Thursday, 2 February 2012

Colonial Era

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This paper will summarize how Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States”, and Paul Johnson, author of “A History of the American People”, view the formation of what is now the United States of America, in its early stages, as well as, an opinionated overview which describes my personal feelings towards their differing accounts of these past times.

Howard Zinn, in his respective writing, opened by describing men and women of the Arawak tribe, of the Bahama Islands, as a picture of innocence when he stated on page three that the “Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts.” He then provided us with a picture of what was yet to come when he provided us with an excerpt from the log of Christopher Columbus, himself, in which Columbus described the Arawak, on page three of Zinn’s book, as willing to trade everything they owned, well-built with good bodies, handsome features, unarmed and ignorant, having no iron and spears made of cane; that “they would make fine servants.” (Zinn, )

Zinn’s compassionate view of the Arawak, coupled with quotes from the log of Christopher Columbus, quickly paint a picture of greed, lies, murder, and deceit. In describing the Arawak as a people willing to give he and his crew “everything they owned” (Zinn, ) Christopher Columbus, himself, helped to paint a picture of heartless men slaying scores of defenseless people in the pursuit of money, notoriety, and power. Columbus, a man that has for centuries, been celebrated as hero and founder of this vast land known as the “Americas” now appears as heroic as “Adolph Hitler.”

Zinn, on page 1, explains that he is being as blunt as he can, in his approach to the history of the United States. He revealed, in his writing, a “not-so-admirable” approach to our past. Before mentioning the settlement of Jamestown, Zinn had already revealed his intent to approach the history of our country from a different perspective; as he wrote, “The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)-the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders.”(Zinn, 10)

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Also, in this writing, Zinn described events that occurred between the early “Settlers” and the “Pequots.” He wrote; “Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, was set up inside the territory of an Indian confederacy…” (Zinn, 1) This territory was occupied by a confederacy of the “Pequot” Indians. He describes a time, on page 1, in which some of the English ran off to join the Pequots, rather than starve to death at Jamestown, as a time in which a tribe of the Americas, was being hospitable, then punished for not returning the runaways and, in turn, being punished for caring. To make a long story short, the English attacked and burned down a “Pequot” settlement; killing men, women, and children, and destroyed their crops. Twelve years later, the “Indians”, not happy with the growth of settlements, decided to try and kill all the settlers, killing 47 men, women, and children and “from then on it was total war the “Pequot War”; in which, the settlers performed genocide against an entire people.

Howard Zinn’s accounts of these early times in American history, describe; without a doubt, the “gory story.”

Paul Johnson, in “A History of the American People”, describes many of these same times in a completely different manner. Though, I will not attempt to compare information about each and every occurrence mentioned above; their differing approaches to history will be evident.

Johnson, in his respective writing, opens with the statement, “the creation of the United States of America is the greatest of all human adventures.” (Johnson, ) This declaring statement rings true of his “glory story” approach to American history, in which, he describes; on pages three and four, Christopher Columbus and his crew as adventurous young men that crossed the Atlantic in search of gold, with dreams of making the world a better place; while escaping Europe, which was too small to hold men with their energy, ambition, and vision!

In his early accounts of the world, Johnson describes the attempts of Portugal and Spain, to conquer new worlds as an attempt to spread Christianity and highlighted their abilities to quickly establish stable settlements that depended, highly, upon slaves.

He makes a declaration, on page 8, that the arrival of the “Mayflower,” “would ultimately have an important bearing on the crisis of the American Republic.” He described a small group of people, some 41 families, traveling to the “new world” in search of religious freedom and a self-supporting government that would have to comply with English law, (led by William Bradford and William Brewster) as being so disciplined in there beliefs, that an early dispute upon the “Mayflower” was able to be settled by a pact that was signed by the head of each family. “An important event occurred on the voyage, when the Mayflower was two months from England, and the discomforts of a crowded voyage were leading to dissension. On November 1, the colony’s leaders assembled in the main cabin and drew up a social compact, designed to secure unity and provide for future government.” (Johnson, ) Referred to in history books as, “Pilgrims”, they believed that they were headed to a promised land of God, divinely given to them en-light of the many deaths of natives, caused by smallpox.

Johnson, also, wrote of the rise and fall of John Winthrop and his lust for authority.

In describing the “Pequot War”, he, describes the event as having originated between the “Pequot’s” and the “Mohican’s”; in stating, “It began with a dispute between the Pequots and the Mohicans in the Connecticut River area, over the valuable shoreline, whose shells and beads were collected for wampum, the Indian form of exchange.” (Johnson, 76)

I believe that Howard Zinn, and Paul Johnson have collectively recorded creditable accounts of history that should be collectively considered. I do, however, see strengths and weaknesses in both; due to the fact, neither writer seems to completely capture the sentiment of all the people of that time. The evidence presented by Zinn was limited, yet potent, when you consider quotes from the logs of Christopher Columbus; while, Johnson presents more evidence in the form of occurrences, neither writing; alone, presents a more concise feeling of the time.

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