Zinn is the swashbuckling historian rescuing the forgotten story — the one covered up by all previous historians who lack his compassion and moral vision. Here he is, the crusader-historian, the knight in shining armor rushing to the rescue of the oppressed:
“I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of Scott’s army, of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills, of the Spanish-American war as seen by the Cubans, the conquest of the Philippines as seen by black soldiers on Luzon, the Gilded Age as seen by southern farmers, the First World War as seen by socialists, the Second World War by pacifists, the New Deal as seen by blacks in Harlem, the postwar American empire as seen by peons in Latin America. And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can “see” history from the standpoint of others.”
In Zinn’s telling, the Arawaks — or black slaves, or Cherokees, or New York Irish, or whoever — must always be persecuted innocents and the condemnation of their sufferings must be absolute. The officially oppressed cannot be blamed even for any crimes they themselves commit, which are inevitably the fault of their oppressors: “The victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims. . . . I will try not to overlook the cruelties that victims inflict on one another as they are jammed together in the boxcars of the system.” (Here, Zinn is following Karl Marx’s maxim that proletarian victims are “tainted with the culture that oppresses them” and so oppress others, in turn).