Saturday, January 30, 2010

Howard Zinn LINKS INTERVIEWS YOUTUBE

Zinn and the art of historical maintenance Over his long career, the US academic and activist Howard Zinn tirelessly challenged received wisdom and injustice

Matt Kennard

guardian.co.uk, Friday 29 January 2010 16.30 GMT

I remember vividly the first time I met Howard Zinn. It was 2005 and the height of the murder and mayhem overtaking Iraq after the US/UK attack. I was studying history for a year at UCLA and had gone over to the East Coast for a week to interview three of the great dissidents in the country Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Edward S Herman for the Leeds Student newspaper.

Though a good publication, Leeds Student isn't exactly the New Yorker, but Zinn agreed to the interview straight away, no questions asked. His only request was that we meet at the Harvard Trade Union Program, so I trundled along there on a cold November morning. His personal warmth was as Victoria Brittain mentioned renowned, but the strength of its radiation still struck me when I met him. He smiled and bantered and encouraged. I told him I had just watched the documentary about his life, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, the night before in my hostel. "I bet you got it free off the internet didn't you! Everyone does that nowadays," he joked in the lift (it was true).

Towards the end of the interview our roles reversed and he started to ask me what I thought of the war and the political situation in the UK, something the majority of careerist, conceited academics are rarely do. But this was what made Zinn sui generis: a voracious intellect but, crucially, one deeply immersed in the world around him. He saw everyone as a source from which to learn, and it was this quality that made him such a brilliant historian. He was, in the truest sense of an overused phrase, a man of the people.It is no surprise, then, that he singlehandedly turned American historiography on its head by adducing the forgotten histories of the marginalised, colonised and abused to weave a work of true brilliance. Published in 1980, A People's History of the United States, was, for me as an undergraduate history student, a complete revelation. I was growing bored with the stale tutorials on the Annalist school, discussions so abstract as to be dispiritingly divorced from the increasingly mad world we were living in. Then there were the fatuous forums on "What is history?" where we debated objectivity and truth and managed to miss the point of it all.

Zinn's work saved me though. He provided many of the answers, subverting the "received wisdom" with ease and piercing simplicity. I still remember reading the first chapter of People's History on Columbus Day in the US after a friend had recommended it. Zinn had carefully laid out the barbarity of the first Spanish colonists led by Columbus in their own words. The history he told made the celebrations for this "great explorer" seem truly sick.

Zinn was also saying explicitly something I had been thinking but never had the confidence to say: "My work, like everyone else's, is subjective". He wasn't afraid to admit it. At university we were taught to revere the great historians who provided the "truthful" account of the past. But, said Zinn, everything was and is subjective, and not benignly subjective either. History had since its inception been skewed in the service of power, status and money. This was explicit in the days of the court historians, paid by the Crown to write their hagiographies, but it continues to this day with elite universities such as Harvard giving their most prestigious history chairs to people such as Niall Ferguson, who has put his mind in the service of entrenched power since the start of his career, while spurning the excavators of real truth such as Zinn.

But while it's obvious that people will focus on his greatest work, Zinn's life was indistinguishable from the great struggles that overtook America in the 20th century (at 87, he lived for about a quarter of the entire life of the American Republic). He was a lecturer at Spelman College, the most famous black university in the South, when he joined his students in civil disobedience actions during the civil rights movement and was eventually kicked out. He was one of the leaders of the anti-Vietnam war movement that mobilised a generation, and spoke out against the trophy cabinet of fascist security states the administrations from Nixon to Reagan established and nurtured in Latin America through the back end of the cold war.Where the American liberal elite were wavering and equivocating in the face of these barbarisms, Zinn could be relied upon to speak up and provide the historical context to the contemporary atrocities. His last article for the Nation last month on Obama's first year is a good example and should be read by anyone interested in the latest liberal hysteria.

Zinn's many detractors in the history profession accused him of "propaganda" and "bias". It is true that his aversion to war was emotional as well as intellectual. But why is that considered a negative?


.Howard Zinn.s last advice for America: A Broad Coalition for Independence From the Corporations & the Military

And this letter back from Howard:

Arthur, you are absolutely right, this is the time for the resurgence of a national movement that begins with a co-ordinated country-wide action.

The theme you describe, .independence from the military-corporation. is one that all sorts of people and groups can unite around. I believe millions, probably tens of millions of people are ready for this because there is little left of the early euphoria that greeted Obama.s election.

A huge job to organize it, but it was done for Mobilization Day Oct.15,1969, and without the advantage of the Internet.

Someone or some group that is respected throughout the progressive movement would need to take the initiative and summon supporters. With blacks, Latinos, women prominent, and not disdaining celebrities. I think of Julian Bond, Danny Glover, Rosie Perez, Cindy Sheehan, Harry Belafonte, Matt Damon, Oprah, Alice Walker, Marian Wright Edelman . some well-known clergy, you and others, some labor leaders. Maybe not that exact group, but just to suggest a direction. And a few super-organizers.

I.m not up for organizing these days, maybe for consultation, and whatever help I can give..

Clips of Howard and talks
December 11, 2009
Renowned historian Howard Zinn has chronicled centuries of people.s struggles against oppression. He joins Bill Moyers to discuss the voices of today.s people â.. facing big interests. outsized influence â.. and his new film THE PEOPLE SPEAK.

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/12112009/watch2.html

Howard Zinn on US Interventions, 3/19/08 Part 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGUQbeYv_UM

Scott Horton Interviews Howard Zinn
Scott Horton, April 07, 2008
http://antiwar.com/radio/2008/04/07/howard-zinn/

The Spectrum of Disobedience . an interview with Howard Zinn / zmag.org
http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com/2009/09/spectrum-of-disobedience-interview-with.html

Transcript: Bill Moyers Interviews Howard Zinn
http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_zinn.html

In Rare Joint Interview, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn on Iraq, Vietnam, Activism and History
http://www.democracynow.org/2007/4/16/in_rare_joint_interview_noam_chomsky

Tuesday morning -- just two days ago -- I wrote half a dozen leaders of progressive thought and action in America, each separately, the letter that follows. One of the people I wrote was the historian /activist Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, whom I have known for 45 years or so. He responded just 90 minutes later, and his response is also below.


All day yesterday I was meeting with doctors who cleared away the last of my medical barriers to travel and to risking arrest in nonviolent civil-disobedience actions. I intended this morning, Thursday morning, to write Howard back to ask how to follow up on his comments.

But I can't. Howard died yesterday, at 87. He was one of the wisest, gentlest, drily good-humored of progressive thinkers and activists. The best of the America he celebrated in his bottom-up history, in which the energies and currents of Blacks, of workers, of women, of religious minorities, of war resisters, were the center -- not Presidents and Senators.

After I share with you this last exchange I'll be able to have with him --perhaps the last commentary he made on the American political scene -- I'll share two stories - one long ago that has stayed lit up for me all these years, and one very recent.

This is what I wrote him Tuesday morning:

Dear Howard,â.¨â.¨ It seems to me that the confluence of massive disemployment, plus knee-jerk militarism, plus stalemate on the climate crisis and on health care, plus the Supreme Court decision on corporate financing of elections, plus the use of the filibuster in the Senate -- all in what many assumed or hoped would be a year of major progressive change -- has shocked enough people that it should, and might, make possible a progressive coalition.

I'm imagining a coalition aimed at "independence from the military-corporate alliance," with a platform that includes strong planks on climate, jobs, health, ending the present wars, major reductions in the military, transforming campaign finance, and ending the filibuster.

â.¨â.¨Perhaps with rallies, vigils, sit-downs, etc in state capitals and other centers all around the country on July 4, and support for specific progressive candidates in the 2010 Congressional elections . â.¨ Do you think this would make sense? â.¨â.¨How would it be possible to begin shaping such a coalition? â.¨â.¨Shalom, salaam, shantih --- peace, Arthur

And this letter back from Howard:

Arthur, you are absolutely right, this is the time for the resurgence of a national movement that begins with a co-ordinated country-wide action.

The theme you describe, "independence from the military-corporation" is one that all sorts of people and groups can unite around. I believe millions, probably tens of millions of people are ready for this because there is little left of the early euphoria that greeted Obama's election.

A huge job to organize it, but it was done for Mobilization Day Oct.15,1969, and without the advantage of the Internet.

Someone or some group that is respected throughout the progressive movement would need to take the initiative and summon supporters. With blacks, Latinos, women prominent, and not disdaining celebrities. I think of Julian Bond, Danny Glover, Rosie Perez, Cindy Sheehan, Harry Belafonte, Matt Damon, Oprah, Alice Walker, Marian Wright Edelman -- some well-known clergy, you and others, some labor leaders. Maybe not that exact group, but just to suggest a direction. And a few super-organizers.

I'm not up for organizing these days, maybe for consultation, and whatever help I can give.

I was going to write Howard today to ask whether he'd invite some of those people and a few others to meet to talk about the possibilities.

Now -- is it possible to see those few words as a kind of legacy that we can turn into a new chapter of the "people's history"?
Two stories: In the mid-'60s, Howard spoke at some gathering in Washington about the Vietnam War. He said that most of the time, the American people - any people - walks around in the dark, bumping blindly into extremely dangerous and hurtful objects -- wars, depressions, racism, drug epidemics, police violence . Literally blind-sided, again and again.

But occasionally, some event would become a lightning flash, illuminating the structures of power behind these disasters. He said Vietnam had become a lightning flash. We were for the first time seeing the connections between the universities and the military, we were seeing the way children were channeled from their earliest years (without regard to their intelligence or creativity) into becoming factory workers, or unemployed, or lawyers, or "

And our job, he said, was to try to turn these lightning flashes into steady light, to help a whole society keep seeing the truth about itself.

And just last month, late December: I had sent out an essay in a satirical vein, pointing up the absurdity of the way Washington is carrying on the Afghanistan war in order to defeat "terrorism."

Several folks wrote or called to tell me they didn't think humor, even or especially bitter humor, was appropriate in talking about a war. I felt dismayed, unsettled, dispirited.

Then I got this note from Howard:

" Dear Art, A friend of mine just sent me this piece you wrote -- satiric, powerful -- about Detroit, Islam, Kabul, terrorism. It is a brilliant commentary and I have passed it on to a number of people. Thank you for it . I wish you a peaceful and joyful New Year. Howard"

So -- dear Howard, I'm not so sure about "brilliant," but I'm glad you felt the humor had some bite where our rulers need to be bitten. You revived my spirits.

And -- dear dear Howard, I wish you a joyful New Year making trouble for the Authorities in Heaven. If ever the memories, the teachings, of a tzaddik - a practitioner of tzedek, justice - could bring blessing to those who are still scrabbling for justice on this stricken earth, it's the memories and teachings you left us.

Shalom, salaam, shantih - peace!
Arthur

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posted by u2r2h at 7:25 PM

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