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A Graphic Adaptation

by Howard Zinn and Mike Konopacki & Paul Buhle & illustrated by Mike Konopacki

Pub Date: April 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8050-7779-7
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

The unknown history and devastating impact of American imperial activities abroad.

In this impressively ambitious, if scattered, new offering from Metropolitan’s wide-ranging American Empire Project, left-wing historians Zinn (The Unraveling of the Bush Presidency, 2007, etc.) and Buhle (History/Brown Univ.; Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, 2008, etc.) collaborate with graphic artist Konopacki on a graphic adaptation of key sections from Zinn’s bestselling A People’s History of the United States (1980). The book is imagined as a lecture on the ugly side of history, delivered by the lean, aging Zinn to a darkened auditorium, with each episode illustrated by Konopacki’s almost childishly simple illustrations, sometimes crudely buttressed with grainy photographs. Occasionally, perky sidebars titled “ZINNformation” pop up to point readers to a modern analogy or an interesting bit of trivia. It’s an effective technique for delivering this laundry list of despicable behavior, though at times the illustrations seem less than capable of truly rendering their subjects. After a prologue that describes the government’s vengeful, knee-jerk reactions to 9/11 as “part of a continuing pattern of American behavior,” the main narrative begins abruptly with the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 and moves on to one head-shaking moment of infamy to another. Being that Zinn is most valuable for his insistence on shedding light on dark corners of American history, the book comes most alive when it is describing little-remembered episodes like the shameful American occupation of the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, cleverly enlisting Mark Twain’s embittered, virtually unknown writings on the subject. The authors’ thesis—that America’s imperial war machine manufactures conflicts abroad to further its economic interests while stoking consumer demand and tamping down dissent at home—is not developed as fully as it should be, and current wars are strangely missing.

An overly episodic but nonetheless powerful teaching tool for the next generation of anti-imperialist activists.