Tag Archives: Howard Zinn

Finishing People’s History

bkszinn2003

Seven years ago this month, I finished reading A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, 2003 edition.  I have posted blogs about the first part of this book in March, 2017 and April, 2017.  In these blogs, I have noted events described in the book, as well as my thoughts on them.  The book had a powerful effect on me, supporting and expanding my beliefs about under-reported US history.  This May, 2017 post covers the final section of the book.

FINISHING A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, HOWARD ZINN

            Monday, May 3, 2010—I read some People’s History, now at World War II and how brutal the US was, dropping the nuclear bombs on Japan for no good reason except economics, killing 100,000 people in Hiroshima, mostly civilians, and 50,000 or more in Nagasaki.

Why oh why would people do this, I wondered.  It explains why people are so afraid now, why Americans are such mealy-mouthed wimps.

Thursday, May 6, 2010—I spent the afternoon reading People’s History, up to page 462.  Now into the race riots of the 1960s and 1970s, the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.  The FBI apparently did everything it could to intimidate King.

I can understand why people are afraid of government, and it is becoming more paranoid all the time.  I’ve always believed blacks are inherently peace-loving people, and Martin Luther King personified that spirit.

I wonder why I’m so fascinated by People’s History, because it implicates the federal government as a vicious, tyrannical bunch of mobsters since the land’s discovery.  Yes, it gives me even more data to support my beliefs.  It reveals what hasn’t worked.   Zinn focuses so intensely on the hatred and violence, though, that I wonder what ultimate purpose it serves.

While I believe the government is justifiably paranoid, I have to respect its power to hurt.  I’ve learned my lesson, I hope, about pissing the wrong people off.

As Malcolm X said, if you remain radical long enough, you win your freedom.  This is my belief, too, because I’ve come back from the “lunatic fringe” with more elbow room, maybe.

Fidel Castro in 1959 pissed the US off by confiscating land held by US corporations, then distributing it to landless peasants.  The Bay of Pigs was a manufactured crisis by John F. Kennedy and associates to stir up revolution against Castro in Cuba, but Fidel was too popular.  The US was embarrassed because its tactics, so successful everywhere else, failed with Castro.

Saturday, May 8, 2010—I read some People’s History, now up to page 490 in this 688 page book.  We’re in Vietnam now, and it is astounding.  The US has made a career of sadism, so no wonder we have a nation of victims.  We have the CIA actively stirring up trouble in a pacifist, land-based, family-and-tradition-based culture, but the CIA couldn’t seem to control the outcome, no matter how many cities and fields they bombed, people they slaughtered, or poisons they sprayed and dumped hither and yon.  They couldn’t understand how the revolutionaries managed to maintain morale, and I contend they weren’t fighting governments but for a way of life.  Ho Chi Minh, the North Korean leader, was immensely popular among the people, because he confiscated land of absentee landlords and distributed it among the landless, similar to what Castro did in Cuba.

Ngo Dinh Diem, the CIA/US plant in South Vietnam, was hated by the people, and South Vietnam was essentially a US government invention.  When Diem became an embarrassment to the US, they allowed him to be captured and assassinated.  Three weeks later, JFK was assassinated.

Castro and Ho Chi Minh understood Communism in the communal sense of the term, by giving land to the landless, and this is why the people were so willing to fight for it.  They weren’t defending ideological political battles for governments, or other people’s turf.  They were fighting for their homes, families, livelihoods, and way of life.

It amazes me the CIA could be so stupid, because it is obvious to me.  Their self-defeating, blind irrationality did more to promote Communism–in the communal sense—than any leader could have achieved alone.

Perhaps if we thought of people as belonging to the land, rather than the other way around, we would have a more solid footing.

Friday, May 14, 2010—I’ve been reading People’s History tonight, wondering how people can be so cruel for so long, such that it is institutionalized and considered normal, including the lying and deceit in government and the military.

I read about the Attica prison riot, followed by other prison riots, all turned into massacres by federal troops, FBI, and militia.  The prisoners’ non-violence was more threatening than if they had been violent.  Same with the American Indians, who occupied Alcatraz, a deserted federal prison, on a rock in the San Francistco Bay.  There were forcibly evicted from there and also from land at Wounded Knee they had by treaty; but that was given to the government under “eminent domain.”  This occurred in the 1960s or 1970s and hundreds of Indian men, women and children were slaughtered after the government tried to starve them out first.

Saturday, May 15, 2010—Reading books like People’s History shows I am not alone in my understanding—far from it–as people like Howard Zinn have tracked this for years and were even given a voice.  He makes no reference to the bankers’ playing both ends against the middle and leaves the stock market out of it, although he cites illegal campaign donations by specific corporations, like ITT and 3-M.

Reading about the American Indians validates my beliefs about the native American cultures, which respected the earth and all its creatures.  I wonder how much violence they had before the Europeans arrived.  I believe it was probably minimal and was developed in reaction to the European invasion and introduction of guns.

Sunday, May 16, 2010—I read more People’s History, through Ford, Carter, and Bush Sr.  All continued to serve the government/corporate marriage.  Pacifist Jimmy Carter increased defense spending significantly.  Zinn says the Democrats did more to impose regressive taxes—Carter increased payroll taxes—than the Republicans.

Zinn claims legislation like the Clean Air Act and OSHA  were deprived of teeth by subsequent caveats, administrative decree, or insufficient funding.  He does not go into the ways these bills helped the monopolists by stifling competition.

Zinn also seems to have a shallow idea of the domestic spending programs.  He implies they are good and necessary, but he doesn’t recognize they wouldn’t be necessary if the poverty weren’t artificially created by government’s social engineering.

Zinn says Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr. used CIA to interfere in Nicaragua, Panama, Granada, and El Salvador, under various pretexts.  Bush Sr. hoped to restore American confidence in the military, since the Soviet Union collapsed and was no longer an excuse, so he created a war in Iraq.  They and all their aides lied throughout.  Congress had passed limp dick legislation to pander to public disgruntlement, and to curb presidential powers, but Ford ignored it, and so did Reagan.  No one objected.  Congress looked the other way, and the Supreme Court, of course, felt no obligation to reprimand the presidents.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010—Now into the Bush Sr. years in People’s History of the United States.  Apparently HKW Bush was determined to do Desert Storm.

Zinn’s approach is becoming trite.  He emphasizes the contest between military and social spending without questioning the spending itself.  The idea that it’s a rich vs. poor issue, without understanding—as I suddenly did—that it’s a government control issue, as in controlling economic narrows.

Thursday, May 20, 2010—Down to the wire on People’s History.  We’re now into all the pacifist movements during the first Iraq war.  They were ineffective.

And on to the Clinton years.  Bill Clinton was as much a war hawk as any of them and cut social programs but not bureaucracy.

Government has appropriated unto itself responsibility for every area of people’s lives, so it needs the bureaucracy to dole out the money it has stolen, to return it piecemeal to those it deems worthy.

Zinn has some good ideas about how to rebuild America from the ground up, but he is still too tied to money, according to me.  The notion that everything must be tied to a monetary scale, like community involvement, restricts the flow of energy and diminishes the value of time, as well as other factors that have no monetary equivalent.

Friday, May 21, 2010—People’s History gives an account of the protests from many camps over the quincentennial of Columbus’ landing, on Columbus Day, 1992, so that hero has toppled from many pedestals.  The media ignored the protests.

Saturday, May 22, 2010—I finally finished People’s History.  Given his era and background, Zinn does a remarkably good job of describing the brutal history of the US and the rampant disregard for the very principles that citizens believed it stood for.  Rather than protect rights, nurture freedom, democracy and capitalism (in the human capital sense), it has made a mockery of all three, preying on a naive and gullible public to twist noble ideals into their opposites.

The current economic crisis is bringing it all to a head, I believe, because taxpayers are finding they have been used to dig their own graves.  The country is morally bankrupt, and there is no one to blame.  As the state assumed the role of lord, master, and god, acting as legal and moral judge, guard, and executioner, taxpayers must look in the mirror and see we are the state, and we are responsible for the monster it has become.

In People’s History, Zinn mentions protest against the bombing of Afghanistan following 9/11.  I remember being the only person I knew objecting to retaliatory gestures, and people around here hated me for it.

 

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.

 

 

 

Zinn on First Americans

bkszinn2003

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES:  
1492-Present
by Howard Zinn
Published 1980; fifth printing, 2003

Introduction:  One of the best American history books I have read, this stellar work upsets any romantic notions one might have about our nation’s beginnings.  I read the book seven years ago, and it remains one of my all-time favorites.

Friday, March 12, 2010—I sprang for A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, who just died a couple of weeks ago.  I have read 40 pages of this 690 page book and find it most inspiring, surprisingly enough.  It begins with an account of Columbus’ brutality in slaughtering the Arawak Indians in the Bahamas (which Zinn never calls the “West Indies”) and the blood lust that accompanied the gold lust and slave lust that characterized not only this but subsequent genocide in North and South America.

Apparently there were 10 million Indians (Native Americans) living in North America when the Europeans arrived, with their strange notions of property rights, their guns and superior attitudes.  Many of these natives were organized in loose confederacies by language.  The Iroquois spread through much of New York , with various centers or pockets of clans distinguished by their regions or specialties.  The Mohawks (People of the Flint), Oneidas (People of the Stone), and the like.  They were generally pacifist, meaning they existed in peaceful harmony with each other and other tribes.  Disputes were generally between individuals.  Land and housing were held and worked in common.  There was no sexual one-upmanship.  The senior women controlled the decisions about whether to wage war, elected the tribal leaders, and removed them if they got out of line.  They made the moccasins and tended the crops, so they controlled the supplies for warring missions.

The English in Jamestown and New England behaved as badly as Columbus, but here the issue was land rather than gold.  They plopped themselves in the middle of established Indian turf and used guns and deception to bully and con the area Indians into submission.  In the beginning, the natives were willing to share, because this was their way, but when the Brits began to reveal their barbaric, exploitive, attitudes, the Indians grew wary.  Brits raided Indian villages, stole women and children for sex, slavery, and sport, murdered at random, and burned crops for no good reason, even though they were starving.  They couldn’t get along with each other, either, enough to cooperate, and they were all too lazy to work.  Those settlers who defected to the Indians for safe harbor and food were severely punished if caught.

So this is our heritage.  Zinn says the combined assaults of war, disease, and famine decimated the North American Indians to about one million in a few short years (maybe 50).

A quote from Chief Powatan to John Smith in 1607:  “Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love?”

I like Zinn’s approach.  He does not romanticize or pander to the cultures that were obliterated.  He is the ultimate egalitarian, so far, recognizing the clash of values in the clash of cultures, and writing the history from the perspective of the vanquished.

The book, and especially the first chapter, spoke to my soul, because the descriptions of Arawaks and mainland natives sounds much like my ideal commune, a place where everyone has a role to play for the communal good, and no role is considered better or worse than others.  I sense the Indian spirit is rising again, by default, if nothing else.  We are backing into it, because we are too weak and debilitated to fight, and there is little left to steal.

This is the great dilemma of modern man.  We have progressed ourselves into a quandary, slaves to our own progress, with a wheel that is spinning out of control.  Progress downhill fast has hit the swampy bottom, I hope, and is having to deal with the muck, sewage, toxins, landfill, and dysfunctional technology it has created.

The “health care crisis” is a political statement, and a wise one.  “Sorry, I’m too sick to go to war, to work, to pay taxes or contribute to the economy.  Where’s my check?  You promised.”
They are learning instinctively if not intellectually, that the way to downsize government is to bankrupt it.