Friday, January 29, 2010

The Historian Who Made History, Zinn::Memo to Obama


In a message dated 1/28/10 6:50:19 AM, writes:

Democracy Now's program yesterday had Noam Chomsky and Naomi
Klein briefly analyzing last night's speech, then joined by Alice Walker
to talk about their friend and teacher Howard and hear selected Zinn
thoughts, vintage and recorded on Democracy Now.



From: Dave Zirin
Edge of Sports

E of S Nation: This isn't about sports, but if you know my work, especially
A People's History of Sports in the United States, then you know I am
eternally indebted to the great historian Howard Zinn who died yesterday.
Please read or ignore. In tribute to Howard who always stood with the
underdog, I unabashedly pick the Saints to win the Super Bowl.
In struggle and sports
Dave Z

Howard Zinn: The Historian Who Made History
By 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

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.

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----- Original Message -----
Sent: Friday, July 18, 2008 9:50 PM

Memo to Obama, McCain: No one wins in a war

By Howard Zinn:
Znet: Jul 18, 2008

BARACK OBAMA and John McCain continue to argue about war. McCain says to
keep the troops in Iraq until we "win" and supports sending more troops to
Afghanistan. Obama says to withdraw some (not all) troops from Iraq and send
them to fight and "win" in Afghanistan.

For someone like myself, who fought in World War II, and since then has
protested against war, I must ask: Have our political leaders gone mad? Have
they learned nothing from recent history? Have they not learned that no one
"wins" in a war, but that hundreds of thousands of humans die, most of them
civilians, many of them children?

Did we "win" by going to war in Korea? The result was a stalemate, leaving
things as they were before with a dictatorship in South Korea and a
dictatorship in North Korea. Still, more than 2 million people - mostly
civilians - died, the United States dropped napalm on children, and 50,000
American soldiers lost their lives.
Did we "win" in Vietnam? We were forced to withdraw, but only after 2
million Vietnamese died, again mostly civilians, again leaving children
burned or armless or legless, and 58,000 American soldiers dead.

Did we win in the first Gulf War? Not really. Yes, we pushed Saddam Hussein
out of Kuwait, with only a few hundred US casualties, but perhaps 100,000
Iraqis died. And the consequences were deadly for the United States: Saddam
was still in power, which led the United States to enforce economic
sanctions. That move led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis,
according to UN officials, and set the stage for another war.
In Afghanistan, the United States declared "victory" over the Taliban. Now
the Taliban is back, and attacks are increasing. The recent US military
death count in Afghanistan exceeds that in Iraq. What makes Obama think that
sending more troops to Afghanistan will produce "victory"? And if it did, in
an immediate military sense, how long would that last, and at what cost to
human life on both sides?

The resurgence of fighting in Afghanistan is a good moment to reflect on the
beginning of US involvement there. There should be sobering thoughts to
those who say that attacking Iraq was wrong, but attacking Afghanistan was

Go back to Sept. 11, 2001. Hijackers direct jets into the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon, killing close to 3,000 A terrorist act, inexcusable by any
moral code. The nation is aroused. President Bush orders the invasion and
bombing of Afghanistan, and the American public is swept into approval by a
wave of fear and anger. Bush announces a "war on terror."

Except for terrorists, we are all against terror. So a war on terror sounded
right. But there was a problem, which most Americans did not consider in the
heat of the moment: President Bush, despite his confident bravado, had no
idea how to make war against terror.

Yes, Al Qaeda - a relatively small but ruthless group of fanatics - was
apparently responsible for the attacks. And, yes, there was evidence that
Osama bin Laden and others were based in Afghanistan. But the United States
did not know exactly where they were, so it invaded and bombed the whole
country. That made many people feel righteous. "We had to do something," you
heard people say.

Yes, we had to do something. But not thoughtlessly, not recklessly. Would we
approve of a police chief, knowing there was a vicious criminal somewhere in
a neighborhood, ordering that the entire neighborhood be bombed? There was
soon a civilian death toll in Afghanistan of more than 3,000 - exceeding the
number of deaths in the Sept. 11 attacks. Hundreds of Afghans were driven
from their homes and turned into wandering refugees.

Two months after the invasion of Afghanistan, a Boston Globe story described
a 10-year-old in a hospital bed: "He lost his eyes and hands to the bomb
that hit his house after Sunday dinner." The doctor attending him said: "The
United States must be thinking he is Osama. If he is not Osama, then why
would they do this?"
We should be asking the presidential candidates: Is our war in Afghanistan
ending terrorism, or provoking it? And is not war itself terrorism?

Howard Zinn is author of "A Power Governments Cannot Suppress" published by
City Lights Books.

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