Howard Zinn Quotes

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There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.
Howard Zinn
How can you have a war on terrorism when war itself is terrorism?
Howard Zinn
Historically, the most terrible things - war, genocide, and slavery - have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.
Howard Zinn
Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.
Howard Zinn
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.
Howard Zinn
I'm worried that students will take their obedient place in society and look to become successful cogs in the wheel - let the wheel spin them around as it wants without taking a look at what they're doing. I'm concerned that students not become passive acceptors of the official doctrine that's handed down to them from the White House, the media, textbooks, teachers and preachers.
Howard Zinn
We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.
Howard Zinn
But I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is... to tell the truth.
Howard Zinn (Marx in Soho: A Play on History)
History is important. If you don't know history it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.
Howard Zinn
Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.
Howard Zinn
I wonder how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world, at least in our minds, and thought of all children everywhere as our own.
Howard Zinn
The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.
Howard Zinn
The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don't listen to it, you will never know what justice is.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
If those in charge of our society - politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television - can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves.
Howard Zinn
What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but "who is sitting in" -- and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.
Howard Zinn
We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children
Howard Zinn
You can't be neutral on a moving train.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Any humane and reasonable person must conclude that if the ends, however desireable, are uncertain and the means are horrible and certain, these means must not be employed.
Howard Zinn (Passionate Declarations: Essays on War and Justice)
I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president — which means, in our time, a dangerous president — unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.
Howard Zinn
In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured. Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such as world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
But human beings are not machines, and however powerful the pressure to conform, they sometimes are so moved by what they see as injustice that they dare to declare their independence. In that historical possibility lies hope.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
They have the guns, we have the poets. Therefore, we will win.
Howard Zinn
Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
In war, good guys always become bad guys.
Howard Zinn
There has always been, and there is now, a profound conflict of interest between the people and the government of the United States.
Howard Zinn
Hope is essential to any political struggle for radical change when the overall social climate promotes disillusionment and despair.
bell hooks (Talking About a Revolution: Interviews with Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, bell hooks, Peter Kwong, Winona LaDuke, Manning Marable, Urvashi Vaid, and Howard Zinn)
If the gods had intended for people to vote, they would have given us candidates.
Howard Zinn
Tyranny is Tyranny, let it come from whom it may.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
What struck me as I began to study history was how nationalist fervor--inculcated from childhood on by pledges of allegiance, national anthems, flags waving and rhetoric blowing--permeated the educational systems of all countries, including our own. I wonder now how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world, at least in our minds, and thought of all children everywhere as our own. Then we could never drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, or napalm on Vietnam, or wage war anywhere, because wars, especially in our time, are always wars against children, indeed our children.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
The challenge remains. On the other side are formidable forces: money, political power, the major media. On our side are the people of the world and a power greater than money or weapons: the truth. Truth has a power of its own. Art has a power of its own. That age-old lesson – that everything we do matters – is the meaning of the people’s struggle here in the United States and everywhere. A poem can inspire a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution. Civil disobedience can arouse people and provoke us to think, when we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress. We live in a beautiful country. But people who have no respect for human life, freedom, or justice have taken it over. It is now up to all of us to take it back.
Howard Zinn (A Power Governments Cannot Suppress)
I will try not to overlook the cruelties that victims inflict on one another as they are jammed together in the boxcars of the system. I don’t want to romanticize them. But I do remember (in rough paraphrase) a statement I once read: “The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
I am convinced that imprisonment is a way of pretending to solve the problem of crime. It does nothing for the victims of crime, but perpetuates the idea of retribution, thus maintaining the endless cycle of violence in our culture. It is a cruel and useless substitute for the elimination of those conditions--poverty, unemployment, homelessness, desperation, racism, greed--which are at the root of most punished crime. The crimes of the rich and powerful go mostly unpunished. It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
They were not mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, they were absent in the Constitution and they were invisible in the new political democracy. They were the women of early America.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
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.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
When you fight a war against a tyrant, who do you kill? You kill the victims of the tyrant.
Howard Zinn
What most of us must be involved in--whether we teach or write, make films, write films, direct films, play music, act, whatever we do--has to not only make people feel good and inspired and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world.
Howard Zinn (Artists in Times of War and Other Essays (Open Media))
Politics is pointless if it does nothing to enhance the beauty of our lives.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
But by this time I was acutely conscious of the gap between law and justice. I knew that the letter of the law was not as important as who held the power in any real-life situation.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Control in modern times requires more than force, more than law. It requires that a population dangerously concentrated in cities and factories, whose lives are filled with cause for rebellion, be taught that all is right as it is.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
The prisons in the United States had long been an extreme reflection of the American system itself: the stark life differences between rich and poor, the racism, the use of victims against one another, the lack of resources of the underclass to speak out, the endless "reforms" that changed little. Dostoevski once said: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." It had long been true, and prisoners knew this better than anyone, that the poorer you were the more likely you were to end up in jail. This was not just because the poor committed more crimes. In fact, they did. The rich did not have to commit crimes to get what they wanted; the laws were on their side. But when the rich did commit crimes, they often were not prosecuted, and if they were they could get out on bail, hire clever lawyers, get better treatment from judges. Somehow, the jails ended up full of poor black people.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
That chain of relationships made me think of how connections are made--you read a book, you meet a person, you have a single experience, and your life is changed in some way. No act, therefore, however small, should be dismissed or ignored.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
I've always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives who talked of how, in America, if you worked hard you would become rich. The meaning of that was if you were poor it was because you hadn't worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie, about my father and millions of others, men and women who worked harder than anyone, harder than financiers and politicians, harder than anybody if you accept that when you work at an unpleasant job that makes it very hard work indeed.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
I knew that a historian (or a journalist, or anyone telling a story) was forced to choose, out of an infinite number of facts, what to present, what to omit. And that decision inevitably would reflect, whether consciously or not, the interests of the historian.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Today everybody is talking about the fact that we live in one world; because of globalization, we are all part of the same planet. They talk that way, but do they mean it? We should remind them that the words of the Declaration [of Independence] apply not only to people in this country, but also to people all over the world. People everywhere have the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When the government becomes destructive of that, then it is patriotic to dissent and to criticize - to do what we always praise and call heroic when we look upon the dissenters and critics in totalitarian countries who dare to speak out.
Howard Zinn (Artists in Times of War and Other Essays (Open Media))
Human beings, whatever their backgrounds, are more open than we think, that their behavior cannot be confidently predicted from their past, that we are all creatures vulnerable to new thoughts, new attitudes. And while such vulnerability creates all sorts of possibilities, both good and bad, its very existence is exciting. It means that no human being should be written off, no change in thinking deemed impossible.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
The pretense in disputed elections is that the great conflict is between the two major parties. The reality is that there is a much bigger conflict that the two parties jointly wage against large numbers of Americans who are represented by neither party and against powerless millions around the world." (p. 65)
Howard Zinn (A Power Governments Cannot Suppress)
Education becomes most rich and alive when it confronts the reality of moral conflict in the world.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Civil disobedience, as I put it to the audience, was not the problem, despite the warnings of some that it threatened social stability, that it led to anarchy. The greatest danger, I argued, was civil obedience, the submission of individual conscience to governmental authority. Such obedience led to the horrors we saw in totalitarian states, and in liberal states it led to the public's acceptance of war whenever the so-called democratic government decided on it... In such a world, the rule of law maintains things as they are. Therefore, to begin the process of change, to stop a war, to establish justice, it may be necessary to break the law, to commit acts of civil disobedience, as Southern black did, as antiwar protesters did.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Perhaps the most important thing I learned was about democracy, that democracy is not our government, our constitution, our legal structure. Too often they are enemies of democracy.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Before God and high heaven, is there a law for one man which is not a law for every other man?
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Why should we cherish “objectivity”, as if ideas were innocent, as if they don’t serve one interest or another? Surely, we want to be objective if that means telling the truth as we see it, not concealing information that may be embarrassing to our point of view. But we don’t want to be objective if it means pretending that ideas don’t play a part in the social struggles of our time, that we don’t take sides in those struggles. Indeed, it is impossible to be neutral. In a world already moving in certain directions, where wealth and power are already distributed in certain ways, neutrality means accepting the way things are now. It is a world of clashing interests – war against peace, nationalism against internationalism, equality against greed, and democracy against elitism – and it seems to me both impossible and undesirable to be neutral in those conflicts.
Howard Zinn (Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology)
There is a power that can be created out of pent-up indignation, courage, and the inspiration of a common cause, and that if enough people put their minds and bodies into that cause, they can win. It is a phenomenon recorded again and against in the history of popular movements against injustice all over the world.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
The Constitution. . . illustrates the complexity of the American system: that it serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers against the blacks, the Indians, the very poor whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law--all made palatable by the fanfare of patriotism and unity.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
The Greatest Generation? They tell me I am a member of the greatest generation. That's because I saw combat duty as a bombardier in World War 11. But I refuse to celebrate "the greatest generation" because in so doing we are celebrating courage and sacrifice in the cause of war. And we are miseducating the young to believe that military heroism is the noblest form of heroism, when it should be remembered only as the tragic accompaniment of horrendous policies driven by power and profit. The current infatuation with World War 11 prepares us--innocently on the part of some, deliberately on the part of others--for more war, more military adventures, more attempts to emulate the military heroes of the past.
Howard Zinn
Give people what they need: food, medicine, clean air, pure water, trees and grass, pleasant homes to live in, some hours of work, more hours of leisure. Don't ask who deserves it. Every human being deserves it.
Howard Zinn (Marx in Soho: A Play on History)
The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased. There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, leeways, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries. There is none that disperses its controls more complexly through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media--none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Crosses and gallows - that deadly historic juxtaposition.
Howard Zinn (Howard Zinn on Democratic Education)
Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people,can transform the world.
Howard Zinn
If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past's fugitive movements of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.
Howard Zinn
I was astonished, bewildered. This was America, a country where, whatever its faults, people could speak, write, assemble, demonstrate without fear. It was in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. We were a democracy... But I knew it wasn't a dream; there was a painful lump on the side of my head... The state and its police were not neutral referees in a society of contending interests. They were on the side of the rich and powerful. Free speech? Try it and the police will be there with their horses, their clubs, their guns, to stop you. From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country--not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of black people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society--cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Some of the New York Radical Women shortly afterward formed WITCH (Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell) and its members, dressed as witches, appeared suddenly on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. A leaflet put out by WITCH in New York said: WITCH lives and smiles in every woman. She is the free part of each of us, beneath the shy smiles, the acquiescence to absurd male domination, the make-up or flesh-suffocating clothes our sick society demands. There is no "joining" WITCH. If you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you are a WITCH. You make your own rules.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
The democratic principle, enunciated in the words of the Declaration of Independence, declared that government was secondary, that the people who established it were primary. Thus, the future of democracy depended on the people, and their growing consciousness of what was the decent way to relate to their fellow human beings all over the world.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things to people in Third World countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
History can come in handy. If you were born yesterday, with no knowledge of the past, you might easily accept whatever the government tells you. But knowing a bit of history--while it would not absolutely prove the government was lying in a given instance--might make you skeptical, lead you to ask questions, make it more likely that you would find out the truth.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
One of the greatest difficulties the left faces in reaching out to masses of people in America is its profound disrespect of spirituality and religious life…people on the left need to acknowledge – we need to grapple with – the question of religion.
bell hooks (Talking About a Revolution: Interviews with Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, bell hooks, Peter Kwong, Winona LaDuke, Manning Marable, Urvashi Vaid, and Howard Zinn)
Being fired has some of the advantages of dying without its supreme disadvantages. People say extra-nice things about you, and you get to hear them.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
I didn't want to spent a lot of close time with someone who believed that fun is a bourgeois indulgence.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
But there is no such thing as a pure fact, innocent of interpretation. Behind every fact presented to the world - by a teacher, a writer, anyone - is a judgement. The judgement that has been made is that this fact is important, and that other facts, omitted, are not important.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
How can you have a war on terrorism while war itself is terrorism!
Howard Zinn
Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. . . .
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
One of the major differences I see in the political climate today is that there is less collective support for coming to critical consciousness – in communities, in institutions, among friends.
bell hooks (Talking About a Revolution: Interviews with Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, bell hooks, Peter Kwong, Winona LaDuke, Manning Marable, Urvashi Vaid, and Howard Zinn)
Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can change the world.
Howard Zinn
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.
Howard Zinn
How skillful to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation! How adroit to bus poor black youngsters into poor white neighborhoods, in a violent exchange of impoverished schools, while the schools of the rich remain untouched and the wealth of the nation, doled out carefully where children need free milk, is drained for billion-dollar aircraft carriers. How ingenious to meet the demands of blacks and women for equality by giving them small special benefits, and setting them in competition with everyone else for jobs made scares by an irrational, wasteful system. How wise to turn the fear and anger of the majority toward a class of criminals bred - by economic inequity - faster than they can be put away, deflecting attention from the huge thefts of national resources carried out within the law by men in executive offices.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
You call this progress, because you have motor cars and telephones and flying machines and a thousand potions to make you smell better? And people sleeping on the streets?
Howard Zinn (Marx in Soho: A Play on History)
I had always insisted that a good education was a synthesis of book learning and involvement in social action, that each enriched the other. I wanted my students to know that the accumulation of knowledge, while fascinating in itself, is not sufficient as long as so many people in the world have no opportunity to experience that fascination.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.
Howard Zinn
The courtroom is one instance of the fact that while our society may be liberal and democratic in some large and vague sense, its moving parts, its smaller chambers--its classrooms, its workplaces, its corporate boardrooms, its jails, its military barracks--are flagrantly undemocratic, dominated by one commanding person or a tiny elite of power.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Surely, if it is the right of the people to "alter or abolish," it is their right to criticize, even severely, policies they believe destructive of the ends for which government has been established. This principle, in the Declaration of Independence, suggests that true patriotism lies in supporting the values the country is supposed to cherish: equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. When our government compromises, undermines, or attacks those values, it is being unpatriotic.
Howard Zinn (A Power Governments Cannot Suppress)
Howard Zinn wrote in 1988, in what now seems like a lost world before so many political upheavals and technological changes arrived, “As this century draws to a close, a century packed with history, what leaps out from that history is its utter unpredictability.
Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities)
To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.
Howard Zinn
It was an old lesson learned by governments: that war solves problems of control.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
If you permit unprincipled and ambitious men to monopolize the soil, they will become masters of the country in the certain order of cause and effect. . . .
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
... the atmosphere of war brutalizes everyone involved, begets a fanaticism in which the original moral factor is buried at the bottom of a heap of atrocities committed by all sides.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Police, I learned over the years, are like soldiers, normally good-natured people, but part of a culture of obedience to orders and capable of brutal acts against anyone designated as “the enemy”—in this case, the antiwar movement.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
We don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an endless succession of presents, and to live now as we think humans should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
Howard Zinn
People should go where they are not supposed to go, say what they are not supposed to say, and stay when they are told to leave.
Howard Zinn
So long as atrocities remain remote, abstract, they will be tolerated, even by decent people.
Howard Zinn
Ruling elites seem to have learned through the generations—consciously or not—that war makes them more secure against internal trouble.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can quietly become a power no government can suppress, a power than can transform the world.
Howard Zinn (A Power Governments Cannot Suppress)
a good education is a synthesis of book learning and involvement in social action, because each enrich the other. The accumulation of knowledge, while fascinating in itself, is not sufficient without action
Howard Zinn
Very important thing to keep in mind, that when justice comes and when injustices are remedied, they’re not remedied by the initiative of the national government or the politicians. They only respond to the power of social movements.
Howard Zinn
My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all) - that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
I see this as the central issue of our time: how to find a substitute for war in human ingenuity, imagination, courage, sacrifice, patience... War is not inevitable, however persistent it is, however long a history it has in human affairs. It does not come out of some instinctive human need. It is manufactured by political leaders, who then must make a tremendous effort--by enticement, by propaganda, by coercion--to mobilize a normally reluctant population to go to war.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
When economic interest is seen behind the political clauses of the Constitution, then the document becomes not simply the work of wise men trying to establish a decent and orderly society, but the work of certain groups trying to maintain their privileges, while giving just enough rights and liberties to enough of the people to ensure popular support.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Slavery existed in the African states, and it was sometimes used by Europeans to justify their own slave trade. But, as Davidson points out, the “slaves” of Africa were more like the serfs of Europe—in other words, like most of the population of Europe.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
In the problem of women was the germ of a solution, not only for their oppression, but for everybody's. The control of women in society was ingeniously effective. It was not done directly by the state. Instead the family was used- men to control women, women to control children, all to be preoccupied with one another , to turn to one another for help, to blame one another for trouble, to do violence to one another when things weren't going right. Why could this not be turned around? Could women liberating themselves, children freeing themselves, men and women beginning to understand one another, find the source of their common oppression outside rather than in one another? Perhaps then they could create nuggets of strength in their own relationships, millions of pockets of insurrection. They could revolutionize thought and behavior in exactly that seclusion of family privacy which the system had counted on to do its work of control and indoctrination. And together, instead of at odds- male, female, parents, children- they could undertake the changing of society itself.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
...the future is an infinite succession of presents
Howard Zinn
The country therefore was not “born free” but born slave and free, servant and master, tenant and landlord, poor and rich.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war?
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
To hell with your courts, I know what justice is.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
The inferior position of blacks, the exclusion of Indians from the new society, the establishment of supremacy for the rich and powerful in the new nation--all this was already settled in the colonies by the time of the Revolution. With the English out of the way, it could now be put on paper, solidified, regularized, made legitimate by the Constitution of the United States.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Those upper classes, to rule, needed to make concessions to the middle class, without damage to their own wealth or power, at the expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whites. This bought loyalty. And to bind that loyalty with something more powerful even than material advantage, the ruling group found, in the 1760s and 1770s, a wonderfully useful device. That device was the language of liberty and equality, which could unite just enough whites to fight a Revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Society in every state is a blessing, but Government even in its best state is but a necessary evil. . . .
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Capital punishment could not be justified in any society calling itself civilized.
Howard Zinn (Marx in Soho: A Play on History)
There is not a country in world history in which racism has been more important, for so long a time, as the United States.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
If racism can’t be shown to be natural, then it is the result of certain conditions, and we are impelled to eliminate those conditions.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
the media, like the politicians, do not take note of rebellion until it is too large to be ignored.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
The true task of education, Alfred North Whitehead cautioned, is to abjure stale knowledge. “Knowledge does not keep any better than fish,” he said. We need to keep it alive, vital, potent.
Howard Zinn (The Politics of History)
You can’t be neutral on a moving train,” I would tell them. Some were baffled by the metaphor, especially if they took it literally and tried to dissect its meaning. Others immediately saw what I meant: that events are already moving in certain deadly directions, and to be neutral means to accept that.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
The willingness to undertake such action cannot be based on certainties, but on those possibilities glimpsed in a reading of history different from the customary painful recounting of human cruelties. In such a reading we can find not only war but resistance to war, not only injustice but rebellion against injustice, not only selfishness but self-sacrifice, not only silence in the fact of tyranny but defiance, not only callousness but compassion. Human beings show a broad spectrum of qualities, but it is the worst of these that are usually emphasized, and the result, too often, is to dishearten us, diminish our spirit. And yet, historically, that spirit refuses to surrender.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Mask of Anarchy.” . . . “Rise like lions after slumber In unvanquishable number! Shake your chains to earth, like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you— Ye are many, they are few!
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Charles Beard warned us that governments—including the government of the United States—are not neutral, that they represent the dominant economic interests, and that their constitutions are intended to serve these interests.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
I lay back on my bunk and thought about people I love, and how lucky I was to be white and not poor and just passing briefly through a system which is a permanent hell for so many.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
You can’t be neutral on a moving train,
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
There is an underside to every age about which history does not often speak, because history is written from records left by the privileged”.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
A jury is always a more orthodox body than any defendant brought before it; for blacks it is usually a whiter group, for poor people, a more prosperous group... Another lesson about the justice system: the way the judge charges the jury inevitably pushes them one way or the other, limits their independent judgment.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Emma Willard told the legislature that the education of women "has been too exclusively directed to fit them for displaying to advantage the charms of youth and beauty" The problem, she said, was that "the taste of men, whatever it might happen to be, has made into a standard for the formation of the female character." Reason and religion teach us, she said, that "we too are primary existences...not the satellites of men.
Howard Zinn
The argument that there are just wars often rests on the social system of the nation engaging in war. It is supposed that if a ‘liberal’ state is at war with a ‘totalitarian’ state, then the war is justified. The beneficent nature of a government was assumed to give rightness to the wars it wages. ...Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were liberals, which gave credence to their words exalting the two world wars, just as the liberalism of Truman made going into Korea more acceptable and the idealism of Kennedy’s New Frontier and Johnson’s Great Society gave an early glow of righteousness to the war in Vietnam. What the experience of Athens suggests is that a nation may be relatively liberal at home and yet totally ruthless abroad. Indeed, it may more easily enlist its population in cruelty to others by pointing to the advantages at home. An entire nation is made into mercenaries, being paid with a bit of democracy at home for participating in the destruction of life abroad.
Howard Zinn (Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology)
Since the Indians were better woodsmen than the English and virtually impossible to track down, the method was to feign peaceful intentions, let them settle down and plant their corn wherever they chose, and then, just before harvest, fall upon them, killing as many as possible and burning the corn. . . . Within two or three years of the massacre the English had avenged the deaths of that day many times over.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
IWW organizer Joseph Ettor said: If the workers of the world want to win, all they have to do is recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the property of the capitalists. . . .
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
The president, the secretary of state, and the secretary of defense were lying to the American public—there was no evidence of any attack, and the American destroyers were not on “routine patrol” but on spying missions.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
There was an idea in the air, becoming clearer and stronger, an idea not just in the theories of Karl Marx but in the dreams of writers and artists through the ages: that people might cooperatively use the treasures of the earth to make life better for everyone, not just a few.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
party politics and religion now substituting for class conflict.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
...[T]hat combination of inferior status and derogatory thought [is what] we call racism.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
We need to expose the motives of our political leaders, point out their connections to corporate power, show how huge profits are being made out of death and suffering.
Howard Zinn (Just War)
The principle is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Only one fear was greater than the fear of black rebellion in the new American colonies.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Free white workers were better off than slaves or servants, but they still resented unfair treatment by the wealthier classes.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
In 1992, teachers all over the country, by the thousands, were beginning to teach the Columbus story in new ways, to recognize that to Native Americans, Columbus and his men were not heroes, but marauders. The point being not just to revise our view of past events, but to be provoked to think about today.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
True, fascism was not to be tolerated by decent people. But neither was racism or colonialism or slave labor camps—one or another of which was a characteristic of all of the Allied powers.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
The reward for participating in a movement for social justice is not the prospect of future victory. It is the exhilaration of standing together with other people, taking risks together, enjoying small triumphs and enduring disheartening setbacks—together.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
The colonies, it seems, were societies of contending classes—a fact obscured by the emphasis, in traditional histories, on the external struggle against England, the unity of colonists in the Revolution. The country therefore was not “born free” but born slave and free, servant and master, tenant and landlord, poor and rich.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
We overestimate the power of people who become cogs in giant organizations. The fact that they become cogs actually limits what they can do. . . . There’s something very corrupting that happens to people who think they’re going to work from inside a corrupt system.
Howard Zinn
One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Revolutionary America may have been a middle-class society, happier and more prosperous than any other in its time, but it contained a large and growing number of fairly poor people, and many of them did much of the actual fighting and suffering between 1775 and 1783: A very old story.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Look for some peace organization to join. It will look small at first, and pitiful and helpless, but that’s how movements start. That’s how the movement against the Vietnam War started. It started with handfuls of people who thought they were helpless, thought they were powerless. But remember, this power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power. When workers go on strike, huge corporations lose their power. When consumers boycott, huge business establishments have to give in. When soldiers refuse to fight, as so many soldiers did in Vietnam, so many deserters, so many fraggings, acts of violence by enlisted men against officers in Vietnam, B-52 pilots refusing to fly bombing missions anymore, war can’t go on. When enough soldiers refuse, the government has to decide we can’t continue. So, yes, people have the power. If they begin to organize, if they protest, if they create a strong enough movement, they can change things.
Howard Zinn
Those tears, that anger, cast into the past, deplete our moral energy for the present. And the lines are not always clear. In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run, the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.
Howard Zinn
It was the new politics of ambiguity—speaking for the lower and middle classes to get their support in times of rapid growth and potential turmoil. The two-party system came into its own in this time. To give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
American slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture; the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred, with that relentless clarity based on color, where white was master, black was slave.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
I wonder now how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world, at least in our minds, and thought of all children everywhere as our own. Then we could never drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, or napalm on Vietnam, or wage war anywhere, because wars, especially in our time, are always wars against children, indeed our children.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Slavery was immensely profitable to some masters. James Madison told a British visitor shortly after the American Revolution that he could make 257 dollars on every (black slave) in a year, and spend only 12 or 13 dollars on his keep.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Roosevelt was as much concerned to end the oppression of Jews as Lincoln was to end slavery during the Civil War; their priority in policy (whatever their personal compassion for victims of persecution) was not minority rights, but national power.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
WITCH lives and laughs in every woman. She is the free part of each of us, beneath the shy smiles, the acquiescence to absurd male domination, the make-up or flesh-suffocating clothes our sick society demands. There is no “joining” WITCH. If you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you are a WITCH. You make your own rules.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Control in modern times requires more than force, more than law. It requires that a population dangerously concentrated in cities and factories, whose lives are filled with cause for rebellion, be taught that all is right as it is. And so, the schools, the churches, the popular literature taught that to be rich was a sign of superiority, to be poor a sign of personal failure, and that the only way upward for a poor person was to climb into the ranks of the rich by extraordinary effort and extraordinary luck.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
The owners of factories are more concerned than other classes and interests in the intelligence of their laborers. When the latter are well-educated and the former are disposed to deal justly, controversies and strikes can never occur, nor can the minds of the masses be prejudiced by demagogues and controlled by temporary and factious considerations.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Jackson was a land speculator, merchant, slave trader, and the most aggressive enemy of the Indians in early American history. He became a hero of the War of 1812, which was not (as usually depicted in American textbooks) just a war against England for survival, but a war for the expansion of the new nation, into Florida, into Canada, into Indian territory.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
The ecological crisis in the world had become so obviously serious that Pope John Paul II felt the need to rebuke the wealthy classes of the industrialized nations for creating that crisis: “Today, the dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness, both individual and collective, are contrary to the order of creation.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
. . . the farmer is the man The Farmer is the man Lives on credit till the fall With the interest rates so high It's a wonder he don't die And the mortgage man's the one that gets it all. The farmer is the man The farmer is the man Lives on credit till the fall And his pants are wearing thin His condition it's a sin He's forgot that he's the man that feeds them all.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
A black man, Benjamin Banneker, who taught himself mathematics and astronomy, predicted accurately a solar eclipse, and was appointed to plan the new city of Washington, wrote to Thomas Jefferson: I suppose it is a truth too well attested to you, to need a proof here, that we are a race of beings, who have long labored under the abuse and censure of the world; that we have long been looked upon with an eye of contempt; and that we have long been considered rather as brutish than human, and scarcely capable of mental endowments. . . . I apprehend you will embrace every opportunity to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions, which so generally prevails with respect to us; and that your sentiments are concurrent with mine, which are, that one universal Father hath given being to us all; and that he hath not only made us all of one flesh, but that he hath also, without partiality, afforded us all the same sensations and endowed us all with the same facilities. . . . Banneker asked Jefferson “to wean yourselves from those narrow prejudices which you have imbibed.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper in Ruleville, Mississippi, became legendary as organizer and speaker. She sang hymns; she walked picket lines with her familiar limp (as a child she contracted polio). She roused people to excitement at mass meetings: "I'm sick an' tired o' bein' sick an' tired!
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of struggle…. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country—not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of black people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
I’ve always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives who talked of how, in America, if you worked hard you would become rich. The meaning of that was if you were poor it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie, about my father and millions of others, men and women who worked harder than anyone, harder than financiers and politicians, harder than anybody if you accept that when you work at an unpleasant job that makes it very hard work indeed.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
My point is not to grieve for the victims and denounce the executioners. Those tears, that anger, cast into the past, deplete our moral energy for the present. And the lines are not always clear. In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
If we are arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled over every day, don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have compassion and understanding for those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight, we are always on the threshold of a new dawn.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
When he was gassing the Kurds, he was gassing them using chemical weapons that were manufactured in Rochester, New York. And when he was fighting a long and protracted war with Iran, where one million people died, it was the CIA that was funding him. It was U.S. policy that built this dictator. When they didn’t need him, they started imposing sanctions on his people. Sanctions should be directed at people’s governments, not at the people.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
The inferior position of blacks, the exclusion of Indians from the new society, the establishment of supremacy for the rich and powerful in the new nation—all this was already settled in the colonies by the time of the Revolution. With the English out of the way, it could now be put on paper, solidified, regularized, made legitimate, by the Constitution of the United States, drafted at a convention of Revolutionary leaders in Philadelphia.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
I see policemen on horses galloping through the crowd, and hitting people. While I'm just taking this in, I am spun around and hit, on the side of the head, and knocked out. It had suddenly come home to me that, hey, I guess the police are not neutral. I guess the government is not neutral. . . . It was a turning point in my political consciousness.
Howard Zinn
To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)—that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
I am convinced that imprisonment is a way of pretending to solve the problem of crime. It does nothing for the victims of crime, but perpetuates the idea of retribution, thus maintaining the endless cycle of violence in our culture. It is a cruel and useless substitute for the elimination of those conditions—poverty, unemployment, homelessness, desperation, racism, greed—which are at the root of most punished crime. The crimes of the rich and powerful go mostly unpunished.
Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times)
Jackson began raids into Florida, arguing it was a sanctuary for escaped slaves and for marauding Indians. Florida, he said, was essential to the defense of the United States. It was that classic modern preface to a war of conquest. Thus began the Seminole War of 1818, leading to the American acquisition of Florida. It appears on classroom maps politely as “Florida Purchase, 1819”—but it came from Andrew Jackson’s military campaign across the Florida border, burning Seminole villages, seizing Spanish forts, until Spain was “persuaded” to sell. He acted, he said, by the “immutable laws of self-defense.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Why do we use the term "greatest generation" for participants in war? Why not for those who have opposed war, who have tried to make us understand that war has never solved fundamental problems? Should we not honor, instead of parachutists and bomber pilots, those conscientious objectors who refused to fight or the radicals and pacifists who opposed the idea that young people of one nation should kill young people of another nation to serve the purposes of politicians and financiers?
Howard Zinn
I've always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives, who talked of how, in America, if you worked hard, you would become rich. The meaning of that was, if you were poor, it was because you hadn't worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie—about my father, and millions of others: men and women who worked harder than anyone.
Howard Zinn
The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. . . . The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
The military conflict itself, by dominating everything in its time, diminished other issues, made people choose sides in the one contest that was publicly important, forced people onto the side of the Revolution whose interest in Independence was not at all obvious. Ruling elites seem to have learned through the generations—consciously or not—that war makes them more secure against internal trouble.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
The pretense continued over the generations, helped by all-embracing symbols, physical or verbal: the flag, patriotism, democracy, national interest, national defense, national security. The slogans were dug into the earth of American culture like a circle of covered wagons on the western plain, from inside of which the white, slightly privileged American could shoot to kill the enemy outside—Indians or blacks or foreigners or other whites too wretched to be allowed inside the circle. The managers of the caravan watched at a safe distance, and when the battle was over and the field strewn with dead on both sides, they would take over the land, and prepare another expedition, for another territory.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
So, Son, instead of crying, be strong, so as to be able to comfort your mother . . . take her for a long walk in the quiet country, gathering wild flowers here and there. . . . But remember always, Dante, in the play of happiness, don't you use all for yourself only. . . . help the persecuted and the victim because they are your better friends. . . . In this struggle of life you will find more and love and you will be loved.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
the term “middle class” concealed a fact long true about this country, that, as Richard Hofstadter said: “It was . . . a middle-class society governed for the most part by its upper classes.” Those upper classes, to rule, needed to make concessions to the middle class, without damage to their own wealth or power, at the expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whites. This bought loyalty. And to bind that loyalty with something more powerful even than material advantage, the ruling group found, in the 1760s and 1770s, a wonderfully useful device. That device was the language of liberty and equality, which could unite just enough whites to fight a Revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief and noted orator, tried to unite the Indians against the white invasion: The way, and the only way, to check and to stop this evil, is for all the Redmen to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first and should be yet; for it was never divided, but belongs to all for the use of each. That no part has a right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers—those who want all and will not do with less. Angered when fellow Indians were induced to cede a great tract of land to the United States government, Tecumseh organized in 1811 an Indian gathering of five thousand, on the bank of the Tallapoosa River in Alabama, and told them: “Let the white race perish. They seize your land; they corrupt your women, they trample on the ashes of your dead! Back whence they came, upon a trail of blood, they must be driven.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
La distinction traditionnelle entre guerres "justes" et guerres "injustes" est désormais obsolète. La cruauté des moyens dépasse aujourd'hui tout objectif imaginable. Aucune frontière nationale, aucune idéologie, aucun "mode de vie" ne peut justifier la disparition de millions de vies que la guerre moderne, nucléaire ou conventionnelle, entraîne inévitablement. Les prétextes classiques sont soit trop confus soit trop changeants pour que l'on meure pour eux. Les systèmes changent, les politiques changent. Les distinctions entre le bien et le mal proclamées par les politiciens ne sont pas assez évidentes pour justifier que des générations d'être humains meurent pour prouver leur caractère sacro-saint. Même une guerre de légitime défense, la plus moralement justifiable des guerres, perd tout caractère moral lorsqu'elle exige un sacrifice collectif si énorme qu'il frise le suicide.
Howard Zinn (Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order)
It launched one worker, Eugene Debs, into a lifetime of activism for labor unions and socialism. Debs was arrested for supporting the strike. Two years later he wrote: The issue is Socialism versus Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough. Money constitutes no proper basis for civilization. The time has come to regenerate [renew] society—we are on the eve of a universal change. Like
Howard Zinn (A Young People's History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror (For Young People Series))
Three years before the terrible events of September 11, 2001, a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Robert Bowman, who had flown 101 combat missions in Vietnam, and then had become a Catholic bishop, commented on the terrorist bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In an article in the National Catholic Reporter he wrote about the roots of terrorism: We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things to people in Third World countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism. . . . Instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to kill Arabs so we can have the oil under their sand, we should send them to rebuild their infrastructure, supply clean water, and feed starving children. . . . In short, we should do good instead of evil. Who would try to stop us? Who would hate us? Who would want to bomb us? That is the truth the American people need to hear.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Aucun représentant ne peut exactement représenter les besoins d'autrui ; un représentant tend à devenir membre d'une certaine élite et jouit souvent de privilèges qui érodent l'intérêt qu'il doit porter aux revendications de ses mandants. Relayée par les élus du système représentatif, la colère des protestataires perd de sa force ; [...]. Les élus développent une certaine expertise qui tend à sa propre perpétuation. Les représentants passent plus de temps ensemble qu'avec les électeurs qu'ils représentent et forment vite un club fermé respectant ce que Robert Michels appelait "un pacte d'assistance mutuelle" contre le reste de la société.
Howard Zinn (Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order)
Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of Scott’s army, of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills, of the Spanish-American war as seen by the Cubans, the conquest of the Philippines as seen by black soldiers on Luzon, the Gilded Age as seen by southern farmers, the First World War as seen by socialists, the Second World War as seen by pacifists, the New Deal as seen by blacks in Harlem, the postwar American empire as seen by peons in Latin America. And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can “see” history from the standpoint of others.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Morgan then formed the U.S. Steel Corporation, combining Carnegie’s corporation with others. He sold stocks and bonds for $1,300,000,000 (about 400 million more than the combined worth of the companies) and took a fee of 150 million for arranging the consolidation. How could dividends be paid to all those stockholders and bondholders? By making sure Congress passed tariffs keeping out foreign steel; by closing off competition and maintaining the price at $28 a ton; and by working 200,000 men twelve hours a day for wages that barely kept their families alive. And so it went, in industry after industry—shrewd, efficient businessmen building empires, choking out competition, maintaining high prices, keeping wages low, using government subsidies. These industries were the first beneficiaries of the “welfare state.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
in 1851, an aged black woman, who had been born a slave in New York, tall, thin, wearing a gray dress and white turban, listened to some male ministers who had been dominating the discussion. This was Sojourner Truth. She rose to her feet and joined the indignation of her race to the indignation of her sex: That man over there says that woman needs to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches. . . . Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles or gives me any best place. And a’nt I a woman? Look at my arm! I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a’nt I a woman? I would work as much and eat as much as a man, when I could get it, and bear the lash as well. And a’nt I a woman? I have borne thirteen children and seen em most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a’nt I a woman? Thus were women beginning to resist, in the 1830s and 1840s and 1850s, the attempt to keep them in their “woman’s sphere.” They were taking part in all sorts of movements, for prisoners, for the insane, for black slaves, and also for all women.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Combien de gens exercent-ils le travail de leur choix ? Certains scientifiques, artistes, quelques travailleurs très qualifiés ou certaines professions libérales ont peut-être cette satisfaction, mais la plupart des gens ne sont pas libres de choisir leur activité. C'est la nécessité économique qui les y oblige. C'est pourquoi on peut parler de "travail aliéné". En outre, la plupart des travailleurs produisent des biens et des services destinés à devenir des marchandises qu'ils n'ont pas eux-mêmes choisi de produire et qui appartiennent à un autre : le capitaliste qui les emploie. Les travailleurs sont donc, en outre, parfaitement étrangers au produit de leur labeur. Le travail s'effectue dans des conditions industrielles modernes qui privilégient la concurrence plutôt que la collaboration et l'isolement plutôt que l'association. Les travailleurs sont donc également étrangers les uns aux autres. Concentrés dans les villes et les usines, ils sont pour finir étrangers à la nature.
Howard Zinn (Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order)
All those histories of this country centered on the Founding Fathers and the Presidents weigh oppressively on the capacity of the ordinary citizen to act. They suggest that in times of crisis we must look to someone to save us: in the Revolutionary crisis, the Founding Fathers; in the slavery crisis, Lincoln; in the Depression, Roosevelt; in the Vietnam-Watergate crisis, Carter. And that between occasional crises everything is all right, and it is sufficient for us to be restored to that normal state. They teach us that the supreme act of citizenship is to choose among saviors, by going into a voting booth every four years to choose between two white and well-off Anglo-Saxon males of inoffensive personality and orthodox opinions.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Carl Degler says (Out of Our Past): “No new social class came to power through the door of the American revolution. The men who engineered the revolt were largely members of the colonial ruling class.” George Washington was the richest man in America. John Hancock was a prosperous Boston merchant. Benjamin Franklin was a wealthy printer. And so on. On the other hand, town mechanics, laborers, and seamen, as well as small farmers, were swept into “the people” by the rhetoric of the Revolution, by the camaraderie of military service, by the distribution of some land. Thus was created a substantial body of support, a national consensus, something that, even with the exclusion of ignored and oppressed people, could be called “America.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Une population parfaitement déterminée est en mesure non seulement de contraindre un dirigeant à fuir son pays, mais également de faire reculer un candidat à l'occupation de son territoire par la mise en œuvre d'un formidable ensemble de stratégies disponible : boycotts et manifestations, occupations de locaux et sit-in, arrêts de travail et grèves générales, obstructions et sabotages, grève des loyers et des impôts, refus de coopérer, refus de respecter les couvre-feux ou la censure, refus de payer les amendes, insoumission et désobéissance civile en tout genre.
Howard Zinn (Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order)
Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions and run into the woods; then you will starve for wronging your friends. Why are you jealous of us? We are unarmed, and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner, and not so simple as not to know that it is much better to eat good meat, sleep comfortably, live quietly with my wives and children, laugh and be merry with the English, and trade for their copper and hatchets, than to run away from them, and to lie cold in the woods, feed on acorns, roots and such trash, and be so hunted that I can neither eat nor sleep. In these wars, my men must sit up watching, and if a twig break, they all cry out “Here comes Captain Smith!” So I must end my miserable life. Take away your guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy, or you may all die in the same manner.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
Aucun changement fonctionnel ou structurel ne peut garantir une société parfaitement démocratique. Nous acceptons mal ce fait parce que nous avons été élevés dans une culture technologique où l'on pense généralement que, si on pouvait seulement trouver le bon instrument, tou irait enfin pour le mieux et qu'il serait alors possible de se relâcher un peu. Mais on ne peut jamais se relâcher. L'expérience des Noirs américains, comme celle des Indiens, des femmes, des Hispaniques et des pauvres, nous apprend cela. Nulle constitution, nulle déclaration des droits, nul système électoral, nulle loi ne peuvent garantir la paix, la justice et l'égalité. Tout cela exige un combat permanent, des débats incessants impliquant l'ensemble des citoyens et un nombre infini d'organisations et de mouvements qui imposent leur pression sur tous les systèmes établis.
Howard Zinn (Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order)
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reforms. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of struggle. . . . If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. . . .
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
What did the Revolution mean to the Native Americans, the Indians? They had been ignored by the fine words of the Declaration, had not been considered equal, certainly not in choosing those who would govern the American territories in which they lived, nor in being able to pursue happiness as they had pursued it for centuries before the white Europeans arrived. Now, with the British out of the way, the Americans could begin the inexorable process of pushing the Indians off their lands, killing them if they resisted. In short, as Francis Jennings puts it, the white Americans were fighting against British imperial control in the East, and for their own imperialism in the West.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
When Chief Black Hawk was defeated and captured in 1832, he made a surrender speech: I fought hard. But your guns were well aimed. The bullets flew like birds in the air, and whizzed by our ears like the wind through the trees in the winter. My warriors fell around me. . . The sun rose dim on us in the morning, and at night it sunk in a dark cloud, and looked like a ball of fire. That was the last sun that shone on Black Hawk. . . He is now a prisoner to the white men. . . He has done nothing for which an Indian ought to be ashamed. He has fought for his countrymen, the squaws and papooses, against white men, who came year after year, to cheat them and take away their lands. You know the cause of out making war. It is known to all white men. They ought to be ashamed of it. Indians are not deceitful. The white men speak bad of the Indian and look at him spitefully. But the Indian does not tell lies. Indians do not steal.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot box, the legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized. . . . The newspapers are subsidized or muzzled; public opinion silenced; business prostrate, our homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. The urban workmen are denied the right of organization for self-protection; imported pauperized labor beats down their wages; a hireling standing army . . . established to shoot them down. . . . The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes. . . . From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed two classes—paupers and millionaires. . . .
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
I see a time when the farmer will not need to live in a cabin on a lonely farm. I see the farmers coming together in groups. I see them with the time to read, and time to visit with their fellows. I see them enjoying lectures in beautiful halls, erected in every village. I see them gather like Saxons of old upon the green at evening to sing and dance. I see cities rising near them with schools, and churches, and concert halls and theaters. I see a day when the farmer will no longer be a drudge and his wife a bond slave, but happy men and women who will go singing to their pleasant tasks upon their fruitful farms. When the boys and girls will not go west nor to the city; when life will be worth living. In that day the moon will be brighter and the stars more glad, and pleasure and poetry and love of life come back to the man who tills the soil.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Would the behavior of the United States during the war—in military action abroad, in treatment of minorities at home—be in keeping with a “people’s war”? Would the country’s wartime policies respect the rights of ordinary people everywhere to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? And would postwar America, in its policies at home and overseas, exemplify the values for which the war was supposed to have been fought? These questions deserve thought. At the time of World War II, the atmosphere was too dense with war fervor to permit them to be aired. For the United States to step forward as a defender of helpless countries matched its image in American high school history textbooks, but not its record in world affairs. It had opposed the Hatian revolution for independence from France at the start of the nineteenth century. It had instigated a war with Mexico and taken half of that 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 that 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 there for over thirty years.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)
It is not that the historian can avoid emphasis of some facts and not of others. This is as natural to him as to the mapmaker, who, in order to produce a usable drawing for practical purposes, must first flatten and distort the shape of the earth, then choose out of the bewildering mass of geographic information those things needed for the purpose of this or that particular map. My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians. But the map-maker's distortion is a technical necessity for a common purpose shared by all people who need maps. The historian's distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual. Furthermore, this ideological interest is not openly expressed in the way a mapmaker's technical interest is obvious ("This is a Mercator projection for long-range navigation-for short-range, you'd better use a different projection"). No, it is presented as if all readers of history had a common interest which historians serve to the best of their ability. This is not intentional deception; the historian has been trained in a society in which education and knowledge are put forward as technical problems of excellence and not as tools for contending social classes, races, nations. To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to de-emphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves- unwittingly-to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)-that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly. The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)-the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States)
Another view of the Constitution was put forward early in the twentieth century by the historian Charles Beard (arousing anger and indignation, including a denunciatory editorial in the New York Times). He wrote in his book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution: Inasmuch as the primary object of a government, beyond the mere repression of physical violence, is the making of the rules which determine the property relations of members of society, the dominant classes whose rights are thus to be determined must perforce obtain from the government such rules as are consonant with the larger interests necessary to the continuance of their economic processes, or they must themselves control the organs of government. In short, Beard said, the rich must, in their own interest, either control the government directly or control the laws by which government operates. Beard applied this general idea to the Constitution, by studying the economic backgrounds and political ideas of the fifty-five men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to draw up the Constitution. He found that a majority of them were lawyers by profession, that most of them were men of wealth, in land, slaves, manufacturing, or shipping, that half of them had money loaned out at interest, and that forty of the fifty-five held government bonds, according to the records of the Treasury Department. Thus, Beard found that most of the makers of the Constitution had some direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government: the manufacturers needed protective tariffs; the moneylenders wanted to stop the use of paper money to pay off debts; the land speculators wanted protection as they invaded Indian lands; slaveowners needed federal security against slave revolts and runaways; bondholders wanted a government able to raise money by nationwide taxation, to pay off those bonds. Four groups, Beard noted, were not represented in the Constitutional Convention: slaves, indentured servants, women, men without property. And so the Constitution did not reflect the interests of those groups. He wanted to make it clear that he did not think the Constitution was written merely to benefit the Founding Fathers personally, although one could not ignore the $150,000 fortune of Benjamin Franklin, the connections of Alexander Hamilton to wealthy interests through his father-in-law and brother-in-law, the great slave plantations of James Madison, the enormous landholdings of George Washington. Rather, it was to benefit the groups the Founders represented, the “economic interests they understood and felt in concrete, definite form through their own personal experience.
Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present)