Talk:Howard Zinn

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Former good article nominee Howard Zinn was a History good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
July 13, 2011 Good article nominee Not listed


On Obama[edit]

There's absolutely no reason for the very long quote, per WP:UNDUE, WP:QUOTE, and WP:BLP. --Ronz (talk) 15:58, 28 January 2010 (UTC)

Given that it is a BLP violation, I've moved it here for discussion: --Ronz (talk) 16:01, 28 January 2010 (UTC)

How is it a BLP violation?Brithans (talk) 12:07, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
The quotation is about a living person, Obama. It's Zinn's opinion. --Ronz (talk) 17:16, 28 January 2010 (UTC)

On Obama[edit]

The following was written two weeks before his death, which occurred hours before Obama's first State of The Union Address:[1]

I' ve been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama's rhetoric; I don't see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.

As far as disappointments, I wasn't terribly disappointed because I didn't expect that much. I expected him to be a traditional Democratic president. On foreign policy, that's hardly any different from a Republican—as nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike. So in that sense, there's no expectation and no disappointment. On domestic policy, traditionally Democratic presidents are more reformist, closer to the labor movement, more willing to pass legislation on behalf of ordinary people—and that's been true of Obama. But Democratic reforms have also been limited, cautious. Obama's no exception. On healthcare, for example, he starts out with a compromise, and when you start out with a compromise, you end with a compromise of a compromise, which is where we are now.

I thought that in the area of constitutional rights he would be better than he has been. That's the greatest disappointment, because Obama went to Harvard Law School and is presumably dedicated to constitutional rights. But he becomes president, and he's not making any significant step away from Bush policies. Sure, he keeps talking about closing Guantánamo, but he still treats the prisoners there as "suspected terrorists." They have not been tried and have not been found guilty. So when Obama proposes taking people out of Guantánamo and putting them into other prisons, he's not advancing the cause of constitutional rights very far. And then he's gone into court arguing for preventive detention, and he's continued the policy of sending suspects to countries where they very well may be tortured.

I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president—which means, in our time, a dangerous president—unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.[2]

I agree that there is no need for such a long quote, and I see no reason why it can't be summarised. On the other hand, there is no reason to tag it in this fashion... an action that simply incites edit warring. So, let's summarise and leave it at that. Pinkville (talk) 17:33, 28 January 2010 (UTC)

Given that it's a BLP violation, I was being generous by not just removing it.
A summarized version would likely have other WP:BLP problems given what we're working from, but would be a step in the right direction. --Ronz (talk) 17:48, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
It's not a BLP violation. Opinions on LP can be quoted... But it's still unnecessary. Pinkville (talk) 18:55, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
Definitely no need for the full quote, and arguably even in summarised form it might be kind of WP:UNDUE in the grand scheme of things, but I'm a bit confused about the Obama BLP issues as well - noted left wing academic/activist criticises the policies of a US president, saying he's disappointed by Obama, in well-sourced and verifiable comments that have been referred to in several mainstream news reports and obituaries about Zinn's death. I'm not sure the BLP rules are so rigid that every political comment or quote is to be excluded from pages here, on those grounds alone. --Nickhh (talk) 19:06, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
America's most popular, best-selling historian on the left, who has evaluated the past presidents such as FDR and Lincoln, evaluates the policies of the current President of the U.S. I can't think of a subject that has more weight. Can you explain why this is WP:UNDUE?
Is someone arguing that it's a WP:BLP violation to quote WP:RS critics of the President of the United States? --Nbauman (talk) 17:25, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
No, I'm arguing to follow BLP and not use this article as a coatrack --Ronz (talk) 17:47, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
Here's WP:COAT: "A coatrack article is a Wikipedia article that ostensibly discusses the nominal subject, but in reality is a cover for a tangentially related biased subject."
Zinn has written about and criticized former presidents of the U.S. as an important part of his professional career. Are you saying that his writing about and criticism of the current president is tangential? --Nbauman (talk) 18:02, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
There's obviously no fundamental problem with quoting Zinn's opinions. That's, er, kind of the way people will find out what he thought about things, which you would have thought is partly what pages about academics and activists are for. There's no BLP issue here, and it's hardly a coatrack issue either. I did say there was arguably an "undue" issue, in that we don't need to include every thing he's ever said about anybody, but given that Reuters (and others) saw fit to mention the comments in their news report on his death, almost framing it as kind of his political will and testament, albeit unintended, I don't see the issue there really either. That he is - and always was - on the "dissenting left" when it comes to Obama seems notable to me.--Nickhh (talk) 18:15, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
Re WP:COAT - this article is about Zinn, not Obama, right? Hence BLP and COAT violation.
"Zinn has written about and criticized former presidents of the U.S. as an important part of his professional career." And how much of this article is devoted to that topic? How many sources do we have to justify this coverage? Now compare this to all his opinions about Obama, and this one quote. Looks like a BLP and NPOV violation to me if the Obama quote is given mention at all.
"There's obviously no fundamental problem with quoting Zinn's opinions." Yes there is. WP:SOAP, WP:NPOV, and WP:COAT, (plus WP:BLP when those opinions are about living people). --Ronz (talk) 19:43, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
None of those say that you cannot, where appropriate, set out what a person's views are on political issues or on other public figures on that person's page, in order to explain more about them and their views. Mentioning briefly that in one of his final pieces of published work he was critical of Obama does not suddenly stop this page being about Zinn and make it all about Obama, which is was "coatrack" refers to. Nor does it make it a "soapbox" or somehow subvert Wikipedia's neutrality. I'm not sure you'll find many people - were you to ask them - who would accept such a rigid and idiosyncratic interpretation of any of those policies or essays. Simply throwing the letters at people doesn't act as some kind of trump card. --Nickhh (talk) 21:08, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
It would be WP:COAT to use a biography of Zinn as a jumping-off point to discussing an unrelated or tangential topic. This passage consists entirely of Zinn's opinions of Obama.
In a biography of Zinn, an assessment of Obama is not unrelated or tangential. Zinn himself said that it is his job to assess Obama, and it is our job to assess Obama.
"Our job as citizens is to honestly assess what Obama is doing. Not measured just against Bush, because against Bush, everybody looks good. But look honestly at what Obama's doing and act as engaged and vigorous citizens."
The obituaries , repeatedly referred to Zinn's assessment of Obama It's important enough to be worth mentioning not just in my opinion (which doesn't matter) but in the opinion of several WP:RS. If we omit his opinion of Obama, we'll be one of the few major biographies to do so.
I don't understand how Zinn's assessment of Obama is tangential to Zinn's ideas. If all these obituaries thought it was important enough to mention, how can it be tangential? Can you try to answer that again?
I don't think we have a consensus to delete it from the article. I think we may have a consensus to keep it in. --Nbauman (talk) 23:53, 29 January 2010 (UTC)


OK, this is my summary. Zinn has spent his life finding out and explaining how American presidents have failed the people in the past, and how the people have organized to overcome those failings. Now, from the grave as it were, he's applying those lessons to the current President to tell us the president's failings, and reminding us that we can use the lessons of the past to push the president again.

I think that certainly belongs in the entry. In fact I think that anyone who understands and believes in Zinn's work would organize and protest to make sure it goes in.

In response to President Obama's State of the Union address, Zinn said, "I wasn't terribly disappointed because I didn't expect that much. I expected him to be a traditional Democratic president. On foreign policy, that's hardly any different from a Republican—as nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike." On domestic policy, he has been "closer to the labor movement, and more willing to pass legislation on behalf of ordinary people," like traditional Democratic presidents. But like traditional Democratic presidents, Obama has been cautious and limited. On health care, he started with a compromise," and ended "with a compromise of a compromise." Constitutional rights have been "the greatest disappointment," because he followed Bush policies, by keeping "suspected terrorists" prisoners without trial, by preventive detention, and by sending suspects to coutries where they are tortured.
"People are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric," said Zinn, and should understand that Obama will be "a mediocre president," which means "a dangerous president, unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction."

This summary is factually incorrect. --Ronz (talk) 17:49, 29 January 2010 (UTC)

What are the factual inaccuracies? --Nbauman (talk) 18:04, 29 January 2010 (UTC)

Seems a reasonable summary to me... if still a little long. But my qualms about this section fall on two points. First, to devote this much space in the article to Zinn's assessment of Obama seems disproportionate and smacks of WP:Recentism. Second, Zinn's political and historical analysis has led him to criticise not only and merely specific presidents and their administrations, but more fundamentally, the institution of the presidency itself. I think that the best approach to a section that would include a summary of Zinn on Obama might start with the second point - Zinn's institutional critique of the Presidency, then provide a sample of some of his criticisms of individual presidents/administrations (e.g. Andrew Jackson, FDR, JFK/Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, et al) including the comments on Obama. What do you think? Pinkville (talk) 18:27, 29 January 2010 (UTC)

I think it would be good to have a section on his views about the institution of the presidency, taken from either quotes or WP:RS secondary sources. But I don't know if you have room for it. Can you sum it up in a sentence or two?
WP:Recentism is an essay, not a guideline. Sometimes it can conflict with WP:WEIGHT. If Zinn had opinions on five presidents, you wouldn't have room for all five in a general article. Would the people who read this entry be interested in Zinn's opinion of Obama? I think so. --Nbauman (talk) 18:54, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
BTW, Ronz, you still haven't told me what about this summary is factually incorrect. --Nbauman (talk) 23:56, 29 January 2010 (UTC)

(unindent)He said and wrote a lot about Obama. I don't know that what is above is his pithiest or most considered quote or that it will be a keeper for the ages. It's quite long and has an air of crystal-ballism that Zinn won't be around to edit. The following lines from an article written for L'Humanité might be more representative of his thinking.

"What next for struggle in the Obama era?" November 5, 2008 [1] and translated back into English[2] he wrote: "...It will take a revivified social movement to do for Obama what the strikers and tenant organizers and unemployed councils and agitators of the early 1930s did for FDR, pushing him into new paths, so angering the superrich that FDR, in one of his best moments, said, "They hate me, and I welcome their hatred!"

"Obama needs such fire. It is up to us, the citizenry--and non-citizens too!--to ignite it."

Nbauman, can you live with using the L'Humanité quote? Skywriter (talk) 03:39, 31 January 2010 (UTC)

Zinn is writing well for his audience, and this is standard French intellectual writing. It's very dense, and it's written for scholars who already know the subject. It brings together several different ideas, which Zinn has expressed before:
  • We need a revivified social movement.
  • We need to repeat the social movements of the 1930s.
  • Strikers, tenants and agitators in the 1930s pushed FDR.
  • They were so successful that they pushed FDR into new paths.
  • FDR resisted the interests of the superrich so much that they hated him.
  • FDR said, "They hate me, and I welcome their hatred."
I think this is too much to pack into one quote. We're trying to explain Zinn's ideas to people who may not be familiar with them. This is confusing academic writing. It's confusing for me. I had to stop and read it slowly. It's the longest sentence I read all week.
There was an article in the New York Times today called Crash blossoms about what happens whey you try to condense language too much.
Read it for clarity. Ask yourself whether this sentence is easy to understand.
I do think you have a good point about Zinn's ideas on the institution of the presidency. I'd have to read Zinn's history again (or even better for WP:OR purposes, those obituaries and reviews) to see exactly what he wrote.
Can you summarize Zinn's ideas on the institution of the presidency in one sentence? (Preferably with a WP:RS) That would be a good way to start. --Nbauman (talk) 06:16, 31 January 2010 (UTC)

So sorry for not being clear. I propose only using these words from that article, and nothing more: he wrote: "...It will take a revivified social movement to do for Obama what the strikers and tenant organizers and unemployed councils and agitators of the early 1930s did for FDR, pushing him into new paths, so angering the superrich that FDR, in one of his best moments, said, "They hate me, and I welcome their hatred!" "Obama needs such fire. It is up to us, the citizenry--and non-citizens too!--to ignite it."

What do you think? Skywriter (talk) 15:55, 31 January 2010 (UTC)

PS: you wrote--"Can you summarize Zinn's ideas on the institution of the presidency in one sentence?" reply--I'm not sure that is a complete theme. Zinn was most interested in social movements and how they effect social change. The italicized quote above aims directly at that in that it compares the present economic turmoil to the last great period of economic turmoil in US history and picks from that era what he thought it took to bring about social and economic change. (Zinn wrote two books and many articles on the New Deal so I think this is appropriate.) An alternative idea is to pick one of his many comparisons between Lincoln and Obama. He compared them by saying they each faced a population deeply divided politically, and, he examines what pressures were brought to bear on Lincoln that turned Lincoln's mind from lukewarm opposition to slavery (and sending all Blacks to Africa, a theme Eric Foner explores in his most recent book on Lincoln) to Lincoln ordering outright abolition of slavery. A People's History is the antithesis of the "great men do great things" approach to history. Zinn highlights what movements of people do to bring about change i.e. agitation by abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass. When he wrote about LBJ, he did not say LBJ was a great man who took it upon himself out of the blue to get civil rights laws passed. Not at all. Zinn talked about how the great people's movement struggled for that change and that LBJ rubber stamped it. Skywriter (talk) 16:19, 31 January 2010 (UTC)

It's not you that's unclear, it's this French sentence that's unclear.
We're trying to introduce our readers to the ideas of Howard Zinn. We have to do it one idea at a time, in a logical sequence.
First, we have to explain what Zinn says happened under FDR.
Then, after the reader understands that, we have to explain how Zinn says the same thing applies to Obama.
Then we have to explain how Zinn says we should do the same thing to Obama that the worker's movement did to FDR.
The French sentence has it backwards. First they tell you that a social movement should do the same thing that the social movements did under FDR. Then they tell you what happened under FDR. It's deliberately backwards. The French actually have a name for this style -- they call it "retrograde." It's not a style you use when you want to explain something clearly to people who may not be familiar with the subject.
As I understand it (although I don't understand it precisely, and I need a WP:RS), Zinn says that presidents were always members of the ruling class. They protected the interests of the ruling class, and some of them were even slaveholders. Even FDR started out by protecting the interests of the ruling class. But a strong social movement of workers and organizers grew up during FDR's term, and forced FDR to advance the interests of the working class. FDR advanced the working class to such a degree, that the wealthy classes finally hated him, and FDR said....
You've probably read more of Zinn than I have. Does that accurately reflect Zinn's view of the presidency? --Nbauman (talk) 23:09, 31 January 2010 (UTC)

No need to explain the New Deal or presidency of FDR. That's what links are for. Among other things, you wrote, Zinn says that presidents were always members of the ruling class. Zinn does not say that. I know of no one who does. While it may be true in some cases, it is not in others. e.g. Lincoln was born in a rough hewn log cabin.Skywriter (talk) 23:39, 2 February 2010 (UTC)

P.S. This may not be the best WP:RS, but this interview with Zinn is right on point.
[Zinn:] So sure, you can go back to the era of the robber barons in the late 19th century and say here we have Bush again, representing robber barons. But it would be deceptive to pretend that this is a departure from what we have had under Clinton or Carter, just as McKinley wasn't a tremendous departure from Grover Cleveland. Grover Cleveland was a Democrat -- and McKinley was a Republican. And although McKinley was more in tune with corporate power than Cleveland, Cleveland was certainly a friend of big business and not a friend of labor. It was Grover Cleveland who brought out the troops in 1894 to break the Pullman Strike.
The point I'm making is that whether you have a Republican or a Democrat in power, the robber barons are still there. If you look at Clinton, his administration was very good to the corporations. The Dow Jones average during the Clinton years went up from four thousand to ten thousand. Well, whom did it go up for? Who benefited mostly from that? The great stockholders of the nation are the ones who benefited the most. Under the Clinton administration, more mergers of huge corporations took place -- more than any others that had ever taken place before under any administration.
I'm saying this not to soften the impact of Bush's alliance with the rich -- only to say that the Democrats have made a similar alliance with the rich, except that they cover this over with a lot of different kinds of rhetoric and a softer approach because the Democrats need the votes of the labor unions, women and black people. Nevertheless, whether you have Republicans or Democrats in power, big business is the most powerful voice in the halls of Congress and in the ears of the president of the United States. So Bush is more of the same, only more so.
--Nbauman (talk) 23:29, 31 January 2010 (UTC)
What you say is not wrong though it needs direct sourcing. Zinn cited his teacher Richard Hofstadter's --book on the similarities between the Dem and Rep parties-- numerous times as one of the strongest influences on his thinking.
While I don't think this article can or should go too deeply into the weeds on this, it is useful to note his frequent citations, through the years, of Hofstadter's book as a major influence on his thinking. e.g. He cited it in every major list of books he recommended. And, after the last presidential election, he wrote, "If Richard Hofstadter were adding to his book The American Political Tradition, in which he found both "conservative" and "liberal" presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, maintaining for dear life the two critical characteristics of the American system, nationalism and capitalism, Obama would fit the pattern." Skywriter (talk)
I have used Wikipedia as a reference for several years, but have never contributed to it or engaged in any discussion sessions on it. Please excuse any mistakes I might make in protocol in posting these thoughts.

I am not a professional historian, just someone interested in American history, warts and all. As I read the article on historian Howard Zinn, I realized that it lacked balance. To me, it read like a hagiography.

The article does not mention anything critical about Howard Zinn. For example, historians on the Right (1) and on the Left (2) have referred to Zinn as a “propagandist” when discussing his best known work, A People’s History of the United States.

Criticism of A People’s History of the United States has come from both the Right and the Left. Roger Kimball in National Review Online (3) quotes a review in The American Scholar by historian Oscar Handlin of the first edition of Zinn’s book:

“It simply is not true,” Mr. Handlin noted,

that “what Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortez did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots.” It simply is not true that the farmers of the Chesapeake colonies in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries avidly desired the importation of black slaves, or that the gap between rich and poor widened in the eighteenth-century colonies. Zinn gulps down as literally true the proven hoax of Polly Baker and the improbable Plough Jogger, and he repeats uncritically the old charge that President Lincoln altered his views to suit his audience. The Geneva assembly of 1954 did not agree on elections in a unified Vietnam; that was simply the hope expressed by the British chairman when the parties concerned could not agree. The United States did not back Batista in 1959; it had ended aid to Cuba and washed its hands of him well before then. “Tet” was not evidence of the unpopularity of the Saigon government, but a resounding rejection of the northern invaders.

Criticism of A People’s History of the United States also came from the Left in the form of a review by Michael Kazin in Dissent magazine (2), a Socialist publication. After pointing out the popularity and influence of Zinn’s best known book, Kazin states “But Zinn’s big book is quite unworthy of such fame and influence. A People’s History is bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions.” Kazin goes on to say: “His failure is grounded in a premise better suited to a conspiracy-monger’s Web site than to a work of scholarship.”

Kazin points out that Zinn sees nothing worthwhile about the United States: “The doleful narrative makes one wonder why anyone but the wealthy came to the United States at all and, after working for a spell, why anyone wished to stay.”

Kazin adds: “Pointing out what’s wrong with Zinn’s passionate tome is not difficult for anyone with a smattering of knowledge about the American past.”

The Wikipedia article mentions the fact that the FBI had an extensive file on Zinn and believed that he was once a member of the Communist Part USA. The article simply says that Zinn denied being a member and provides no other evidence to support or refute Zinn’s denial. Former Communist Ronald Radosh has no doubts that the FBI’s 423 page file on Zinn amply documents Zinn’s membership in the CPUSA (4). Radosh is in a position to know; he is a former CPUSA member on whom the FBI had a 500 page file. I believe the article on Howard Zinn should have addressed Zinn’s Communist past more forthrightly and commented on how it influenced his scholarship and world view.

I welcome comments and discussion on the issues raised in this commentary.

1. David Horowitz. “Spitting on Howard Zinn’s Grave?” accessed May 5, 2011. 2. Michael Kazin. “Howard Zinn’s History Lessons.” accessed May 5, 2011. 3. Roger Kimball. “Professor of Contempt.” accessed May 5, 2011. 4. Ronald Radosh. “Aside from That, He Was Also a Red: The FBI’s history of Howard Zinn.” accessed May 5, 2011. ```` —Preceding unsigned comment added by Hugo von hoffmann (talkcontribs) 01:13, 6 May 2011 (UTC)

Not ready for GA[edit]

Thanks to everyone for their hard work on this article. It's very far along but I came to review it for GA and see that it would have to be failed at this stage unless some changes are made. I'll list them here and check back in a week or so. Namely, the lead needs to be expanded to two or three paragraphs because of the length of the article. The lead should summarize the scope of information contained in the rest of the piece. Also, every paragraph should have at least one citation. This should come after the final sentence if one reference was the source for all the information in the paragraph. Otherwise, the source of each piece of information needs to be included at the end of the relevant sentence(s). Lemurbaby (talk) 03:24, 4 July 2011 (UTC)

Redirection to "a part of the male anatomy" has been reverted![edit]

Unfortunately, when I reverted the edit by IP # that had totally blanked this article, I got an error from the system that a certain link called >><< had been blacklisted. As you can see from the difference of my replacement with the original text, the only diff. is this reference. If someone can fix this (or get that site off the blacklist), please do so. Thanks. --Skol fir (talk) 04:13, 27 January 2012 (UTC)

Edit request, 25 November 2013[edit]

An interview with Zinn is featured in the documentary film "I Am" (2011) by Tom Shadyac — Preceding unsigned comment added by Dimitrismi (talkcontribs) 11:41, 25 November 2013‎ (UTC)

Not done: I think you mean I Am (2010 American documentary film). To be added to the External links section the interview would need to be available to view online, where there are ample interviews already. --Stfg (talk) 14:03, 25 November 2013 (UTC)