War and Empire: The American Way of Life.

Author:Aaronson, Larry
Position:Book review

War and Empire: The American Way of Life

By Paul L. Atwood

(New York: Pluto Press, 2010)

"How many Americans have ever paused to consider that the United States has never bombed any nation that could bomb us back?"--Paul Atwood's "War and Empire." The American Way of Life"

This introductory sentence from Paul Atwood's War and Empire." The American Way of Life explodes the hypocritical nonsense of U.S. triumphalism that pervades conventional American history texts. How I wish I could have assigned Atwood's stirring and provocative book to my students when I was teaching. I retired in 2007, after forty-two years of teaching history in progressive, alternative public high school programs. I began my last three decades teaching Howard Zinn's Peoples' History of the United States. I used Zinn as a counterpoint to Daniel Boorstin's classic high school history text, A History of the United States. Boorstin's book was one of the least offensive and more inclusive history textbooks available. Radical teacher that I was, I taught American historiography, the history of history writing. I insisted that my students not just learn to memorize basic facts, master geography and chronologies, but also that they learn to read, write, question, research, and debate history like "professional" historians. I wanted all my students to understand that all history texts are inescapably biased and conceived and argued from the editors' specific historical context of time and place. All good, solid history writing is by its very nature a revisionist argument based upon proscribed protocols using "rules of historical evidence."

Atwood's revisionist history, steeped in the long-established historiographic traditions of William A. Williams and Howard Zinn, likewise argues that all historical narrative is unavoidably ideological and thus requires not just open and honest examination, but also a debate of the facts. As Atwood depicts them, conventional narratives posit that "we the people" are somehow chosen by God or Destiny to redeem all humankind from the evil forces of tyranny, and defend all peoples' inalienable rights against all imperialist regimes opposing democratic self-determination and representative self-rule. Atwood argues that actually the very opposite is true. The American Way of Life has from its very inception been one of the greatest historical ironies, rooted in expansionism and conquest. All American regimes, pre- and post colonial, have...

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