique of Zinn–which Daniels actually cited as evidence of how even left-wing historians had disdain for Zinn–Kazin wrote that Daniels “should be roundly condemned for his attempts to stop students from reading Zinn’s big book and for calling Zinn a liar.”  In so doing, Kazin the leftist undermines his own well-known case against Zinn, as he tries to prove that when under attack, “there are no enemies on the Left.”

Zinn Wanted to Change the Future

Daniels was not saying students should not read Zinn’s book–thousands unfortunately do–but only that it was harmful to have his so-called history used as a text particularly in elementary and high schools. Kazin goes on to say that while it is true he does not “think much of Zinn’s interpretation of US history,” it is nevertheless “an interpretation.”

Kazin should know better. Zinn himself believes, as I pointed out in these pages some time ago, that history was not about “understanding the past,” but rather, “about changing the future.” That statement alone should disqualify anyone from ever calling him a historian again.  Yet Kazin then argues that when Daniels says that Zinn is a “biased writer,” it “just shows how little he understands how history is now and has always been written.”

Somehow, I do not think Kazin, whom I know and respect, really believes that. Historians, including Kazin, do indeed interpret history. But any good historian tries to use the evidence not to make a pre-determined ideological case, which is what Zinn does,but to try and show how and why things changed, and to make an approximation that is as close to the truth as possible by sorting out evidence. Indeed, if the evidence leads one to change a previous view a historian had, that historian should if honest change his view based on taking into account new evidence that is uncovered.

Yes, historians do have a “point of view” that is their starting point for understanding the past. What Zinn does, as his numerous detractors have pointed out, is to create cardboard heroic stick figures as heroes who fought oppression, in order to give today’s radicals the courage to press forward as they identify heroes from the past they can be inspired by. This is not history, but rather old style CP agit-prop. This is hardly surprising, since Zinn was a long-time Communist Party member, who only left its ranks when he felt the CP had become soft and was not extreme enough.

If that is not enough, the American Historical Association, the main organization of U.S. historians, released an official statement that they “consider any governor’s action that interfered with an individual teacher’s reading assignments to be inappropriate and a violation of academic freedom.” They went on to argue that hence they disagree with the “spirit and intent” of Daniel’s actions when he was Governor.

Now, 92 of Daniel’s own faculty have issued an open letter condemning their own University chief official. First, the professors start out with a statement which is easily proven to be completely false. They write: “Whatever their political stripe, most experts in the field of U.S. history do not take issue with Howard Zinn’s facts, even when they do take issue with his conclusions.”

Getting the Rosenbergs Wrong

Let me give one major example, which as readers know, I am most familiar with. In the latest edition of his A People’s History, Zinn writes:

The Rosenbergs were charged with espionage.  The major evidence was supplied by a few people who had already confessed to being spies, and were either in prison or under indictment.

He continues to challenge the credibility of key witness Harry Gold, whom he asks: “Did Gold cooperate in return for early release from prison?” As for Ethel Rosenberg’s brother David Greenglass, the other major witness, Zinn writes: “Did Greenglass…also know that his life depended on his cooperation?” His implication is clear: the key witnesses lied in order to get themselves a good deal. He also repeats the canard that Greenglass was an “ordinary-level machinist” and “not a scientist” who therefore could not give the Soviets anything of value. He suggests, without evidence, that Gold and Greenglass coordinated their testimony while awaiting trial in New York City’s Tombs prison.

First, the Rosenbergs were charged with “conspiracy to commit espionage,” and not espionage. Second, it is clear that Zinn had not even read the book I co-authored, The Rosenberg File, or Allen Hornblum’s The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb, or Steven Usdin’s Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley. Had he been even slightly familiar with these books, he would have easily found that much of what he writes in his few pages on the Rosenberg case are factually wrong, as are his scenarios he so fancifully surmises about with any evidence. Indeed, the rest of his paragraphs read like the old Communist propaganda about the case he had learned in the years after the Rosenbergs’ arrest when he was an active CP member. He does not even take into account any of the recent revelations available while he was still alive. His account, in simple terms, is a blatant lie.

Zinn Dodged Soviet Revelations

Indeed, in the edition he published in 2009 for young readers, Zinn went further. By then, he had ample time to catch up with evidence widely available indicating the Rosenbergs’ guilt, starting with the Venona decrypts, that had been released in 1995! Zinn writes in this last volume that came out the year of his death:

Although the evidence against the Rosenbergs was weak, the government executed them as spies. Later investigations proved the case was deeply flawed. But at the time, everything from movies and comic strips to history lessons and newspapers urged Americans to fight communism.

Reading the above, it is clear that Governor Daniels has very good reason to object to young students learning their “facts” and history from Howard Zinn.

Let us return to the Open Letter by some of Purdue’s faculty. They continue to assert that two of the historians whom Daniels cites in opposition to Zinn, the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and the late Oscar Handlin, were part of the “consensus” school whose members believed that they had a right to speak for all Americans, and to leave out the oppressed—of which the faculty members provide us with the list, as if we do not know what groups it is composed of.

Next they turn to positive reviews of Zinn, and they cite in particular the endorsement of him by Columbia University’s highly regarded historian, Eric Foner. They do not pause to note, however, that Foner is a bona fide Red Diaper Baby, who as the late Theodore Draper pointed out in a New York Review of Books article about Foner’s own history of the United States, the only group he unreservedly praised without criticism as a force fighting for freedom, was- you guessed it- the American Communist Party. Draper writes:

Foner shows no such enthusiasm for any other organization in all of American history. His evident resolve to rehabilitate American communism derives from a peculiarly truncated version of the Party’s history. Because Foner gives it so much importance, an innocent reader might think that the period of the Popular Front was the most important and characteristic phase of the Party’s history…. In only one brief sentence does Foner allude to spying for the Soviet Union. He writes: “There undoubtedly were Soviet spies in the United States.” In fact, the spies were American Communists who were managed by resident Soviet agents who were not themselves spies…. Anti-Communists come in for something “perilously close” to defamation. … The section on American communism shows Foner at his most tendentious. The problem is not that he favors the American Communists but that he does so unhistorically.

So the reason Foner praises Zinn is because, he, like Zinn, is pro-Communist, considers the United States to be an enemy of freedom, and agrees with Zinn’s falsified history, or to use the old Trotskyist term, “the Stalinist falsification of history.”

Zinn Needed for ‘Critical Thinking’?

The Purdue professors claim, in their conclusion, that they seek to introduce students to “critical thinking,” and that for that esteemed reason, Zinn must be included in any curriculum. Teachers, they say, have the duty to use “controversial scholarship” if they so choose, so that the “conventional wisdom” of past generations can be challenged.

In making that case, they reveal their own limited and false view of what history offers us. History is a way of learning about the past, so that we can understand from what roots we came. It is not a mechanism meant to provide inspiration for leftist agendas, or for that matter, for conservative ones. If conventional wisdom turns out to be accurate, it should not be overturned. In the case of American communism, which both Professor Foner and the late Howard Zinn believe was a force for good in the fight against the would-be oppressors, they might ask whether or not in that case, the conventional wisdom of the time turned out to be more accurate than the revisionist case made by Zinn and Foner.

It is my hope in that his honest and forthright decision to oppose the teaching of Howard Zinn, President Mitch Daniels, Jr. of Purdue University will stand firm, and continue to teach his faculty and the rest of America a real lesson in the true meaning of academic freedom and courage in fighting against the forces of leftist political correctness.

A New Left Historian Rewrites Some History

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Can it be
that “it is not left-wing academics, but
ideologues of the radical right, who are pursuing political correctness in
American universities?”  No, not really, but that’s what 
the
1960’s activist and historian, and more recently labor lawyer, Staughton Lynd,
argues on The History News
Network
 site. In a
hagiographic obituary for historian Herbert Shapiro, Lynd charges that the right has purged faculties by selecting for teachers
friendly to “the unrestricted pursuit of profit.”  He says flatly, “conservatism
rather than radicalism threatens the free exchange of ideas, intellectual
tolerance, and the life of the mind in academia.” 

Lynd’s
case is thin and rambling. Echoing Shapiro, he starts with a minor incident
from the 1890s, citing a regent of 
the
University of Wisconsin who said that the economist Richard Ely was writing
“utopian, impractical and pernicious books,” and in Lynd’s words, was accused
of “consorting with union organizers, and supporting strikes.” Why cite this
now? As Lynd undoubtedly knows, many universities today have labor history
studies, as well as entire departments dedicated to training union personnel,
with no one risking dismissal for “consorting with union organizers.”

Continue reading A New Left Historian Rewrites Some History

Affirmative Action for Professors?

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By Ronald Radosh

Last week, Professor Jonathan Zimmerman of New York University wrote a surprising op-ed in The Christian Science Monitor, “US Colleges Need Affirmative Action for conservative professors.” Describing himself as a “devout Democrat” as well as a “frequent O’Reilly critic, ‘ he found himself agreeing with the Fox News channel’s host that “Universities should institute affirmative action for conservative professors, so all the professors don’t think the way I do.”

Obviously, Professor Zimmerman, a professor of history and education at NYU, is something of an anomaly. On the face of it, he is what we used to mean when calling someone liberal in his attitudes; i.e., he thinks that his own beliefs are not the only ones that should be present in institutions of higher education, and that as a real believer in tolerance, those who vigorously oppose him should  be included in the conversation, and even more to the point, students at his institution should hear these opposing views.

Professor Zimmerman pauses to note that “we’re not the wild-eyed Marxists that Mr. O’Reilly and other right-wing pundits sometimes make us out to be.” Perhaps Prof. Zimmerman put that qualifier in to not insult his own colleagues at NYU. The truth is, as I’ve argued particularly about the NYU history department on this site and elsewhere many times, NYU is most egregiously guilty of precisely such a bias. Their own history department is dominated by precisely those types, and some of the institutes and centers they have established have gone out of their way to make that crystal clear.

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A Campus Dress Rehearsal for McCarthyism?

radosh article.jpgThe American Association of University Professors (AAUP) made its name as a respectable association dedicated to promoting the interests of the academy and protecting the academic freedom of professors. Now, judging from its regular publications, it has morphed into something quite different—an association dedicated to promoting the agenda of the academic left.

The July-August issue of  the AAUP’s regular publication, Academe, reads like a straightforward and one-sided primer for leftist activism. It includes an article on “How to Radicalize Students,” and another endorsing the recent protests in Madison, Wisconsin against Governor Scott Walker. But the most troubling article in the issue is “The Dress Rehearsal for McCarthyism” by one Carol Smith, identified only as a retired faculty member at The City College of New York-CUNY. The would-be dress rehearsal, Ms. Smith argues, took place in the mid-1930’s, and revolved around what Smith says was “a conservative backlash against the political gains of the New Deal and against labor unions,” carried out under the guise of an investigation of so-called “Communist subversion at the public colleges.”

Continue reading A Campus Dress Rehearsal for McCarthyism?

The Odd Cold-War Center at NYU

rosenbergs.jpgMany universities have set up centers to examine the history of the Cold War. The Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington D. C., for example, created an offshoot called The Cold War International History Project. That institute has over the years hosted many conferences, with panels of scholars representing all points of view. Two years ago, I was an active participant in a two days session at the CWIHP about Soviet espionage, that was based on the new book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America.
The sponsors were fully aware of contending views on the issue of the role of Soviet espionage in America during the Cold War and carried out the meeting with great fairness. Compare that with the Tamiment Center at New York University, which cares little for fairness, academic rigor or diversity of views. Its inaugural event four years ago, “Alger Hiss and History,” left no mystery about its agenda. As I wrote in the New Republic, the conference

was intended to resurrect Old Left myths about the innocence of those accused during the so-called Red Scare in the 1950’s, and in particular, to re-open the case to prove Alger Hiss’ innocence. The only reason Hiss was indicted, their announcement made clear, was to “discredit the New Deal, legitimate the Red Scare, and set the stage of Joseph McCarthy.” Mark Kramer, who heads a similar Cold War center at Harvard, commented that the meeting “consists of diehard supporters of Hiss whose attempts to explain away all the new available evidence are thoroughly unconvincing.”

Continue reading The Odd Cold-War Center at NYU

A Fresh View of Cold-War America

DeltonJennifer.jpgTeaching in the universities about the so-called McCarthy era has become an area most susceptible to politically correct and one-sided views of what the period was all about. One historian who strenuously objects to the accepted left-wing interpretation that prevails in the academy is Jennifer Delton, Chairman of the Department of History at Skidmore College.
In the March issue of The Journal of the Historical Society Delton writes:

However fiercely historians disagree about the merits of American Communism, they almost universally agree that the post-World War II Red scare signified a rightward turn in American politics. The consensus is that an exaggerated, irrational fear of communism, bolstered by a few spectacular spy cases, created an atmosphere of persecution and hysteria that was exploited and fanned by conservative opportunists such as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy. This hysteria suppressed rival ideologies and curtailed the New Deal, leading to a resurgence of conservative ideas and corporate influence in government. We may add detail and nuance to this story, but this, basically, is what we tell our students and ourselves about post-World War II anti-Communism, also known as McCarthyism. It is fundamentally
the same story that liberals have told since Whittaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss of being a Communist spy in 1948.

This conventional narrative of the left has been told over and over for so many years that it has all but become the established truth to most Americans. It was exemplified in a best-selling book of the late 1970’s, David Caute’s The Great Fear, and from the most quoted one from the recent past, Ellen Schrecker’s Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. My favorite title is one written by the late Cedric Belfrage, The American Inquisition 1945-1960: A Profile of the “McCarthy Era.” In his book, Belfrage told the story of how he, an independent journalist who founded the fellow-traveling weekly The National Guardian, was hounded by the authorities and finally deported home to Britain. American concerns about Soviet espionage, he argued, were simply paranoia.

Continue reading A Fresh View of Cold-War America

Anti-Apartheid Week – 2

Growing Anti-Semitism On The Campus
The sad evidence that American campuses have been the site of rising anti-Semitism is truly an alarming phenomenon. Anti-Semitism has come from various sources: African-American student organizations; the Muslim Student Association at various colleges and universities, and the widespread movement on behalf of disinvestment in Israel, whose sponsors regularly compares Israel to South Africa, and advocate treating Israel today as the anti-apartheid movement treated South Africa decades ago.
But even more disturbing is the growing evidence that Jewish students are having a most confused response to this development. One has to look only at the announcement by J-Street- the self-described left of center antidote to AIPAC- that it would not call its campus chapters “pro-Israel” because that would limit their ability to gain members among Jewish students, as proof for how support of Israel is seen by many campus Jews as a position they do not wish to be identified with. The question that arises is what has happened to produce such sentiment?
Jewish students, like their non-Jewish counterparts, have grown up in a largely left-wing culture, in which the education they have received in high schools throughout the country, especially in the area of history or what used to be called civics, has been taught to them by teachers whose degrees are from left-leaning education schools. Or, perhaps, their teachers have been influenced by the view that the United States is the most evil nation in the world, which they in turn learned from people like Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky. It is therefore not surprising to find the names of familiar left-wing Jewish figures on the nation’s campuses playing a prominent part especially in the disinvestment campaign. As Dennis MacShane, A Labour member of Parliament, put it in a 2007 Washington Post op-ed, “American universities have provided a base for Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said, among others, to launch campaigns of criticism against Israel, and the bulk of the West’s university intelligentsia remains hostile to the Jewish state.”

Continue reading Anti-Apartheid Week – 2

America the Awful—Howard Zinn’s History

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Howard Zinn’s death yesterday affords us the opportunity to evaluate the remarkable influence he has had on the American public’s understanding of our nation’s past. His book A People’s History of the United States, published in 1980 with a first printing of 5000 copies, went on to sell over two million. To this day some 128,000 new copies are sold each year. That alone made Zinn perhaps the single most influential historian whose works have reached multitudes of Americans. Indeed, Zinn found that his book was regularly adopted as a text in high schools and most surprisingly, in many colleges and universities.
One can easily summarize the argument Zinn makes in that book, as well as on his recent television special on The History Channel and soon to be released DVD, called “The People Speak.” America, he charges, was guilty of waging war on those who really made the American nation: Native Americans, African-Americans, the working-class, the poor, and women. American history, as Zinn saw it, was that of a history of “genocide: brutally and purposefully waged by our rulers in the name of progress. He claimed that these truths were buried “in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth.”
Zinn was aided in getting his book attention by two youthful neighbors, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. When both became movie stars, they used their celebrity to popularize Zinn’s work and to help bring it to a wide audience. As Damon told the press recently, Zinn’s message showed that what our ancestors rebelled “against oftentimes are exactly the same things we’re up against now.” Zinn himself added a few weeks ago that his hope was that his work will spread new rebellion, and “lead into a larger movement for economic justice.”

Continue reading America the Awful—Howard Zinn’s History