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Book Review: Voices Of A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove

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History, it's said, is written by the winners, and our textbooks and encyclopedias bear this out with their accounts of wars won and political triumphs. Take a second look at most histories and you'll notice not only are they written by the winners, the story they tell is one seen through the eyes of a select group of people. You'll read about captains of industry, generals, presidents, kings, prime ministers, and the occasional war hero or two, and be regaled with tales of their acumen or, on occasion, spectacular failures. However what you'll very rarely find is the story of the private in the field who carried out the general's orders, a factory worker or coal miner describing what it was like to work 12-hour shifts with little pay for one of the captains of industry, or those who suffered from the politicians' decisions.

If one pays careful attention you can see history being written around you on a daily basis. It's in the headlines on CNN or the official statements from government offices around the world which are reprinted as fact. Today's announcement of a successful surgical strike in Afghanistan will be in tomorrow's history textbook as part of the overall campaign against oppression and terror that was carried out in the early part of the 21st century. You'll probably look in vain for any mention of facts or opinions that disagree with that opinion. It's doubtful that history books will talk about the thousands of Iraqi civilians who died during the "liberation" of their country, how the country descended into lawlessness and violence during the occupation, or how conditions for the average person in both Iraq and Afghanistan actually worsened under the new regimes installed by the "liberators".

However, that doesn't meant there aren't any accounts or records of that information. It's just that somehow or other they're not made readily available for us, the public at large, to read. In fact throughout the history of this continent, more specifically the United States, there exist examples of speeches and first person accounts of events that give lie to the officially held position espoused by history books. Voices Of A People's History Of The United States by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove, published by Seven Stories Press and distributed by Publishers Group Canada, gathers together writings, speeches, poems, and song lyrics dating back to the times of Columbus telling the history or the United States, but its a history you might not recognize.

As the majority of the voices in this book are those that were raised in protest against the actions of the government of the time, there will be those who will accuse it of presenting history from a liberal or left wing bias. However, what they will fail to mention is that the histories we have been presented with up until now are just as biased in the other direction. Think of this rather as an attempt to balance the scales. We've heard about Rockefeller and Carnegie and how they built their empires and as captains of industry helped to make the country great. Well, now you'll hear from those who worked in their factories and mines and fought for living wages, safe working conditions, child labour laws, and a 40-hour work week. In fact many of the things we take for granted now — the right of women to vote, equal rights, and the abolition of slavery — were once considered dangerous subversions and the people who spoke out for them threats to public safety.

However, how many textbooks have quoted ex-slave Sojourner Truth's 1851 speech "Ain't I A Woman?" where she espouses not only the rights of African Americans but women as well? Rights which none of us think twice about now. However only 22 years after Truth's speech, Susan B. Anthony was arrested for trying to vote in a presidential election and was told by her judge that she had been found guilty according to the established forms of law. These two women, along with many of the voices recorded in this book, were considered to be dangers to society, criminals, radicals, and threats against the established norm. Yet they, along with the men and women who were shot down by Rockefeller's private militias when they went on strike, or arrested by Alabama police for protesting segregation, are responsible for the freedoms most of us enjoy today. But whose names are the prominent ones in the history books? Not the ones who fought for our rights, but rather the ones who fought tooth and nail against them.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.