Howard Zinn

Posted in Book Reports, History, Library of Congress, Politics by chamblee54 on June 4, 2015

Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present, spent an hour talking on Booknotes. This is a C-SPAN show, with author interviews. The show aired March 12, 2000. Later that night was a show about the 2000 election, featuring Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. The role Mr. Nader would play in the November election was unimaginable in March.

The first serious job Mr. Zinn had was World War II. He served in the Air Force. Towards the end of the war, “we bombed a little French town on the Atlantic coast called Royon… `We’re not going to use regular demolition bombs. We have something new. We w–you’re going–instead of dropping our usual 12 500-pound demolition bombs, you’re going to drop 30 100-pound canisters of jel—jellied gasoline.’ It was napalm–the first use of napalm in the European theater.”

Later, Mr. Zinn thought about it all. “And it didn’t s–the–the thing is you’d bomb from 30,000 feet. You don’t see what’s happening down there. You don’t see people suffering. You don’t see people burning. You don’t see limbs falling. You–you just see little flashes in the–in the d–in the dark, you know. And—and you go back, and you’re debriefed and you don’t think about it. And it’s horrifying.

Later–only later did I begin to think about it, and I was horrified by what I had done, and I’m still horrified by what I did. But I think that had an effect on my thinking about war, because here I was in the best of wars. And I believed it was the best of wars because I volunteered for it. A war against fascism? I mean, how could you find a more bestial enemy? And yet it’s a–it complicated the war for me. It complicated the morality of the war, and it made me begin to think that war itself is evil. Even when it starts with good cause, even when the enemy is horrible, that there’s something about war, especially in our time when war inevitably involves indiscriminate killing … war simply cannot be accepted morally as a solution for whatever problems are in the world.

Whatever tyranny, whatever borders are crossed, whatever problems there are, somehow human ingenuity has to find a way to deal with that without the indiscriminate killing that war involves.”

Brian Lamb is the host of Booknotes. He speaks non theatrically, often with questions that are very different from the narrative presented by the author. After this talk about war, the question was “LAMB: What would you have done had you been president and those bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor? Mr. ZINN: That’s the toughest question I’ve ever faced. I … And–and I confess, I–I–I haven’t worked out an alternative scenario.

PHOTUS is known for taking a non-heroic view of our history. Regarding the US Constitution, “When they set up the new government, when they set up the new Constitution, I mean, they set up a strong, central government which will be able to legislate on behalf of bondholders and slaveholders and manufacturers and Western land speculators.”

Mr. Zinn does not discuss The War Between The States on this show. (PG has not read PHOTUS, and does not know how WBTS is treated.) This was a case where the central government was favoring the industrial interests, at the expense of the agricultural interests. How much of that conflict was economic, with abolition serving as a moral fig leaf?

After the war, Mr. Zinn went back to school. A job appeared at Spelman College, and he worked there seven years. After that, he taught at Boston University for 24 years. His next door neighbor was five year old Matt Damon, who later read the audiobook version of PHOTUS.

There is one more bit of amusement from the transcript. Mr. ZINN:`For the United States to step forward as a defender of helpless countries matched its image in American high school history books but not its record in world affairs. It had opposed the Haitian revolution for independence from France at the start of the 19th century. It had instituted a war with Mexico and taken half the country. It had pretended to help Cuba win freedom from Spain and then planted itself in Cuba with a military base, investments and rights of intervention. It had seized Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam and fought a brutal war to subjugate the Filipinos. It had opened Japan to its trade with gunboats and threats. It had declared an open-door policy in China as a means of assuring the United States would have opportunities equal to other imperial powers in exploiting China. It had sent troops to Peking with other nations to assert Western supremacy in China and kept them from–kept them for over 30 years.’ LAMB: There’s a lot more in here about Colombia and Haiti and Nicaragua. Is this country at–this sounds like I’m–I’m arguing here, but has this country done anything right?

This is a repost. Pictures today are from The Library of Congress

One Response

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  1. Howard Zinn | Chamblee54 said, on June 29, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    […] like I’m–I’m arguing here, but has this country done anything right? This is a repost. Pictures today are from The Library of […]

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