Monday, February 27, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 22

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

Chapter 22 is titled, "The Unreported Revolution." In it Zinn describes the many protests and organized groups that opposed things like war, nuclear proliferation, hazardous working conditions, pollution, and the defunding of social safety nets. A quote from the backlash to this interested me very much, and it reminds me of a popular (and populist) push to denegrate higher education:

"Almost certainly there was a teacher, or teachers, who taught Benjamin Sasway to look at American society as a hypocritical, exploitative, materialistic roadblock on the path of human progress. The generation of the Vietnam protesters is now in its early thirties, and the academicians among them are already ensconced in the faculties of the country's high schools and colleges.... What a pity our jurisprudence doesn't allow us to reach and penalize the real architects of this sort of destruction!" wrote right-wing columnist William A. Rusher, of the National Review. I personally don't like to deify higher education, but I won't demonize it for teaching people how to think, either.

While many protestors of various injustices were rounded up (many of these protestors had never marched before), arrested, and put on trial for their civil disobedience, a lot of them were acquitted by juries of their peers.

Furthermore, "a new generation of lawyers, schooled in the sixties, constituted a small but socially conscious minority within the legal profession. They were in court defending the poor and the helpless, or bringing suit against powerful corporations. One law firm used its talent and energy to defend whistleblowers—men and women who were fired because they "blew the whistle" on corporate corruption that victimized the public." People spoke up for the rights of women, for the rights of racial and ethnic minorities like blacks, Chicanos and other Latinos, and gays and lesbians.

"Against the overwhelming power of corporate wealth and governmental authority, the spirit of resistance was kept alive in the early nineties, often by small-scale acts of courage and defiance. On the West Coast, a young activist named Keith McHenry and hundreds of others were arrested again and again for distributing free food to poor people without a license. They were part of a program called Food Not Bombs. More Food Not Bombs groups sprang up in communities around the country." This story is from the 80s and 90s but I have read reports of people shutting down soup kitchens and preventing people from giving food to others en masse on the streets in states like Florida.

Even people who worked for the government became disillusioned. For example, "FBI Agent Jack Ryan, a twenty-one-year veteran of the bureau, was fired when he refused to investigate peace groups. He was deprived of his pension and for some time had to live in a shelter for homeless people."

There are a lot of overlaps between Zinn's Chapters 21 and 22, but some parts still bear repeating. I find this passage particularly succinct, and even people like my mother, who supported my father's position as a fighter pilot in the Gulf War, would agree: "When Bush became President, he was determined to overcome what came to be called the Vietnam syndrome-the resistance of the American people to a war desired by the Establishment. And so, he launched the air war against Iraq in mid-January 1991 with overwhelming force, so the war could be over quickly, before there was time for a national antiwar movement to develop."

Opinions on the war seem mixed. Some polls say people were split before the war started. After the war began, more people said they supported it, but I believe that, like today, people may oppose the war but feel guilty about doing anything that would lead people to suspect that they do not fully support the troops. This explains the horrible backlash and outrage against Michael Moore when he very publically opposed George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq over a decade later, in March 2003.

"When the war had been going on for a month, with Iraq devastated by the incessant bombing, there were feelers from Saddam Hussein that Iraq would withdraw from Kuwait if the United States would stop its attacks. Bush rejected the idea, and a meeting of black leaders in New York sharply criticized him, calling the war "an immoral and unspiritual diversion ... a blatant evasion of our domestic responsibilities.""

"The father of a twenty-one-year-old Marine in the Persian Gulf, Alex Molnar, wrote an angry open letter, published in the New York Time, to President Bush:
"Where were you, Mr. President, when Iraq was killing its own people with poison gas? Why, until the recent crisis, was it business as usual with Saddam Hussein, the man you now call a Hitler? Is the American "way of life" that you say my son is risking his life for the continued "right" of Americans to consume 25 to 30 percent of the world's oil? ... I intend to support my son and his fellow soldiers by doing everything I can to oppose any offensive American military action in the Persian Gulf."
"When the first contingents of U.S. troops were being sent to Saudi Arabia, in August of 1990, Corporal Jeff Patterson, a twenty-two-year-old Marine stationed in Hawaii, sat down on the runway of the airfield and refused to board a plane bound for Saudi Arabia. He asked to be discharged from the Marine Corps:
"I have come to believe that there are no justified wars.... I began to question exactly what I was doing in the Marine Corps about the time I began to read about history. I began to read up on America's support for the murderous regimes of Guatemala, Iran under the Shah, and El Salvador.... I object to the military use of force against any people, anywhere, any time."
Now I quote at great length (Read the whole chapter yourself!):

"Fourteen Marine Corps reservists at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, filed for conscientious objector status, despite the prospect of a court-martial for desertion. A lance corporal in the Marines, Erik Larsen, issued a statement:
"I declare myself a conscientious objector. Here is my sea bag full of personal gear. Here is my gas mask. I no longer need them. I am no longer a Marine. ... It, to me, is embarrassing to fight for a way of life in which basic human needs, like a place to sleep, one hot meal a day and some medical attention, cannot even be met in our nation's capital."
War seemed the best way to show our power, though. "After the disintegration of the Soviet bloc began in 1989, there had been talk in the United States of a "peace dividend," the opportunity to take billions of dollars from the military budget and use it for human needs." Benazir Bhutto advocated for exactly this in a book she wrote and published months before she was killed. She even described ways in which aid would be cheaper and more lastingly beneficial than military might in so many of our "peace-keeping" or "peace-making" efforts around the world. [Lester Brown, incidentally, advocates for ecologically and economically sound uses of money that we could spend in lieu of military spending that would help alleviate many of the health and human rights issues now and in the future in a great, free book that he wrote (and that I blogged about previously)... but I digress.] "The war in the Gulf became a convenient excuse for the government determined to stop such talk. A member of the Bush administration said: "We owe Saddam a favor. He saved us from the peace dividend" (New York Time, March 2, 1991).

Historian Marilyn Young warned in the early 90s: "The U.S. can destroy Iraq's highways, but not build its own; create the conditions for epidemic in Iraq, but not offer health care to millions of Americans. It can excoriate Iraqi treatment of the Kurdish minority, but not deal with domestic race relations; create homelessness abroad but not solve it here; keep a half million troops drug free as part of a war, but refuse to fund the treatment of millions of drug addicts at home. ... We shall lose the war after we have won it."

By then it was 1992 and people were preparing to celebrate the quincentennial of Columbus's journey to the new world and the symbolic start of the way we conquerred the continent. Many people and groups objected, not the least of whom were American Indians/Native Americans. One wrote this particularly perfect letter:

"Dear President Bush. Please send your assistance in freeing our small nation from occupation. This foreign force occupied our lands to steal our rich resources. They used biological warfare and deceit, killing thousands of elders, children and women in the process. As they overwhelmed our land, they deposed our leaders and people of our own government, and in its place, they installed their own government systems that yet today control our daily lives in many ways. As in your own words, the occupation and overthrow of one small nation ... is one too many. Sincerely, An American Indian."

So-called 'naive' schoolchildren began to be taught by their 'liberal' teachers teaching 'revisionist' history that Columbus wasn't a great guy and the children got angry. I remember how my parents had to deal with my opinions on history when the wool was removed from my eyes and I realized that the monolith of American exceptionlism and manifest destiny was just a construct designed to make the system run more smoothly for the Establishment.

Zinn sums up the chapter pretty succinctly in his last two chapters:

"As the United States entered the nineties, the political system, whether Democrats or Republicans were in power, remained in the control of those who had great wealth. The main instruments of information were also dominated by corporate wealth. The country was divided, though no mainstream political leader would speak of it, into classes of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, separated by an insecure and jeopardized middle class.

" Yet, there was, unquestionably, though largely unreported, what a worried mainstream journalist had called "a permanent adversarial culture" which refused to surrender the possibility of a more equal, more humane society. If there was hope for the future of America, it lay in the promise of that refusal."

The next chapter is about the Clinton years.

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