Here is the revised and updated 10th anniversary edition of the number-one New York Times best seller.
Over the past decade, A Patriot's History of the United States has become the definitive conservative history of our country, correcting the biases of historians and other intellectuals who downplay the greatness of America's patriots. Professors Schweikart and Allen have now revised, updated, and expanded their book, which covers America's long history with an appreciation for the values that made this nation uniquely successful.
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Does what it says on the tin
Probably not, to be honest.
An informative read, though “A Partisan History of the United States” would actually be a more apt title
I bought this book as a European who is interested in history, but who realised that there were huge gaps in my knowledge. I knew about the particular episodes: the Pilgrim Fathers, the American War of Independence, the Civil War, the US involvement in WW2 and the period since the since 1970s which I’d read in the newspapers myself. But between those, I knew very little. In general, I enjoyed the book and I now feel better informed.
I had expected, however, that that, as a ‘Patriot’s history’, it would relate the history of the country as a whole, inspiring readers to be proud of heroic successes, trying to explain those things that have sometimes gone wrong, and celebrating the contributions of Americans of all backgrounds and parties.
I have to say, the Patriot’s History doesn’t really do this. In fact a more apt title would be: “A Partisan History of the United States”. That is, the narrative relates the history of the US very much from a 21st century, Conservative Republican stance. Any Conservative Republican is lauded. Any Democrat is vilified. Even ethnic groups that have been associated with the Republicans, like the Germans, are celebrated for their enterprise and innovation, while those who have been associated with the Democrats, like the Irish, are found wanting for not showing these traits to the same degree.
And in telling the story, the authors can never resist the temptation to use events as an excuse for an attack their modern political foes. The result feels less like a narrative and more like a diatribe.
There is a tortured section where the authors discuss the number of Native Americans who died as the result of the European exploration and colonisation of the continent. They attack the figure of 56 million sometimes quoted, noting that the true figure may have been as low as 800,000. But the point surely, is that, whatever the figure, it was extremely high. Would it not have been wiser for the authors simply to accept this truth? Are they really trying to suggest, in this long and detailed section, that it would have been unacceptable for Europeans to cause the deaths of 56 million people, but that 800,000 was OK? It seems to me that there is a lack of moral compass here.
The same is true of the way the authors deal with Washington and Jefferson. As founders of the nation and drafters of the constitution, they feel they have to laud them, while at the same time feeling obliged to note that they were slave-owners. The leaders of the Confederacy are not given the same lenient treatment, although they were guilty of the same offence.
The authors refer to the formerly captive Africans who liberated themselves from the Amistad as ‘mutineers’, although they were never part of an army or a navy and had in fact been abducted, or
kidnapped. Several words could fairly be used to describe them: rebels, former captives, survivors. But surely, ‘mutineers’ is not one of them. One to change in the next edition?
I was disappointed by the authors’ libelling of Harry Hopkins, who worked closely with FDR during WW2 and played a key role in brokering the alliance that overthrew Hitler. Churchill praises him in his memoirs as "natural leader of men" who had "a flaming soul" a veritable panegyric. The authors, however, accept at face value an allegation made at the McCarthy hearings three years after his death that he was a Soviet agent, even though the FBI later concluded that this could not be substantiated. I thought ‘innocent until proven guilty’ was a core American value and I have to say, this libel casts a stain on the whole work.
Bizarrely, the authors attack the Nürnburg trials following WW2 on the basis that they opened the way for complaints against American war crimes in future decades. Are they not proud of the US role in bringing the worst war criminals to justice? What do they think should have happened to the likes of Göring, Frank and Frick? It does occur to me that the authors have become so bound up in the ideology of 21st century US Republicanism, which rejects any form of international justice on principle, that they have allowed their moral judgement to be clouded.
Again bizarrely, the authors claim that the media ignored the crimes of Pol Pot in Cambodia. I read the papers in the mid-1970s in the UK, and I can say for sure that that is not true. The awfulness of what happened there made a deep impression on me as a teenager. This does remind me of the troubles the Trump Presidency is getting itself embroiled in in early 2017 on media coverage of terrorist outrages, trying to argue, in effect, that that black is white.
Perhaps the most outlandish claim made is that the loss of a single American helicopter on its unsuccessful, but heroic mission to free the US hostages in Teheran in 1980 was “more humiliating than the sack of the White House” by the British in 1814. As John McEnroe would have said, “You cannot be serious!”
Moving into the 1980s, the authors seriously claim that Gorbachev “differed little from his predecessors” Andropov and Chernenko. Anyone who has read Gorbachev’s memoirs, who saw him introduce multi-candidate elections into Soviet system, or who witnessed him consciously free central Europe from the Communist yoke by renouncing the Brezhnev doctrine, knows that this is very wide of the mark. Including this in the text simply undermines its credibility.
Moving into the 21st century, the authors report as fact that there were links between the Saddam Hussein regime and Al-Qaida, even though George Tenet, the Director of the CIA has made clear that no such claims could be verified.
In general, the closer the narrative gets to the modern period, the more it diverges from the facts as generally accepted. It refers to global warming as an ‘unproven notion’, even though 16 of the 17 hottest years ever recorded have been in the 21st century. Global warming is no longer an ‘unproven notion ’.
I had imagined that a Patriot’s history of the United States would, broadly, offer a Whig reading of history, similar to the excellent Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, which has met with much success recently.
Broadly, this view sees history as a long but uneven march from a violent, disorganised, lawless and impoverished state towards greater order, peace, prosperity, rule of law, individual freedom, democracy and respect for universal human rights. I imagined that the authors would, rightly, champion America’s success in bringing forward this change within its own borders, and also her huge contribution in moving the rest of the world in the same direction. Unfortunately, however, their narrow, tribal and partisan approach always gets the better of them, and they end up rather missing this point.
I listened to the book as an Audible download and the reading by Patrick Lawlor was excellent: clear, easily understood and with a sense of conviction that suggested he believed what he was saying, which is always good.
- Rory Francis