Exploring the History of the United States
Exploring the History of the United States
Introduction to Zinn:
What is Zinn’s overall thesis about American history?
Zinn’s overall thesis pertaining to American history is that it is a living organism which is constantly evolving due to the ever-changing nature and makeup of the American population, while some facts are undeniable, their interpretations can change.
Who was Samuel Elliot Morison? According to Zinn, What is the problem with Morrison’s work? Has Zinn correctly interpreted Morison’s thesis? Has Zinn stated a proper analogy between Morrison and Hiroshima?
Samuel Elliot Morrison was a man whom specialized in American naval and maritime history, and whom Zinn refers to as making light of the tragic circumstances of the discovery of the North American continent. It would seem that there is a significant romanticizing of certain events on the part of Morrison, and much of this could be said to be due to the marketability of his book.
What is Zinn’s thesis about the values and lifestyles of New World Indians? Analyze the evidence he uses to support this thesis. Is it source mined? What argument can you make showing that Zinn’s thesis is hypocritical? Hint: What does he say regarding Aztec human sacrifices on p.11?
Zinn’s thesis regarding the values and lifestyles of the North American Indians is largely based on the idea that they were engaging in activities which were different than those of Europeans, but also incredibly similar.
On page 13 Zinn gives an account which he attributes to Powhatan. Do you see any problems with this account? What does it do to Zinn’s credibility?
Comparing Morrison’s work to Hiroshima seems wholly inappropriate given that Hiroshima was a literal, political and military decision which resulted in the deaths of millions of Japanese civilians.
According to Zinn, why is it that historians so often differ in their interpretations?
Historians may differ in their interpretations according to Zinn with regard to their own personal experiences, various personal biases, and also their own desired agenda related to change. Historians are well aware that their interpretations of how society and its various cultures interpret pertinent pas events impart a sense of wisdom and belonging.
Read Zinn Ch. 23 entitled “The Coming Revolt of the Guards.” What is his thesis?
Zinn’s thesis with regard to chapter 23 pertains to the tendency of a people to harness their collective will towards a common goal, and his theory is that in the future the masses will gather to overthrow the elite.
Per Zinn, what is the root of America’s problems and what is the solution?
Zinn believes that the root of America’s problems would seem to be an imbalance with regard to egocentric beliefs, which are semi-related to the interests of other people, but not to a high enough degree.
Will violence be involved?
Violence would almost certainly be required in the United States to bring about significant change with regard to altering the system, because an inclusionary system would necessarily involve significant sacrifices.
Can you think of alternative sources for these problems?
Historians can tend to portray certain events in a light that might not be wholly accurate, and this is his way of stating that bringing up certain accounts such as that of Powhatan is his own way of taking a stand
Are Americans (as Zinn states) really ready for his solution? What problems can you see with it?
The inclusion of the concerns of other people into one’s own day-to-day rationale and planning process would likely bolster the morale of not only Americans, but other people worldwide.
What alternative solutions are there?
Alternative solutions to a violent revolution include the effort to bring about the changes necessary to make a more community conscious United States by way of changing the system from within, which could be said to be recent actions of the Democratic party.
Notice his use of conspiratorial language. What evidence of conspiracy does he give? Promoting tolerance with regard to alternative lifestyles, increased tolerance towards immigration, and other policies would all fit into the idea of changing the system from within.
Is it true (as Zinn states) that people’s movements have so far been defeated? Think of some examples.
Concepts related especially to community property versus private property would become an issue debated hotly and openly, and those who resist the changes would have to be forced to abide. The movements of people within the United States have not been defeated so much as halted only to be restarted, the impact of various social and political movements and cumulative, not absolute.
Is America (as Zinn states) failing?
With regard to Zinn’s opinion of America currently ‘failing’, it could be said to be failing in the opinion of some insiders and outsiders, but it is still functioning for many people.
What is Zinn’s view of human nature and why does that matter?
Zinn’s view of human nature with regard to the tendency to boil things down to the here and now and to fail to consider one’s community at large seems to be an overwhelmingly common trait in some people.
Introduction to Johnson:
Read Johnson preface and pp. 1-35 and 976 1) In contrast to Zinn, what is Johnson’s overall thesis (i.e. interpretation) of American history?
Johnson’s overall interpretation contrasts Zinn’s in that Johnson views much of what occurred in America to be natural reactions and consequences, most of which could not be avoided. Johnson views Columbus, the Native Americans, and the Conquistadores as tragic, but also necessary given the political possibilities which existed at that point in history.
Johnson held that materialism was a driving force in the American economy and helped to produce high quality goods and services, which are often far superior to those produced in parts of the world in which material means are not emphasized.
How does Johnson view Columbus, the conquistadores, and the Indians? Whose point of view does he come at it from?
How does he view Walter Raleigh?
Walter Raleigh was viewed by Zinn as a person who was of questionable morals, and embodied a seemingly limitless demand for wealth which could be said to be the personification of most Europeans.
Does this portend anything about how he will view other notable American personalities? What happened to the Roanoke Colony? Does he know for sure?
Roanoke is something which still remains a huge mystery with regard to history, because there were no obvious signs of a Native American raid, and the area appears largely undisturbed aside from the absence of the colonists. With regard to Christianity, Zinn takes a stance of high criticism in terms of Christianity’s literal effects being negative, while its intentions may have been positive.
What does he think of the role of Christianity in the New World?
With regard to Christianity, Zinn takes a stance of high criticism in terms of Christianity’s literal effects being negative, while its intentions may have been positive.
What is implied by the statement that Indians failed to domesticate animals? Critique Johnson on this point.
The failure of the Native Americans to domesticate animals implies that they approached their relationship with animals differently than Europeans, where Europeans wanted to keep animals as livestock, Native Americans wanted to coexist. There was a clear effort on the part of the Native Americans to take from animals while also paying homage to them for the contributions they made to their societies.
Introduction to Hofstadter:
Read Hofstadter Introduction and chapter 1.
What does he think of traditional American history books?
Hofstadter was a historian who sought to look at events in a way that was objective and absent of political bias, while also taking the time and effort necessary to gain significant insight in terms of the practical applications of the insight gained
How does his interpretation differ from Zinn and Johnson?
With the ability to utilize a significant degree of insight, American historical events can provide both information and content for the sake of addressing current issues, and this allows for history to play more than an academic role, instead it provides a guiding role. The degree to which historical information is utilized by the populace of a given country will rely upon that country’s leadership, and the degree to which history is considered.
How did the founding fathers view human nature?
The founding fathers viewed human nature as something to be mitigated by the individual and God, rather than something which was dictated by the government or the influence of other people in the community necessarily. They believed that democracy was a worthwhile consideration, but that a constitutional republic was more streamlined and capable in terms of governing a large, free country. At the time of the inception of the United States, Europe was largely governed by monarchies, who did not favor democracy, although the people of countries such as France were beginning to revolt.
What did they think of democracy? What did their European counterparts think of them?
The Gilded Age:
Read Zinn Chapter 11 “Robber Barons and Rebels.” What is his thesis in this chapter? Did he prove it? Is his argument that Horatio Alger stories were myths supported by his evidence?
The thesis of Zinn in chapter 11 was largely proven, however it fails to take into consideration the extremely different technology and circumstances which existed during this time period, while some acts were inexcusable, others seemed inevitable. Bearing this in mind, Zinn proved his point, however he did not prove a point with regard to what alternatives existed in terms of the way events unfolded as opposed to how they should have
How does Zinn view Karl Marx compared to Johnson’s book at page 526?
Zinn views Karl Marx as being a historic figure with worthwhile ideas, but also someone whose ideas should be implemented with care, because evolving standards and technologies inevitably alter the way in which they would be implemented.
What’s wrong with the Constitution’s contract clause? What is ironic about Zinn’s view of America’s educational system?
The constitution’s contract clause limits the degree to which the state government can interfere with private contracts, and Zinn believes that the state should have more power in such matters. Zinn’s view of the American educational system is that is should be better suited for students to take advantage of their political rights as citizens.
What is ironic about Zinn’s view of the:
Zinn’s view of the anarchist manifesto was ironic in that he believed that American society is already changing and largely ungoverned as it exists currently, and that the anarchists already live in chaos.
- Anarchist manifesto
Zinn’s views on the American railway union is that it is a worthwhile organization, but that it could stand to implement some serious changes with regard to the way in which and the ferocity with which its activities are carried out on behalf of workers.
- The Central Labor Union’s Resolutions,
- The miner’s activities,
- Miner’s activities were viewed by Zinn as organized and well thought out, but unfortunately not supported by their political representatives.
- The American Railway Union?
Who was responsible for the Haymarket bombing?
The Haymarket bombing was, in the opinion of Zinn, a very unfortunate consequence of the will of the people not being heeded, and instead the presence of opposing forces which relentlessly attempted to silence protestors
Read Johnson pp. 530-594. What does he think of the “Robber Barons?”
Paul Johnson largely kept his opinions somewhat contained with regard to how he felt about the robber barons, although he does point out that they acted questionably quite often in terms of their expansion practices.
What is his thesis about the Railroads? What is the Absolute Value Fallacy?
The thesis regarding the railroads presented by Johnson was that they were wholly necessary for the expansion of America, but that they came at a heavy cost with regard to the sacrifices made by laborers
What does he think about 19th century unions (Zinn’s “Rebels”)? What statement on page 539 of Johnson seems highly questionable?
Does it offer us any other insights into Johnson’s approach to history?
Johnson’s position on the railroad offers insight with regard to the fact that he attempts to take a balanced perspective on the part of historical events, while also presenting human considerations.
Do you agree with his thesis at p 576? Per Johnson, p. 579, What has been the essential strength of America? Is this still holding true? Why or why not?
The essential strength in America has been the collective, harnessed will of the various individuals living in America, meaning that diversity is a huge asset when combined with a willingness to sacrifice and compromise.
However, these possibilities are largely re-enforced by the fact that individuals can choose to ally themselves with a cause or choose not to, thus giving additional credence to validity of an idea or cause.
With the backing of free individuals who supposedly pay an extreme degree of thought or consideration to an idea, it becomes more valid to the masses.
p 594 what does he think about materialism? Do you agree?
Johnson held that materialism was a driving force in the American economy and helped to produce high quality goods and services, which are often far superior to those produced in parts of the world in which material means are not emphasized.
The idea that consumer demand and materialism have driven the demand for high quality products and services is still absolutely true. Inventions such as the Internet which have taken over nearly every facet of life worldwide came from consumer demand, not necessity, and this has driven the production of technology to new heights consistently. Robber barons such as Carnegie and Rockefeller did engage in philanthropy after amassing exceedingly large fortunes, although much of it could be said to be atonement for their previous actions.
Read Hofstadter ch 7. What was the motivating philosophy behind the politicians and businessmen of the Gilded Age?
Business men of the gilded age were largely driven by the desire to accumulate more wealth and power, while also imposing their will and policies on as many people as they possibly could. Business men often justified some of their questionable methods by way of arguing that those people who were working for them were free to choose not to, and that anyone could choose to start a business and also achieve success.
What did they think about the morality of what they were doing? Did they engage in philanthropy to vindicate themselves? What was the difference between the democrats and republicans during this time?
The difference between democrats and republicans during this time had to do a great deal with the degree to which they believed the government should intervene in private business. Republicans believed that the economy and private business should regulate itself, while democrats believed that the economy and country overall would improve with some regulation.
What is Zinn’s thesis about Populism in chapter 11?
Zinn’s opinion of populism was that it was a necessary consideration in light of the tremendous hardships that much of the population in the United States has endured for the sake of progress.
What does he think about monopolies? Is there a flaw in this thinking?
His thoughts on monopolies are such that they seem to be the goal of many corporations and robber barons, both of which are naturally inclined to amass and amass wealth and influence endlessly. There is a slight flaw herein with regard to the lack of consideration regarding competition, and the way in which the government and private enterprise might go about cultivating it.
What is his thesis regarding Populism and Progressivism?
Populism and progressivism are both addressed by Zinn with a sense of hope for the future, especially in the context of taking into consideration the needs of as many people as possible. This was a key milestone in terms of the way in which the masses at large were addressed in terms of social programs and policies, which safeguarded the rights of individuals while allowing businesses to function.
Read Hofstadter chapter 8. What does he think of William Jennings Bryan?
Hofstadter regarded William Jennings Bryan as being a politician whom was ahead of his time and misjudged for his pacifist position on World War 1, which Hofstadter held was wholly appropriate as a point of protest, not isolationism.
In what way does he embody a certain kind of American thinking?What is that kind of thinking? Is that kind of thinking still with us today?
The kind of American thinking present in Jennings presents is one of balance and regard for other people in the world, as opposed to possessing a view which places American interests at the center of the table. The interests placed above all else are those of basic human rights, which Bryan believed could have been better safeguarded from the demands and greed of employers. The kind of thinking possessed by Bryan is still evident and present today in the form of unions and non-violent means of cooperation and negotiation in international politics.
Why did Jennings lose the 1896 election? Why did he lose the election of 1900? What was his essential fault? What did he value most?
Bryan lost the election of 1900 because of his expressed views regarding America’s participation in World War 1 and other incidents, which proved to be largely a matter of his morals being too obvious to voters. The interests of his voters in terms of their individual interests seemed to be at odds with regard to where Bryan wanted to aid not only Americans, but the world at large. Bryan most valued the idea that a significant balance could be struck in America and abroad which did not necessitate violence and theft or victimization, he believed that humanity could achieve a higher ideal.
Read Zinn Chapter 13. What is his thesis regarding Progressivism?
Zinn’s theories regarding progressivism largely revolved around the idea that people were not acting in their best interests with regard to capitalism, and were holding on to the notion that they could change their circumstances when in fact often they could not.
What do you think of the cave-man analogy?
The cave man analogy is apt for some who reject progressivism and refuse to take responsibility for their own personal development, family, and community at large, but not for those whom embrace capitalism responsibly.
Who is poisoned by a passion for money?
Everyone is poisoned by a passion for money, because everyone must find a way to acquire it while also managing to find happiness, and all while constantly under the threat of poverty.
What is ironic about Philip Federman? What is Zinn’s race thesis? Do the workers and employers have anything in common? Would “direct action” work? Was Joe Hill guilty? How about Big Bill Heywood? Was Margaret Sanger a hero? Did it matter that women obtained suffrage? Were workmen’s compensation laws an improvement?
Read Hofstadter ch 9. What is his thesis regarding Teddy Roosevelt? How did he feel about rich businessmen? What did he think about the poor masses? What was his attitude towards labor unions? How about workers’ rights generally? What did he think about the populists? What was his attitude toward racial minorities? How were his values shaped by his childhood?
Hofstadter felt that rich business men were largely responsible for many of the ills in society due to a large degree of inaction, which could be said to be a lack of proper prioritization as opposed to intentional infliction of distress. Many of the problems in America were attributed to the poor masses, who he believed were poor due to a failure of the wealthy to appropriately compensate these individuals. He believed that the populists were largely well-intentioned, but that their approach was neither comprehensive enough nor effective enough, and that there were significant changes which needed to occur that were not even being addressed by the populists at all.
World War One:
Read Zinn Chapter 14 “War is the Health of the State.” According to Zinn, why did the U.S. become involved in WWI? Why did he Germans sink the Lusitania? What was wrong with the Espionage Act? Why did socialists oppose the war? To what extent were elites involved in a conscious conspiracy?
Hofstadter holds that most Americans believed that the war with Germany in World War 1 and America’s involvement was questionable, because there was not a direct threat perceived to exist with regard to the country. The American dilemma with regard to engaging in foreign wars was largely bolstered by Woodrow Wilson, whom argued that if America did not address its foreign enemies early on, they would grow stronger and attack later. The idea being that Americans were better off confronting and addressing the conflicts they faced alongside allies in Europe and elsewhere, rather than wait for their allies to fall.
Read Johnson pp. 628-654. According to Johnson, what were Wilson’s chief characteristics? Why did the U.S. become involved in WWI? How badly did the U.S. want to become involved? Why did the U.S. fail to ratify the League of Nations?
Zinn’s thesis in Chapter 12 is that the American thirst for war is one which is irresponsible and inappropriate, and that it is sewn into the country’s ability to remain profitable and powerful. The fact that war in America generates significant amounts of wealth for the population could be said to be directly in conflict with the idea that political actions should be carried out in the best interests of the people at large. While war was certainly good for all Americans in some respects, the overall cost for the rest of the world and those families who lost military service men and women was a heavy burden to bear.
Read Johnson pp. 727-768. What does he think caused the Great Depression?
Zinn’s belief regarding the cause of the Great Depression was largely rooted in the assumption that the investments being made were both reckless and short sighted, and that the long term feasibility of the American economy was not being considered..
What was wrong with the New Deal? Who really started the New Deal programs?
The New Deal programs were effective with regard to the poorest Americans, but with regard to those who were on the verge of poverty, they offered little assistance. This meant that those who had not yet reached rock bottom were left to fall, and only after falling were they met with assistance from the government
What were FDR’s most noteworthy characteristics? What does he think of Mellon? What is the legacy of the New Deal?
Read Hofstadter chapter 11. What does he think of Herbert Hoover? How did he perform during WWI? What was it that ruined him? Why did he fail as a politician? How did his experience with rags to riches taint him? What was his reaction to the Great Depression? What was the purpose of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation? What did he think about the New Deal? What was his position regarding U.S. intervention in WWII?
Read Hofstadter Chapter 12. How did FDR and Hoover differ in terms of their own personal histories? What similarity did thy share? How did FDR differ from Hoover in terms of his general approach to problem solving?
The New Deal programs were started by FDR, who believed that the poverty stricken in the United States needed aid from the government, because they had fallen so far they could not recover on their own. Hoover was regarded by Zinn as a bureaucrat who would follow the path set forth for him by those in power, and that he had little regard for the rights of individuals outside what existed in popular opinion. Hoover performed well during World War 1, and ultimately was able to secure some significant political clout at the conclusion of his services once he was done with his tour(s). Hoover’s rags to riches upbringing and reality could be said to have tainted him by way of removing his empathy for other people, who he believed should have struggled the way he did.
How did he and Hoover differ in terms of personality? What was ironic about his New Deal program when contrasted to statements he had made during the 1920’s?
Hoover was a stoic believed in US intervention in World War 2, because he believed that it strengthened the US power structure at home and abroad, and served to discourage future incidents in Europe. Hoover and FDR differed in terms of their personalities with regard to the degree of empathy they felt for the average American, FDR feeling sympathetic, and Hoover believing in personal responsibility.
To what degree was Roosevelt sophisticated in his understanding of economics? Why did the New Deal fail?
Roosevelt was significant regarding his understanding of economics with regard to the plight of the average American, and their inability to gain favorable financial footing without assistance. Roosevelt knew that this footing would not be provided by employers, and so it was up to the US government at large to provide aid programs to address the concerns therein.
What was FDR’s position regarding U.S. involvement in WWII?
FDR’s position regarding the US involvement in World War 2 is very important to consider, because without US involvement, FDR believed that the US faced significant threats from Germany, Italy, and Japan. As a result of these beliefs, FDR sought out an alliance with Russia, despite having certain reservations about the long-term implications of providing aid to a country which was much different than the US.
What was his relationship with Stalin like?
FDR and Stalin had a productive yet uneasy relationship, which was based around a significant degree of cooperation which had to occur in order to prevent Hitler and his allies from taking over Europe and Asia. The balance of power would have shifted so significantly that the United States would have been forced to consider war as a result of shifts in trade agreements, and possibly even military action being taken against them. These were both ominous possibilities which FDR had to consider as he worked with Stalin, whom he knew had some significant ambitions of his for conquest.
World War Two:
Read Zinn Ch. 16 “A Peoples War?”. Per Zinn, why did the U.S. get involved in WWII?
According to Zinn, the US became involved in World War 2 for a variety of factors, which included the strong desire to not see a Europe being ruled by Germany, and an Asia ruled by Japan. This is due to the fact that if these events were to have come to pass, there was a significant possibility that the United States which exists today would look a lot different, especially in terms of foreign influence. Zinn postulated that the United States became involved in World War 2 in order to increase its foreign influence, and certainly after the conclusion of World War 2, US foreign influence became significantly stronger.
How popular was the war among Americans? Were its aims clear?
World War 2 gained significant support from Americans at home, because they believed that Germany and its allies potentially posed a threat to the US, especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which made it clear that the US had been drawn in. The aims of the war itself were somewhat muddled in terms of the overall goal, which was to secure the US from foreign threats, but these threats were not entirely clear. Bearing this in mind, the American public seemed to place an enormous amount of trust in the government, and this granted both the government and the military a large amount of latitude. Protecting America from further attacks such as the one which occurred in Pearl Harbor seemed obvious, however the Japanese motivations for initiating that attack (trade sanctions) were not openly discussed.
Did the U.S. help Greece and Turkey by kicking out the fascists?
The US helped Greece and Turkey by removing their fascist dictators in that both countries were able to form democracies and begin to form governments that were selected by the people of each nation. The overall prosperity and happiness of each nation was not guaranteed by this shift, but the possibility of citizens being able to dictate their own future was certainly opened up and made possible. Political preference would certainly play a role in terms of deciding whether or not either of these countries was better off with a new government, although it is clear that Americans would likely prefer a democracy to a dictatorship.
Read Johnson pp. 768-804. Per Johnson, why did the U.S. enter the war?
According to Johnson, the US entered World War 2 due to tremendous military pressures which arose from the attack on Pearl Harbor, which virtually necessitated a military response on the part of the US. There were some significant pressures in terms of the threats represented by both Japan and Germany, due to the fact that they were present on either coast of the US, representing a bilateral threat. These threats were both military in nature as well as economical, each of which promised to have a negative impact on the US if they were to gain a foothold against the US.
Was FDR surprised by the war?
FDR was not necessarily surprised by WW2 so much as he was hoping it would not be necessary, this is why FDR and other US politicians attempted to create pressure in terms of trade sanctions rather than taking military action. These various threats posed encouraged the US to gradually take more and more economic action(s) against both Germany and Japan, and FDR knew that there would come a breaking point. For FDR, it was hoped that the trade sanctions would encourage Germany and Japan to either cease their hostilities or scale them back significantly, but unfortunately this did not occur.
Was the U.S. Isolationist before the war?
To imply that the US was an isolationist country prior to World War 2 would be unfair in many respects, although it did not make a habit of becoming involved in the military conflicts in other countries. Trade was an area in which the United States was quite active worldwide, and this was not limited to any one country, but any country whom wanted to engage in commerce with the US. Moreover, the commerce practices of the United States were often without expectation, meaning that the US would often do business with countries that engaged in immoral behaviors.
How did Wilson antagonize the Japanese?
Woodrow Wilson antagonized by Japanese by way of issuing repeated, worsening trade sanctions with the country as their aggression towards China increased, and this resulted in a diminished capacity to make war on the part of Japan. They viewed the economic sanctions and decisions of the US aimed at Japan to be aggressive in nature, and they felt that the US was taking the side of China in the conflict. Japan also felt that the US was potentially attacking them economically due to their relationship with Germany, and rather than cut off ties with Germany, Japan decided to attack the US in an attempt to encourage them to cease their sanctions.
Was FDR a passionate defender of democracy around the world?
FDR was a defender of democracy worldwide, however he was also aware that some countries would vehemently resist US influence in terms of altering their political structure, especially those countries under the influence of Russia. FDR had been stung by the impact of WW2 on his country, Europe, and Japan, and so he focused on salvaging these nations rather than looking to others. He did support the rights of nations to alter their own political structure should they wish to become democracies, but he hesitated assisting such countries with regard to the potential for having a conflict with Russia.
The Cold War:
Read Johnson pp 805-841 regarding the Cold War and pp 877-894 regarding Vietnam. Critique the thesis.
Johnson’s thesis regarding the Cold War impacts in terms of Vietnam especially are somewhat short sighted in terms of allowing Russia to gain too much influence in the region, instead it could be said that the methodologies employed by the US were inappropriate.
Read Zinn chapter 18 regarding Vietnam. Critique the thesis
However, what is important to bear in mind in these circumstances is that the US was responding to aggression in Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba on the part of Russia, and so while often extreme, the response of the US was somewhat rational given the pressures the government faced
The Civil Rights Movement:
Read Zinn Chapter 17 regarding Civil Rights and Johnson pp. 891-893 and 951-963. Critique each one.
Zinn’s theories regarding the civil rights movement were spot on with regard to the necessities therein in terms of equality between the races and the sexes, as well as his response to the US governments crackdown on various movements and political parties. Johnson’s response to the civil rights movement was a bit harsh, despite his allowances for the fact that people were being treated unfairly. While the civil rights movement was not perfect, it was absolutely necessary with regard to providing citizens in the US with the rights which they had as American citizens.
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