Orwell’s 1984 Solution to Criminalize War: “If There was Hope, it must Lie in the Proles” August 28, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Revolution, War.
Tags: 1984, howard zinn, james tracey, mass media, orwell, public opinion, roger hollander, 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.
“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance-it is the illusion of knowledge.”-Daniel Boorstin
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,
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, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Racism.
Tags: abby zimet, capital punishment, davis execution, death penalty, georgia justice, howard zinn, racism, roger hollander, state murder, state-sanctioned killing, troy davis
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by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org
“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’.
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, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in History, Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, appeasement, bin Laden, civilian casualties, collateral damage, howard zinn, Iraq, Iraq war, just war, military targets, non violence, pacifism, peace, roger hollander, Taliban, terrorism, vietnam, Vietnam War, war, world war II
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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): A Tribute to the Legendary Historian with Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein and Anthony Arnove January 28, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Education, History.
Tags: activism, alice walker, american histroy, anthony arnove, civil disobedience, daniel berrigan, daniel ellsberg, democracy, dissent, ecucation, historian, history, howard zinn, naomi klein, Noam Chomsky, peace, people's history, roger hollander, spelman college, Vietnam War
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Zinn’s ‘People’s History’ Masterwork Hits the History Channel December 11, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History, Media.
Tags: anthony arnove, benjamin bratt, chris moore, civil rights movement, DAVID ZIRIN, drudge, eugene debs, frederick douglass, history, history channel, howard zinn, josh brolin, lunatic right, marisa tomei, matt damon, morgan freeman, muhammed ali, people speak, people's history, roger hollander, soujourner truth, susan b. anthony, u.s. history, us history, viggo mortensen
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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, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Latin America.
Tags: Afghanistan, bailout, Barack Obama, bay of pigs, Bolivia, bolivia politics, bush policies, cuban blockade, daniel ortega, eduardo galeano, Evo Morales, foreign policy, healthcare reform, howard zinn, Hugo Chavez, irqa, Latin America, open veins of latin america, Pentagon, summit of the americas, Venezuela, Wall Street, war profiteers
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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.
For Palestinians, Obama’s Message is Crystal Clear January 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Bush, cease fire, gaza, gaza slaughter, george mitchell, hamas, hamas rockets, howard zinn, israel, israel's barbarism, israel's security, israeli missiles, Middle East, Obama, Palestine, Palestinians, peace process, ramzy baroud, roger hollander, terrorism
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But the new president is set to change all of that. True, Barack Obama is duly warning of hyped expectations, but, frankly, he can only blame himself for the eagerness and hope, realistic or otherwise, that has engulfed the nation, even the world over. During his presidential campaign he made many promises, the gist of which is that an Obama administration would be everything that the Bush administration was not. That was enough for ‘Obamaniacs’ to sing and dance the world over.
One cannot expect that Obama has a magic solution for everyone’s problems, everywhere. In fact one must be realistic and simply ask Obama to remedy the problems and conflicts that were introduced or provoked, financed and sustained by his own country.
Regarding the Middle East, Obama seems to have hit the ground running, or so we are told. Shortly after his inauguration, he appointed former Senator George Mitchell as special envoy to the region. Mitchell “will bring a wealth of experience and credibility to the job,” said CNN.
Once again, Obama is clearly attempting to delineate an early policy that differs from Bush’s. The latter was affiliated with the infamous Guantanamo Bay, the ‘gulag of our times’ – according to Amnesty International – thus Obama ordered it closed, a year from now that is. Bush was blamed for his late arrival to the Middle East peace process scene, thus Obama makes it clear that the peace process is a priority for his administration.
But the question is how different will Obama truly be when his administration is done carrying out a few symbolic gestures to appease the ever-eager public?
Naturally a new administration, promising a new era, requires a new language. Although inundated with lofty terminology, the outlines of Obama’s new administration seem, in some instances, a mirror image of Bush.
These are remarks made by Obama (not Bush), on January 22, and seen as the first major statement by his administration regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: “Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats. ..Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel’s right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements. Going forward, the outline for a durable cease-fire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire; Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza; the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm.”
Funny how Obama started his statement with “let me be clear.” He cannot possibly be any clearer as he spent endless hours for many months assuring Israel and its supporters, while condemning Palestinians without any reservation or remorse.
Those who counted on Obama to bring a just peace to the Middle East must’ve had their hearts broken watching the man charging against Hamas’ terror, as thousands of Gazans were killed and wounded, including 430 children in the matter of three weeks as a result of Israel’s barbarous attacks, using mostly American weapons (and full, unqualified US backing.)
And yet, Obama found it fitting to explain that his administration’s foreign policy is not only “critical in terms of projecting … America’s power, but also America’s values and America’s ideals.” Of course, it was Palestinian trust in those ideals that led them in droves to the polls in January 2006, and subsequently to their starvation and carnage in Gaza. It is no wonder that Palestinians are unimpressed.
Aside from Obama’s unparalleled clarity, thus far, on his utter and “unconditional” commitment to Israel, he, along with his officials, continue to borrow similar vague slogans that were used enthusiastically by the Bush administrations: national security, national interests, spreading of American ideals, values, and all the rest.
Commenting on such sloganeering, Howard Zinn, one of America’s most celebrated historians, said, ‘We have to think about these words and phrases that are thrown at us without giving us a time to think. And .. we have to redefine these words, like “national security.” What is national security? .. having military bases all over the world (or).. having healthcare, having jobs.”
Americans will have four years to determine how Obama and his administration define these tired slogans, ones that also include democracy and “terrorism” (is the latter an exclusively Arab tendency, never an Israeli, no matter how many the latter kills?)
Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza hardly have the leverage of time as tens of thousands remain homeless and destitute. More, they have little hope and expectations on Obama or even Mitchell, despite his “wealth of experience and credibility.”
“Obama won’t bring my husband back to life,” Leila Khalil, a Gazan woman, whose husband was killed during Israel’s bloody offensive, told AFP. “He was martyred and left me with six children to feed on my own.”
Obama’s also made himself “clear” regarding the fate of Leila’s husband, and thousands like him: “For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror.”
Luckily, Leila no longer has a TV set to listen to Obama’s remarks. It was, along with her home pulverized by Israeli missiles, courtesy of the United States. For Gazans, and most Palestinians, things cannot be any clearer.
Voices of Resistance Sing On January 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Peace.
Tags: Africa, amy goodman, bernice johnson reagon, cia, denis moynihan, eartha kitt, fbi, folk music, Guantanamo, harold pinter, harry belafonte, howard zinn, Iraq, joan baez, lady bird, miriam makeba, music, nobel peace, Obama, odetta, pete seeger, povertym, resistance, roger hollander, rosa parks, sncc, South Africa, stokely carmichael, tutu, us policy
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Dec 31, 2008, www.truthdig.com
By Amy Goodman
Strong voices for peace have left us this year, people who used their art for social change, often at a high personal price.
Odetta was a legendary folk singer of the civil rights movement.
Considered the “Queen of American Folk Music,” Odetta introduced audiences worldwide to African-American folk, blues and gospel music.
New Year’s Eve was her birthday. She would have been 78. When Rosa Parks was asked which songs meant the most to her, she replied, “All of the songs Odetta sings.”
Odetta sang “Oh, Freedom,” an African-American slave spiritual, at the 1963 March on Washington. Early on, she attracted the interest of Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger. Her voice, her talent with the guitar and the natural style in which she maintained her hair—later to be dubbed “afro”—set her as an icon of the civil rights movement. She told an interviewer in 2003:
“When I first started, I would sing these prison songs … it got to a point where doing the music actually healed me … it was music from those who went before. The music gave them strength, and the music gave us strength to carry it on.”
She inspired Bernice Johnson Reagon, an early member of the SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Freedom Singers. She had been suspended from college in Albany, Ga., for civil rights protests, then went on to Spelman College, where historian Howard Zinn and his wife, Roz, took her to folk music concerts by Joan Baez and Odetta.
Reagon recalls the first time she heard Odetta:
“In Georgia, where I grew up in the country, the roads were built by chain-gang labor. I knew the sound, because as the men worked, they sang. But I never thought I’d hear it coming from a concert stage … when she sang prison songs or work songs. … She was just what I needed to begin my life as a freedom fighter and as a Freedom Singer.”
Reagon later went on to found the women’s a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock.
Another great liberation singer we lost this year was Miriam Makeba of South Africa, known as “Mama Afrika.” She sang against apartheid, then went into exile for decades. Belafonte helped her, too, gain recognition.
In 1968, she married SNCC-leader-turned-Black-Panther Stokely Carmichael, for which she was blacklisted in the U.S. until the 1980s.
Soon after her death, I asked the Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu about Makeba. The South African archbishop smiled: “Her singing, her voice, helped many people to know a little bit more about the vicious apartheid system. She was just a tremendous human being, a great loss to us and to Africa.”
Also blacklisted in 1968 was singer and actress Eartha Kitt, who died at age 81 on Christmas Day. In 1968, she was invited to a celebrity luncheon at the White House by Lady Bird Johnson, who asked Kitt about urban poverty. Kitt replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the street. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.” The first lady reportedly burst into tears. For years afterward, Kitt performed almost exclusively overseas and was investigated by the FBI and CIA.
Born out of the Deep South and South Africa, these women’s voices sang out, from concert halls to protest rallies. Another voice we just lost sang out from the written page. Harold Pinter died on Christmas Eve in London. Though too sick to travel to Stockholm to collect his Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, he sent a video address: “The majority of politicians … are interested not in truth but in power. … To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance. … What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies.” Pinter was referring to U.S. policy from Guantanamo to Iraq.
As these icons are laid to rest, their voices continue to inspire millions. Barack Obama will soon take the reins of the most powerful nation on Earth, promising change. But it will now take the actions of those millions, heeding these echoes of the past and transforming them into their own voices, to effect real change.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
© 2008 Amy Goodman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate