Articles by Howard Zinn

"Work Pays America! Prosperity." • Poster by Vera Bock • Library of Congress

Are Hillary and Obama Afraid of Talking About the New Deal?

Published by ZCommunications • April 2, 2008
We might wonder why no Democratic Party contender for the presidency has invoked the memory of the New Deal and its unprecedented series of laws aimed at helping people in need. The New Deal was tentative, cautious, bold enough to shake the pillars of the system but not to replace them. It created many jobs but left 9 million unemployed. It built public housing but not nearly enough. It helped large commercial farmers but not tenant farmers. Excluded from its programs were the poorest of the poor, especially blacks. As farm laborers, migrants or domestic workers, they didn’t qualify for unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, Social Security or farm subsidies.

Still, in today’s climate of endless war and uncontrolled greed, drawing upon the heritage of the 1930s would be a huge step forward.

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What the Classroom Didn’t Teach Me About the American Empire

Published on TomDispatch.com • April 1, 2008
With an occupying army waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military bases and corporate bullying in every part of the world, there is hardly a question any more of the existence of an American Empire. Indeed, the once fervent denials have turned into a boastful, unashamed embrace of the idea.

However, the very idea that the United States was an empire did not occur to me until after I finished my work as a bombardier with the Eighth Air Force in the Second World War, and came home. Even as I began to have second thoughts about the purity of the “Good War,” even after being horrified by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even after rethinking my own bombing of towns in Europe, I still did not put all that together in the context of an American “Empire.”

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New Jersey Polling Station, 2008 • WikiCommons

Election Madness

Published in The Progressive • March 8, 2008
The very people who should know better, having criticized the hold of the media on the national mind, find themselves transfixed by the press, glued to the television set, as the candidates preen and smile and bring forth a shower of clichés with a solemnity appropriate for epic poetry.There’s a man in Florida who has been writing to me for years (ten pages, handwritten) though I’ve never met him. He tells me the kinds of jobs he has held—security guard, repairman, etc. He has worked all kinds of shifts, night and day, to barely keep his family going. His letters to me have always been angry, railing against our capitalist system for its failure to assure “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness” for working people.

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Voting in the United States | WikiCommons

Let’s Come to Our Senses About the Election

Published in The Progressive • March 5, 2008
Now that Ohio and Texas are over, can we take a deep breath and come to our senses?

Election fever has seized the country, as it does every four years.

We have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two candidates who have already been chosen for us.

Now I’m not saying elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity.

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Antiwar Protest, Sept. 15, 2007 • WikiCommons

A Just Cause, Not a Just War

Published in The Progressive • July 16, 2007
I believe two moral judgments can be made about the present “war”: The September 11 attack constitutes a crime against humanity and cannot be justified, and the bombing of Afghanistan is also a crime, which cannot be justified.

And yet, voices across the political spectrum, including many on the left, have described this as a “just war.” One longtime advocate of peace, Richard Falk, wrote in The Nation that this is “the first truly just war since World War II.” Robert Kuttner, another consistent supporter of social justice, declared in The American Prospect that only people on the extreme left could believe this is not a just war.

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Diagram of Citizenship • Callum Bowsie • WikiCommons

Are We Politicians or Citizens?

Published in The Progressive • May 1, 2007
When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them. As I write this, Congress is debating timetables for withdrawal from Iraq. In response to the Bush Administration’s “surge” of troops, and the Republicans’ refusal to limit our occupation, the Democrats are behaving with their customary timidity, proposing withdrawal, but only after a year, or eighteen months. And it seems they expect the anti-war movement to support them.

That was suggested in a recent message from MoveOn, which polled its members on the Democrat proposal, saying that progressives in Congress, “like many of us, don’t think the bill goes far enough, but see it as the first concrete step to ending the war.”

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Antiwar Talk at the Boston Commons

Published by ZCommunications • March 27, 2007
If somebody invaded your home, and smashed things up, and terrorized your children, would we give them a timetable? When I look at this latest Democratic proposal for a timetable, you know, maybe 18 months from now, at the same time funding the war for another 140 billion dollars, you know, it’s as if you gave an intruder in your house a timetable for withdraw, and meanwhile, made a nice dinner for him. No, we can’t do that, we have to get out. We don’t belong in Iraq. The people in Iraq do not want us there, the American people expressed themselves clearly that the American people don’t want us there. It seems the only people who want us there are the members of Congress and the Bush administration.

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"Impeach them both" • Citizens Movement to Impeach Bush/Cheney • Portland Newswire Archive

Impeachment by the People

Published in The Progressive • March 7, 2007
The time is right, then, for a national campaign calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Courage is in short supply in Washington, D.C. The realities of the Iraq War cry out for the overthrow of a government that is criminally responsible for death, mutilation, torture, humiliation, chaos. But all we hear in the nation’s capital, which is the source of those catastrophes, is a whimper from the Democratic Party, muttering and nattering about “unity” and “bipartisanship,” in a situation that calls for bold action to immediately reverse the present course.

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War Is Not a Solution for Terrorism

Published by ZCommunications • September 7, 2006
There is something important to be learned from the recent experience of the United States and Israel in the Middle East: that massive military attacks, inevitably indiscriminate, are not only morally reprehensible, but useless in achieving the stated aims of those who carry them out.

The United States, in three years of war, which began with shock-and-awe bombardment and goes on with day-to-day violence and chaos, has been an utter failure in its claimed objective of bringing democracy and stability to Iraq. The Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon has not brought security to Israel; indeed it has increased the number of its enemies, whether in Hezbollah or Hamas or among Arabs who belong to neither of those groups.

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Put Away the Flags

Published in The Progressive • July 2, 2006
On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

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America’s Blinders

Published in The Progressive • April 10, 2006
Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have begun to register indignation), we might ask: How come so many people were so easily fooled?

The question is important because it might help us understand why Americans—members of the media as well as the ordinary citizen—rushed to declare their support as the President was sending troops halfway around the world to Iraq.

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Lessons of Iraq War Start with U.S. History

Published in The Progressive • March 6, 2006
On the third anniversary of President Bush’s Iraq debacle, it’s important to consider why the administration so easily fooled so many people into supporting the war.

I believe there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture.

One is an absence of historical perspective. The other is an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism.

If we don’t know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives. But if we know some history, if we know how many times presidents have lied to us, we will not be fooled again.

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After the War

Published in The Progressive • January 27, 2006
The war against Iraq, the assault on its people, the occupation of its cities, will come to an end, sooner or later. The process has already begun. The first signs of mutiny are appearing in Congress. The first editorials calling for withdrawal from Iraq are beginning to appear in the press. The anti-war movement has been growing, slowly but persistently, all over the country.

Public opinion polls now show the country decisively against the war and the Bush Administration. The harsh realities have become visible. The troops will have to come home.

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Chief Justice John Roberts signing document • Photo by Eric Draper • WikiCommons

Don’t Despair About the Supreme Court

Published in The Progressive • November 8, 2005
John Roberts sailed through his confirmation hearings as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with enthusiastic Republican support, and a few weak mutterings of opposition by the Democrats. Then, after the far right deemed Harriet Miers insufficiently doctrinaire, Bush nominated arch conservative Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor. This has caused a certain consternation among people we affectionately term “the left.”

I can understand that sinking feeling. Even listening to pieces of Roberts’s confirmation hearings was enough to induce despair: the joking with the candidate, the obvious signs that, whether Democrats or Republicans, these are all members of the same exclusive club.

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The Scourge of Nationalism

Published in The Progressive • June 1, 2005
I cannot get out of my mind the recent news photos of ordinary Americans sitting on chairs, guns on laps, standing unofficial guard on the Arizona border, to make sure no Mexicans cross over into the United States. There was something horrifying in the realization that, in this twenty-first century of what we call “civilization,” we have carved up what we claim is one world into 200 artificially created entities we call “nations” and armed to apprehend or kill anyone who crosses a boundary.

Is not nationalism–that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder–one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking–cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on–have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

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Changing Minds, One at a Time

Published in The Progressive • March 2, 2005
As I write this, the day after the inauguration, the banner headline in The New York Times reads: “BUSH, AT 2ND INAUGURAL, SAYS SPREAD OF LIBERTY IS THE ‘CALLING OF OUR TIME.’ ”

Two days earlier, on an inside page of the Times, was a photo of a little girl, crouching, covered with blood, weeping. The caption read: “An Iraqi girl screamed yesterday after her parents were killed when American soldiers fired on their car when it failed to stop, despite warning shots, in Tal Afar, Iraq. The military is investigating the incident.”

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Harness That Anger

Published in The Progressive • January 1, 2005
In the days after the election, it seemed that all my friends were either depressed or angry, frustrated or indignant, or simply disgusted. Neighbors who had never said more than hi to me stopped me on the street and delivered passionate little speeches that made me think they had just listened to a re-broadcast of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, in which powerful creatures arrive on Earth to take it over.

But then I reconsidered: They had not been listening to H. G. Wells. There really were strange and powerful creatures that had just occupied the United States and now wanted to take over the rest of the world. Yes, Bush was reelected President, and whether there was fraud in the voting process or not, John Kerry quickly threw in the towel. The minnow called for reconciliation with the crocodile.

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Our War on Terrorism

Published in The Progressive • November 1, 2004
I’m calling it “our” war on terrorism because I want to distinguish it from Bush’s war on terrorism, and from Sharon’s, and from Putin’s. What their wars have in common is that they are based on an enormous deception: persuading the people of their countries that you can deal with terrorism by war. These rulers say you can end our fear of terrorism–of sudden, deadly, vicious attacks, a fear new to Americans–by drawing an enormous circle around an area of the world where terrorists come from (Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya) or can be claimed to be connected with (Iraq), and by sending in tanks and planes to bomb and terrorize whoever lives within that circle.

Since war is itself the most extreme form of terrorism, a war on terrorism is profoundly self-contradictory. Is it strange, or normal, that no major political figure has pointed this out?

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The Optimism of Uncertainty

Published by 
ZCommunications • September 30, 2004; The Nation • September 20, 2004
In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy?

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played.

The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

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Kerry Needs the Courage to Walk Away from Iraq

Published in the Miami Herald • September 16, 2004
If John Kerry wants to win, he must recognize that our military intervention in Iraq is a disaster — for Americans, for Iraqis, for the world. He must stop boasting about his courage in Vietnam and instead start talking about his moral courage in opposing that war. He needs to stop saying, as he did recently in the Midwest, that he defended this country when he was fighting in Vietnam. That is not an honest statement. If it were true, then he would not have turned against the war.

He was not defending this country when he fought in Vietnam. He was defending this country when he said that we were wrong to be in Vietnam and we should get out.

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