Human rights movement and activists rely on historical information in finding the nature and extent of historical injustices in the society. The future of the society depends on their clear reflection and view of the historical background as the society tries to navigate the daily challenges.
The contemporary society is the product of the history hence historical events and injustices are integral factor that determines the bearing of the society. The importance of historical information begs a question of how valid is the historical information and how credible are the historians.
According to Zinn, “everyone is biased, whether they know it or not, in possessing fundamental goals, purposes, and ends (48). Due to inherent biasness and partially in historical information, Zinn is caution us not to rely on historians and journalist but be flexible to consider omissions and de-emphasis of vital information before making any conclusion on a historical event (49).
Zinn conclusively argue that, “All written history is partial in two senses. It is partial in that it is only a tiny part of what really happened …it is partial in that it inevitably takes sides, by what it includes or omits, what it emphasizes or deemphasizes” (49). This essay is going to describe Zinn’s argument in detail and evaluate its validity using two major historical events: Ludlow massacre and the “Valour and the Horror” documentary.
The events that lead to the Ludlow massacre were the series of coal workers strikes at the Colorado mines under Rockefeller’s Corporation. The workers were under strict watch by the police not to form any labor union to champion their rights and the Rockefeller Corporation detectives shoot dead the labor organizer Gerry Lippiatt.
His death enraged coal workers in the Trinidad, they held meeting to condemn his killing, and they vow to continue to fight for the rights. The organizer of the United Mine Workers, Mary Jones addressed them saying, “What would the coal in these mines and in these hills be worth. Unless you put your strength and muscle in to bring them….You have collected more wealth, created more wealth than they in a thousand years of the Roman Republic, and yet you have not any” (Zinn 52).
The workers resolved to strike and were evicted from the Rockefeller company houses and they moved to the tents at the United Mine Workers where they were they were threatened by the gunfires at their tents so that they can end their strikes but they persisted. The workers were lured into the massacre after a series of fights with the detectives that made the mine owners to resort to massacre, by brutally attacking and killing innocent children, women and men because they demanded their rights (Zinn 54).
According to Zinn, the reason why this historical massacre was not in the historical books nor taught in the class is that, politically, the Rockefeller Corporation was a more important industry than workers rights and industrialization was everything no matter the bloody cost on the lives of the workers.
To harmonize the view of historians and industrialists, Zinn concluded that, there is “a certain unspoken understanding lay beneath the writing of textbooks and the teaching of history: that it would be considered bold, radical, perhaps even “communist” to emphasize class struggle in the United States” (58).
Hence, there is a culture or ideology of focusing only on economic achievement rather than social impacts of the industrialization because the objective a high school book entitled Legacy of Freedom is to “aid the student in understanding the economic growth and development of our country” (Zinn 59). So here, legacy of freedom is not human right but it is an economic growth and development, which is a partial and biased objective of the freedom legacy.
The Ludlow massacre is an example of a historical event that was omitted by the historians since the source of the story did not come from the historical books but from the song artist and English literature. The story is about labor struggles of the Colorado coal miners that eventually lead to the massacre.
The important historical event that shows how the Americans suffered and endured hardships during their labor conflict struggles. I wonder why such an important historical event that depicts the labor conflicts and the cost of the lives of the Americans was not part of the college history curriculum. I think is due to political and historian deliberate deception not to reveal how the government blundered in the brutal killings of innocent workers instead of championing their rights.
The valour and the horror is a documentary showing Canadian involvement in the World War II. The documentary aimed at provoking the society to ask “hard and critical questions” about Canadian involvement in World War II where together with the Britain they bombed German civilians. The documentary summed up that, “Let us celebrate the valour, but speak the evil and the horror” (Dick 254).
The historical documentary has stirred differing views of interpretation from journalists, politicians and the public depending on their values and interests.
The documentary received great reception in the media and public arena but great resistance from political arena. The controversy ensued over the historical interpretation of the World War II participation by the Canada. The critics of the documentary argued that, “the series was unfair and inaccurate and denigrated their role in World War” (Dick 253) and they launch a strong campaign against the broadcast and the documentary.
This controversy evokes lot of questions as to why and how can a historical fact be subjective to many interpretations. The broadcast protested about the Senate subcommittee decision to investigate the controversial documentary arguing that, “we believe it will be difficult for fair-minded people to take any notice of findings arrived at in such an obviously biased process and we regret that the Senate has chosen to proceed in this fashion (Dick 255).
With much pressure, they were compelled to review the documentary to reflect “greater journalistic balance” (Dick 256). The radio and television commission carried out their review and concluded that, “history cannot be considered as a single immutable truth” (Dick 256).
The historians were ironical in that they have been actively criticizing Canadian military involvement in the World War II in their own books and articles but this time round, they have strongly protested against the documentary (Dick 265). The controversy over a factual historical event, even by historians themselves has clearly proved beyond reasonable doubt that historians and their records are partial and biased in their entire objectives and can never be relied upon.
Basing on the two historical events, historians and historical records are biased. The reporting and analysis of an historical event depends on the historian interest and the overriding political interest. The Ludlow massacre was neither found in the historical books, nor taught in colleges, because the American political ideology was at that time focusing mainly on economic development, nobody had much concern about the civil rights, and champion for the interest of workers.
In the “Valour and Horror” documentary, the political interest overrides the public interests in the quest of the truth about historical injustices that led to bombing of innocent German civilians in World War II. Hence, the validity of any historical information is subject to powerful political figures and biased historians who would otherwise change history to suite their ends.
The great controversy that ensued in the documentation of the military involvement attracted more political interest and public to the extent of recommending the regulation of media. History deals with factual events but the problem lies in the subjectivity of the interpretation and documentation of important historical events.
Dick, Ernest. “The Valour and the Horror” Continued: Do We Still Want Our History on Television. Archivaria, 1992. Web. 17 Oct. 2010.
Zinn, Howard. Declarations of Independence: Use and Abuse of History. Harper Collins, (1976): 48-66