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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

January 29, 2010

SOME THOUGHTS OF HOWARD ZINN

-- You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train - To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

-- The Progressive, 2005 - What does it take to bring a turnaround in social consciousness - from being a racist to being in favor of racial equality, from being in favor of Bush's tax program to being against it, from being in favor of the war in Iraq to being against it? We desperately want an answer, because we know that the future of the human race depends on a radical change in social consciousness.

It seems to me that we need not engage in some fancy psychological experiment to learn the answer, but rather to look at ourselves and to talk to our friends. We then see, though it is unsettling, that we were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness - embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television.

This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas. It is so simple a thought that it is easily overlooked as we search, desperate in the face of war and apparently immovable power in ruthless hands, for some magical formula, some secret strategy to bring peace and justice to the land and to the world.

"What can I do?" The question is thrust at me again and again as if I possessed some mysterious solution unknown to others. The odd thing is that the question may be posed by someone sitting in an audience of a thousand people, whose very presence there is an instance of information being imparted which, if passed on, could have dramatic consequences. The answer then is as obvious and profound as the Buddhist mantra that says: "Look for the truth exactly on the spot where you stand."

-- "Declarations of Independence," 1990 - A determined population can not only force a domestic ruler to flee the country, but can make a would-be occupier retreat, by the use of a formidable arsenal of tactics: boycotts and demonstrations, occupations and sit-ins, sit-down strikes and general strikes, obstruction and sabotage, refusal to pay taxes, rent strikes, refusal to cooperate, refusal to obey curfew orders or gag orders, refusal to pay fines, fasts and pray-ins, draft resistance, and civil disobedience of various kinds. . . . Thousands of such instances have changed the world, but they are nearly absent from the history books. History texts featuring military heroes lead entire generations of the young to think that wars are the only way to solve problems of self-defense, justice, and freedom. They are kept uninformed about the world's long history of nonviolent struggle and resistance.

-- Beyond the futility of armed force, and ultimately more important, is the fact that war in our time inevitably results in the indiscriminate killing of large numbers of people. To put it more bluntly, war is terrorism. That is why a "war on terrorism" is a contradiction in terms.

-- There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.

-- The Progressive, 2006 - The history of wars fought since the end of World War II reveals the futility of large-scale violence. The United States and the Soviet Union, despite their enormous firepower, were unable to defeat resistance movements in small, weak nations. Even though the United States dropped more bombs in the Vietnam War than in all of World War II, it was still forced to withdraw. The Soviet Union, trying for a decade to conquer Afghanistan, in a war that caused a million deaths, became bogged down and also finally withdrew.

Even the supposed triumphs of great military powers turn out to be elusive. After attacking and invading Afghanistan, President Bush boasted that the Taliban were defeated. But five years later, Afghanistan is rife with violence, and the Taliban are active in much of the country. Last May, there were riots in Kabul, after a runaway American military truck killed five Afghans. When U.S. soldiers fired into the crowd, four more people were killed.

After the brief, apparently victorious war against Iraq in 1991, George Bush Sr. declared (in a moment of rare eloquence): "The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian peninsula." Those sands are bloody once more.

The same George Bush presided over the military attack on Panama in 1989, which killed thousands and destroyed entire neighborhoods, justified by the "war on drugs." Another victory, but in a few years, the drug trade in Panama was thriving as before.

The nations of Eastern Europe, despite Soviet occupation, developed resistance movements that eventually compelled the Soviet military to leave. The United States, which had its way in Latin America for a hundred years, has been unable, despite a long history of military interventions, to control events in Cuba, or Venezuela, or Brazil, or Bolivia.

Overwhelming Israeli military power, while occupying the West Bank and Gaza, has not been able to stop the resistance movement of Palestinians. Israel has not made itself more secure by its continued use of massive force. The United States, despite two successive wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, is not more secure.

HOWARD ZINN ON HIS ROLE IN WORLD WAR II

AN INTERVIEW WITH ZINN A COUPLE OF WEEKS BEFORE HIS DEATH

ZINN PROJECT


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