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Howard Zinn tells history, in comic form

If history is usually written by the victors, Howard Zinn tells it from the view of the oppressed, be they workers exploited by robber barons or minorities denied due rights.
/ Source: The Associated Press

“A People’s History of American Empire” (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Co., 276 pages. $17 paperback/$30 hardcover), by Howard Zinn, illustrated by Mike Konopacki, edited by Paul Buhle.

If history is usually written by the victors, Howard Zinn tells it from the view of the oppressed, be they workers exploited by robber barons or minorities denied due rights.

Zinn is famous for his 1980 book, “A People’s History of the United States.”

It’s basically the same story here, but with cartoons. This is an illustrated history of America’s often deadly meddling around the globe. It’s written mostly in Zinn’s voice, though he shares the duty. Black Elk tells the story of Wounded Knee, Mark Twain offers commentary on the Moro Massacre in the Philippines and Daniel Ellsberg describes leaking the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War.

The villain in this book is the United States. Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter _ capitalist tools all, in Zinn’s telling. Zinn has a habit of presenting every action by U.S. officials as sinister.

If President Harry Truman gave a millisecond of thought about sparing the lives of American troops when he decided to drop the atomic bomb, there’s no mention of it here. Instead the decision is cast as a bid to keep Russia out of postwar Japan.

The drawings aren’t the only things that are black and white in this book.

The book is leavened by autobiographical vignettes. Zinn, a product of Depression-era Brooklyn, said he became a radical after being cracked on the noggin by a police officer’s nightstick at an antifascism rally. He later served as a bombardier in World War II and tells of once dropping napalm on German soldiers and, he learned later to his horror, French civilians.

The illustrations are simple and emotive, matching the often grim material. But the value in this book, like its forebear, is that it tells interesting stories worth knowing, from the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in Colorado to zoot suit culture in postwar Los Angeles. Turns out you really can learn things from comics.