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Censorship Backfire: Surge of Interest in Zinn’s ‘People’s History’ After revelations former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels sought to ban classic work, public interest soars August 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Education, History.
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- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Public demand for Howard Zinn’s classic book A People’s History of the United States is surging, something likely to make former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels none too happy.

In July, the Associated Press revealed that Daniels, who is now president of Purdue University, sought to ban the works of Howard Zinn from Indiana classrooms.

But since his “anti-Howard Zinn witch-hunt” has been exposed, Zinn’s People’s History has become “a hot read at libraries” in the state, the South Bend Tribune reports.

St. Joseph County Public Library, for example, which only had one copy of Zinn’s People’s History just weeks ago, has now upped the number to 19 due to patrons’ interest, but even that wasn’t enough.  They’re all checked out now, and there are 10 people on a waiting list.

At Indiana University South Bend, the book isn’t even on any required reading list for the fall 2013 semester, but all the available copies are currently checked out, the Tribune continues.

The surge in interest in the book hasn’t been limited to Indiana either.

The Zinn Education Project, which promotes and supports teaching a people’s history (upper and lower case) in middle and high school classrooms, has also received a surge of interest in its teaching materials since Daniels’ censorship attempts were exposed.

“Thanks to the exposure generated by former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ attempt to ban Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States from Indiana schools and teacher education programs, the Zinn Education Project has been flooded with visitors looking for people’s history teaching materials,” Bill Bigelow, Zinn Education Project co-director, told Common Dreams via email.

“Teachers and parents have told us that they are redoubling their commitment to teach people’s history in the face of the proposed censorship. We invite other governors to attempt to ban Zinn’s works—it helps introduce A People’s History of the United States to huge new audiences,” Bigelow added.

In one 2009 email revealed by AP between Daniels and a top state education official, Daniels wrote:

This terrible anti-American finally passed away. The obits and commentaries mentioned that his book “A People’s History of the United States” is “the textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.” It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.

Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before any more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?

Camouflaging the Vietnam War: How Textbooks Continue to Keep the Pentagon Papers a Secret June 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, History, Vietnam, War.
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Roger’s note:   ‘Ellsberg’s central conclusion about the United States in Vietnam: “It wasn’t that we were on the wrong side; we were the wrong side.”’  This is as true with the US military adventures today as it was then.  Something many if not most so-called liberals and progressives (not to mention the mainstream media) cannot get through their heads.

In the Academy Award-winning documentary Hearts and Minds, Daniel Ellsberg, who secretly copied and then released the Pentagon Papers, offers a catalog of presidential lying about the U.S. role in Vietnam: Truman lied. Eisenhower lied. Kennedy lied. Johnson “lied and lied and lied.” Nixon lied.

Ellsberg concludes: “The American public was lied to month by month by each of these five administrations. As I say, it’s a tribute to the American public that their leaders perceived that they had to be lied to; it’s no tribute to us that it was so easy to fool the public.”

 

(Painting by Robert Shetterly, American’s Who Tell the Truth series)

 

The Pentagon Papers that Ellsberg exposed were not military secrets. They were historical secrets—a history of U.S. intervention and deceit that Ellsberg believed, if widely known, would undermine the U.S. pretexts in defense of the war’s prosecution. Like this one that President Kennedy offered in 1961: “For the last decade we have been helping the South Vietnamese to maintain their independence.” No. This was a lie. The U.S. government’s Pentagon Papers history of the war revealed how the United States had sided with the French in retaking its colony after World War II, ultimately paying for some 80 percent of the French reconquest. By the U.S. government’s own account, from Truman on, Vietnamese self-determination was never an aim of U.S. foreign policy.

Like today’s whistle-blowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg knew the consequences for his act of defiance. Ultimately, he was indicted on 11 counts of theft and violation of the Espionage Act. If convicted on all counts, the penalty added up to 130 years in prison. This story is chronicled dramatically in the film The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and in Ellsberg’s own gripping autobiography, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

In June of 1971, Ellsberg surrendered to federal authorities at Post Office Square in Boston. Forty-two years later, few of the historical secrets that Ellsberg revealed— especially those that focus on the immediate post-World War II origins of U.S. involvement in Vietnam—appear in the school curriculum.

Corporate textbook writers seem to work from the same list of must-include events and individuals. Thus, all the new U.S. history textbooks on my shelf mention the Pentagon Papers. But none grapples with the actual import of the Pentagon Papers. None quotes Ellsberg or the historical documents themselves, and none captures Ellsberg’s central conclusion about the United States in Vietnam: “It wasn’t that we were on the wrong side; we were the wrong side.”

Textbooks resist telling students that the U.S. government consistently lied about the war, preferring more genteel language. Prentice Hall’s America: History of Our Nation includes only one line describing the content of the Pentagon Papers: “They traced the steps by which the United States had committed itself to the Vietnam War and showed that government officials had concealed actions and often misled Americans about their motives.” The textbook offers no examples.

Teaching students a deeper, more complete history of the American War—as it is known in Vietnam—is not just a matter of accuracy, it’s about life and death. On the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, spoke bluntly about what it means when we fail to confront the facts of our past wars: “If we don’t know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives.”

The “we” in Zinn’s quote refers especially to the young people who will be convinced or tricked or manipulated—or lied—into fighting those wars, even if it is only “fighting” by guiding remote assassination drones from bases in a Nevada desert.

For almost 30 years, I taught high school U.S. history. I began my Vietnam unit with a little-remembered event that happened on Sept. 2, 1945. I showed students a video clip from the first episode of PBS’s Vietnam: A Television History, in which Dr. Tran Duy Hung, a medical doctor and a leader of the resistance to French colonialism, recounts the massive end-of-war celebration with more than 400,000 people jammed into Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. Japan had surrendered. The seemingly endless foreign occupation of Vietnam—Chinese, then French, then Japanese—was over.

Dr. Hung remembers: “I can say that the most moving moment was when President Ho Chi Minh climbed the steps, and the national anthem was sung. It was the first time that the national anthem of Vietnam was sung in an official ceremony. Uncle Ho then read the Declaration of Independence, which was a short document. As he was reading, Uncle Ho stopped and asked, ‘Compatriots, can you hear me?’ This simple question went into the hearts of everyone there. After a moment of silence, they all shouted, ‘Yes, we hear you!’ And I can say that we did not just shout with our mouths, but with all our hearts.” Dr. Hung recalls that, moments later, a small plane began circling and then swooped down over the crowd. When people recognized the U.S. stars and stripes on the plane, they cheered, imagining that its presence signaled an endorsement for Vietnamese independence. “It added to the atmosphere of jubilation at the meeting,” said Dr. Hung.

I want my students to recognize the hugeness of this historical could-have-been. One of the “secrets” Ellsberg risked his freedom to expose was that the United States had a stark choice in the fall of 1945: support the independence of a unified Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh, which had spearheaded the anti-fascist resistance during World War II; or support the French as they sought to reimpose colonial rule.

Think about all the suffering that might have been avoided had the U.S. government taken advantage of this opportunity. Howard Zinn quotes from the Pentagon Papers in A People’s History of the United States:

Ho [Chi Minh] had built the Viet Minh into the only Vietnam-wide political organization capable of effective resistance to either the Japanese or the French. He was the only Vietnamese wartime leader with a national following, and he assured himself wider fealty among the Vietnamese people when in AugustSeptember 1945, he overthrew the Japanese . . . established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and staged receptions for incoming allied occupation forces. . . . For a few weeks in September 1945, Vietnam was—for the first and only time in its modern history—free of foreign domination, and united from north to south under Ho Chi Minh. . . .

In class, I brought this historical choice point to life with my students through a role play, in which some students portrayed members of the Viet Minh and others represented French business/government leaders arguing before “President Truman” about the future of Vietnam. (A fuller description and materials for the activity can be found at the Zinn Education Project website.) The role play depicted a make-believe gathering, of course, because the United States never included any Vietnamese in its deliberations on the future of Vietnam. Nonetheless, the lesson offers students a vivid picture of what was at stake at this key juncture.

In this and other activities, I want my students to see that history is not just a jumble of dead facts lying on a page. History is the product of human choice—albeit in conditions that we may not choose. Tragically, the United States consistently chose to side with elites in Vietnam, first French, then Vietnamese, as our government sought to suppress self-determination—perhaps most egregiously in 1954, when the United States conspired to stonewall promised elections and to prop up the dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.

Forty-two years ago this month, Daniel Ellsberg allowed himself to be taken into custody, with no clear outcome in sight. A reporter asked Ellsberg whether he was concerned about the possibility of going to prison. Ellsberg replied: “Wouldn’t you go to prison to help end this war?”

No one expects that kind of integrity from textbook corporations. But educators needn’t confine ourselves to the version of history peddled by giant outfits like Pearson and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt. Right now, every high school student is learning either to accept or to question the premises that lead our country to wage war around the world. As Howard Zinn suggested, if students don’t know their history, then they are “ready meat” for those who will supply the carving knives of war. Fortunately, more and more teachers around the country recognize the importance of teaching outside the textbook, of joining heroes like Dan Ellsberg to ask questions, to challenge official stories.

This article first appeared at the Zinn Education Project.

Bill Bigelow

Bill Bigelow taught high school social studies in Portland, Ore. for almost 30 years. He is the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools and the co-director of the Zinn Education Project. This project offers free materials to teach people’s history and an “If We Knew Our History” article series. Bigelow is author or co-editor of numerous books, including A People’s History for the Classroom and The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration.

Orwell’s 1984 Solution to Criminalize War: “If There was Hope, it must Lie in the Proles” August 28, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Revolution, War.
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Roger’s note: It is no dramatic discovery that the vast majority of Americans (and people everywhere around the globe) hate and oppose not only warfare, but the legalized theft of human rights and human labor and the destruction of the biosphere that is perpetuated by every government of every capitalist state and largely bolstered by the mass media and the political culture.  Change (the accomplished dissimulator Obama notwithstanding) will not come via electing leaders in contests where the option for peace and justice are never represented.  From the Paris Commune to the Russian Revolution to the successful overturning of oligarchic capital rule in places like Cuba and Nicaragua, it was the common people who took things into their own hands.  Although in each of the cases the humanistic revolutionary goals were corrupted by a combination of internal and external pressures, nevertheless, our guide for future humanistic revolution lies with these historic victories.  Today’s Arab Spring and the Occupation movement are the heirs of the previous popular uprisings.

by Prof. James F. Tracy
Global Research, August 26, 2012
“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance-it is the illusion of knowledge.”-Daniel Boorstin

In George Orwell’s 1984 the Outer Party comprised a mere thirteen percent of the population and was subject to the ideological filters in play at the Ministry of Truth and the broader bureaucratic structure. A specific language and way of thinking were closely adhered to. Given their political import, Outer Party members were the most heavily indoctrinated and controlled inhabitants of Oceania. The majority Proles who constituted the remainder of the population was of little consequence so long as their political awareness remained underdeveloped.
While its members withstood more austere conditions, 1984‘s Outer Party is roughly tantamount to those who in our society are the well-informed, college-educated professionals; those whose duty it is to adhere to the ready-made opinion available in the major agenda setting journalistic outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and National Public Radio, where news is carefully selected, crafted, and presented. Such information is then disseminated to the masses via actors in summary capsule form on cable and broadcast television platforms.


 

Mystified by its own credentials, surrounded by peers who conceive of reality along similar lines, and underscored by the corporate media’s overwhelming tide of disinformation, much of today’s professional class is impervious to “rumors” and “conspiracy theories” that all too often captivate the sordid masses—from unreasonable suspicion over mysterious terrorist attacks to the poorly-informed questions surrounding their leader’s hidden background. Much like the expert officials and agenda setting outlets they look to for prepared interpretations of the world, the opinion leading class’ constituents understand themselves as above all well informed, similarly disinterested and unmoved by groundless passion.
In fact, the programming necessary to attain such a degree of self-assuredness often tends to distance one from reality. For example, revulsion towards war in the United States has historically tended to run strongest among those who have escaped the heavy indoctrination of the professional class—those members of the non-or semi-skilled, working class majority. As historian Howard Zinn observes,
“[I]n surveys of public opinion during the [Vietnam War], it was inevitably shown that people with the highest education—college graduates—were the most supportive of the war. People who had not graduated from high school were the ones most against the war. This is a surprising figure because most people thought the anti-war movement consisted of intellectuals and students and college professors. While those people were most visible in the anti-war movement, public opinion against the war was concentrated in the least educated classes.”
Recent public opinion indicators point to the enduring nature of antiwar sentiment. For example, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press shows that on March 19, 2011, one week before President Obama announced the NATO bombing of Libya, 77% of the US public opposed the destruction of the country’s air defenses. Polling one year later revealed a 62% majority against NATO “bombing Syrian military forces to protect anti-government groups in Syria,” even though almost the same percentage (64%) admitted to having heard “little” or “nothing at all” on “recent political violence in Syria.”
May we thus safely conclude that a majority of the population despite ceaseless propaganda still recognizes how war remains the supreme crime and the greatest demarcation between master and slave? “If there was hope, it must lie in the Proles,” Orwell wrote, “because only there, in those swarming disregarded masses, eighty-five percent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated.”

James Tracy is Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. He blogs at memorygap.org.

 
James F. Tracy is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by James F. Tracy

Davis: Mercy On Their Souls September 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Racism.
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by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org

The state-sanctioned killing of Troy Davis has elicited much righteous grief, shame and anger; may it spark long-overdue change as well. His final, moving letter to supporters here. What you can do in his name here and here. The people’s historian Howard Zinn on the death penalty as “a kind of terror waged by the state, one death at a time, an attempt to instill fear and obedience in the population.”

“There are societies that do not pretend to be ‘civilized’—military dictatorships and totalitarian states—and execute their victims without ceremony. Then there are nations like the United States, whose claim to be civilized rests on the fact that its punishments are legitimized by a complex set of judicial procedures. This is called ‘due process,’ despite the fact that each step in this process is tainted by racial prejudice, class bias or political discrimination.” – Zinn in Killing People to ‘Send a Message’.

Troy DavisHere is the letter that Troy Davis penned to supporters:

I want to thank all of you for your efforts and dedication to Human Rights and Human Kindness, in the past year I have experienced such emotion, joy, sadness and never ending faith. It is because of all of you that I am alive today, as I look at my sister Martina I am marveled by the love she has for me and of course I worry about her and her health, but as she tells me she is the eldest and she will not back down from this fight to save my life and prove to the world that I am innocent of this terrible crime.

As I look at my mail from across the globe, from places I have never ever dreamed I would know about and people speaking languages and expressing cultures and religions I could only hope to one day see first hand. I am humbled by the emotion that fills my heart with overwhelming, overflowing Joy. I can’t even explain the insurgence of emotion I feel when I try to express the strength I draw from you all, it compounds my faith and it shows me yet again that this is not a case about the death penalty, this is not a case about Troy Davis, this is a case about Justice and the Human Spirit to see Justice prevail.

A Just Cause, Not a Just War January 29, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
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Published on Thursday, January 28, 2010 by The Progressiveby Howard Zinn

Editor’s note: The following essay appeared in the December issue of The Progressive in 2001, and was reposted here at CommonDreams.org shortly after, just three months following the events of September 11th.  As Rudyard Kipling long ago and famously observed, you can recognize wisdom amidst crisis by locating those who ‘keep their heads when all about are losing theirs.’  Zinn’s work is too vast and too incalculable to paraphrase or compile, but when you read his Violence Doesn’t Work or Changing Obama’s Mindset you easily recognize the wisdom and integrity of a man who saw beyond the hysteria of a moment.  Howard Zinn, as Daniel Ellsberg has said, “was the best human being I’ve ever known. The best example of what a human can be, and can do with their life.” We could not agree more.

A Just Cause, Not a Just War (December, 2001)

I believe two moral judgments can be made about the present “war”: The September 11 attack constitutes a crime against humanity and cannot be justified, and the bombing of Afghanistan is also a crime, which cannot be justified.

And yet, voices across the political spectrum, including many on the left, have described this as a “just war.” One longtime advocate of peace, Richard Falk, wrote in The Nation that this is “the first truly just war since World War II.” Robert Kuttner, another consistent supporter of social justice, declared in The American Prospect that only people on the extreme left could believe this is not a just war.

I have puzzled over this. How can a war be truly just when it involves the daily killing of civilians, when it causes hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to leave their homes to escape the bombs, when it may not find those who planned the September 11 attacks, and when it will multiply the ranks of people who are angry enough at this country to become terrorists themselves?

This war amounts to a gross violation of human rights, and it will produce the exact opposite of what is wanted: It will not end terrorism; it will proliferate terrorism.

I believe that the progressive supporters of the war have confused a “just cause” with a “just war.” There are unjust causes, such as the attempt of the United States to establish its power in Vietnam, or to dominate Panama or Grenada, or to subvert the government of Nicaragua. And a cause may be just–getting North Korea to withdraw from South Korea, getting Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait, or ending terrorism–but it does not follow that going to war on behalf of that cause, with the inevitable mayhem that follows, is just.

The stories of the effects of our bombing are beginning to come through, in bits and pieces. Just eighteen days into the bombing, The New York Times reported: “American forces have mistakenly hit a residential area in Kabul.” Twice, U.S. planes bombed Red Cross warehouses, and a Red Cross spokesman said: “Now we’ve got 55,000 people without that food or blankets, with nothing at all.”

An Afghan elementary school-teacher told a Washington Post reporter at the Pakistan border: “When the bombs fell near my house and my babies started crying, I had no choice but to run away.”

A New York Times report: “The Pentagon acknowledged that a Navy F/A-18 dropped a 1,000-pound bomb on Sunday near what officials called a center for the elderly. . . . The United Nations said the building was a military hospital. . . . Several hours later, a Navy F-14 dropped two 500-pound bombs on a residential area northwest of Kabul.” A U.N. official told a New York Times reporter that an American bombing raid on the city of Herat had used cluster bombs, which spread deadly “bomblets” over an area of twenty football fields. This, the Times reporter wrote,”was the latest of a growing number of accounts of American bombs going astray and causing civilian casualties.”

An A.P. reporter was brought to Karam, a small mountain village hit by American bombs, and saw houses reduced to rubble. “In the hospital in Jalalabad, twenty-five miles to the east, doctors treated what they said were twenty-three victims of bombing at Karam, one a child barely two months old, swathed in bloody bandages,” according to the account. “Another child, neighbors said, was in the hospital because the bombing raid had killed her entire family. At least eighteen fresh graves were scattered around the village.”

The city of Kandahar, attacked for seventeen straight days, was reported to be a ghost town, with more than half of its 500,000 people fleeing the bombs. The city’s electrical grid had been knocked out. The city was deprived of water, since the electrical pumps could not operate. A sixty-year-old farmer told the A.P. reporter, “We left in fear of our lives. Every day and every night, we hear the roaring and roaring of planes, we see the smoke, the fire. . . . I curse them both–the Taliban and America.”

A New York Times report from Pakistan two weeks into the bombing campaign told of wounded civilians coming across the border. “Every half-hour or so throughout the day, someone was brought across on a stretcher. . . . Most were bomb victims, missing limbs or punctured by shrapnel. . . . A young boy, his head and one leg wrapped in bloodied bandages, clung to his father’s back as the old man trudged back to Afghanistan.”

That was only a few weeks into the bombing, and the result had already been to frighten hundreds of thousands of Afghans into abandoning their homes and taking to the dangerous, mine-strewn roads. The “war against terrorism” has become a war against innocent men, women, and children, who are in no way responsible for the terrorist attack on New York.

And yet there are those who say this is a “just war.”

Terrorism and war have something in common. They both involve the killing of innocent people to achieve what the killers believe is a good end. I can see an immediate objection to this equation: They (the terrorists) deliberately kill innocent people; we (the war makers) aim at “military targets,” and civilians are killed by accident, as “collateral damage.”

Is it really an accident when civilians die under our bombs? Even if you grant that the intention is not to kill civilians, if they nevertheless become victims, again and again and again, can that be called an accident? If the deaths of civilians are inevitable in bombing, it may not be deliberate, but it is not an accident, and the bombers cannot be considered innocent. They are committing murder as surely as are the terrorists.

The absurdity of claiming innocence in such cases becomes apparent when the death tolls from “collateral damage” reach figures far greater than the lists of the dead from even the most awful act of terrorism. Thus, the “collateral damage” in the Gulf War caused more people to die–hundreds of thousands, if you include the victims of our sanctions policy–than the very deliberate terrorist attack of September 11. The total of those who have died in Israel from Palestinian terrorist bombs is somewhere under 1,000. The number of dead from “collateral damage” in the bombing of Beirut during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was roughly 6,000.

We must not match the death lists–it is an ugly exercise–as if one atrocity is worse than another. No killing of innocents, whether deliberate or “accidental,” can be justified. My argument is that when children die at the hands of terrorists, or–whether intended or not–as a result of bombs dropped from airplanes, terrorism and war become equally unpardonable.

Let’s talk about “military targets.” The phrase is so loose that President Truman, after the nuclear bomb obliterated the population of Hiroshima, could say: “The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.”

What we are hearing now from our political leaders is, “We are targeting military objectives. We are trying to avoid killing civilians. But that will happen, and we regret it.” Shall the American people take moral comfort from the thought that we are bombing only “military targets”?

The reality is that the term “military” covers all sorts of targets that include civilian populations. When our bombers deliberately destroy, as they did in the war against Iraq, the electrical infrastructure, thus making water purification and sewage treatment plants inoperable and leading to epidemic waterborne diseases, the deaths of children and other civilians cannot be called accidental.

Recall that in the midst of the Gulf War, the U.S. military bombed an air raid shelter, killing 400 to 500 men, women, and children who were huddled to escape bombs. The claim was that it was a military target, housing a communications center, but reporters going through the ruins immediately afterward said there was no sign of anything like that.

I suggest that the history of bombing–and no one has bombed more than this nation–is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like “accident,” “military targets,” and “collateral damage.”

Indeed, in both World War II and in Vietnam, the historical record shows that there was a deliberate decision to target civilians in order to destroy the morale of the enemy–hence the firebombing of Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, the B-52s over Hanoi, the jet bombers over peaceful villages in the Vietnam countryside. When some argue that we can engage in “limited military action” without “an excessive use of force,” they are ignoring the history of bombing. The momentum of war rides roughshod over limits.

The moral equation in Afghanistan is clear. Civilian casualties are certain. The outcome is uncertain. No one knows what this bombing will accomplish–whether it will lead to the capture of Osama Bin Laden (perhaps), or the end of the Taliban (possibly), or a democratic Afghanistan (very unlikely), or an end to terrorism (almost certainly not).

And meanwhile, we are terrorizing the population (not the terrorists, they are not easily terrorized). Hundreds of thousands are packing their belongings and their children onto carts and leaving their homes to make dangerous journeys to places they think might be more safe.

Not one human life should be expended in this reckless violence called a “war against terrorism.”

We might examine the idea of pacifism in the light of what is going on right now. I have never used the word “pacifist” to describe myself, because it suggests something absolute, and I am suspicious of absolutes. I want to leave openings for unpredictable possibilities. There might be situations (and even such strong pacifists as Gandhi and Martin Luther King believed this) when a small, focused act of violence against a monstrous, immediate evil would be justified.

In war, however, the proportion of means to ends is very, very different. War, by its nature, is unfocused, indiscriminate, and especially in our time when the technology is so murderous, inevitably involves the deaths of large numbers of people and the suffering of even more. Even in the “small wars” (Iran vs. Iraq, the Nigerian war, the Afghan war), a million people die. Even in a “tiny” war like the one we waged in Panama, a thousand or more die.

Scott Simon of NPR wrote a commentary in The Wall Street Journal on October 11 entitled, “Even Pacifists Must Support This War.” He tried to use the pacifist acceptance of self-defense, which approves a focused resistance to an immediate attacker, to justify this war, which he claims is “self-defense.” But the term “self-defense” does not apply when you drop bombs all over a country and kill lots of people other than your attacker. And it doesn’t apply when there is no likelihood that it will achieve its desired end.

Pacifism, which I define as a rejection of war, rests on a very powerful logic. In war, the means–indiscriminate killing–are immediate and certain; the ends, however desirable, are distant and uncertain.

Pacifism does not mean “appeasement.” That word is often hurled at those who condemn the present war on Afghanistan, and it is accompanied by references to Churchill, Chamberlain, Munich. World War II analogies are conveniently summoned forth when there is a need to justify a war, however irrelevant to a particular situation. At the suggestion that we withdraw from Vietnam, or not make war on Iraq, the word “appeasement” was bandied about. The glow of the “good war” has repeatedly been used to obscure the nature of all the bad wars we have fought since 1945.

Let’s examine that analogy. Czechoslovakia was handed to the voracious Hitler to “appease” him. Germany was an aggressive nation expanding its power, and to help it in its expansion was not wise. But today we do not face an expansionist power that demands to be appeased. We ourselves are the expansionist power–troops in Saudi Arabia, bombings of Iraq, military bases all over the world, naval vessels on every sea–and that, along with Israel’s expansion into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has aroused anger.

It was wrong to give up Czechoslovakia to appease Hitler. It is not wrong to withdraw our military from the Middle East, or for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, because there is no right to be there. That is not appeasement. That is justice.

Opposing the bombing of Afghanistan does not constitute “giving in to terrorism” or “appeasement.” It asks that other means be found than war to solve the problems that confront us. King and Gandhi both believed in action–nonviolent direct action, which is more powerful and certainly more morally defensible than war.

To reject war is not to “turn the other cheek,” as pacifism has been caricatured. It is, in the present instance, to act in ways that do not imitate the terrorists.

The United States could have treated the September 11 attack as a horrific criminal act that calls for apprehending the culprits, using every device of intelligence and investigation possible. It could have gone to the United Nations to enlist the aid of other countries in the pursuit and apprehension of the terrorists.

There was also the avenue of negotiations. (And let’s not hear: “What? Negotiate with those monsters?” The United States negotiated with–indeed, brought into power and kept in power–some of the most monstrous governments in the world.) Before Bush ordered in the bombers, the Taliban offered to put bin Laden on trial. This was ignored. After ten days of air attacks, when the Taliban called for a halt to the bombing and said they would be willing to talk about handing bin Laden to a third country for trial, the headline the next day in The New York Times read: “President Rejects Offer by Taliban for Negotiations,” and Bush was quoted as saying: “When I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations.”

That is the behavior of someone hellbent on war. There were similar rejections of negotiating possibilities at the start of the Korean War, the war in Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the bombing of Yugoslavia. The result was an immense loss of life and incalculable human suffering.

International police work and negotiations were–still are–alternatives to war. But let’s not deceive ourselves; even if we succeeded in apprehending bin Laden or, as is unlikely, destroying the entire Al Qaeda network, that would not end the threat of terrorism, which has potential recruits far beyond Al Qaeda.

To get at the roots of terrorism is complicated. Dropping bombs is simple. It is an old response to what everyone acknowledges is a very new situation. At the core of unspeakable and unjustifiable acts of terrorism are justified grievances felt by millions of people who would not themselves engage in terrorism but from whose ranks terrorists spring.

Those grievances are of two kinds: the existence of profound misery– hunger, illness–in much of the world, contrasted to the wealth and luxury of the West, especially the United States; and the presence of American military power everywhere in the world, propping up oppressive regimes and repeatedly intervening with force to maintain U.S. hegemony.

This suggests actions that not only deal with the long-term problem of terrorism but are in themselves just.

Instead of using two planes a day to drop food on Afghanistan and 100 planes to drop bombs (which have been making it difficult for the trucks of the international agencies to bring in food), use 102 planes to bring food.

Take the money allocated for our huge military machine and use it to combat starvation and disease around the world. One-third of our military budget would annually provide clean water and sanitation facilities for the billion people in the world who have none.

Withdraw troops from Saudi Arabia, because their presence near the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina angers not just bin Laden (we need not care about angering him) but huge numbers of Arabs who are not terrorists.

Stop the cruel sanctions on Iraq, which are killing more than a thousand children every week without doing anything to weaken Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical hold over the country.

Insist that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories, something that many Israelis also think is right, and which will make Israel more secure than it is now.

In short, let us pull back from being a military superpower, and become a humanitarian superpower.

Let us be a more modest nation. We will then be more secure. The modest nations of the world don’t face the threat of terrorism.

Such a fundamental change in foreign policy is hardly to be expected. It would threaten too many interests: the power of political leaders, the ambitions of the military, the corporations that profit from the nation’s enormous military commitments.

Change will come, as at other times in our history, only when American citizens– becoming better informed, having second thoughts after the first instinctive support for official policy–demand it. That change in citizen opinion, especially if it coincides with a pragmatic decision by the government that its violence isn’t working, could bring about a retreat from the military solution.

It might also be a first step in the rethinking of our nation’s role in the world. Such a rethinking contains the promise, for Americans, of genuine security, and for people elsewhere, the beginning of hope.

© 2010 The Progressive

Howard Zinn (1922-2010) is the author of “A People’s History of the United States,” “Voices of a People’s History” (with Anthony Arnove), and “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.”

Howard Zinn (1922-2010): A Tribute to the Legendary Historian with Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein and Anthony Arnove January 28, 2010

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We pay tribute to the late historian, writer and activist Howard Zinn, who died suddenly on Wednesday of a heart attack at the age of eighty-seven. Howard Zinn’s classic work A People’s History of the United States changed the way we look at history in America. It has sold over a million copies and was recently made into a television special called The People Speak. We remember Howard Zinn in his own words, and we speak with those who knew him best: Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein and Anthony Arnove.

Guests:

Noam Chomsky, author and Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT, where he taught for over half a century. He is author of dozens of books. His most recent is Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.

Naomi Klein, journalist and author. Her latest book is The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, poet and activist. She was a student of Howard Zinn’s at Spelman College in the early 1960s.

Anthony Arnove, co-author, with Howard Zinn, of Voices of A People’s History of the United States and co-director, with Zinn, of Let the People Speak

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, from the Sundance Film Festival, the home of the largest independent film festival in the country.
We spend the rest of the hour paying tribute to Howard Zinn, the late historian, writer and activist. He died suddenly Wednesday of a heart attack at the age of eighty-seven.
After serving as a bombardier in World War II, Howard Zinn went on to become a lifelong dissident and peace activist. He was active in the civil rights movement and many of the struggles for social justice over the past fifty years.
He taught at Spelman College, the historically black college for women. He was fired for insubordination for standing up for the students. While at Spelman, he served on the executive committee of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. After being forced out of Spelman, Zinn became a professor at Boston University.
In 1967 he published Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. It was the first book on the war to call for immediate withdrawal, no conditions. A year later, he and Father Daniel Berrigan traveled to North Vietnam to receive the first three American prisoners of wars released by the North Vietnamese. 

When Daniel Ellsberg needed a place to hide the Pentagon Papers before they were leaked to the press, he went to Howard and his late wife Roz. 

In 1980, Howard Zinn published his classic work, A People’s History of the United States. The book would go on to sell over a million copies and change the way we look at history in America. The book was recently made into a television special called The People Speak.
Well, in a moment, we’ll be joined by Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein, Anthony Arnove. But first, I want to turn to a 2005 interview I did with Howard Zinn, in which he talked about his time as an Air Force bombardier in World War II.

    HOWARD ZINN: Well, we thought bombing missions were over. The war was about to come to an end. This was in April of 1945, and remember the war ended in early May 1945. This was a few weeks before the war was going to be over, and everybody knew it was going to be over, and our armies were past France into Germany, but there was a little pocket of German soldiers hanging around this little town of Royan on the Atlantic coast of France, and the Air Force decided to bomb them. Twelve hundred heavy bombers, and I was in one of them, flew over this little town of Royan and dropped napalm—first use of napalm in the European theater.
    And we don’t know how many people were killed or how many people were terribly burned as a result of what we did. But I did it like most soldiers do, unthinkingly, mechanically, thinking we’re on the right side, they’re on the wrong side, and therefore we can do whatever we want, and it’s OK. And only afterward, only really after the war when I was reading about Hiroshima from John Hersey and reading the stories of the survivors of Hiroshima and what they went through, only then did I begin to think about the human effects of bombing. Only then did I begin to think about what it meant to human beings on the ground when bombs were dropped on them, because as a bombardier, I was flying at 30,000 feet, six miles high, couldn’t hear screams, couldn’t see blood. And this is modern warfare. 

    In modern warfare, soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place. And I think, reflecting back on that bombing raid and thinking of that in Hiroshima and all the other raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge numbers of civilians in German and Japanese cities, the killing of 100,000 people in Tokyo in one night of fire-bombing, all of that made me realize war, even so-called good wars against fascism like World War II, wars don’t solve any fundamental problems, and they always poison everybody on both sides. They poison the minds and souls of everybody on both sides. We’re seeing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are not wanted. And the results are terrible. 

AMY GOODMAN: After returning from the war, Howard Zinn attended New York University on the GI Bill. He then received his master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.
In the late ’50s, Howard Zinn moved to Atlanta to teach at all-black women’s school Spelman, where he became deeply involved in the civil rights movement. We’re joined now by one of his former students, the author and poet Alice Walker. She’s joining us now from her home in Mexico.
Alice, welcome to Democracy Now! So sad to talk to you on this day after we learned of the death of Howard Zinn.
ALICE WALKER: Thank you very much for inviting me to talk.
AMY GOODMAN: But talk about your former teacher.
ALICE WALKER: Well, my former teacher was one of the funniest people I have ever known, and he was likelier to say the most extraordinary things at the most amazing moments.
For instance, in Atlanta once, we get to this very staid, at that time, white college, all these very staid, upper-class white girls there and their teachers, and Howie got up—I don’t know how they managed to invite him, but anyway, there we were. And this was even before any of the changes in Atlanta. We were still battling to get into restaurants. So Howie gets up, and he goes up to the front of the room, and this large room is full of people, and he starts his talk by saying, “Well, I stand to the left of Mao Zedong.” And it was just—it was such a moment, because the people couldn’t imagine anyone in Atlanta saying something like that, when at that time the Chinese and the Chinese Revolution just meant that, you know, people were on the planet who were just going straight ahead, a folk revolution. So he was saying he was to the left of that. So, it’s just an amazing thing.
I think I felt he would live forever. And I feel such joy that I was lucky enough to know him. And he had such a wonderful impact on my life and on the lives of the students of Spelman and of millions of people. We’ve just been incredibly lucky to have him for all these years, eighty-seven. That’s such a long time. Not long enough. And I’m just so grateful.
AMY GOODMAN: Alice, Howard Zinn was thrown out of Spelman College—right?—as a professor, for insubordination, although recently they gave him an honorary degree, and he addressed the graduating class. Why was he thrown out?
ALICE WALKER: Well, he was thrown out because he loved us, and he showed that love by just being with us. He loved his students. He didn’t see why we should be second-class citizens. He didn’t see why we shouldn’t be able to eat where we wanted to and sleep where we wanted to and be with the people we wanted to be with. And so, he was with us. He didn’t stay back, you know, in his tower there at the school. And so, he was a subversive in that situation.
And, of course, the administration could expel the students for activism. And I left Spelman because I sort of lost my scholarship, but I had stayed. That was one of the ways they controlled us. And they tried to control him, but of course you couldn’t control Howie. And so, they even waited until he had left for the summer vacation to fire him, to fire him. They didn’t fire him face to face. But, yeah, he was, you know, a radical and a subversive on the campus, as far as they were concerned. And our freedom was just not that important to the administration. What they needed was for us not to rock the boat.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Noam Chomsky, who’s still with us on the phone from Boston. Noam, I wanted to ask you about Howard Zinn’s role in the antiwar movement in the ’60s. In 1968, Howard Zinn traveled to North Vietnam with Father Daniel Berrigan to bring home three US prisoners of war. They became two of the first Americans to visit North Vietnam during the war. This is Howard Zinn speaking in 1968 after he returned to the United States.

    HOWARD ZINN: Father Berrigan and I, on our way back—this may seem presumptuous on our part, but when—on our way back in from Paris, we sent a wire, I think with our last fifteen bucks, to the White House, saying something like, “We’d like to talk to you, President Johnson. You know, would you please meet with us? We’ve just come back from Hanoi. We’ve just talked with the premier, Pham Van Dong. But we just read in the newspaper that you say the North Vietnamese are not ready to negotiate. What we learned from Pham Van Dong seems to contradict that. We’d like to talk with you about this and about the prisoner release, which we think has been mishandled.” But we have not, so far, seen an answer from LBJ. 

AMY GOODMAN: That was Howard Zinn. Noam Chomsky, talk about this period. Talk about the time Howard Zinn went with Father Dan Berrigan to North Vietnam and what it meant.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, that was a breakthrough at recognizing the humanity of the official enemy. Of course, the main enemy were the people of South Vietnam, who were practically destroyed. South Vietnam had been devastated by then. And that was important.
But, at least in my view, the most—the more important was his—the book you mentioned before, The Logic of Withdrawal. And there was, by then—so I think this must have been 1967—you know, a substantial antiwar movement, but it was keeping to palliatives, you know, stop doing these terrible things, do less, and so on. Howard really broke through. He was the first person to say—loudly, publicly, very persuasively—that this simply has to stop; we should get out, period, no conditions; we have no right to be there; it’s an act of aggression; pull out.
Actually, he—that was so surprising at the time—it became more commonplace later—that he couldn’t even—there wasn’t even a review of the book. In fact, he asked me if I would review it in Ramparts just so that—which, you know, left-wing journal I was running then—just so somebody—people would see it. So I did that.
But it sank in pretty quickly, and it just changed the way people looked at the war. And in fact, that was one of his fabulous achievements all along. He simply changed people’s perspectives, both by his argument and his courage and his integrity and his willingness to be on the front line all the time and his simplicity and, as Alice Walker said, his humor. This is one case, the war. His People’s History is another case. I mean, it simply changed the conscience of a whole generation.
There had been some studies, you know, of the sort of actions from below, but he raised it to an entirely new plane. In fact, the phrase of his that always rings in my mind is his reverence for and his detailed study of what he called “the countless small actions of unknown people” that lead to those great moments that enter the historical record, a record that you simply can’t begin to understand unless you look at those countless small actions.
And he not only wrote about them eloquently, but he participated in them. And he inspired others to participate in them. And the antiwar movement was one case, civil rights movement before it, Central American wars in the 1980s. In fact, just about any—you know, office worker strikes—just about anything you can—any significant action for peace and justice, Howard was there. People saw him as a leader, but he was really a participant. His remarkable character made him a leader, even if he was just sitting on the—you know, waiting for the police to pull people away like everyone else.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, in 1971—you may remember this; in fact, you may have been there, but Howard Zinn and Daniel Ellsberg were both beaten by police in Boston at a protest against the Vietnam War. One day before the beating, Zinn spoke at a large rally on Boston Common. This is an excerpt from the documentary You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

    HOWARD ZINN: A lot of people are troubled by civil disobedience. As soon as you talk about committing civil disobedience, they get a little upset. That’s exactly the purpose of civil disobedience: to upset people, to trouble them, to disturb them. We who commit civil disobedience are disturbed, too, and we mean to disturb those who are in charge of the war.
    DANIEL ELLSBERG: He said at the end of his speech, I remember, he said, “Now let me address the secret police in this crowd.”
    HOWARD ZINN: You agents of the FBI who are circulating in the crowd, hey, don’t you see that you’re violating the spirit of democracy by what you’re doing? Don’t you see that you’re behaving like the secret police of a totalitarian state?
    DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, that cost him a bit, I think, the next day when we were sitting in front of the Federal Building, I have a feeling, because, again, the police chose in the end to arrest almost no one. They didn’t want arrests. They didn’t want a trial. They didn’t want the publicity that would be associated with that. They only arrested a couple of ring leaders, and one of those was Howard.
    HOWARD ZINN: And so, let the spirit of disobedience spread to the war factories, to the battlefield, to the halls of Congress, to every town and city, until the killing stops, until we can hold up our heads again before the world. And our children deserve a world without war, and we ought to try to give them that.
    DANIEL ELLSBERG: And at that point, the batons were raised, and they began clubbing us very heavily. Howard was pulled up, as I say. His shirt was ripped apart. He was taken away. And I saw blood coming down his chest as he left. 

AMY GOODMAN: That was an excerpt of the documentary You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, was also the title of Howard Zinn’s autobiography.
Noam, we just have a minute left in this segment, but talk about that activism.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, that case is very similar to what Howard described about his bombing attack. I mean, the police were actually sympathetic, the individual policemen. They were coming over to demonstrators, you know, speaking supportively. And in fact, when they were given the order to move forward, they were actually telling people, Howard and others, “Look, please move, because we don’t want to do this.” But then, when the order came, they did it. I don’t know who. But it’s much like he said: when you’re in uniform, under arms, an automaton following orders, you do it.
And as Dan pointed out, they went right after Howard, probably in reaction to his comments the day before. And he was dragged away and beaten.
But he was constantly involved with civil disobedience. I was many times with him, as Dan Ellsberg was and others. And he was just—he was fearless. He was simple. He was straightforward. He said the right things, said them eloquently, and inspired others to move forward in ways they wouldn’t have done, and changed their minds. They changed their minds by their actions and by hearing him. He was a really—both in his life and in his work, he was a remarkable person, just irreplaceable.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, you were personal friends with Howard, too. You and Carol, Howard and Roz spent summers near each other on the Cape.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, we were personal friends, close personal friends for many years, over forty years. So it’s, of course, a personal loss. But it’s beyond—even beyond his close friends and family, it’s just a tragic loss to the millions of people—who knows how many endless numbers?—whose lives he touched and changed and helped them become much better people.
The one good thing is that he understood and recognized them, sure, especially in those last remarkable, vibrant years of his life, how much his incredible contributions were welcomed, admired, how much he was loved and admired, and he could look back on a very satisfying life of real unusual achievement.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Noam Chomsky, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Noam is a linguist, a world-renowned dissident and a close friend of Howard Zinn. And Alice Walker, thanks, as well, for joining us from Mexico, former student and friend of Howard Zinn.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll hear more of Howard in his own words, and we’ll be joined by Anthony Arnove, his co-editor and colleague. Stay with us.
[break]
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be joined by Anthony Arnove and Naomi Klein, but on this sad day, the day after the news of Howard Zinn’s death, I want to turn to one of the last interviews we did with him. It was May 2009. He came to New York to promote his latest book. 

    AMY GOODMAN: You write in the introduction to A Young People’s History of the United States, “Over the years, some people have asked me: ‘Do you think that your history, which is radically different than the usual histories of the United States, is suitable for young people? Won’t it create disillusionment with our country? Is it right to be so critical of the government’s policies? Is it right to take down the traditional heroes of the nation, like Christopher Columbus, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt?’” 

    HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, it’s true that people have asked that question again and again. You know, should we tell kids that Columbus, whom they have been told was a great hero, that Columbus mutilated Indians and kidnapped them and killed them in pursuit of gold? Should we tell people that Theodore Roosevelt, who is held up as one of our great presidents, was really a warmonger who loved military exploits and who congratulated an American general who committed a massacre in the Philippines? Should we tell young people that? 

    And I think the answer is: we should be honest with young people; we should not deceive them. We should be honest about the history of our country. And we should be not only taking down the traditional heroes like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, but we should be giving young people an alternate set of heroes. 

    Instead of Theodore Roosevelt, tell them about Mark Twain. Mark Twain—well, Mark Twain, everybody learns about as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but when we go to school, we don’t learn about Mark Twain as the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League. We aren’t told that Mark Twain denounced Theodore Roosevelt for approving this massacre in the Philippines. No. 

    We want to give young people ideal figures like Helen Keller. And I remember learning about Helen Keller. Everybody learns about Helen Keller, you know, a disabled person who overcame her handicaps and became famous. But people don’t learn in school and young people don’t learn in school what we want them to learn when we do books like A Young People’s History of the United States, that Helen Keller was a socialist. She was a labor organizer. She refused to cross a picket line that was picketing a theater showing a play about her. 

    And so, there are these alternate heroes in American history. There’s Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses. They’re the heroes of the civil rights movement. There are a lot of people who are obscure, who are not known. We have in this Young People’s History, we have a young hero who was sitting on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to leave the front of the bus. And that was before Rosa Parks. I mean, Rosa Parks is justifiably famous for refusing to leave her seat, and she got arrested, and that was the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and really the beginning of a great movement in the South. But this fifteen-year-old girl did it first. And so, we have a lot of—we are trying to bring a lot of these obscure people back into the forefront of our attention and inspire young people to say, “This is the way to live.” 

 

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that was Howard Zinn. We’re joined now by Anthony Arnove in New York, by Naomi Klein here at Sundance, where Howard Zinn was last year, premiering The People Speak. He was here with Anthony Arnove, who’s co-author of Voices of a People’s History of the United States with Anthony.
Anthony, we just have a few minutes, but share your reflections on the latest work of Howard Zinn. I know this is a tremendous personal loss for you, as well as for everyone. 

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, you know, Howard never rested. He had such an energy. And over the last few years, he continued to write, continued to speak, and he brought to life this history that he spoke about in that segment that you just aired. He wanted to bring a new generation of people into contact with the voices of dissent, the voices of protest, that they don’t get in their school textbooks, that we don’t get in our establishment media, and to remind them of the power of their own voice, remind them of the power of dissent, the power of protest. And he wanted to leave a legacy of crystallizing those voices, synthesizing those voices.
And he actively worked to bring together this remarkable documentary, The People Speak, which he narrated. He worked so tirelessly to bring that about. And, you know, I just felt so privileged to have had the opportunity to work with him at all, let alone on this project, and to see that realized.
But, you know, Alice Walker talked about his humor, his sense of joy in life, and that was infectious. He really conveyed to everyone he came into contact with that there was no more meaningful action than to be involved in struggle, no more fulfilling or important way of living one’s life than in struggle fighting for justice. And so many people, myself included, but, you know, millions of people around the world, countless number of people, they changed their lives by encountering Howard Zinn—Howard changed their lives—reading A People’s History of the United States, hearing one of his lectures, meeting him, hearing him on the radio, reading an article he wrote. He really inspired people to create the kinds of movements that brought about whatever rights, whatever freedoms, whatever liberties we have in this country. And that really is the legacy that it’s incumbent upon all of us to extend and keep alive and keep vibrant. 

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony, I wanted to bring Naomi Klein back into this discussion. I think it’s very touching we’re here at Sundance, where you were with Howard Zinn last year, as he premiered People Speak. But last night, after Howard died, we saw the New York Times put up the AP, the Associated Press, obit. The Times has something like 1,200 obits already prepared for people. They didn’t have one prepared for Howard Zinn. And this Associated Press obit very quickly went to a quote of Arthur Schlesinger, the historian, who once said, “I know”—he’s talking about Howard Zinn—“I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don’t take him very seriously. He’s a polemicist, not a historian.” Naomi Klein, your response? 

NAOMI KLEIN: I don’t think that would have bothered Howard Zinn at all. He never was surprised when power protected itself. And he really was a people’s historian, so he didn’t look to the elites for validation.
I’m just so happy that Anthony and the incredible team from People Speak gave Howard this incredible gift at the end of his life. I was at Lincoln Center at the premiere of People Speak and was there when just the mention of Howard’s name led thousands of people to leap to their feet and give him the standing ovation that he deserved. So I don’t think he needed the New York Times. I don’t think he needed the official historians. He was everybody’s favorite teacher, the teacher that changed your life, but he was that for millions and millions of people. And so, you know, that’s what happened. We just lost our favorite teacher.
But the thing about Howard is that the history that he taught was not just about losing the official illusions about nationalism, about the heroic figures. It was about telling people to believe in themselves and their power to change the world. So, like any wonderful teacher, he left all of these lessons behind. And I think we should all just resolve to be a little bit more like Howard today. 

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s end with Howard Zinn in his own words, from one of his last speeches. He spoke at Boston University just two months ago in November. 

    HOWARD ZINN: No matter what we’re told, no matter what tyrant exists, what border has been crossed, what aggression has taken place, it’s not that we’re going to be passive in the face of tyranny or aggression, no, but we’ll find ways other than war to deal with whatever problems we have, because war is inevitably—inevitably—the indiscriminant massive killing of huge numbers of people. And children are a good part of those people. Every war is a war against children.
    So it’s not just getting rid of Saddam Hussein, if we think about it. Well, we got rid of Saddam Hussein. In the course of it, we killed huge numbers of people who had been victims of Saddam Hussein. When you fight a war against a tyrant, who do you kill? You kill the victims of the tyrant. Anyway, all this—all this was simply to make us think again about war and to think, you know, we’re at war now, right? In Iraq, in Afghanistan and sort of in Pakistan, since we’re sending rockets over there and killing innocent people in Pakistan. And so, we should not accept that. 

    We should look for a peace movement to join. Really, look for some peace organization to join. It will look small at first, and pitiful and helpless, but that’s how movements start. That’s how the movement against the Vietnam War started. It started with handfuls of people who thought they were helpless, thought they were powerless. But remember, this power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power. When workers go on strike, huge corporations lose their power. When consumers boycott, huge business establishments have to give in. When soldiers refuse to fight, as so many soldiers did in Vietnam, so many deserters, so many fraggings, acts of violence by enlisted men against officers in Vietnam, B-52 pilots refusing to fly bombing missions anymore, war can’t go on. When enough soldiers refuse, the government has to decide we can’t continue. So, yes, people have the power. If they begin to organize, if they protest, if they create a strong enough movement, they can change things. That’s all I want to say. Thank you. 

 

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that was Howard Zinn. As we wrap up today, Naomi Klein, your final words? 

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, we are in the midst of a Howard Zinn revival. I mean, this was happening anyway. And it’s so extraordinary for somebody at the end of their life to be having films made about them and played on television, and his books are back on the bestseller list. And it’s because the particular message that Howard relayed his whole life, devoted his whole life to, is so relevant for this moment. I mean, even thinking about it the day after the State of the Union address, Howard’s message was don’t believe in great men; believe in yourself; history comes from the bottom up.
And that—we have forgotten how change happens in this country. We think that you can just vote and that change will happen for us. And Howard was just relentlessly reminding us, no, you make the change that you want. And that message was so relevant for this moment. And I just feel so grateful to Anthony and, once again, the whole team that facilitated this revival, because we need Howard’s voice more than ever right now. 

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, that last work, The People Speak, appeared on the History Channel, oh, just in the last weeks, really a culmination of Howard Zinn’s work. 

Howard Zinn: A Public Intellectual Who Mattered January 28, 2010

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Thursday 28 January 2010

by: Henry A. Giroux, t r u t h o u t | Op-Edphoto
(Illustration: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)

In 1977 I took my first job in higher education at Boston University. One reason I went there was because Howard Zinn was teaching there at the time. As a high school teacher, Howard’s book, “Vietnam: the Logic of Withdrawal,” published in 1968, had a profound effect on me. Not only was it infused with a passion and sense of commitment that I admired as a high school teacher and tried to internalize as part of my own pedagogy, but it captured something about the passion, sense of commitment and respect for solidarity that came out of Howard’s working-class background. It offered me a language, history and politics that allowed me to engage critically and articulate my opposition to the war that was raging at the time.

I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and rarely met or read any working-class intellectuals. After reading James Baldwin, hearing William Kunstler and Stanley Aronowitz give talks, I caught a glimpse of what it meant to occupy such a fragile, contradictory and often scorned location. But reading Howard gave me the theoretical tools to understand more clearly how the mix of biography, cultural capital and class location could be finely honed into a viable and laudable politics.

Later, as I got to know Howard personally, I was able to fill in the details about his working-class background and his intellectual development. We had grown up in similar neighborhoods, shared a similar cultural capital and we both probably learned more from the streets than we had ever learned in formal schooling. There was something about Howard’s fearlessness, his courage, his willingness to risk not just his academic position, but also his life, that marked him as special – untainted by the often corrupting privileges of class entitlement.

Before I arrived in Boston to begin teaching at Boston University, Howard was a mythic figure for me and I was anxious to meet him in real life. How I first encountered him was perfectly suited to the myth. While walking to my first class, as I was nearing the university, filled with the trepidation of teaching a classroom of students, I caught my fist glimpse of Howard. He was standing on a box with a bullhorn in front of the Martin Luther King memorial giving a talk calling for opposition and resistance to the Vietnam War. The image so perfectly matched my own understanding of Howard that I remember thinking to myself, this has to be the perfect introduction to such a heroic figure.

Soon afterwards, I wrote him a note and rather sheepishly asked if we could meet. He got back to me in a day; we went out to lunch soon afterwards, and a friendship developed that lasted over 30 years. While teaching at Boston University, I often accompanied Howard when he went to high schools to talk about his published work or his plays. I sat in on many of his lectures and even taught one of his graduate courses. He loved talking to students and they were equally attracted to him. His pedagogy was dynamic, directive, focused, laced with humor and always open to dialog and interpretation. He was a magnificent teacher, who shredded all notions of the classroom as a place that was as uninteresting as it was often irrelevant to larger social concerns. He urged his students not just to learn from history, but to use it as a resource to sharpen their intellectual prowess and hone their civic responsibilities.

Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard’s pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

He offered students a range of options. He wasn’t interested in molding students in the manner of Pygmalion, but in giving them the widest possible set of choices and knowledge necessary for them to view what they learned as an act of freedom and empowerment. There is a certain poetry in his pedagogical style and scholarship and it is captured in his belief that one can take a position without standing still. He captured this sentiment well in a comment he made in his autobiography, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.” He wrote:

“From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.”

In fact, Howard was under constant attack by John Silber, then president of Boston University, because of his scholarship and teaching. One expression of that attack took the form of freezing Howard’s salary for years.

Howard loved watching independent and Hollywood films and he and I and Roz [Howard's wife] saw many films together while I was in Boston. I remember how we quarreled over “Last Tango in Paris.” I loved the film, but he disagreed. But Howard disagreed in a way that was persuasive and instructive. He listened, stood his ground, and, if he was wrong, often said something like, “O.K., you got a point,” always accompanied by that broad and wonderful smile.

What was so moving and unmistakable about Howard was his humility, his willingness to listen, his refusal of all orthodoxies and his sense of respect for others. I remember once when he was leading a faculty strike at BU in the late 1970s and I mentioned to him that too few people had shown up. He looked at me and made it very clear that what should be acknowledged is that some people did show up and that was a beginning. He rightly put me in my place that day – a lesson I never forgot.

Howard was no soppy optimist, but someone who believed that human beings, in the face of injustice and with the necessary knowledge, were willing to resist, organize and collectively struggle. Howard led the committee organized to fight my firing by Silber. We lost that battle, but Howard was a source of deep comfort and friendship for me during a time when I had given up hope. I later learned that Silber, the notorious right-wing enemy of Howard and anyone else on the left, had included me on a top-ten list of blacklisted academics at BU. Hearing that I shared that list with Howard was a proud moment for me. But Howard occupied a special place in Silber’s list of enemies, and he once falsely accused Howard of arson, a charge he was later forced to retract once the charge was leaked to the press.

Howard was one of the few intellectuals I have met who took education seriously. He embraced it as both necessary for creating an informed citizenry and because he rightly felt it was crucial to the very nature of politics and human dignity. He was a deeply committed scholar and intellectual for whom the line between politics and life, teaching and civic commitment collapsed into each other.

Howard never allowed himself to be seduced either by threats, the seductions of fame or the need to tone down his position for the standard bearers of the new illiteracy that now populates the mainstream media. As an intellectual for the public, he was a model of dignity, engagement and civic commitment. He believed that addressing human suffering and social issues mattered, and he never flinched from that belief. His commitment to justice and the voices of those expunged from the official narratives of power are evident in such works as his monumental and best-known book, “A People’s History of the United States,” but it was also evident in many of his other works, talks, interviews and the wide scope of public interventions that marked his long and productive life. Howard provided a model of what it meant to be an engaged scholar, who was deeply committed to sustaining public values and a civic life in ways that linked theory, history and politics to the everyday needs and language that informed everyday life. He never hid behind a firewall of jargon, refused to substitute irony for civic courage and disdained the assumption that working-class and oppressed people were incapable of governing themselves.

Unlike so many public relations intellectuals today, I never heard him interview himself while talking to others. Everything he talked about often pointed to larger social issues, and all the while, he completely rejected any vestige of political and moral purity. His lack of rigidity coupled with his warmness and humor often threw people off, especially those on the left and right who seem to pride themselves on their often zombie-like stoicism. But, then again, Howard was not a child of privilege. He had a working-class sensibility, though hardly romanticized, and sympathy for the less privileged in society along with those whose voices had been kept out of the official narratives as well as a deeply felt commitment to solidarity, justice, dialogue and hope. And it was precisely this great sense of dignity and generosity in his politics and life that often moved people who shared his company privately or publicly. A few days before his death, he sent me an email commenting on something I had written for Truthout about zombie politics. (It astonishes me that this will have been the last correspondence. Even at my age, the encouragement and support of this man, this towering figure in my life, meant such a great deal.) His response captures something so enduring and moving about his spirit. He wrote:

“Henry, we are in a situation where mild rebuke, even critiques we consider ‘radical’ are not sufficient. (Frederick Douglass’ speech on the Fourth of July in 1852, thunderously angry, comes close to what is needed). Raising the temperature of our language, our indignation, is what you are doing and what is needed. I recall that Sartre, close to death, was asked: ‘What do you regret?’ He answered: ‘I wasn’t radical enough.’”

I suspect that Howard would have said the same thing about himself. And maybe no one can ever be radical enough, but Howard came close to that ideal in his work, life and politics. Howard’s death is especially poignant for me because I think the formative culture that produced intellectuals like him is gone. He leaves an enormous gap in the lives of many thousands of people who knew him and were touched by the reality of the embodied and deeply felt politics he offered to all of us. I will miss him, his emails, his work, his smile and his endearing presence. Of course, he would frown on such a sentiment, and with a smile would more than likely say, “do more than mourn, organize.” Of course, he would be right, but maybe we can do both.

Editor’s Note: Howard Zinn and Henry A. Giroux not only shared a long personal friendship but also many professional and political connections. Henry A. Giroux recently joined the Truthout Board of Directors. Howard Zinn was a member of Truthout’s Board of Advisors and his comments and suggestions about our work will be greatly missed by all of us. to/vh

Howard Zinn: The Historian Who Made History January 28, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Revolution.
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Published on Thursday, January 28, 2010 by The Nationby Dave Zirin

Howard Zinn, my hero, teacher, and friend died of a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 87. With his death, we lose a man who did nothing less than rewrite the narrative of the United States. We lose a historian who also made history.

Anyone who believes that the United States is immune to radical politics never attended a lecture by Howard Zinn. The rooms would be packed to the rafters, as entire families, black, white and brown, would arrive to hear their own history made humorous as well as heroic. “What matters is not who’s sitting in the White House. What matters is who’s sitting in!” he would say with a mischievous grin. After this casual suggestion of civil disobedience, the crowd would burst into laughter and applause.

Only Howard could pull that off because he was entirely authentic. When he spoke against poverty it was from the perspective of someone who had to work in the shipyards during the Great Depression. When he spoke against war, it was from the perspective of someone who flew as a bombardier during World War II, and was forever changed by the experience. When he spoke against racism it was from the perspective of someone who taught at Spelman College during the civil rights movement and was arrested sitting in with his students.

And of course, when he spoke about history, it was from the perspective of having written A People’s History of the United States, a book that has sold more than two million copies and changed the lives of countless people. Count me among them. When I was 17 and picked up a dog-eared copy of Zinn’s book, I thought history was about learning that the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. I couldn’t tell you what the Magna Carta was, but I knew it was signed in 1215. Howard took this history of great men in powdered wigs and turned it on its pompous head.

In Howard’s book, the central actors were the runaway slaves, the labor radicals, the masses and the misfits. It was history writ by Robin Hood, speaking to a desire so many share: to actually make history instead of being history’s victim. His book came alive in December with the debut of The People Speak on the History Channel as actors, musicians, and poets, brought Zinn’s book alive.

Howard was asked once whether his praise of dissent and protest was divisive. He answered beautifully: “Yes, dissent and protest are divisive, but in a good way, because they represent accurately the real divisions in society. Those divisions exist – the rich, the poor – whether there is dissent or not, but when there is no dissent, there is no change. The dissent has the possibility not of ending the division in society, but of changing the reality of the division. Changing the balance of power on behalf of the poor and the oppressed.”

Words like this made Howard my hero. I never thought we would also become friends. But through our mutual cohort, Anthony Arnove, Howard read my sports writing and then gave his blessing to a book project we called A People’s History of Sports in the United States.

We also did a series of meetings together where I would interview Howard on stage. Even at 87, he still had his sharp wit, strong voice, and matinee-idol white hair. But his body had become frail. Despite this physical weakness, Howard would stay and sign hundreds of books until his hand would shake with the effort.

At our event in Madison, Wisconsin, Howard issued a challenge to the audience. He said, “Our job as citizens is to honestly assess what Obama is doing. Not measured just against Bush, because against Bush, everybody looks good. But look honestly at what Obama’s doing and act as engaged and vigorous citizens.”

He also had no fear to express his political convictions loudly and proudly. I asked him about the prospects today for radical politics and he said,

“Let’s talk about socialism. … I think it’s very important to bring back the idea of socialism into the national discussion to where it was at the turn of the [last] century before the Soviet Union gave it a bad name. Socialism had a good name in this country. Socialism had Eugene Debs. It had Clarence Darrow. It had Mother Jones. It had Emma Goldman. It had several million people reading socialist newspapers around the country… Socialism basically said, hey, let’s have a kinder, gentler society. Let’s share things. Let’s have an economic system that produces things not because they’re profitable for some corporation, but produces things that people need. People should not be retreating from the word socialism because you have to go beyond capitalism.”

Howard Zinn taught millions of us a simple lesson: Agitate. Agitate. Agitate. But never lose your sense of humor in the process. It’s a beautiful legacy and however much it hurts to lose him, we should strive to build on Howard’s work and go out and make some history.

© 2010 The Nation

Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly published A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

Zinn’s ‘People’s History’ Masterwork Hits the History Channel December 11, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History, Media.
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By Dave Zirin, AlterNet
December 11, 2009

On December 13th, a date I’ve basically had tattooed on my arm like the guy from Memento, The People Speak finally makes its debut on the History Channel. This is more than just must-see-TV. It is nothing less than the life’s work of “people’s historian” Howard Zinn brought to life by some of the most talented actors, musicians, and poets in the country. Howard Zinn and his partner Anthony Arnove chose the most stirring political passages in Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States, creating a written anthology called Voices of a People’s History of the United States. Those “voices” have now been fully resurrected by a collection of performers ranging from Matt Damon to hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco to poet Staceyann Chin.

The People Speak also showcases John Legend reading the words of Muhammad Ali, Kerry Washington as Sojourner Truth, David Strathairn’s take on the soaring oratory of Eugene Debs, and Morgan Freeman as Frederick Douglass asking, “What is the 4th of July to the American Slave?” There are also the words of women factory workers read by Marisa Tomei, rebellious farmers personified by Viggo Mortensen, and escaped slaves voiced by Benjamin Bratt.

Certainly the lunatic right will howl to the heavens after seeing “liberal Hollywood” perform the words of labor radicals, anti-racists, feminists, and socialists. In fact, aided by the craven Matt Drudge, they are already in full froth, campaigning online to get the History Channel to drop The People Speak before its air-date. If it weren’t so contemptible, their actions would be almost quaint, like a virtual book burning.

But beneath the bombast, their hostile aversion “a people’s history” speaks volumes about why we need to support this project. This is a country dedicated to historical amnesia. Our radical past holds dangers for both those in power and those threatened by progressive change. We need to rescue the great battles for social justice from becoming either co-opted or simply erased from the history books. Our children don’t learn about the people who made the Civil Rights movement. Instead we get Dr. Martin Luther King on a McDonald’s commemorative cup. Because of our country’s organized ignorance, endless hours are wasted in every generation reinventing the wheel and relearning lessons already taught.

One reason Barack Obama made so many of us feel “hopey” during the 2008 election season is that he seemed to understand and even take inspiration from our “people’s history.” Candidate Obama would invoke the odysseys of abolitionists, suffragettes, freedom riders, and Stonewall rioters. He linked his campaign to this history with a slogan from today’s immigrant rights and union struggles: Si Se Puede, Yes We Can.

And yet this Presidency in practice has been like watching George W. Bush with a working cerebellum. Send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan? Say nothing in the face of racist rallies held outside the capitol? Tell LGBT people to shut up and wait for their civil rights? All in a year’s work. The Obama administration is now counting upon the American people, to once again, quietly go with the flow all while pretending we never saw this movie before. This is why The People Speak matters. It’s aimed at reclaiming our hallowed history from all who would profane it: to resurrect our past as a guide to fight for the future.

There are those who will wrongly see The People Speak as a kind of “spoonful of sugar” approach to education. Get a celebrity to recite the words of Susan B. Anthony and all of a sudden, we’ll all want to be history buffs. But this isn’t Hollywood “slumming” in the land of radical chic. It is instead a bracing spectacle where our sacred history is reimagined by performance artists of tremendous craft. Consider the dramatic task at hand: they are attempting nothing less than turning politics into art. If Zinn and co-producers Arnove, Damon, Josh Brolin and Chris Moore pull this off, it holds the potential to introduce a new generation to Sojourner Truth, Eugene Debs, and perhaps most importantly of all, to the works of Howard Zinn.

As Zinn himself once said, “Knowing history is less about understanding the past than changing the future.” This is the grand adventure of Howard Zinn’s life. I encourage everyone to come along for the ride. Get your friends and family together on Sunday night and experience The People Speak. Then take them by the hand and pledge to be heard.
Dave Zirin is the author of “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States.” Read more of his work at Edgeofsports.com.

Barack Obama’s South of the Border Adventure April 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Latin America.
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CB Trinidad Americas Summit Obama

 

By Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 22, 2009

 

It’s amazing what you can learn about a Gringo when you put him together with a bunch of Latinos.

 

Barack Obama, as the adored new president of the giant republic to the North, likely arrived at last weeks Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago expecting to strut his stuff.

 

The President would have been briefed on the question of the Cuban Blockade; the latest shenanigans of his putative hemispheric nemesis, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez; free trade issues, and the like.  But it is not likely that any of his advisors would have thought to advise him about the romantic and spontaneous nature of the Latino soul.

 

You have to have lived amongst Latin Americans (as I have for the past fifteen years) to understand how natural it was for Chávez to greet Obama with open arms (“Chávez Hates America” Republicans and the lapdog North American mainstream media equate disagreement with a government’s policy with dislike of its people; Latin Americans are generally astute enough to be aware there is a difference).  But what was really not only a stroke of genius but also totally in character was Chávez’s presenting Obama with a signed copy of Eduardo Galeano’s classic masterpiece on U.S/Latin American relations, “The Open Veins of Latin America.” 

 

And how did Obama react?  According to his spokesperson, the president would probably not read the book because it was in Spanish.  Talk about a dud of a response.  And can you imagine Obama presenting Chávez with the North American counterpart to Galeano’s work, I’m referring to Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States?”   I apologize if I’m wrong, but I would bet that President Obama is not even aware of the Zinn’s best seller alternative version of U.S. history, much less read it.  On the other hand, it would be hard to convince me that there is a president of a Latin American republic that is not familiar with Galeano.

 

Next up steps Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega whose speech includes a criticism of US imperialism throughout the 20th century.   In it he mentions the failed U.S. sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.  Obama’s response?  “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.”  Ha, ha.  Very funny but quite beside the point.

 

But if there was ever a contrast between Latin American and North American leadership, it is exemplified in the person of Bolivia’s young, charismatic and dynamic President Evo Morales (But Obama is also young, charismatic and dynamic, you say?  True, but wait and see).  Morales, the first native president of a nation that is 60% Indigenous, would have arrived at the Summit a bit under the weather, having just come off a five day hunger strike, which he conducted on a mattress on the floor of the Presidential Palace.  Morales is a former coca farmer and labor leader, who in the tradition of Gandhi and California’s great farm worker leader, Cesar Chavez, is a strong believer in the efficacy of the hunger strike as a political strategy.  His longest previous hunger strike lasted 18 days (can you picture Bill Clinton going more than 48 hours without a Big Mac?).  The current fast was to protest tactics used by obstructionist Congressman that were preventing a vote on a measure that would increase Indigenous representation in Congress, and enable elections to go ahead in December in which Morales would be eligible to run for re-election (and where because of his immense popularity he is virtually a shoo-in).

 

Many if not most North Americans can understand direct action or civil disobedience on the part of a Martin Luther King, but from the President of the United States?  How undignified.  And to what end?  Well, here’s what Morales achieved: the obstructionists backed down, and the Congress approved the election law.  Why would they have done that?  Because Morales enjoys enormous popularity among the Bolivian electorate.  He went over the heads of the right wing congressmen and appealed directly to his people, and his adversaries saw that they had no choice but to back down.  Now can you imagine Barack Obama taking advantage of his enormous popularity to engage in such a heart-felt demonstration of his convictions in order to stand up say to the private health insurance industry and its bought-lock-stock-and-barrel representatives in Congress in order to achieve a single-payer universal healthcare plan (which he once supported but now is “off the table”)?  Can you imagine him conducting a sit-in in the Oval Office in order to face down the Pentagon and the merchants of death military contractors in order to rally the kind of popular pressure that would force approval for a substantial reduction in the gargantuan defense budget?  (Try channeling your inner John Lennon, and Imagine!)

 

So what was the interaction between Morales and Obama at the Summit?  First you must realize that for the past year or so, Morales has been the target of right wing terrorists, who have attempted to destabilize his government by brutally attacking his supporters and who have recently failed in an attempt on his life.  So Morales approached President Obama directly at the Summit – man-to-man, no bureaucratic intermediaries, no diplomatic niceties – and (according to Bharrat Jagdeo, the president of Guyana, who attended the session) presented him with specific information about U.S. mercenaries who he said were operating in his country.  The President again came up with a non-response response that was as rote and as lame as his others. He stated that his administration ‘does not promote the overthrow of any democratically elected head of state nor support assassination of leaders of any country’ (which, if true, would be quite a radical departure from past U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America!).  Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, confirmed the account.  End of discussion.

 

 

So what is my point?  What I am trying to show is that there is a refreshing authenticity about some Latin American heads of state, who can be candid and direct on a person to person basis in a way that we seldom if ever see in North America.  U.S. presidents go in for photo-ops and prepared statements that more often than not occult hidden agendas.

 

The tragic irony here is that Obama’s speedy and dramatic rise to the presidency was largely due to his ability to convince the American people of his own authenticity.  He convinced us that we could believe in him.  It is said that a person who can dissemble while at the same time projecting unimpeachable sincerity has the recipe for wielding immense power.  And Barack has shown himself to be a first class dissembler.  He convinced the American people that his administration would be a “genuine change” from that of previous administrations while in a few short weeks in office he has forged ahead both with President Bush’s major domestic and foreign policies (continued giveaways to Wall Street and the corrupt banking and finance industries on the home front; military escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a disingenuous promise to leave Iraq which he knows the generals will not stand for, and blind uncritical support for Israeli militarism and apartheid in the area of foreign policy).

 

Barack Obama did not get to where he is today by taking principled stands on issues.  He cut his teeth in the corruption riddled cradle of Chicago ward politics, where winning and holding power is the only principle that matters.  His cynical choice of anti-gay bigot Rick Warren to give the Inauguration prayer and his support of the so-called Jewish Lobby and Israel’s war crimes in Gaza are only two of many examples of his going for the votes and principles be damned.

 

It is interesting to note that early on in his career Obama evidenced his ability to project an image as an agent of change while at the same time remaining snuggly in bed with the status quo.  This is what a colleague said of him when interviewed by the Toronto Star in 1990 in a story about Obama as the Harvard Law Review’s first Black editor:

 

“He’s willing to talk to them (the conservatives) and he has a grasp of where they are coming from, which is something a lot of blacks don’t have and don’t care to have,” said Christine Lee, a second-year law student who is black. “His election was significant at the time, but now it’s meaningless because he’s becoming just like all the others (in the Establishment).”

 

 

But I would add a caveat.  Few if any of the Latin American presidents at the Summit, (with the possible exception of Daniel Ortega, when he was the Sandinista guerrilla leader) have sent men and women into battle to kill and be killed.  They are not the heads of state of the world’s largest military power and self-appointed imperial policeman.  While on the other hand, from the moment that Obama’s hand slipped off the Bible on Inauguration Day, it was awash in blood (he is already responsible, for example, for more civilian deaths in Pakistan that result from U.S. unmanned drone missiles than was President Bush).

 

We should therefore not expect Barack Obama to be anything more than a slightly kinder, gentler enforcer of United States imperial mandates.  That is what he has spent his entire life preparing to do.  We need to realize that it is not “change we can believe in” that we should expect from him, but rather “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

 

Genuine winds of “change you can believe in” are in fact blowing throughout most of Latin America, especially in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, but also to a lesser degree in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, El Salvador, Paraguay, Chile and Nicaragua.  It is a refreshing breeze, one that North Americans also hunger for but will soon realize that they have been duped once again.

 

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