Thursday, January 8, 2009

Where the left stands divided today

Two different views of Obama; two different views of what socialism is.

Two different views of "class" and "class struggle."

Two different views on "working class power."

Two different views of history.

Two similar views on the struggle for peace and reforms.

Howard Zinn and Michael Parenti.

A public debate across the country on these two views would serve the left and working class movement well.

Alan L. Maki

http://www.dissiden 2008/12/% e2%80%9cclass- is-a-dirty- word%e2%80% 9d/
“Class is a Dirty Word”

by Jason Miller / December 26th, 2008

Class is a dirty word in that it gets close to the truth about who governs and for whose benefit.

– Michael Parenti

Michael Parenti is an internationally known award-winning author and lecturer. He is one of the nation’s leading progressive political analysts. His highly informative and entertaining books and talks have reached a wide range of audiences in North America and abroad.

In the land of those who think they’re free and the home of savage capitalism, class is indeed a dirty word. Remember, we’re a nation of Joe the Plumbers. If we just work hard enough and fend off those socialist vampires who want to suck us dry by redistributing our hard-earned wealth, we can all be financial successes. And if you’re a faux-progressive presidential candidate—like Obama, you’re doomed to political perdition unless you sign a blood oath disavowing your ties to socialism.

Yet there are a few political analysts and academics who dare to blaspheme against capitalism, which is the “God” this benighted land truly worships—despite the disgustingly hypocritical veneer of faux Christianity. Remember that Michael Parenti has one of the filthiest mouths you’ll ever hear. He dares to repeatedly spew profane diatribes against capitalism, the sacrosanct basis for our precious American Way of Life. Parenti has the chutzpah to derisively attack our system, which we all know is the best that’s ever been (or will be), by asserting that there are divisions amongst US Americans based on socioeconomic standing. And worst of all? He uses the “C” word! Somebody needs to give his mouth a good cleansing with a bar of Dial!

Parenti recently answered a few questions Jason Miller threw his way. Let’s see how much further he traveled on the road to perdition…

Jason Miller: You’re one of the best kept secrets of the “American Left” (ridiculously marginalized and small in number as we are). Why is it that despite your brilliant critiques, particularly of bourgeois revisionist history, you remain relatively obscure even amongst the more radical segment of the US population?

Michael Parenti: It’s really not all that bad. People do describe me as “widely acclaimed” and “internationally known” etc. and I do reach varied audiences in North America and abroad with my writings, lectures, and interviews. But it is true that there are sectarian or small minded elements on the left – including some very prominent figures – who are quiet practitioners of McCarthyism in that they exclude or try to isolate anyone who (a) places a strong emphasis on the realities of class power (b) occasionally uses a Marxist analysis or (c) finds some things of value in existing socialist societies that are worthy of being preserved, such as human services, guaranteed right to a job, free education, free medical care, affordable housing for all, etc. These societies, now mostly defunct, have been deemed by most of the left as worthy of nothing but a constant unremitting denunciation.

JM: Do you think the bourgeoisie has begun demonizing environmentalists and animal rights advocates because they perceive us to be a legitimate threat to the system, is the Green Scare simply another aspect of the divide and conquer tactic, do animal and Earth exploiters wield that much power within the system, is it a combination of these, or something more?

MP: The purveyors of free-market global capitalism believe that they have a right to plunder the remaining natural resources of this planet as they choose. Anyone who challenges their agenda is to be subjected to whatever misrepresentation and calumny that serves the free market corporate agenda.

JM: How has the capitalist class in the US been so successful at convincing the masses that we live in a “classless society” and etching a cultural standard in granite that it is taboo to discuss class issues?

MP: Through control of the universe of discourse, including the media, the professions, the universities, the publishing industry, many of the churches, the consumer society, the job market, and even the very socialization of our children and the prefiguring of our own perceptions, the ruling interests are able to exercise a prevailing ideological control that excludes any reasoned critique of the dominant paradigm. Class is a dirty word in that it gets close to the truth about who governs and for whose benefit.

JM: What are your thoughts on Obama and what change we may see under his presidency?

MP: I greeted Obama’s electoral victory with very little enthusiasm but much relief that the lying slime-bag right-wing John McCain was defeated. I think Obama will be another Bill Clinton, perhaps not as bad. Some people see his accession to the White House as a great historic victory for African Americans and for democracy. But I am not all that impressed. When the victory is extended into social democratic policies that have a salutary effect on millions of struggling impoverished African-Americans and other working poor, then I’ll start dancing in the streets.

JM: Prior to Obama’s election, a number of radical thinkers posited that the US was in a pre-revolutionary stage. What impact do you think the Obama administration will have on the potential of consciousness, anger, and social unrest reaching critical mass amongst the working class in the US in the near future? Or better yet, are you even optimistic that the American people will catch fire and revolt against our wretchedly rapacious and imperialistic system?

MP: I do not think we are entering a pre-revolutionary stage. However political struggle can be a surprising phenomenon emerging with great democratic force and sudden movement in the most unexpected ways. We are approaching an economic crisis of momentous scope. The radical reactions may not be all that progressive and rational. The unfortunate thing about corporate capitalism is that it is often advantaged by the very wretched conditions it itself creates. I am hoping that the social groups that have been activated by Obama’s campaign will not go to sleep and will not let up the pressure for progressive change.

JM: What do you say to critics who assert that socialism is a utopian dream in the abstract and a nightmare in reality?

MP: Your question is a paraphrase of the one I posed in my book, Democracy for the Few. “Is socialism not just a dream in theory and a nightmare in practice?” In response I pointed out that the features which make life livable in capitalist society are mostly socialistic in practice, including human services, infrastructure development, environmental protections, and even many technological advances that are funded or even created by government sources.

JM: With Castro hanging in there and now Chavez, Morales, Correa, and Ortega in place, to what extent do you think socialism will continue to expand and flourish in Latin America?

MP: It is not likely that the reforms in Latin America will really lead to socialism but at least to some gains for the most desperately oppressed.

JM: Some argue that there is a “third way” that represents a better alternative to capitalism than socialism. Your thoughts?

MP: Maybe they are referring to the social democracy that is found in some Western European countries that provide decent human services and better regulation of corporate doings. But even these social democracies are under attack and face rollback. Look at what has happened to Britain.

Jason Miller is a wage slave of the American Empire who has freed himself intellectually and spiritually. He is Cyrano's Journal Online's associate editor. He welcomes constructive correspondence at JMiller@bestcyrano. org or via his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner. Read other articles by Jason, or visit Jason's website.

This article was posted on Friday, December 26th, 2008 at 8:00am and is filed under Capitalism, Interview. ShareThis


Howard Zinn on the Amy Goodman show:

“No, I was really gratified when Obama called for “Let’s tax the

rich more, and let’s tax the poor and middle class less.” And they

said, “That’s socialism.” And I thought, “Whoa! I’m happy to hear

that. Finally, socialism is getting a good name.” You know, socialism has

been given bad names, you know, Stalin and all those socialists, so-called

socialists. They weren’t really socialist, but, you know, they called

themselves socialist. But they weren’t really, you see. And so, socialism

got a bad name. It used to have a really good name. Here in the United

States, the beginning of the twentieth century, before there was a Soviet

Union to spoil it, you see, socialism had a good name. Millions of people

in the United States read socialist newspapers. They elected socialist

members of Congress and socialist members of state legislatures. You know,

there were like fourteen socialist chapters in Oklahoma. Really. I mean,

you know, socialism—who stood for socialism? Eugene Debs, Helen Keller,

Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Jack London, Upton Sinclair. Yeah, socialism

had a good name. It needs to be restored.”

January 02, 2009

Howard Zinn on “War and Social Justice”

Real Video Stream


Real Audio Stream


Howard Zinn is one of this country’s most celebrated historians. His

classic work A People’s History of the United States changed the way we

look at history in America. First published a quarter of a century ago, the

book has sold over a million copies and is a phenomenon in the world of

publishing—selling more copies each successive year. 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 forty years. He

taught at Spelman College, the historically black college for women, and

was fired for insubordination for standing up for the students. He was

recently invited back to give the commencement address. Howard Zinn has

written numerous books and is professor emeritus at Boston University. He

recently spoke at Binghamton University a few days after the 2008

presidential election. His speech was called “War and Social Justice.”

[includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn is one of this country’s most celebrated

historians. His classic work, A People’s History of the United States,

changed the way we look at history in America. First published a quarter of

a century ago, the book has sold over a million copies and is a phenomenon

in the world of publishing, selling more copies each successive year.

After serving as a bombardier pilot 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

half-century. He taught at Spelman College, the historically black college

for women in Atlanta, and was fired for insubordination for standing up for

the women.

Howard Zinn has written numerous books. He’s Professor Emeritus at Boston

University. He recently spoke at Binghamton University, Upstate New York, a

few days after the 2008 presidential election. His speech was called “War

and Social Justice.”

HOWARD ZINN: Why is all the political rhetoric limited? Why is the

set of solutions given to social and economic issues so cramped and so

short of what is needed, so short of what the Universal Declaration of

Human Rights demands? And, yes, Obama, who obviously is more attuned to the

needs of people than his opponent, you know, Obama, who is more

far-sighted, more thoughtful, more imaginative, why has he been limited in

what he is saying? Why hasn’t he come out for what is called a

single-payer system in healthcare?

Why—you see, you all know what the single-payer system is. It’s a

sort of awkward term for it, maybe. It doesn’t explain what it means. But

a single-payer health system means—well, it will be sort of run like

Social Security. It’ll be a government system. It won’t depend on

intermediaries, on middle people, on insurance companies. You won’t have

to fill out forms and pay—you know, and figure out whether you have a

preexisting medical condition. You won’t have to go through that

rigamarole, that rigamarole which has kept 40 million people out of having

health insurance. No, something happens, you just go to a doctor, you go to

a hospital, you’re taken care of, period. The government will pay for it.

Yeah, the government will pay for it. That’s what governments are for.

Governments, you know—they do that for the military. Did you know

that? That’s what the military has. The military has free insurance. I

was once in the military. I got pneumonia, which is easier to get in the

military. I got pneumonia. I didn’t have to fool around with deciding

what health plan I’m in and what—you know. No, I was totally taken care

of. I didn’t have to think about money. Just—you know, there are a

million members of the armed forces who have that. But when you ask that

the government do this for everybody else, they cry, “That’s

socialism!” Well, if that’s socialism, it must mean socialism is good.

You know.

No, I was really gratified when Obama called for “Let’s tax the

rich more, and let’s tax the poor and middle class less.” And they

said, “That’s socialism.” And I thought, “Whoa! I’m happy to hear

that. Finally, socialism is getting a good name.” You know, socialism has

been given bad names, you know, Stalin and all those socialists, so-called

socialists. They weren’t really socialist, but, you know, they called

themselves socialist. But they weren’t really, you see. And so, socialism

got a bad name. It used to have a really good name. Here in the United

States, the beginning of the twentieth century, before there was a Soviet

Union to spoil it, you see, socialism had a good name. Millions of people

in the United States read socialist newspapers. They elected socialist

members of Congress and socialist members of state legislatures. You know,

there were like fourteen socialist chapters in Oklahoma. Really. I mean,

you know, socialism—who stood for socialism? Eugene Debs, Helen Keller,

Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Jack London, Upton Sinclair. Yeah, socialism

had a good name. It needs to be restored.

And so—but Obama, with all of his, well, good will, intelligence,

all those qualities that he has, and so on—and, you know, you feel that

he has a certain instinct for people in trouble. But still, you know, he

wouldn’t come out for a single-payer health system, that is, for what I

would call health security, to go along with Social Security, you see,

wouldn’t come out for that; wouldn’t come out for the government

creating jobs for millions of people, because that’s what really is

needed now. You see, when people are—the newspapers this morning report

highest unemployment in decades, right? The government needs to create

jobs. Private enterprise is not going to create jobs. Private enterprise

fails, the so-called free market system fails, fails again and again. When

the Depression hit in the 1930s, Roosevelt and the New Deal created jobs

for millions of people. And, oh, there were people on the—you know, out

there on the fringe who yelled “Socialism!” Didn’t matter. People

needed it. If people need something badly, and somebody does something for

them, you can throw all the names you want at them, it won’t matter, you

see? But that was needed in this campaign. Yes.

Instead of Obama and McCain joining together—I know some of you may

be annoyed that I’m being critical of Obama, but that’s my job. You

know, I like him. I’m for him. I want him to do well. I’m happy he won.

I’m delighted he won. But I’m a citizen. I have to speak my mind. OK?

Yeah. And, you know—but when I saw Obama and McCain sort of both together

supporting the $700 billion bailout, I thought, “Uh-oh. No, no. Please

don’t do that. Please, Obama, step aside from that. Do what—I’m sure

something in your instincts must tell you that there’s something wrong

with giving $700 billion to the same financial institutions which ruined

us, which got us into this mess, something wrong with that, you see.” And

it’s not even politically viable. That is, you can’t even say, “Oh,

I’m doing it because people will then vote for me.” No. It was very

obvious when the $700 billion bailout was announced that the majority of

people in the country were opposed to it. Instinctively, they said,

“Something is wrong with this. Why give it to them? We need it.”

That’s when the government—you know, Obama should have been

saying, “No, let’s take that $700 billion, let’s give it to people

who can’t pay their mortgages. Let’s create jobs, you know.” You

know, instead of pouring $700 billion into the top and hoping that it will

trickle down to the bottom, no, go right to the bottom, where people need

it and get—so, yes, that was a disappointment. So, yeah, I’m trying to

indicate what we’ll have to do now and to fulfill what Obama himself has

promised: change, real change. You can’t have—you can say “change,”

but if you keep doing the old policies, it’s not change, right?

So what stands in the way of Obama and the Democratic Party, and what

stands in the way of them really going all out for a social and economic

program that will fulfill the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human

Rights? Well, I can think of two things that stand in the way. Maybe there

are more, but I can only think of two things at a time. And, well, one of

them is simply the great, powerful economic interests that don’t want

real economic change. Really, they don’t. The powerful—I mean, you take

in healthcare, there are powerful interests involved in the present

healthcare system. People are making lots of money from the healthcare

system as it is, making so much money, and that’s why the costs of the

healthcare system in the United States are double what the healthcare costs

are—the percentage, you know, of money devoted to healthcare—percentage

is double, administrative costs in the United States, compared to countries

that have the single-payer system, because there are people there who are

siphoning off this money, who are making money. You know, they’re health

plans. They’re insurance companies. They’re health executives and CEOs,

so that there are—yeah, there are interests, economic interests that are

in the way of real economic change.

And Obama so far has not challenged those economic interests.

Roosevelt did challenge those economic interests, boldly, right frontally.

He called them economic royalists. He wasn’t worried that people would

say, “Oh, you’re appealing to class conflict,” you know, the kind of

thing they pull out all the time, as if there isn’t, hasn’t always been

class conflict, just something new, you know. Class conflict. “You’re

creating class conflict. We’ve never had class conflict. We’ve always

all been one happy family.” You know, no. And so, yeah, there are these

interests standing in the way, and, you know, unfortunately, the Democratic

Party is tied to many of those interests. Democratic Party is, you know,

tied to a lot of corporate interests. I mean, look at the people on

Obama’s—the people who are on Obama’s economics team, and they’re

Goldman Sachs people, and they’re former—you know, people like that,

you know? That’s not—they don’t represent change. They represent the

old-style Democratic stay-put leadership that’s not good.

So, the other factor that stands in the way of a real bold economic

and social program is the war. The war, the thing that has, you know, a

$600 billion military budget. Now, how can you call for the government to

take over the healthcare system? How can you call for the government to

give jobs to millions of people? How can you do all that? How can you offer

free education, free higher education, which is what we should have really?

We should have free higher education. Or how can you—you know. No, you

know, how can you double teachers’ salaries? How can you do all these

things, which will do away with poverty in the United States? It all costs


And so, where’s that money going to come from? Well, it can come

from two sources. One is the tax structure. And here, Obama [has] been

moving in the right direction. When he talked about not giving the rich tax

breaks and giving tax breaks to the poor—in the right direction, but not

far enough, because the top one percent of—the richest one percent of the

country has gained several trillions of dollars in the last twenty, thirty

years as a result of the tax system, which has favored them. And, you know,

you have a tax system where 200 of the richest corporations pay no taxes.

You know that? You can’t do that. You don’t have their accountants. You

don’t have their legal teams, and so on and so forth. You don’t have

their loopholes.

The war, $600 billion, we need that. We need that money. But in order

to say that, in order to say, “Well, one, we’re going to increase taxes

on the super rich,” much more than Obama has proposed—and believe me,

it won’t make those people poor. They’ll still be rich. They just

won’t be super rich. I don’t care if there’s some rich people around.

But, you know, no, we don’t need super rich, not when that money is

needed to take care of little kids in pre-school, and there’s no money

for pre-school. No, we need a radical change in the tax structure, which

will immediately free huge amounts of money to do the things that need to

be done, and then we have to get the money from the military budget. Well,

how do you get money from the military budget? Don’t we need $600 billion

for a military budget? Don’t we have to fight two wars? No. We don’t

have to fight any wars. You know.

And this is where Obama and the Democratic Party have been hesitant,

you know, to talk about. But we’re not hesitant to talk about it. The

citizens should not be hesitant to talk about it. If the citizens are

hesitant to talk about it, they would just reinforce the Democratic

leadership and Obama in their hesitations. No, we have to speak what we

believe is the truth. I think the truth is we should not be at war. We

should not be at war at all. I mean, these wars are absurd. They’re

horrible also. They’re horrible, and they’re absurd. You know, from a

human, human point of view, they’re horrible. You know, the deaths and

the mangled limbs and the blindness and the three million people in Iraq

losing their homes, having to leave their homes, three million

people—imagine?—having to look elsewhere to live because of our

occupation, because of our war for democracy, our war for liberty, our war

for whatever it is we’re supposed to be fighting for.

No, we don’t need—we need a president who will say—yeah, I’m

giving advice to Obama. I know he’s listening. But, you know, if enough

people speak up, he will listen, right? If enough people speak up, he will

listen. You know, there’s much more of a chance of him listening, right,

than those other people. They’re not listening. They wouldn’t listen.

Obama could possibly listen, if we, all of us—and the thing to say is, we

have to change our whole attitude as a nation towards war, militarism,

violence. We have to declare that we are not going to engage in aggressive

wars. We are going to renounce the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. “Oh,

we have to go to”—you know, “We have to go to war on this little

pitiful country, because this little pitiful country might someday”—do

what? Attack us? I mean, Iraq might attack us? “Well, they’re

developing a nuclear weapon”—one, which they may have in five or ten

years. That’s what all the experts said, even the experts on the

government side. You know, they may develop one nuclear weapon in

five—wow! The United States has 10,000 nuclear weapons. Nobody says,

“How about us?” you see. But, you know, well, you know all about that.

Weapons of mass destruct, etc., etc. No reason for us to wage aggressive

wars. We have to renounce war as an instrument of foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Howard Zinn. He’s speaking at Binghamton

University, Upstate New York. If you’d like a copy of today’s

broadcast, you can go to our website at Back to his

speech in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We return now to the legendary historian Howard Zinn. This was

his first speech after the 2008 election. He was speaking on November 8th

at Binghamton University, Upstate New York. He called his speech “War and

Social Justice.”

HOWARD ZINN: A hundred different countries, we have military bases.

That doesn’t look like a peace-loving country. And besides—I mean,

first of all, of course, it’s very expensive. We save a lot of money. Do

we really need those—what do we need those bases for? I can’t figure

out what we need those bases for. And, you know, so we have to—yeah, we

have to give that up, and we have to declare ourselves a peaceful nation.

We will no longer be a military superpower. “Oh, that’s terrible!”

There are people who think we must be a military superpower. We don’t

have to be a military superpower. We don’t have to be a military power at

all, you see? We can be a humanitarian superpower. We can—yeah. We’ll

still be powerful. We’ll still be rich. But we can use that power and

that wealth to help people all over the world. I mean, instead of sending

helicopters to bomb people, send helicopters when they face a hurricane or

an earthquake and they desperately need helicopters. You know, you know.

So, yeah, there’s a lot of money available once you seriously

fundamentally change the foreign policy of the United States.

Now, Obama has been hesitant to do that. And it has something to do

with a certain mindset, because it doesn’t have anything to do really

with politics, that is, with more votes. I don’t think—do you think

most Americans know that we have bases in a hundred countries? I’ll bet

you if you took a poll and asked among the American people, “How many

countries do you think we have bases in?” “No, I don’t know exactly

what the answer is. What I would guess, you know, there’d be like five,

ten.” But I think most people would be surprised. In other words, there

isn’t a public demanding that we have bases in a hundred countries, so

there’s no political advantage to that. Well, of course, there’s

economic advantage to corporations that supply those bases and build those

bases and make profit from those bases, you know.

But in order to—and I do believe that the American people would

welcome a president who said, “We are not going to wage aggressive war

anymore.” The American people are not war-minded people. They become

war-minded when a president gets up there and creates an atmosphere of

hysteria and fear, you know, and says, “Well, we must go to war.” Then

people, without thinking about it, without thinking, you know, “Why are

we bombing Afghanistan?” “Because, oh, Osama bin Laden is there.”

“Uh, where?” Well, they don’t really know, so we’ll bomb the

country. You know, if we bomb the country, maybe we’ll get him. You see?

Sure, in the process, thousands of Afghans will die, right? But—so,

people didn’t have time to stop and think, think. But the American people

are not war-minded people. They would welcome, I believe, a turn away from

war. So there’s no real political advantage to that.

But it has to do with a mindset, a certain mindset that—well, that

a lot of Americans have and that Obama, obviously, and the Democratic

leadership, Pelosi and Harry Reid and the others, that they all still have.

And when you talk about a mindset that they have, which stands in the way

of the declaring against war, you’re reminded that during the

campaign—I don’t know if you remember this—that at one point Obama

said—and, you know, there were many times in the campaign where he said

really good things, if he had only followed up on them, you see, and if he

only follows up on them now. But at one point in the campaign, he said,

“It’s not just a matter of getting out of Iraq. It’s a matter of

changing the mindset that got us into Iraq.” You see? That was a very

important statement. Unfortunately, he has not followed through by changing

his mindset, you see? He knows somewhere in—well, then he expressed it,

that we have to change our mindset, but he hasn’t done it. Why? I don’t

know. Is it because there are too many people around him and too many

forces around him, and etc., etc., that…? But, no, that mindset is still

there. So I want to talk about what that mindset is, what the elements of

that mindset are.

And I have to look at my watch, not that it matters, not that I care,

but, you know, I feel conscience-stricken over keeping you here just to

hear the truth.

Here are some of the elements of the mindset that stand in the way,

in the way for Obama, in the way for the Democratic Party, in the way for

many Americans, in the way for us. One of the elements in our mindset is

the idea, somehow, that the United States is exceptional. In the world of

social science, in, you know, that discipline called social science,

there’s actually a phrase for it. It’s called American exceptionalism.

And what it means is the idea that the United States is unique in the

world, you know, that we are different, that we—not just different,

we’re better. Right? We are better than other people. You know, our

society is better than other societies. This is a very dangerous thing to

think. When you become so arrogant that you think you are better and

different than other countries in the world, then that gives you a carte

blanche to do nasty things. You can do nasty things, because you’re

better. You’re justified in doing those things, because, yeah,

you’re—we’re different. So we have to divest ourselves of the idea

that, you know, we are somehow better and, you know, we are the “City on

the Hill,” which is what the first governor of Massachusetts, John

Winthrop, said. “We are the”—Reagan also said that. Well, Reagan said

lots of things, you know that. But we are—you know, we’re—you know,

everybody looks to—no, we’re an empire, like other empires.

There was a British empire. There was a Russian empire. There was a

German empire and a Japanese empire and a French and a Belgian empire, the

Dutch empire and the Spanish empire. And now there’s the American empire.

And our empire—and when we look at those empires, we say, “Oh,

imperialism! But our empire, no.” There was one sort of scholar who wrote

in the New York Times, he said, “We are an empire lite.” Lite? Tell

that to the people of Iraq. Tell that to the people in Afghanistan. You

know, we are an empire lite? No, we are heavy.

And yes—well, all you have to do is look at our history, and

you’ll see, no, our history does not show a beneficent country doing good

all over the world. Our history shows expansion. Our history shows

expansion. It shows us—well, yeah, it shows us moving into—doubling our

territory with the Louisiana Purchase, which I remember on our school maps

looked very benign. “Oh, there’s that, all that empty land, and now we

have it.” It wasn’t empty! There were people living there. There were

Indian tribes. Hundreds of Indian tribes were living there, you see? And if

it’s going to be ours, we’ve got to get rid of them. And we did. No.

And then, you know, we instigated a war with Mexico in 1848, 1846 to 1848,

and at the end of the war we take almost half of Mexico, you know. And why?

Well, we wanted that land. That’s very simple. We want things. There’s

a drive of nations that have the power and the capacity to bully other

nations, a tendency to expand into those—the areas that those other

nations have. We see it all over the world. And the United States has done

that again and again. And, you know, then we expanded into the Caribbean.

Then we expanded out into the Pacific with Hawaii and the Philippines, and

yeah. And, of course, you know, in the twentieth century, expanding our

influence in Europe and Asia and now in the Middle East, everywhere. An

expansionist country, an imperialist power.

For what? To do good things for these other people? Or is it because

we coveted—when I say “we,” I don’t mean to include you and me. But

I’ve gotten—you know, they’ve gotten us so used to identifying with

the government. You know, like we say “we,” like the janitor at General

Motors says “we.” No. No, the CEO of General Motors and the janitor are

not “we.”

So, no, we’re not—we’re not—exceptionalism is one part of the

mindset we have to get rid of. We have to see ourselves honestly for what

we are. We’re an empire like other empires. We’re as aggressive and

brutal and violent as the Belgians were in the Congo, as the British were

in India, and all these other empires. Yeah, we’re just like them. We

have to face it. And when you face that, you sober up a little, and then

you don’t think you can just go all over the world and say, “Ah,

we’re doing this for liberty and democracy,” because then, if you know

your history, you know how many times that was said. “Oh, we’re going

into the Philippines to bring civilization and Christianity to the

Filipinos.” “We’re going to bring civilization to the Mexicans,”

etc., etc. No. You’ll understand that. Yeah, that’s one element in this


And then, of course, when you say this, when you say these things,

when you go back into that history, when you try to give an honest

recounting of what we have been—not “we,” really—what the

government, the government, has done, our government has done. The people

haven’t done it. People—we’re just people. The government does these

things, and then they try to include us, involve us in their criminal

conspiracy. You know, we didn’t do this. But they’re dragooning us into


But when you start criticizing, when you start making an honest

assessment of what we have done in the world, they say you’re being

unpatriotic. Well, you have to—that’s another part of the mindset you

have to get rid of, because if you don’t, then you think you have to wear

a flag in your lapel or you think you have to always have American flags

around you, and you have to show, by your love for all this meaningless

paraphernalia, that you are patriotic. Well, that’s, you know—oh,

there, too, an honest presidential candidate would not be afraid to say,

“You know, patriotism is not a matter of wearing a flag in your lapel,

not a matter of this or not—patriotism is not supporting the government.

Patriotism is supporting the principles that the government is supposed to

stand for.” You know, so we need to redefine these things which we have

come—which have been thrown at us and which we’ve imbibed without

thinking, not thinking, “Oh, what really is patriotism?” If we start

really thinking about what it is, then we will reject these cries that

you’re not patriotic, and we’ll say, “Patriotism is not supporting

the government.” When the government does bad things, the most patriotic

thing you can do is to criticize the government, because that’s the

Declaration of Independence. That’s our basic democratic charter. The

Declaration of Independence says governments are set up by the people

to—they’re artificial creations. They’re set up to ensure certain

rights, the equal right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. So when

governments become destructive of those ends, the Declaration said, “it

is the Right of the People to alter or abolish” the government. That’s

our basic democratic charter. People have forgotten what it is. It’s OK

to alter or abolish the government when the government violates its trust.

And then you are being patriotic. I mean, the government violates its

trust, the government is being unpatriotic.

Yeah, so we have to think about these words and phrases that are

thrown at us without giving us a time to think. And, you know, we have to

redefine these words, like “national security.” What is national

security? Lawyers say, “Well, this is for national security.” Well,

that takes care of it. No, it doesn’t take care of it. This national

security means different things to different people. Ah, there’s some

people—for some people, national security means having military bases all

over the world. For other people, national security means having

healthcare, having jobs. You know, that’s security. And so, yeah, we need

to sort of redefine these things.

We need to redefine “terrorism.” Otherwise, the government can

throw these words at us: “Oh, we’re fighting against terrorism.” Oh,

well, then I guess we have to do this. Wait a while, what do you mean by

“terrorism”? Well, we sort of have an idea what terrorism means.

Terrorism means that you kill innocent people for some belief that you

have. Yeah, you know, sure, blowing up on 9/11, yeah, that was terrorist.

But if that’s the definition of “terrorism,” killing innocent people

for some belief you have, then war is terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn, the legendary historian, author of A People’s

History of the United States and much more, he was speaking at Binghamton

University. If you’d like a copy of today’s broadcast, you can go to

our website at We’ll come back to the conclusion of his

address in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We return to historian Howard Zinn’s first speech after the

2008 election. The author of A People’s History of the United States

discusses the election, war, peace, and what this country symbolizes to the

rest of the world.

HOWARD ZINN: We have to stop thinking that solutions to problems are

military solutions, that you can solve problems with violence. You can’t

really. You don’t really solve problems with violence. We have to change

our definitions of “heroism.” Heroism in American culture, so far,

really—when people think of heroism, they think of military heroes. They

think of the people whose statues are all over the country, you know, and

they think of medals and battles. And yeah, these are military heroes. And

that’s why Obama goes along with that definition of military—of

“hero,” by referring to John McCain, you know, as a military hero,

always feeling that he must do that. I never felt he must do that. John

McCain, to my mind—and I know that this is a tough thing to accept and

may make some of the people angry—John McCain was tortured and bore up

under torture and was a victim of torture and imprisonment, and, you know,

it takes fortitude to that. He’s not a military hero. Before he was

imprisoned, he dropped bombs on innocent people. You know, he—yeah, he

did what the other members of the Air Force did. They dropped bombs on

peasant villages and killed a lot of innocent people. I don’t consider

that heroism. So, we have to redefine. To me, the great heroes are the

people who have spoken out against war. Those are the heroes, you know.

And so, well, I think—yeah, I think we have to change, change our

mindset. We have to understand certain things that we haven’t maybe

thought about enough. I think one of the things we haven’t thought about

enough—because this is basic, and this is crucial—we haven’t

realized, or at least not expressed it consciously, that the government’s

interests are not the same as our interests. Really. And so, when they talk

about the national interest, they’re creating what Kurt Vonnegut used to

call a “granfalloon.” A granfalloon was, so, a meaningless abstraction

and when you put together that don’t belong together, you see a

“national security”—no—and “national interest.” No, there’s

no one national interest. There’s the interest of the president of the

United States, and then there’s the interest of the young person he sends

to war. They’re different interests, you see? There is the interest of

Exxon and Halliburton, and there’s the interest of the worker, the

nurse’s aide, the teacher, the factory worker. Those are different

interests. Once you recognize that you and the government have different

interests, that’s a very important step forward in your thinking, because

if you think you have a common interest with the government, well, then it

means that if the government says you must do this and you must do that,

and it’s a good idea to go to war here, well, the government is looking

out for my interest. No, the government is not looking out for your

interest. The government has its own interests, and they’re not the

interests of the people. Not just true in the United States, it’s true

everywhere in the world. Governments generally do not represent the

interests of their people. See? That’s why governments keep getting

overthrown, because people at a certain point realize, “Hey! No, the

government is not serving my interest.”

That’s also why governments lie. Why do governments lie? You must

know that governments lie—not just our government; governments, in

general, lie. Why do they lie? They have to lie, because their interests

are different than the interests of ordinary people. If they told the

truth, they would be out of office. So you have to recognize, you know,

that the difference, difference in interest.

And the—well, I have to say something about war, a little more than

I have said, and what I say about them, because I’ve been emphasizing the

importance of renouncing war and not being a war-making nation, and because

it will not be enough to get us out of Iraq. One of these days, we’ll get

out of Iraq. We have to get out of Iraq. We don’t belong there. And

we’re going to have to get out of there. Sooner or later, we’re going

to have to get out of there. But we don’t want to have to—we don’t

want to get out of Iraq and then have to get out of somewhere else. We

don’t have to get out of Iraq but keep troops in Afghanistan, as

unfortunately, you know, Obama said, troops in Afghanistan. No, no

more—not just Iraq. We have to get into a mindset about renouncing war,

period, and which is a big step.

And my ideas about war, my thoughts about war, the sort of the

conclusions that I’ve come to about war, they really come from two

sources. One, from my study of history. Of course, not everybody who

studies history comes to the same conclusions. But, you know, you have to

listen to various people who study history and decide what makes more

sense, right? I’ve looked at various histories. I’ve concluded that my

history makes more sense. And I’ve always been an objective student of

these things, yes. But my—yeah, my ideas about war come from two sources.

One of them is studying history, the history of wars, the history of

governments, the history of empires. That history helps a lot in

straightening out your thinking.

And the other is my own experience in war. You know, I was in World

War II. I was a Air Force bombardier. I dropped bombs on various cities in

Europe. That doesn’t make me an expert. Lots of people were in wars, and

they all come out with different opinions. Well, so all I can do is give

you my opinion based on my thinking after having been in a war. I was an

enthusiastic enlistee in the Air Force. I wanted to be in the war, war

against fascism, the “good war,” right? But at the end of the war, as I

looked around and surveyed the world and thought about what I had done and

thought about—and learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and learned about

Dresden and learned about Hamburg and learned things I didn’t even

realize while I was bombing, because when you’re involved in a military

operation, you don’t think. You just—you’re an automaton, really. You

may be a well-educated and technically competent automaton, but that’s

what you—you aren’t really—you’re not questioning, not questioning

why. “Why are they sending me to bomb this little town? When the war is

almost over, there’s no reason for dropping bombs on several thousand

people.” No, you don’t think.

Well, I began to think after the war and began to think that—and I

was thinking now about the good war, the best war, and I was thinking,

“Oh.” And then I began to see, no, this good war is not simply good.

This best of wars, no. And if that’s true of this war, imagine what is

true of all the other obviously ugly wars about which you can’t even use

the word “good.”

So, yeah, and I began to realize certain things, that war corrupts

everybody, corrupts everybody who engages in it. You start off, they’re

the bad guys. You make an interesting psychological jump. The jump is this:

since they’re the bad guys, you must be the good guys. No, they may very

well be the bad guys. They may be fascists and dictators and bad, really

bad guys. That doesn’t mean you’re good, you know? And when I began to

look at it that way, I realized that wars are fought by evils on both

sides. You know, one is a little more evil than the other. But even though

you start in a war with sort of good intentions—we’re going to defeat

fascism, we’re going to do this—you end up being corrupted, you end up

being violent, you end up killing a lot of innocent people, because

you’ve decided from the beginning that you’re right, and then you

don’t have to ask questions anymore. That’s an interesting

psychological thing that you—trick that you play. Well, you start

out—you make a decision at the very beginning. The decision is: they’re

wrong, I’m right. Once you have made that decision, you don’t have to

think anymore. Then anything you do goes. Anything you do is OK, because

you made the decision early on that they’re bad, you’re good. Then you

can kill several hundred thousand people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then

you can kill 100,000 people in Dresden. It doesn’t matter. You’re not

thinking about it. Yeah, war corrupts everybody who engages in it.

So what else can I say about war? Lots of things. But I took out my

watch presumably because I care. And I don’t. But I—you know, people

will present you with humanitarian awards. Oh, this is for a good cause.

The thing about war is the outcome is unpredictable. The immediate thing

you do is predictable. The immediate thing you do is horrible, because war

is horrible. And if somebody promises you that, “Well, this is horrible,

like we have to bomb these hundreds of thousands of people in Japan. This

is horrible, but it’s leading to a good thing,” truth is, you never

know what this is leading to. You never know the outcome. You never know

what the future is. You know that the present is evil, and you’re asked

to commit this evil for some possible future good. Doesn’t make sense,

especially since if you look at the history of wars, you find out that

those so-called future goods don’t materialize. You know, the future good

of World War II was, “Oh, now we’re rid of fascism. Now we’re going

to have a good world, a peaceful world. Now the UN Charter, the Universal

Declaration of Human Rights. 50 million people died in World War II, but

now it’s going to be OK.” Well, you’ve lived these years since World

War II. Has it been OK? Can you say that those 50 million lives

were—yeah, it had to be done because—because of what? No, the

wars—violence in general is a quick fix. It may give you a feeling that

you’ve accomplished something, but it’s unpredictable in its ends. And

because it’s corrupting, the ends are usually bad.

So, OK, I won’t say anything more about war. And, you know, of

course, it wastes people. It wastes wealth. It’s an enormous, enormous


And so, what is there to do? We need to educate ourselves and other

people. We need to educate ourselves in history. History is very important.

That’s why I went into a little history, because, you know, if you

don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. If you were

born yesterday, then any leader can tell you anything, you have no way of

checking up on it. History is very important. I don’t mean formal

history, what you learn in a classroom. No, history, if you’re learning,

go to the library. Go—yeah, go to the library and read, read, learn,

learn history. Yeah, so we have an educational job to do with history.

We have an educational job to do about our relationship to

government, you know, and to realize that disobedience is essential to

democracy, you see. And it’s important to understand democracy is not the

three branches of government. It’s not what they told us in junior high

school. “Oh, this is democracy. We have three branches of government,

kiddos, the legislative, the executive, judicial. We have checks and

balances that balance one another out. If somebody does something bad, it

will be checked by”—wow! What a neat system! Nothing can go wrong.

Well, now, those structures are not democracy. Democracy is the people.

Democracy is social movements. That’s what democracy is. And what history

tells us is that when injustices have been remedied, they have not been

remedied by the three branches of government. They’ve been remedied by

great social movements, which then push and force and pressure and threaten

the three branches of government until they finally do something. Really,

that’s democracy.

And no, we mustn’t be pessimistic. We mustn’t be cynical. We

mustn’t think we’re powerless. We’re not powerless. That’s where

history comes in. If you look at history, you see people felt powerless and

felt powerless and felt powerless, until they organized, and they got

together, and they persisted, and they didn’t give up, and they built

social movements. Whether it was the anti-slavery movement or the black

movement of the 1960s or the antiwar movement in Vietnam or the women’s

movement, they started small and apparently helpless; they became powerful

enough to have an effect on the nation and on national policy. We’re not

powerless. We just have to be persistent and patient, not patient in the

passive sense, but patient in the active sense of having a kind of faith

that if all of us do little things—well, if all of us do little things,

at some point there will be a critical mass created. Those little things

will add up. That’s what has happened historically. People were

disconsolate, and people thought they couldn’t end, but they kept doing,

doing, doing, and then something important happened.

And I’ll leave you with just one more thought, that if you do that,

if you join some group, if you join whatever the group is, a group that’s

working on, you know, gender equality or racism or immigrant rights or the

environment or the war, whatever group you join or whatever little action

you take, you know, it will make you feel better. It will make you feel

better. And I’m not saying we should do all these things just to make

ourselves feel better, but it’s good to know that life becomes more

interesting and rewarding when you become involved with other people in

some great social cause. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Legendary historian Howard Zinn, speaking at Binghamton

University, Upstate New York, just after the election, on November 8th.

Howard Zinn is author of, among many other books, A People’s History of

the United States.

Alan L. Maki

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