Ambling Through “People’s History,” Part 2

bkszinn2003April 15, 2017

Seven years ago this month, I was still reading A Peoples History of the United States,  by Howard Zinn, 2003 edition.  This is the second in a series of posts about this book, facts and my thoughts on them.  I blogged about the first 40 pages on March 7, 2017 (“Zinn on First Americans”).

Friday, April 2, 2010—I read 30 pages of  A People’s History of the United States  Now we’re into slavery from a Lincoln point of view, more or less, hinting but not stating what “freedom” meant to hoards of blacks who had no place to go and no skills except farm work, picking cotton but not selling it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010—People’s History horrifies me, as did Open Veins of Latin America.  I wonder why I persist in reading that stuff.  Am I merely looking for what’s wrong, following the trail I find so counter-productive in others?

I think I’m trying to understand how people can be so easily deceived into violating their own common sense and good judgment, on individual and mass levels, even when claiming the opposite.

My desire to trust, to give people the benefit of the doubt, has betrayed me more than anything else.  As a result, I have become the victim of numerous desperate people who believed they were saving themselves by sacrificing me.

This “die so that I may live” attitude is the fundamental betrayal of Christianity and perhaps underscores the strange notion that there is nobility in martyrdom.

I don’t see popes going to war, nor kings, nor presidents and members of Congress.  Thus the hypocrisy of the death by proxy stance that Christianity has become.

I have an idea.  Let’s create hell on earth so people will want to die.  That should solve the overpopulation problem.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010—We’re now into “The Other Civil War” chapter, page 237, about the strikes in the North in the 1830’s and beyond—long before the war on the South began.

Zinn annoys me because he focuses on the injustices and riots themselves, blaming the “capitalists,” the “rich,” and the “landowners,” without giving a good account of their methods.  The Robber Barons did a better job of showing how the railroad interests used government to further their ends.  In fact, Zinn’s history seems to worsen class divide by pandering to the disenfranchised and showing no effective retaliation other than violence, labor unions, and strikes.  He lets the government off the hook by virtually ignoring it, except in the most superficial way.

Thursday, April 17, 2010—I read about 12 pages of People’s History..  All about labor strikes during the mid-to-late 1800s.  A bad depression in 1893 due to boatloads of immigrants brought to lower the price of labor while native-born laborers couldn’t afford to feed their families.   Over and over the federal government and state militia came in to break up strikes, and the Supreme Court and lower courts cemented the rights of corporations over individuals in the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and other tactics that proved who the federal government really works for.

Zinn doesn’t say much about the Supreme Court, but it appears to be the great black hole in this whole US federal government farce.  Zinn only touches on the notion that it is composed of presidential appointees who are confirmed by Congress, thereby a mockery of the idea that the US is a republic.  But language distortion goes back a long way.  Even the 1800s sources Zinn quotes were discussing the conflict of labor vs. capital, referring to the overlord imperialists as “capitalists” unwilling to acknowledge human capital’s value.

Laborers never learned how to organize, except to fight, and this is why they failed.  Had they taken over the mills and factories and run them themselves, evicting the bosses, we may have written a different history.

Saturday, April 17, 2010—More violence.  Now the US in the late 1890s expands its imperialist empire, because all those machines that displaced all those workers are producing more goods than anyone needs or can afford.  So the US is forcing its way into other countries, like Japan and Cuba.  It’s justifying war, as in Cuba, supposedly to support revolutionaries against oppressive government, but also to protect American corporate interests that invested there.

Monday, April 19, 2010—Now, we’re into the Spanish-American War, in which the US used the Cuban revolution in 1898 or so to substitute the US Platt amendment for the Spanish rule.  It then used economic expansion to justify a bloody takeover of the Philippines, really bloody, in which American troops went on killing sprees wiping out entire towns, no one over ten years old spared.  And bragging about it, calling the Filipinos “niggers.”

McKinley was president at the time.  Of course he didn’t want war but felt it necessary to protect the Philippine timber and other resources from other countries and the Filipinos from themselves.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010—I read more People’s History, now up to page 363.  Late 1800s and early 1900s.  Strikes and more strikes, labor disputes, government stepping in at every turn to protect the corporations, the factories, murdering strikers, arresting leaders, making examples of them.  World War I was probably a diversionary tactic, to find an external enemy, because the internal mood was so belligerent.  No wonder people are afraid of the government.

But Zinn skips right over the Federal Reserve Act and income tax.  He subtly distorts the record by blaming Taft for the income tax and Wilson for the Federal Reserve Act, and only mentions these in a sentence or two in passing.

How strange, think I, that he would so easily bypass the vehicle by which the very workers he panders to were so completely disenfranchised.

People tell me Zinn is a “liberal.”  He seems to celebrate socialism, derived from Populism, but never defines any of it.  It’s clear “capitalism” was used in the vernacular in the 1800s to describe the industrialist imperialists, so demonization of the term began long ago.  The notion that human capital, like “qi” or life force in Oriental medicine, has been eliminated from the equation tells me this is why we are all are so debilitated now.

I can only do so much, I decided.  Many people have had a piece of the picture.  Zinn even quotes Helen Keller a time or two.  One of the heroines from my youth, she was social consciousness itself, a socialist at a time when socialism was needed, because it was synonymous with compassion.

Thursday, April 22, 2010—Peoples History shows how ruthless the GoverCorp attitude is.  People are right to be afraid.  Those who opposed the barbarians were glamorized, like Upton Sinclair, yet used to enable social reforms that played into GoverCorp’s hands.

On page 368 Zinn discusses World War I, the Espionage Act, which was used to jail and castigate people who opposed the war.  The Socialists didn’t, as a group, but notable Socialists like Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Clarence Darrow, were soon converted.

Zinn’s history bats the ball back and forth like a tennis match but offers few insights into the causes.  The attitudes that have come down through time allow people to justify cruelty, violence, and bloodshed.




8 thoughts on “Ambling Through “People’s History,” Part 2

  1. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Katharine, I like your chapter by chapter commentary on Zinn’s book. I started reading it, but put it aside to read other books that also needed attention. I’ve got to get back to it again.

    “This “die so that I may live” attitude is the fundamental betrayal of Christianity and perhaps underscores the strange notion that there is nobility in martyrdom. / I don’t see popes going to war, nor kings, nor presidents and members of Congress. Thus the hypocrisy of the death by proxy stance that Christianity has become. / I have an idea. Let’s create hell on earth so people will want to die. That should solve the overpopulation problem.”

    Christianity has betrayed us all, hasn’t it? When faced with street children in Christian-dominated Brazil, I came to the same realization. Those in power – political and religious – never have to put themselves and their kids in harm’s way, or face want of any kind. Yet, they decide the fate of the masses of humanity.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Rosaliene, That’s why “Open Veins of Latin America” is the book for you. The priests followed the conquistadors to South America, enslaved natives to work the mines, claiming they were doomed to hell because they were heathens.

      I say all monotheistic religions–all so human-centered–are betraying us. That’s why Mother Nature is so angry and getting angrier (We call it “climate change.”), and why world “leaders” are so desperate. They are losing even the semblance of control. The masses are slipping out from their tight-fisted grip. “Sorry, can’t work or go to war. I’m disabled, you know.”

      1. Rosaliene Bacchus

        “Open Veins of Latin America,” is on my To Read list.
        I didn’t know of your disability. Far too many of us are “disabled” in a myriad of ways, both physically and mentally. Stay good ❤

      2. katharineotto Post author

        Rosaliene, Only disabled from others’ point of view. I’ve always made best possible use of what I have. My comment about disability was also meant in abstract terms, about American citizens as a group, so far.

        Digital mind-meld, entranced with techno-wizardry but missing the big picture of Nature’s ways, including the natural homeostasis of the body itself.

        Looks like on-line E magazine is a potential resource, huh?

  2. navasolanature

    Very interesting Katherine, I wonder why causes haven’t been incorporated into the book. I am also so amazed by the presidential system you have. Trump has certainly shed more ‘light’ on the process or he seems more in the limelight. There certainly are different kinds of democracies but yes ordinary people have been betrayed by those they vote for and hence there is such a cynicism. Am not sure the link now but it was a Chinese millionaire who was criticising the U.S. government for not doing enough to help their own people with better healthcare etc! I think the point was about it being the government that serves the people. Austerity economics has also thrown up an ugly backlash too. It’s hard but I think we do have to be very aware of our and others history. Take care and have a pleasant Easter even if I think you have a point about certain aspects of the way Christianity has developed.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Nav, Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Easter has significance for me, too, bur more as the spring equinox, and the “pagan” rituals, the rhythms of nature. Trump is playing a role handed down to him, but we don’t have to put up with it. As women gain momentum, I hope we will work together to civilize these men.

  3. katharineotto Post author

    Nav, As far as women civilizing men, I believe we do it every day. I’ve become more outspoken about the pre-European Native American cultures. Loose confederacy of tribes, ruled by the elderly women, who made the decisions about war, including the moccasins for war, among other things. Certainly mothers and wives suffer most in wars and afterwards. Who better to decide if the warriors’ lives are worth sacrificing?

    As women wake up to this obviously genetically superior notion–cooperation instead of competition–we may begin to re-balance the species.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s