Who's Distorting History? Me or David Horowitz? You Decide.

Historians/History




Mr. Loewen is a sociologist and author most recently of, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, published by The New Press.

Editor's Note: A response by David Horowitz appears below.

Having been left off David Horowitz's academic prom card of The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, I felt jilted, until I read his "Breaking the Law at Penn State" (later retitled "Breaking the Rules at Penn State") at his e-magazine, FrontPageMag.com, 1/22/2007.  Earlier Horowitz had prodded the Pennsylvania House to set up a “committee on academic freedom” to ensure that courses at state colleges provided students with more than one point of view.  Now, because my bestseller, Lies My Teacher Told Me:  Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, is the primary text for a Penn State course, Introduction to American Studies, Horowitz is outraged.  At FrontPageMag he spends two pages distorting my book.

He begins by disparaging it as "not a scholarly work."  No reader would guess that Lies is carefully documented with 56 pages of double-columned endnotes. 

He then charges:

Loewen laments "[h]ow textbooks misrepresent the U.S. government and omit its participation in state-sponsored terrorism."

I indented that sentence because I quoted Horowitz, and he used quotation marks because he quoted me ... only he didn't!  He even put brackets around "h" to imply that he changed my capital H to his small h.  But most of the "quoted" words are not in Lies My Teacher Told Me at all!

The word "terrorism" appears just once in the book.  I listed six attempts by the U.S. government to assassinate heads of state or bring down foreign governments (Iran, Guatemala, Lebanon, Zaïre, Cuba, and Chile).  Then I wrote:

The United States government calls actions like these state-sponsored terrorism when other countries do them to us.

Other than "state-sponsored terrorism," Horowitz leaves out my sentence and substitutes another that he simply made up — within quotation marks! I actually agree with the words he put in my mouth on this point – but doing so is still an outrage. 

Accordingly, I do oppose attempts by our government to assassinate or bring down foreign leaders.  Back in 1975, the Church Committee came out unequivocally against assassination attempts by our government.  So did President Ford, three different CIA heads, and every witness who testified before the committee (see "Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders," Interim Report, Govt. Printing Office, 1975).  Back then, David Horowitz condemned such acts too.  For example, he stressed that the government of Guatemala that we overthrew by force in 1954 was elected democratically, while our intervention led to "a decade of dictatorship and right-wing rule" (The Free World Colossus, 163).  Lies My Teacher Told Me cites one of the CIA officers responsible for engineering that coup.

[He] agreed later that overthrowing elected leaders is a short-sighted policy.  Such actions provide only a short-term fix, keeping people who worry us out of power for a time, but identifying the United States with repressive, undemocratic, unpopular regimes, hence undermining our long-term interests.

This is Realpolitik analysis.  I argue that the blowback from our nondemocratic interventions is rarely in our national interest in the long run.  Does Horowitz disagree? 

The new Horowitz, now right-wing himself, goes on in his FrontPageMag article to misquote me again:

According to Loewen, the lies teachers told him result from facts being "manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written."

This time, he gets my words right, but by taking them out of context, he actually reverses my meaning! 

In context, I am assessing various reasons why high school history textbooks are so bad.  Could it be because the secondary literature in history — the monographs in the library — is so biased?  No, I reply, that literature is now pretty good.  "[P]erhaps an upper-class conspiracy is to blame," I then suggest.

Perhaps we are all dupes, manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written as part of their scheme to perpetuate their own power and privilege at the expense of the rest of us.

No, I conclude, "To blame the power elite for what is taught in a rural Vermont school or an inner-city classroom somehow seems too easy."  I go on to point out something Horowitz himself has decried:  If the upper class controls everything, then why are many history and education professors leftists?  Indeed, I note "the upper class may not even control what is taught in its 'own' history classrooms" — upper-class prep schools.  "In sum," I conclude, "power elite theories may credit the upper class with more power, unity, and conscious self-interest than it has." 

Note that this conclusion is exactly opposite what Horowitz claims I say! 

Incidentally, if you want to find out the reasons why U.S. history textbooks are so bad, read Lies My Teacher Told Me.  But I must warn you, I suggest several possibilities, so you will have to make up your own mind.  Ironically, it is precisely this discussion that Horowitz denies that I supply.  Hence, he charges, a course based in part on my book

violates Penn State's academic freedom policy which defines an appropriate academic instruction as training students "to think for themselves..."

Next Horowitz attacks my chapter on Christopher Columbus.  He writes,

Loewen summarizes the achievement of Columbus in these words: "Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass."

I did write those words.  And though they are not my summary of Columbus's achievement, which comes later in the chapter, I'll stand by them.  Are they wrong?  Horowitz makes only two nitpicking criticisms.  First, he says that Columbus did not invent the taking of land, wealth, and labor, leading to the near extermination of indigenous peoples; the Romans did it first.  I thought Romans typically made the peoples at the edge of their empire pay tribute.  When they fully conquered them, they then ruled them through their existing local leadership, sometimes allowing those leaders to become citizens of the empire.  But perhaps Horowitz is right and the Romans nearly exterminated the peoples they subjugated, replacing them with Italians.  My point was not about Rome, but about Columbus, and about Columbus, Horowitz agrees with me.  Second, Horowitz says there already was an intercontinental slave trade — which of course there was — although he agrees that Columbus began the trans-Atlantic trade, which indeed created a racial underclass.  These two "criticisms" prompt him to conclude that my account is "certainly not an accurate view of the historical record." 

The most general attack Horowitz levels is that I have written an "amateur text" that is "extreme, uninformed, polemical."  Not so.  I am no amateur.  I have a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University.  In case Horowitz thinks I'm an amateur because my doctorate is outside history, he needs to know that the American Historical Association put me on one of their prize committees, while the Organization of American Historians named me a "Distinguished Lecturer."  Moreover, specialists in each area I treat find nothing surprising — and nothing extreme, uninformed, or polemical — in my work.  A Civil War historian might be surprised to learn that Columbus started the trans-Atlantic slave trade but will not challenge what I wrote about the Lincoln/Douglas debates.  And so forth.  Horowitz is simply ignorant of the secondary literature in American history. 

Finally, who is Horowitz to call me an "amateur?"  On what is he "professional?"  So far as I know, he has no doctorate in any field, and certainly not in American history. 

I want to conclude more in sorrow than in anger.  When David Horowitz first published The Free World Colossus, I thought it important enough to buy in hardbound.  While far too positive about Communist states like Cuba, it accurately showed the problems stemming from U.S. support of dictatorships.  I knew Horowitz had gone right-wing in recent years, but I looked forward to reading a recent book of his, as time permitted.  No more.  His distortion of my book lacks integrity as well as scholarship.  I can learn from an honest negative appraisal, but Horowitz does not make a single sound criticism of my work. 

Postscript  I sent a slightly shorter version of the foregoing rebuttal to the editor of FrontPageMag.  As I had anticipated, he did not have authority to publish or not publish it and emailed it on to Horowitz himself.  Horowitz replied:

This is typical for the left. Loewen doesn't understand the difference between opinions and facts, in this case between having different opinions about the facts. To take only one example: I do not misrepresent Loewen's position on America as a state that sponsors terrorism and on textbooks that fail to mention this. Loewen actually concedes both points in his email while managing to complain that I am unfair to him. Leftists like Loewen are such obsessive liars that they don't even notice that they are lying. I see no point in posting an article that repeats the positions I described Loewen as holding while at the same time insisting that he doesn't hold them, in order to carry on this absurd dialogue. If he has a substantive point to make, I'm happy to hear it.

Aside from the fact that no leftist ever called me leftist, I will leave it to readers to decide whether Horowitz or I have scored more substantive points in this “exchange.”  Amazingly, Jamie Glazov, Horowitz’s puppet editor at FrontPageMag, implied that Horowitz’s reply amounted to a serious offer to write something else for the e-magazine.  I replied, “I have dealt with enough publications to know the difference  between "r & r" (revise and resubmit) and a rejection, though I admit I  have never received as nasty a rejection as David's.”

We can conclude that David Horowitz does not value more than one point of view when that one point of view is his.  “Academic freedom” plays no role at FrontPageMag. 

Response by David Horowitz

I had hoped to avoid the tedious task of dealing with James Loewen, but since HNN considers his arguments worth a look, I will take the opportunity to make some additional comments.
 
I did not object to Loewen’s text being included in a class in American Studies. I objected to it being the only required historical text for a course in American Studies taught by a professor of English literature. Here is what I actually wrote: “The sole historical text assigned for this course is James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me. This book is not a scholarly work, but -- as the title suggests -- a sectarian polemic against the traditional teaching of American history and against what the author views as the black record of the American past.” My point was that under Penn State’s academic freedom provisions, teachers are obligated to provide students with texts that enable them to “think for themselves.” This agenda was not served by providing them with a single extreme and ill-informed polemic like Lies My Teacher Told Me.

Loewen’s response to my view that his book is not a scholarly work is that it has footnotes. Every book I have ever written is footnoted, but I do not presume to present myself as a professional historian because I have written books on historical subjects. Nor would I call myself a professional sociologist simply because I have written footnoted books on the subject of race. Ann Coulter and Al Franken provide endnotes for their arguments but this does not make Godless: The Church of Liberalism or Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them scholarly works. The point I was making was that a course in American Studies, taught by a professor credentialed in English literature ought to have had a scholarly rather than a polemical account of American history as its sole required text. The issue here is standards, not some slight to Loewen’s amour propre.

Loewen claims I invented a quote from him describing the contents of his book,  while conceding that it is a fair representation of what he thinks. He calls this an “outrage.” Actually, I didn’t invent the quote. It is verbatim one of the chapter descriptions from his book and can be found on his website (chapter 8).
 
Loewen wants to know if I now have different views about the events in Guatemala and Iran than I did when I wrote The Free World Colossus more than forty years ago. The answer is yes.
 
Loewen’s contentions about Columbus summarize the problem I have with the use of his book as a college text at all, let alone as the sole historical text for a course in American Studies. He claims that Columbus made two innovations that were revolutionary, robbing and subjugating indigenous peoples to the point of extermination and creating the slave trade. I pointed out that Columbus did neither (and I don’t agree with him about Columbus as he falsely claims). Loewen tries to wriggle out of the first gaffe by ignoring the Aztecs who were racist imperialists indigenous to the hemisphere and then by explaining that Roman imperialism was benign. This is impressive ignorance, even for James Loewen. Consider this well-known passage from Tacitus: “It is difficult not to remember what another rebel leader, in the highlands of Scotland, is to have said about the Romans before he, too, was defeated: ‘They rob, kill and rape, and this they call Roman rule. They make a desert and call it peace.’ This famous quote has become the very definition of the pax romana. So even if we accept Loewen’s view of what Columbus did, he wasn’t the first – even in this hemisphere -- and far from being a revolutionary departure from the past it was more like humanity as usual.
 
In making these momentous errors, Loewen has been misled by a passionate hatred for his own country unchecked by historical knowledge. The fact that other leftist academics have such low intellectual standards as to consider his work scholarly and assign it in classes or that professional historical associations have become so politicized as to confuse political correctness with accurate scholarship and reward him with honors is regrettable. But that doesn’t change the facts.
 
Loewen’s evident pain in publishing this article is something like the pain of a jilted lover. Yes I was once a deluded leftist like him, hypercritical of the world’s greatest democracy, and ready to turn a blind eye towards the crimes of indigenous peoples. But I put off these childish things long ago and learned to appreciate the fact that the world was more complex than “progressives” dreamed. I would be more interested in his complaints, now, if he showed the slightest aptitude for intellectual argument. I have actually written entire books explaining why I am no longer the man who wrote The Free World Colossus. I am waiting for the leftist who is up to taking them on.

James Loewen's Response

I invite the reader to read Lies My Teacher Told Me and Horowitz's attack on it and make up his/her own mind.
 




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William Kerney - 5/13/2007

>>To castigate Dr. Loewen for mentioning
>> it in his book seems nitpicky.

No, that's exactly the point. LMTTM constantly harps on the factual errors that textbooks make, but across the entire book, Loewen only points out a few, with most simply being criticisms of the overall tone or direction of the books. It's quite telling that he takes the textbooks to task for not repeating something which, as it turns out, is a lie.

In other words, if you're going to be criticizing textbooks on their factual accuracy, you'd better be *very* sure your own facts are accurate.

>>The paragraph you’re referencing was
>> not about Presidents being born
>>into privilege. It was about how
>>affluent people have been more
>>likely to govern society or acquire
>>special privilege simply because of
>>their wealth or social class.

Right, he was making a point that social mobility (i.e. the American Dream) is a myth, and used as proof that over 90% of our presidents came from privilege. Instead of believing this point, I went and read the biographies of every president to see what their situation was like in their early life. As I said before, unless simply being born white counts as being "privileged", his fact is in complete error. Half of our presidents have risen from middle class or lower backgrounds, which disproves his conclusion on social mobility in America.

I stand by what I said on De Las Casas. Loewen at several places in the book tries to make it sound like De Las Casas was not, well, writing 50 years after the fact.

Furthermore, if I recall correctly from the book, Loewen doesn't make it clear that King was philandering. I recall him saying something like, "And FBI agents recorded him having sex, and used that to blackmail his wife." By dancing around the issue, Loewen is guilty of the same "heroification" that he takes textbooks to task for. (His book isn't in front of me right now, so I could be wrong about what he said, exactly.)


Philip B. Plowe - 5/10/2007

I just want to address what you call factual errors.

“--Loewen claims that Woodrow Wilson watched Birth of a Nation and then said that it was like "History written with lightning." This is an urban legend, as any research on the topic will show. I've read through Wilson's letters on the film and related controversy myself and verified this myself. However, Loewen not only claims it as fact -- but criticizes textbooks for not mentioning it.”

I believe a movie website very recently proclaimed it to be an urban legend. Whether that is fair or not is questionable. In 1915 when Woodrow Wilson first screened the film at the White House, several newspapers reported that as Wilson’s statement. This was something that has been so widely accepted as fact that one would hardly need to provide documentation for its legitimacy, particularly a decade ago when Lies was written. To castigate Dr. Loewen for mentioning it in his book seems nitpicky.

“--Loewen claims (by quoting another author) that all but three presidents were born into privilege. This didn't sound right to me, so I sat down and read biographies of every president's early life. The presidents came in about evenly split between being born to privilege (which I defined as being upper-middle class and higher or politically connected), and not. Unless Loewen is defining "privileged" as being "born white" (as he seems tempted to do), it's unthinkable how he arrived at the all-but-three figure.”

I think you misinterpreted what was written. The paragraph you’re referencing was not about Presidents being born into privilege. It was about how affluent people have been more likely to govern society or acquire special privilege simply because of their wealth or social class. The book by Edward Pessen, called The Log Cabin Myth indicated that six Presidents came from the middle or lower middle class. Their status at birth or family history was not mentioned.

“--He claims in two different chapters that De Las Casas was giving a contemporary account of Columbus. On the contrary, his works were written 50 years after the death of Columbus.”

First, I don’t believe Lies states that Las Casas was giving a contemporary account of Columbus, nonetheless, he was in the Americas during Columbus’s time. Regardless of when he actually recorded his chronicles about Spanish conquest in the Americas, he was actually there with Columbus and other early American plunderers when they were doing their deeds.

I found these two biographical sketches of Las Casas doing a quick Google search. There are numerous other sources with similar information:

---Las Casas came to the Indies early, he knew Columbus and was the editor of the Admiral's journal. He knew conditions in the Americas first hand. As the reading in our packet indicates, he was present during Spanish genocidal attacks on the native population of Cuba.
http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/philosophers/las_casas.html

---Bartolome de Las Casas was born in either 1484 or 1474. His father was a merchant who had gone with Columbus on one of his voyages. Las Casas studied at the Cathedral of Seville and studied Latin and theology. Later he studied at the University of Salamanca, from which he graduated with a degree in law in 1498. In 1498 he accompanied his father on Columbus’s third voyage.
http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/b4casasbartolome.htm


Philip B. Plowe - 5/9/2007

"Is it wrong for Americans to note the contributions made by Europeans to the Americas? I do not see your point."

Of course not, but don't exclude the bad contributions. The truth is not radical.


Joanne Merrill Kartak - 5/8/2007

Thank you for an honest-to-goodness, down-home, old-fashioned, reasoned critique that is actually based on the book in question and not someone's political slant. If I were still part of academia-ville, I'd give you a passing grade, which is more, in my opinion, than most in this discussion have earned.


Joanne Merrill Kartak - 5/8/2007

I suggest that those who have to resort to words like "reichwing" are surely not representative of real scholarship.


William Kerney - 5/8/2007

There's a number of troubles with Lies My Teacher Told Me. While I wholeheartedly agree with Loewen's central premise, that students need to learn the controversies and conflicts that made history, and learning about history, so interesting, he makes very fundamental errors in his book. I've written a lot about this book, but I'll be precise and summarize them here.

1) Factual errors. These are the simplest errors, and perhaps the most worrying. In a book that is critiquing the accuracy of textbooks, an author should be doubly careful to make sure that his facts are correct. However, factual errors are found constantly throughout the book. A short sampling:

--Loewen claims that Woodrow Wilson watched Birth of a Nation and then said that it was like "History written with lightning." This is an urban legend, as any research on the topic will show. I've read through Wilson's letters on the film and related controversy myself and verified this myself. However, Loewen not only claims it as fact -- but criticizes textbooks for not mentioning it.

--Loewen claims (by quoting another author) that all but three presidents were born into privilege. This didn't sound right to me, so I sat down and read biographies of every president's early life. The presidents came in about evenly split between being born to privilege (which I defined as being upper-middle class and higher or politically connected), and not. Unless Loewen is defining "privileged" as being "born white" (as he seems tempted to do), it's unthinkable how he arrived at the all-but-three figure. Van Buren's father was an innkeeper of modest means. Clinton's father died when he was young, and his mother struggled to make ends meet. Nixon was poor during his early life, was offered a full ride to Harvard (surely a sign of privilege!) yet still couldn't afford to go.

Approximately five presidents had parents die at an early age. I especially do not count as "privileged" those who were born poor or middle classed but earned money themselves, since that is the exact point that Loewen was trying to argue against. He claimed that social mobility in America is overrated, showing as proof that 96% of our presidents came from privileged households. Taking the story of Millard Fillmore, who was poor for years as he tried to get his law office off the ground, and using it as evidence *against* social mobility and opportunity in America is simply deceptive.

--He claims in two different chapters that De Las Casas was giving a contemporary account of Columbus. On the contrary, his works were written 50 years after the death of Columbus.

2) Procedural errors. Loewen makes one very major procedural error in his writing of LMTTM: his books are old. Published in 1996, LMTTM doesn't use any books published later than 1992. He uses 3 books published in the 70s, 6 published in the 80s, and 3 published in the early 90s. Loewen constantly talks about how textbooks have not improved since the 70s. It is thus very deceptive of him to make that claim while studying textbooks from as early as 1974.

3) Statistical errors. As a sociologist, Loewen should be better trained in the use of statistics to try to get away with some of the stuff he writes. As stats person myself, I'm appalled at his abuses of math and statistics in the book.

--He claims that developing countries have been hurt by development. As evidence of this, he talks about the disparity of growth between American incomes between the 1800s and the current day. It's obvious where his error lies -- the difference in income between our country, and, say, Angola, makes absolutely no claim as to how living conditions in Angola have changed. It might have gone up. It might have gone down. But it says nothing more than America did better than Angola. The proper method, of course, would have been to talk about the differences in absolute poverty, or purchasing power of its citizenry before and after the introduction of development.

Angola's citizenry could be ten times better off today as they were in the 1800s, in real terms, but Loewen's specious reasoning would wipe out all of that improvement by comparing it against America's progress from the 1850s (when we were a primarily agrarian nation) to the #1 nation in the world today in terms of GDP.

--Likewise, he uses the specious comparison of the income of the top earners in America with the lowest earners. This is the same argument, only rephrased. If our poor are doing better or worse in absolute terms, that is one thing (and he occasionally argues this point). He could talk about purchasing power parity or absolute poverty rates. However, the relative difference in income that he uses is an invalid statistic. E.J. Dionne made the same error in his column this week, claiming that the top 10% of Americans own whatever large percentage of America. The unstated conclusion, of course, is that in a perfectly "fair" society, the top 10% of earners would own exactly 10% of America. This is a fallacy called Equality of Outcome, which claims that no matter how one performs in life, one should receive the same amount of money for it. (This is also called Communism, for those of you playing along at home.)

The 90/10 principle (or the 80/20 principle as it is sometimes called) is common throughout statistics and various processes, and states, simply, that the top 10% of X will do 90% of Y. The top 10% of workers at a company do 90% of the work, for example.

Even in random proceses, one would expect the top 10% of the income of a country to own approximately 40% of its wealth (give or take, well, a lot, depending on the model used).

--Similarly, he criticizes textbooks for claiming that America is the most generous country in the world in terms of foreign. The trouble with his criticism is that we are, in fact, the most generous country. We give about twice as much money as second place (the UK). He, however, incongruously claims that per-capita giving is more important than absolute dollars given. By this same standard, Switzerland has the largest army in the world, Poland has the largest coalition army in Iraq, and Sweden and Luxembourg give the most foreign aid.

However, to countries receiving foreign aid, the amount of absolute dollars they get from a country is the most important number. The per-capita giving is irrelevant -- except, perhaps as a tool for getting more aid ("Donate as much as Luxembourg!"). It's certainly deceptive to say that textbooks are lying about this fact, when they are, in fact, telling the truth.

(There's more problems I had with LMTTM, but I wanted to limit this critique solely to a short number of issues that could be boiled down to facts or numbers, and thus can easily be objectively examined.)


mark safranski - 5/6/2007

"The Aztecs may have been violent, but American history text books also don't glorify their behavior in the way they paint the most rosey pictures of European contributions to the Americas"

" may hae been violent" ?

The Aztecs ran an empire based on human scarifice and select ritualistic cannibalism as a raison d'etre.


N. Friedman - 5/5/2007

Mr. Plowe,

Is it wrong for Americans to note the contributions made by Europeans to the Americas? I do not see your point.

My impression is that Europe made vast contributions to the world, in science, in the arts and in more open societies. These were introduced in the Americas and, in some parts, took root here. That is something, I would think, to celebrate, just as the bad things by Europeans here are things to criticize.

Violence is a problem all over the world, not something invented by Europeans. For example, Muslims in South Asia have been even more violent than Europeans, and without modern weaponry - killing many tens of millions of people, by the sword.


Philip B. Plowe - 5/5/2007

The Aztecs may have been violent, but American history text books also don't glorify their behavior in the way they paint the most rosey pictures of European contributions to the Americas.


Elliott Aron Green - 5/5/2007

Kislock seems to believe in the simplistic claim by the mass media in USA and EU states that the US is especially pro-Israel. Of course, I distinguish between public opinion and State Department policy. I L Kenen pointed out many years ago that US policy towards Israel was generally made by what he called the Petro-Diplomatic Complex. This group consists of State Dept & CIA personnel, members of old missionary families, oil industry officials, especially from the ARAMCO company, and various hangers-on of the oil companies, such as James Baker, whose law firm Baker Botts LLP, has long served the oil industry. The oil rich Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, etc. are rather clever in how they buy departments of Middle East studies in US universities, and buy friends OR operatives in the Washington, especially among former diplomats and intelligence officials. Does Kislock remember that Bush wanted to sell operational control of US ports to a company out of Dubai???

jimmy carter in his very crude way has made it clear that he hates Israel. Given Carter's KKK family background and his mother's admiration for Tom Watson's publication, I believe that Carter's Judeophobia began in his youth. It also appears that Carter's Judeophobia was operative during the Camp David negotiations with Egypt and Israel.

Condi Rice has just come up with another scheme to "appease" the Arabs by making Israeli civilians more vulnerable to Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad terrorist attack. Kislock ought to actually study the history of US-Israel relations since 1948. He ought to bear in mind that Israel won its victory in 1967 with French military aircraft. The USA had refused to sell military aircraft before the 1967 Six Day War. The elephant in the room is the ignorant convictions of such as Kislock.


Jeannie Rutenburg - 5/5/2007

Horowitz changed his left-wing views when Betty van Patter, a friend of his and an accountant at the radical magazine Ramparts, was murdered by the Oakland Black Panthers led by Elaine Brown when van Patter found irregularities in their books. Period.


Jeannie Rutenburg - 5/5/2007

It'a not a matter of rightwing texts, it's a matter of balancing a relentless negative book that also provides no historical context for the many true bad actions it describes: the classic example is discussed above, Loewen's assertion that ca. 1500 Europeans "introduced something new" into Mesoamerica, namely massive genocidal war. This is a total distortion, as Horowitz rightly pointed out: it comes along with the failure to mention that the Aztecs were hideously more violent and imperialist than the Europeans, which is why their neighbors found the Spanish preferable and alliled with the Spanish against them.

There are any number of texts that provide a balanced view of U.S. history. If one uses Loewen one needs a good balancer to him (NOT a right wing text, that's just a red herring here), in order to provoke thinking in the students. But to use this text as the ONLY text in a course on history turns that course into an exercise in propaganda.


Jeannie Rutenburg - 5/5/2007

It is clear that Horowitz got Loewen's point exactly right and that Loewen's website admits it. So he is not inaccurate on Loewen's position in the slightest. It is how Loewen himself describes his own position, period.


Stephen Kislock - 5/4/2007

The United States and all it's leaders are more Pro-Israel, than the people of Israel.
I do not where you came from, In the United States No One is Allowed to utter any word/words about the Elephant (meaning Israel)in the Room!


Stephen Kislock - 5/4/2007

The United States and all it's leaders are more Pro-Israel, than the people of Israel.
I do not where you came from, In the United States No One is Allowed to utter any word/words about the Elephant (meaning Israel)in the Room!


Philip B. Plowe - 5/4/2007

I'm curious what alternate right leaning texts might be good to counter balance Dr. Loewens book.

I don't believe books which provide rationalizations for Indian removals or apologize for racism would be appropriate for our children.

Our history text books have already been doing that for many years.


Philip B. Plowe - 5/4/2007

I read Dr. Loewen's book as well. I finished it in less than a week because I loved it.

I believe that we have progressed enough as a society that we can discuss "nasty" topics in American history like Anglo-American abuses of Indians or the nadir period of racial relations that occurred during the late 19th early 20th centuries. These are subjects that transcend issues of left and right political leanings. They are important events and time periods that our children need to learn from in order to be informed citizens.


Philip B. Plowe - 5/4/2007

Far right publications have a much larger pool of ignoramuses to draw upon. It is not surprising that pseudo-scholars like Horowitz often cast off conviction in order to cash in on that mother lode.


J L Bell - 5/4/2007

That quotation implies that Horowitz didn't read the book but relied on the website.

And that wasn't the only example Loewen provided of dishonest quotation by Horowitz. It's telling that Horowitz didn't even address his choice to quote a statement that Loewen had posited and then rejected as if that were Loewen's actual conclusion.

Horowitz apparently recognized that his gaffe was indefensible and hoped that no one would notice. His fans appear to be choosing to go along with that tactic.


Philip B. Plowe - 5/4/2007

When David Horowitz copies a quote from Dr. Loewen's website instead of his book I get the impression that he is more interested in making yet another grandstand about left leaning college education than bothering to actually read the book in order to justify his refutations.


A. M. Eckstein - 5/3/2007

Absolutely right!


Randll Reese Besch - 5/2/2007

Notice he didn't respond to that analysis.H found the reichwing side far more lucrative and jumped ship. Sold his "soul" as it were and with it intellectual integrity. Good riddance...


Stuart Buck - 5/2/2007

It does seem rather shabby to claim that Horowitz misquoted the book (and to feign such outrage), when his quotation was taken verbatim from your own website's description of the book.


James W Loewen - 5/2/2007

You do not know me and have no adequate basis for the astonishing number of "you" statements in your long post.
"It has some historical truth in it,"
Thank you.
"It is sophmorically quasi-Marxist in that it argues that 'traditional' history alienates students because it is detached from their lives..." Nothing "Marxist" here. Research agrees that students rate history as irrelevant to their lives. I show that history textbooks underplay the recent past and fail to connect their accounts of the earlier past to ongoing issues. That's an accurate criticism. How is it Marxist?
I don't ASSUME textbooks "to be the curriculum of the schools" -- research shows that in most classrooms, textbooks dominate the teaching of history.
"...you just want history to be true and where the truth can't be discovered, interesting." Yes, I do favor history that is true and interesting. And it seems to me, the truer, the MORE interesting.
Re what I think about capitalism, I address it directly in my audio lectures in the Barnes & Noble Little Professor series, "Rethinking Our Past." Listen, then tell me I'm a leftist....


James W Loewen - 5/2/2007

Of course I know that Aztecs cruelly dominated their neighboring tribes. LIES criticizes Amer. hist. textbooks for their habit of emphasizing the glories of the Aztec empire (because it was a big impressive nation-state), ignoring the probability that the average person would surely much prefer to live among the "lowly" (non-nation-state) Indians of, say, Massachusetts. You people who knock me for being a mere sociologist ought to read my book first.


James W Loewen - 5/2/2007

Of course I know that Aztecs cruelly dominated their neighboring tribes. LIES criticizes Amer. hist. textbooks for their habit of emphasizing the glories of the Aztec empire (because it was a big impressive nation-state), ignoring the probability that the average person would surely much prefer to live among the "lowly" (non-nation-state) Indians of, say, Massachusetts. You people who knock me for being a mere sociologist ought to read my book first.


Elliott Aron Green - 5/2/2007

I would just like to suggest that viewing history and politics through the prism of the right-left spectrum, that is, actually believing that "right" is different essentially from "left" or vice versa, really believing that these terms apply to policies and not only to bodies of public opinion, is foolish at best. Can someone explain why much or most of the so-called "Left" is on the same side as the immensely wealthy sheiks of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the other Persian Gulf emirates? Can a "leftist" explain why the Voice of America and the al-Hurriya TV station [also funded by US funds] are so anti-Israel?? Does that fact indicate US support for Israel?


Elliott Aron Green - 5/2/2007

Art E, you mentioned medieval Islam as the most destructive imperialism. Let me recommend the section on Arab imperialism in Joseph Schumpeter's Imperialism.


mark safranski - 5/1/2007

Hi Clare

"It just demonstrates that having a doctorate in history does not guarantee a civil discourse on the merits of our arguments"

Very true - though in this case, you may be overestimating the academic achievments of the unreasonable.


N. Friedman - 5/1/2007

That sounds like the Arab and Berber invasion of Iberia.


N. Friedman - 5/1/2007

Ms. Spark,

Those Amazon.com readers who have posted reviews mostly thought your book is stellar. I shall check it out. Thanks.


Clare Lois Spark - 5/1/2007

I have returned to this comment thread late in the evening of April 30 and was disheartened to see the usual pot shots taken by leftists-soi-disants at the purported DHorowitz puppets.
It just demonstrates that having a doctorate in history does not guarantee a civil discourse on the merits of our arguments. Leftists and liberals or neoliberals alike are creatures of the Enlightenment, and a precept of that great period in the sorry history of our species was that it was possible to debate controversial matters without killing each other.
Does anyone here doubt that there is an authoritarian mind-set in some of the comments I have just criticized?


Clare Lois Spark - 5/1/2007

I have been asked to name the book I mentioned above that criticizes the field of American Studies throughout. It is Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent State UP, second ed. paperback, 2006). And thanks for asking.


Jason Blake Keuter - 5/1/2007

it is not history ; it's left-wing propaganda. It has some historical truth in it, but it is selected with a clearly biased intent. It is sophmorically quasi-Marxist in that it argues that 'traditional' history alienates students because it is detached from their lives - in other words, orthodox history (which you assume to be the curriculum of the schools on the basis of your biased examination of textbooks) is an attempt at a politically debilitating false consciousness. Knowing that you're biased, you innocently proclaim that you just want history to be true and where the truth can't be discovered, interesting. Of course, all of the truths you do uncover create a completely distorted picture of American history, which you in turn use to denounce the teaching of history as the teaching of acquiescence to the status-quo which you can't bring yourself to call capitalist because in so doing, you would sound like a shrill ideologue.

As for Horowitz, he's a convenient bogeyman whose excesses give your own excesses and the excesses of those who ASSIGN your book (and thus create a de facto ideological hoop to jump through in order to earn the kind of credentials signifying 'expertise' that you so distastefully brag about in contradition to your pseudo-egalitarianism) a legitimacy they simply do not deserve.

Like all ideologues passing themselves off as scholars, you are hyper attenutated to the problems of historical generalizations and conclusions that contradict your agenda and credulous of all sorts of laughable conclusions that support it.

I know you'll ask for "proof"; I invite the reader to read your book and test whether it fits the generalizations I have made about it here. It does; it's obvious that it does. Horowitz or no Horowitz. You are no more srupulous than he in adhering to any standards of historical truth.


Steve Lowe - 4/30/2007

First, let's remember that this was an American Studies course. That's not to forgive any intellectual laxity in the course itself, but to point out that there are disciplinary differences. Am Studies tends to focus on things like how Americans view themselves politically, culturally, and socially, while Am history focuses more on what happened and why (perhaps in addition to those other issues, perhaps not). For the former class, Loewen's book would be perfectly appropriate since it deals directly with those issues. For a class in American "history", per se, Loewen's book may not be as appropriate.


art eckstein - 4/30/2007

Thanks, N.F. And "The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society" is a fascinating, if stupendously macabre, read. And as I said, it's standard for courses on Mesoamerica.

The people of Tlaxcala, neighbors of the Aztecs, chose to back the Spanish as the lesser of two evils--which tells you something about the Aztecs. And without the Tlaxcaltecan and other indigenous allies, Cortez probably could not have beaten the Aztecs.


N. Friedman - 4/30/2007

Professor,

As always, a balanced comment that shows that history by means of self-immolation - or, perhaps, after an unconscious education with the Prophet Jeremiah - and history by means of "we can do no wrong" is all poor analysis and poor history.


N. Friedman - 4/30/2007

Dear Ms. Spark,

What is the name of your book?


Michael Green - 4/30/2007

Reading the above comments, I am most saddened that I am not amazed that people claim such claptrap about what is being taught in our schools. Why, one might think they are simply parrots of David Horowitz!


Lorraine Paul - 4/30/2007

The intellectual dishonesty Horowitz and his cheer-squad practice is evident to all. Their bleating and obfuscation fools no-one. I doubt it even truly fools themselves!


art eckstein - 4/30/2007

"Did Columbus innovate--who the hell cares?" Well, it seems to me that this was a main point that Loewen was making--the introduction of "European" savagery into the New World. But if Columbus actually couldn't hold a candle to the savagery of the Aztecs, that puts his behavior not in a positive perspective but in a rather different persepctive that Loewen's ideological straightjacket. A perspective we tend to call: "historical."

In that perspective, context is all. Columbus was a late 15th century man, and the late 15th century was a savage world--pretty much everywhere.

But if you want to judge him by our standards, then you have to judge everyone in that world by our standards,no exceptions. I love in Washington, D.C., and the National Gallery put on a "1492" exhibit in 1992, and there was lots of Euro-savagery looked straight in the eye, but on one wall was a hook made out of gold, and the ONLY description of it was "Aztec Religious Impliment."

It was a hook for ripping the llving hearts out of sacrificial victims (i.e., prisoners of war), and this was done thousands and even tens of thousands at a time.

But...no need to tell anyone, was there?


Robert Huddleston - 4/30/2007

I read the exchange between Mr. Loewen and Mr. Horowitz this morning. As a patriotic American I am disturbed by those who want to claim that all the United States has done is great and perfect. I am always reminded of the probably apocryphal story about Oliver Cromwell’s instructions to the artist painting a portrait: “Include all of me, warts and all.” That is how history should be taught.

What is particularly ironic about the timing of this exchange is the following form the New York Times of April 20:

U.S. Releases Cuban Bombing Suspect, Angering Havana
“A 79-year-old anti-Castro Cuban exile and former C.I.A. operative linked to the bombing of a Cuban airliner was released on bail yesterday and immediately returned to Miami to await trial on immigration fraud charges. The man, Luis Posada Carriles, was released from the Otero County Prison in Chaparral, N.M…..”

It appears that to the Bush administration and their fellow travelers, including Mr. Horowitz, terrorism is only bad if it is aimed at the United States.

Take care,

Bob

Judy and Bob Huddleston
10643 Sperry Street
Northglenn, CO 80234-3612
huddleston.r@comcast.net

And so to the end of history, murder shall breed murder, always in the name of right and honour and peace, until the Gods are tired of blood and create a race that can understand.” – George Bernard Shaw, “Caesar and Cleopatra”


Aunty Em Ericann - 4/30/2007

Having read both of Mr. Loewen's books with LIES in the title, and being familiar with how the Right Wing drags Red Herrings across the tracks to divert attention to what's really been said.

Did Columbus innovate?

Who the hell cares???

Did his arrival start a genocide? Yes, and that's the essential point I remember Mr. Loewen making in the book.

With all my love,
Aunty Em


Clare Lois Spark - 4/30/2007

What many historians might not know is that the field of American Studies has submitted to the paradigm of America as the epitome of evil, in a disturbing echo of Soviet and even Nazi propaganda. The field did not exist prior to the second world war. I trace much of its history and racialist discourse in my book on the Melville revival.
Moreover, in the teaching of American literature (the emphasis in American Studies) the Puritans are held to be the chief villains in the piece, and the Puritans were described as fundamentally Hebraic, and like other Jews, a race of arch-persecutors. Given that Loewen is a specialist in race relations, I will read his book (that is much praised in radical circles) for evidence of mastery of the history of antisemitism, and the penetration of Soviet and Nazi propaganda into accounts of the American past.


Charles Lee Geshekter - 4/30/2007

Loewen has a Ph.D. in sociology. No wonder his sanctimonious, hyper-critical excursions into historical interpretations are so easy to rebut and fun to deride.

One wonders, as per the title of his book, what lies he is telling readers and students these days?

In my view, Loewen would benefit from reading a shrewd analysis by fellow sociologist Frank Furedi, *Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age* (Routledge, 2004).


art eckstein - 4/30/2007

The Aztecs certainly took land and labor from indigenous peoples, enslaved many, and often perpetrated their virtual extermination. It is absolutely absurd for Loewen to argue that Columbus started these phenomena in the New World. A standard discussion of the blood-chilling Aztec imperialism (including the ritual sacrifice of thousands of prisoners of war by eviceration, followed by their captors dressing up in their flayed skins) can be found in Inga Clendinnen, "The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society", Past and Present 1985. This is a standard discussion found in many undergraduate courses on Mesoamerica throughout the U.S. Loewen is evidently unaware of it (which says much about his ignornace; after all, his decree is in sociology)--or else he is ideologically concerned to keep the information from his readers.

Liza K misses the point as well: Columbus did not invent either imperialism or slavery. Caesar enslaved 57,000 Nervii (Celts in Gaul) in ONE DAY, and boasted about it in his memoirs. No, he didn't make it to Mesomerica, but one may doubt that his methods would have been different if he had.

I leave out the mos geographicallyt extensive, swiftest, and most completely destructive of indigenous cultures of all imperialisms (as V.S. Naipaul has said), that of medieval Islam, starting between the 630s and the 730s A.D.


mark safranski - 4/30/2007

While _Lies My Teacher Told Me_ is an interesting book ( yes, I've read it) many points therein are highly argumentative both on methodological as well as political grounds. Not all of them, to be certain, but many.

As a teacher of history, would I use it in a classroom? Of course. Probably balanced with another text that tilts in the opposite political direction so students could compare and analyze how scholars and authors construct their arguments.

But as the primary or sole " historical" text? No, it lacks balance and topical depth for a survey course and does not provide the context that the history component of an American Studies course is supposed to provide for the literature. As a supplemental text, I think it works well in that format.

If it was the case that Lies My Teacher Told Me was the sole text then David Horowitz is substantively correct, regardless of disputes about the use of specific quotations.


Stephen Kislock - 4/30/2007

Native American do Not celebrate Columbus, Why?

American History should include a chapter on "Operation Northwoods", and how far The government will stoop to Invade and overthrow governments the United States and Big Business do not want.


Jonathan Rees - 4/30/2007

From David Horowitz:

"I did not object to Loewen’s text being included in a class in American Studies. I objected to it being the only required historical text for a course in American Studies taught by a professor of English literature."

Don't you think we need the rest of the syllabus to settle this debate? Obviously, David Horowitz has seen it. I'm thinking from the quote that Loewen's book is not the only text, just the only required "historical" text (whatever that means). We need the additional information to judge the merits of the course overall as well Horowitz's definition of the word "historical."

Perhaps you HNN folks could offer a link up above?


James W Loewen - 4/30/2007

In the context of American history, which is what my book is about, Columbus DID introduce "the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination," This is not to claim that no group exploited, enslaved, or even exterminated before Columbus. (I would note, however, that Scotland today is full of Scots, not Italians, while the Caribbean is full of Spaniards, other Europeans, and Africans, not Caribs.) And Columbus DID start the transatlantic slave trade.
I did miss that Horowitz was quoting my website (which I did not write). I note, however, that he does not try to defend misusing my words in his other points. And, while he has the right to change his opinion about our intervention in Guatemala, he does not have the right to change the facts, which he got right the first time: our intervention there DID result in "a decade of dictatorship and right-wing rule" -- actually several decades.


Lisa Kazmier - 4/30/2007

I wasn't aware that the Romans and others came to North America for exploitational purposes. Isn't geography a component in being an innovator?

You consider this a serious point but forget much of the thrust of this article is about shutting down anything but the most simplistic reich-wing myths about America, huh? That's rich.


Elliott Aron Green - 4/30/2007

Loewen calls it "nitpicking" for Horowitz to point out that Columbus was not an innovator in the taking of land, resources, etc., from indigenous peoples, and in the slave trade. I view Loewen's description of Columbus as an innovator as simplistic at best. And simplistic views, concepts and understandings are harmful to the students' intellectual development, I believe.

On the slave trade, Arab slave traders brought Africans to work the tidal salt basins of southern Iraq, during the period of the Abbasid caliphate [long before Columbus]. This would seem to have created "a racial underclass" or caste. By the way, this situation led to a major revolt by the slaves called The Revolt of the Zanj [= Africans]. The rebels held out against the caliphate for at least 15 years. This is surely an event deserving to be remembered like the Spartacus Revolt. Yet, it is curious that this episode seems so little discussed by the protagonists of Black culture and history. It is also curious that neither Loewen nor Horowitz mentions Arab imperialism as a force destructive of indigenous peoples and their cultures. Indeed, Romans, Arabs, and other imperialists too, no doubt, preceded Columbus in doing what Loewen attributes to him [albeit they were not Transatlantic]. But isn't it simplistic to attribute to one man what Loewen does, besides the fact that the Spaniards were not innovators in the ways that Loewen attributes to Columbus?? These criticisms are hardly "nitpicking."