I sort of stopped liking The Oatmeal after his pro-Tesla/anti-Edison campaign, which was full of disinformation. When a moderating reaction was published in Forbes, oatmeal’s artist responded with an expletive-filled tirade. I gave a big chunk of money to the Tesla Museum, because his Shoreham site needed to be preserved, but I hope it will not become a pseudo-science installation.


Now we see this heaping dish of Howard Zinn’s cynical history, in easy-to-consume cartoon form. Zinn’s work is an important response to classical history, but it is just as biased and problematic as the history it criticizes, depicting the story of America as “relentless exploitation and deceit” as one critic said. Zinn himself made it clear that he viewed historical writing as a political tool, one he used to promote his fervent belief in Marxism.

Certainly Columbus was no saint, and a lot of his sailers were thugs. But many of the horrible stories about Columbus were written or fabricated by an even more dubious character, Francisco de Babadilla, who overthrew Columbus in a coup d’ etat and declared himself the new governor of the lucrative Spanish colony. The truth is unclear, but there is plenty of material to be used by anyone who views history as a propaganda tool.

Zinn’s historical views are biased, his portrayal of successful and innovative people are villainous caricatures of human beings. He has to be read with skepticism and in combination with other views, because history is fuzzy, uncertain, and open to interpretation. A People’s History of the United States is an important book, but it can be read by young folks who get swept away by it before they have the knowledge and experience to look at it critically and understand the ambition and agenda of intellectuals like Zinn. At least read Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer before wading into the media-saturated world of religious and political propaganda that surrounds us.

It’s good to know the myths about Columbus. People didn’t believe the Earth was flat. Some Vikings (maybe even the Chinese) landed on North America first. But ultimately the Viking discovery had little historical impact, because it failed to trigger the flood of colonization and the formation of America, which Columbus’s discovery did.

As for Bartolome, he sounds like a nice guy at first glance. Maybe he was, maybe not. It was nice of him to suggest that Indians should not be enslaved…considerably less nice that he advocated using Africans as slaves instead. If black slavery was his biggest impact on history, then replacing Columbus Day with Bartolome Day is certainly a bad idea.

Here is a critical look at Zinn: “Howard Zinn’s Influential Mutilations of American History”