When we think of history, we think we have a true, objective set of facts, and we trust the common interpretations of those facts without really understanding what those moments in time were really like. We forget that people back then are essentially the same as people now, and we often place on a pedestal American heroes and forefathers, simply because our history forgot their motives, their downfalls, and their mistakes. But, Zinn says that the truth of the matter is that many of our American heroes are villains who won the right to paint their own history, because they were incredibly powerful economically and politically, typically as a direct result of their serious moral failures.
For this, look at Christopher Columbus, which is a perfect demonstration of this problem. In the past, Columbus was remembered as if he were completely disconnected from the genocide of Native people's, but actually, that's simply false. In his own writing, he expresses a great deal of awareness, and he catalogs behavior that is simply unfathomable. Not only did he know about serious mistreatment against the Native Americans, he seems entirely complicit to the downfall of their society.
In the modern era, perhaps the Rwandan genocide passage rings most true. In the WWII aftermath, American politicians painted a certain narrative about American geopolitics, but actually, the Rwandan genocide was clearly a similar issue, but Zinn feels the Clinton administration failed on their promise to fight for justice, because it would have been unpopular to use American resources for a war in Africa. It's perfectly hateful, and because of American inaction, 800,000 Rwandans were brutally slaughtered, and the United States watched.
This brings up a famous US History question about the role of America as a global powerhouse. Does America have extra responsibility, proportional to its power? Or should America remain insulated, letting history play itself out across the world without American powers watching by? That question is often posed this way: Should America be the police for the whole world? These questions are clouded by economic interests that keep America involved in world politics for economic reasons, says Zinn.