Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 23

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."

I just watched part of the recent PBS special on Bill Clinton, so I will be interested to read this chapter on the Clinton Presidency and "the Crisis of Democracy" with that and other knowledge in mind.

Zinn is certainly not conservative, but he's not a Democrat either. Both parties, as he says repeatedly, are in the hands of the oligarchy. Some of the country, he felt, agreed: "President Bill Clinton was reelected in 1996 with a distinct lack of voter enthusiasm. As was true in 1992 (when 19 percent of the voters showed their distaste for both parties by voting for a third- party candidate, Ross Perot), the electorate was clearly not happy about its choices. Half of the eligible voters stayed away from the polls, and of those who did vote, only 49 percent chose Clinton over his lackluster opponent, Robert Dole. One bumper sticker read: "If God had intended us to vote, he would have given us candidates.""

Indeed, Zinn spends the first part of the chapter talking about how very pro-capitalism and politically centrist Clinton was. I think Obama's the same way. Zinn shows where Clinton's ideas differ greatly from some of MLK Jr's more radical ones about exposing the link between capitalism, the military, and the government; and radical racial equality; etc.

Zinn talks about how Clinton was tough on crime, building prisons instead of bringing people out of poverty. Clinton was weak for a liberal, but Zinn fails to mention the overwhelming surge of Republican zeal at the time, politically and physically realized by the Republican's retaking of the legislative branch by a large margin in the 1994 elections.

"There was a simple but overwhelming problem with cutting off benefits to the poor to force them to find jobs. There were not jobs available for all those who would lose their benefits. In New York City in 1990, when 2000 jobs were advertised in the Sanitation Department at $23,000 a year, 100,000 people applied. Two years later in Chicago, 7000 people showed up for 550 jobs at Stouffer's, a restaurant chain. In Joliet, Illinois, 2000 showed up at Commonwealth Edison at 4:30 A.M. to apply for jobs that did not yet exist. In early 1997, 4000 people lined up for 700 jobs at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. It was estimated that at the existing rate of job growth in New York, with 470,000 adults on welfare, it would take twenty-four years to absorb those thrown off the rolls." The simple but overwhelming response from the 'other' side would be for these folks to create their own jobs through entrepreneurship (or, less compellingly, to move to where the jobs are).

"Clinton and the Republicans, in joining against "big government," were aiming only at social services. The other manifestations of big government-huge contracts to military contractors and generous subsidies to corporations-continued at exorbitant levels." The conservative argument I hear regarding this is that military spending is actually in the Constitution. This is true but not sufficient; to me, that's like equating the Constitution with the Bible (and I don't believe that either is infallible).

Zinn reads my mind a bit here (a mind he has, admittedly, helped create): "
'Big government' had, in fact, begun with the Founding Fathers, who deliberately set up a strong central government to protect the interests of the bondholders, the slave owners, the land speculators, the manufacturers. For the next two hundred years, the American government continued to serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful, offering millions of acres of free land to the railroads, setting high tariffs to protect manufacturers, giving tax breaks to oil corporations, and using its armed forces to suppress strikes and rebellions.
It was only in the twentieth century, especially in the thirties and sixties, when the government, besieged by protests and fearful of the stability of the system, passed social legislation for the poor that political leaders and business executives complained about 'big government.'"

To free the money it would take to keep enough welfare so that U.S. folk could have things like jobs and health care, we could either/both cut military spending or/and raise taxes on the wealthy. Both of these seem anathema in the current political climate. One weakens us in the eyes of the world (including weakening our hold on foreign natural resources and stopping the revenue we make by selling made-in-the-USA guns and bombs to the rest of the world) and the other supposedly disincentivizes innovation and hard work. "With the four or five hundred billion dollars gained by progressive taxation and demilitarization, there would be funds available to pay for health care for everyone, to guarantee jobs to anyone willing and able to work. Instead of giving out contracts for jet bombers and nuclear submarines, contracts could be offered to nonprofit corporations to hire people to build homes, construct public transport systems, clean up the rivers and lakes, turn our cities into decent places to live."

"The alternative to such a bold program [which, as I've said, is reiterated very clearly by people like Benazir Bhutto and posed similarly but for the environment by folks like Lester Brown] was to continue as before, allowing the cities to fester, forcing rural people to face debt and foreclosures, offering no useful work for the young, creating a larger and larger marginal population of desperate people. Many of these people would turn to drugs and crime, some of them to a religious fanaticism ending in violence against others or themselves (in 1996, one such group committed mass suicide), some to a hysterical hatred of government (as in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing at least 168 people). The response of the authorities to such signs of desperation, anger, alienation has been, historically, quite predictable: Build more jails, lock up more people, execute more prisoners. And continue with the same policies that produced the desperation."

New citizens' movements began to form - political, racial, social, pro-labor, pro-feminist, pro-religion. Zinn describes some of these movements through the mid-1990s and then sums it up: "If democracy was to be given any meaning, if it was to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come-if history was any guide-from the top. It would come through citizens' movements, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed."

The chapter ends with hope of these populist movements, movements that have now been channeled into things like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. While the groups sometimes have very different aims, it is clear that both groups oppose the way the government holds up the moneyed oligarchy in the U.S. Thomas Jefferson said that it was healthy for nations to have a revolution ever twenty years or so. People should not be complacent when institutions of power become self-serving and solipsistic. The government is a socialistic institution that does scaffold programs for the common good - infrastructure, education, health care, defense. It really is up to us to find the balance that allows us to reap the benefits of shared responsibility without giving up our treasured rights and freedoms.

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.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 21

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."
Historian Richard Hoftstadter wrote a book about American politics, and one of the quotes Zinn pulls from him, which I love, is: "the range of vision embraced by the primary contestants in the major parties has always been bounded by the horizons of property and enterprise. . .. They have accepted the economic virtues of capitalist culture as necessary qualities of man. . . . That culture has been intensely nationalistic..." This whole chapter from beginning to end is about how the U.S. government raised spending for the military, bombing and killing people only to defend (offensively) its economic interests. In the meantime, the plight of the poor in the U.S. got even worse during the 1970s through the early 1990s.
Indeed, Zinn agrees: "Coming to the end of the [20th] century, observing its last twenty-five years, we have seen exactly that limited vision Hofstadter talked about—a capitalistic encouragement of enormous fortunes alongside desperate poverty, a nationalistic acceptance of war and preparations for war. Governmental power swung from Republicans to Democrats and back again, but neither party showed itself capable of going beyond that vision."
Ennui and hopelessness developed. "In 1960, 63 percent of those eligible to vote voted in the presidential election. By 1976, this figure had dropped to 53 percent. In a CBS News and New York Times survey, over half of the respondents said that public officials didn't care about people like them. A typical response came from a plumber: "The President of the United States isn't going to solve our problems. The problems are too big.""
Zinn is harsh on Carter's apparent attempt at appeasement: " The presidency of Jimmy Carter, covering the years 1977 to 1980, seemed an attempt by one part of the Establishment, that represented in the Democratic party, to recapture a disillusioned citizenry. But Carter, despite a few gestures toward black people and the poor, despite talk of "human rights" abroad, remained within the historic political boundaries of the American system, protecting corporate wealth and power, maintaining a huge military machine that drained the national wealth, allying the United States with right-wing tyrannies abroad."
Howard Zinn talks about how Carter, Reagan, and Bush all supported the economy, which Zinn considers a euphemism for Wall Street. In the 80s, only 5% of U.S. citizens held over 80% of the publically traded stock. Taxes for the rich and the safety of drinking water went down while defense contracts and inflation went up. I'll stop summarizing and pull out some quotes I like (or, well, hate but am moved by):
  • "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." ~ Pope JPII
  •  In the 80s, "In parts of Detroit, one-third of the children were dying before their first birthday." (Massive unemployment and severely curtailed welfare services contributed directly.)
  •  "[A]dmirers of free enterprise and laissez-faire [...] did not ask why babies who were not old enough to show their work skills should be penalized—to the point of death—for growing up in a poor family." 
  • "Republican Kevin Phillips, who analyz[ed] the Reagan years, wrote: "Less and less wealth was going to people who produced something ... disproportionate rewards to society's economic, legal and cultural manipulators-from lawyers to financial advisers.""
Democrats and Republicans loved war because it showed our force of dominance in the world and helped us secure economic interests in things like oil, diamonds, and bananas. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 20

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 20 is about the 1970s. Zinn wastes no time, starting the chapter thusly: "In the early seventies, the system seemed out of control—it could not hold the loyalty of the public. As early as 1970, according to the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, "trust in government" was low in every section of the population. And there was a significant difference by class. Of professional people, 40 percent had "low" political trust in the government; of unskilled blue-collar workers, 66 percent had "low" trust." Around this time U.S. citizens were less likely to support U.S. intervention in other countries, even if the goal was to provide humanitarian aid. I can imagine that citizens were disillusioned about what "aid" was code for. In addition, more citizens than ever identified as Independents instead of allying with one major political party or the other.

"The courts, the juries, and even judges were not behaving as usual. Juries were acquitting radicals: Angela Davis, an acknowledged Communist, was acquitted by an all-white jury on the West Coast. Black Panthers, whom the government had tried in every way to malign and destroy, were freed by juries in several trials. A judge in western Massachusetts threw out a case against a young activist, Sam Lovejoy, who had toppled a 500-foot tower erected by a utility company trying to set up a nuclear plant. In Washington, D.C., in August 1973, a Superior Court judge refused to sentence six men charged with unlawful entry who had stepped from a White House tour line to protest the bombing of Cambodia."

Zinn provides a succinct and cogent summary of the Watergate scandal. Bombing Cambodia was awful, but the campaign finance bribes and trying to destroy the Democrats seem like child's play now. When Nixon left office, everybody hoped the issues would go away.

"No respectable American newspaper said what was said by Claude Julien, editor of the Monde Diplomatique in September 1974. "The elimination of Mr. Richard Nixon leaves intact all the mechanisms and all the false values which permitted the Watergate scandal." Julien noted that Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, would remain at his post- in other words, that Nixon's foreign policy would continue. "That is to say," Julien wrote, "that Washington will continue to support General Pinochet in Chile, General Geisel in Brazil, General Stroessner in Paraguay, etc. . . ."" And how.

"In the charges brought by the House Committee on Impeachment against Nixon, it seemed clear that the committee did not want to emphasize those elements in his behavior which were found in other Presidents and which might be repeated in the future. It stayed clear of Nixon's dealings with powerful corporations; it did not mention the bombing of Cambodia. It concentrated on things peculiar to Nixon, not on fundamental policies continuous among American Presidents, at home and abroad." Basically, as Zinn writes, "The word was out: get rid of Nixon, but keep the system."

I don't think Zinn is being hyperbolic when, after a few paragraphs of explication about the way things happened in the Ford years, he writes: "What seemed to be happening was that the Establishment—Republicans, Democrats, newspapers, television—was closing ranks behind Ford and Kissinger, and behind the idea that American authority must be asserted everywhere in the world."

While public opinion of the Establishment - the government and the military - continued to be low, unemployment and poverty were up. Which caused which is an interesting question; what's more interesting to me is how that era reminds me more of the political climate today than did the climate of the Great Depression (although there are similarities - coming off of an unpopular war, huge income disparity (and probably the fact that the rich get richer during war because of government contracts and 'investment' and the poor working as grunts and 'sacrificing' while the fat cats profit)).

Former investment banker and Secretary of the Treasury under Nixon and Ford William Simon said  of the times that Americans "have been taught to distrust the very word profit and the profit motive that makes our prosperity possible, to somehow feel this system, that has done more to alleviate human suffering and privation than any other, is somehow cynical, selfish, and amoral" We must, Simon said, "get across the human side of capitalism." Mr. Simon, I dare you to show me that human side of capitalism. Sure, I enjoy my iPod today, but what about the suicidal people in sweatshops who made it for me, using materials raped from the earth, from land usurped from native peoples by massive corporations in the West, corporations defended by the military, the military paid for by U.S. citizens.

Zinn further shares some really interesting analysis by Samuel Huntington, a Harvard professor and advisor to the White House on Vietnam. Huntington talks about how people in the 1960s stopped recognizing the authority of the president and other traditional seats of power. Presidents who saw and valued this, like Truman and Kennedy [and Obama], pulled existing people in power, like bankers, lawyers, and Wall Street men and hired them as advisors and even Cabinet members. "Huntington saw the possible end of that quarter century when "the United States was the hegemonic power in a system of world order." His conclusion was that there had developed "an excess of democracy," and he suggested "desirable limits to the extension of political democracy.""

It seemed that many folks in the United States continued to see through this oligarchy. Zinn ends his (bitter, depressing, angrifying) chapter: "When the 200th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party was celebrated in Boston, an enormous crowd turned out, not for the official celebration, but for the "People's Bi-Centennial" counter celebration, where packages marked "Gulf Oil" and "Exxon" were dumped into the Boston Harbor, to symbolize opposition to corporate power in America."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 19

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."

This chapter is called Suprises, and it's about Women's Liberation, Prisoners' Rights, and Native American rights. I hope you'll consider reading this chapter in its entirety; it's amazing.

Chapter 19, appropriately, starts with women's rights. It took me a while to find specific quotes to latch onto, although the entire chapter is readable and important. For me, as a white, upper-middle-class female writer, a lot of it seems pretty standard, a history I know but don't know what to say about. "At this point [about 1968 during the Vietnam war and protests], and later too, there was some disagreement among women, and even more among men, on whether women should battle on specifically women's issues, or just take part in general movements against racism, war, capitalism. But the idea of a feminist focus grew." It's the same struggle I've had personally about whether to focus on specific types of oppression as having subtle individual causes or to focus on oppression (against gays, women, non-whites, or the environment) as universal oppression, tackling the basic fear/mightmakesright/entitlement edifice that seems to create the structure for all these forms of oppression.

After recognizing continuously that women are paid less, that their work is valued less, and that they are expected by many to spend extraordinary resources to better beautify themselves for (male) society, "In the fall of 1968, a group called Radical Women attracted national attention when they protested the selection of Miss America, which they called "an image that oppresses women." They all threw bras, girdles, curlers, false eyelashes, wigs, and other things they called "women's garbage" into a Freedom Trash Can. A sheep was crowned Miss America. More important, people were beginning to speak of 'Women's Liberation.'"

This section is worth quoting in its entirety as well:

"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 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.
"WITCH in Washington, D.C., protested at the United Fruit Company for the corporation's activities in the Third World and its treatment of its women office workers. In Chicago it protested the firing of a radical feminist teacher named Marlene Dixon.
"Poor women, black women, expressed the universal problem of women in their own way. In 1964 Robert Coles (Children of Crisis) interviewed a black woman from the South recently moved to Boston, who spoke of the desperation of her life, the difficulty of finding happiness: "To me, having a baby inside me is the only lime I'm really alive."" This last part in particular makes me feel ill.

Zinn describes how some black women differed from some white women in that instead of talking about change, they effected it, taking matters into their own hands and demanding better conditions through action. It reminds me of a quotation I heard in church about how the way to stop injustice is to stop putting up with it. The line between peaceful protest and righteous anger is a narrow one. I don't usually advocate violence, but I do believe in anger. I long for peace but not for passivity.

Zinn writes about how a growing movement changed individual organizations' policies on women; the changed the commercials that women allowed the media showed. Zinn writes about abortion availability and how poor and rich women were privy to different availability of rights, about childcare and other issues, about rape.

"Shirley Chisholm, a black Congresswoman, said:
"The law cannot do it for us. We must do it for ourselves. Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes.... We must replace the old, negative thoughts about our femininity with positive thoughts and positive action...."
The law should support and enforce equal rights for all, but so must individuals. It's another age old question about the role of government, the struggle between a government big enough to ensure the health of people and take care of things that work better when done collectively... and individual responsibility.

I just blogged at my other site a little personal manifesto about feminism and what it means to me. Coming back to Zinn, I'm reading some important quotations about welfare and responsibility. I urge you again to read this chapter.

Zinn shifts gears and starts talking about prisoners' rights and prisoner uprisings as well. I am reminded of the words of Jesus about visiting prisoners and about Johnny Cash's unique sense of justice in his own music for and about prisoners, the way he visited them and wrote songs like "Man in Black." In Zinn's own words, "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.""

And this strikes home, too, and is echoed in the work of Derrick Jensen as well: "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." Zinn cites a few of the many incidences of blacks, poor people, and those who look different getting much harsher sentences than white and/or rich people. Just look at the differences in sentencing for white-collar theft versus petty street theft or for cocaine use versus crack use.

An example of outrageous injustice: "Martin Sostre, a fifty-two-year-old black man running an Afro- Asian bookstore in Buffalo, New York, [was sentenced] to twenty-five to thirty years in prison for allegedly selling $15 worth of heroin to an informer who later recanted his testimony. The recantation did not free Sostre-he could find no court, including the Supreme Court of the United States, to revoke the judgment. He spent eight years in prison, was beaten ten times by guards, spent three years in solitary confinement, battling and defying the authorities all the way until his release. Such injustice deserved only rebellion."

I find myself getting angrier and angrier and just fired off an email to a friend who's husband is incarcerated about whether they have enough reading material (thinking of a Zinn book drive for the prison, actually) and then Zinn changes topics to talk about another oppressed group that had its own uprising at the same time in the 60s and 70s, the Native Americans.

Gotta give props to this guy, who wrote in the 1930s but spoke truth nonetheless:

"Chief Luther Standing Bear, in his 1933 autobiography, From the Land of the Spotted Eagle, wrote:
"True, the white man brought great change. But the varied fruits of his civilization, though highly colored and inviting, are sickening and deadening. And if it be the part of civilization to maim, rob, and thwart, then what is progress? I am going to venture that the man who sat on the ground in his tip! meditating on life and its meaning, accepting- the kinship of all creatures, and acknowledging unity with the universe of things, was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization... ."
Again, Derrick Jensen would totally agree.

I personally don't know anybody anymore (I hope) who would spout the manifest destiny bullshit the following "non-Indian" did, but here's a quotation from Vine Deloria, Jr. from the late 1960s: "Every now and then I am impressed with the thinking of the non-Indian. I was in Cleveland last year and got to talking with a non-Indian about American history. He said that he was really sorry about what had happened to Indians, but that there was a good reason for it. The continent had to be developed and he felt that Indians had stood in the way, and thus had had to be removed. "After all," he remarked, "what did you do with the land when you had it?" I didn't understand him until later when I discovered that the Cuyahoga River running through Cleveland is inflammable. So many combustible pollutants are dumped into the river that the inhabitants have to take special precautions during the summer to avoid setting it on fire. After reviewing the argument of my non- Indian friend I decided that he was probably correct. Whites had made better use of the land. How many Indians could have thought of creating an inflammable river?"

"Indians began to do something about their "own destruction" - the annihilation of their culture. In 1969, at the First Convocation of American Indian Scholars, Indians spoke indignantly of either the ignoring or the insulting of Indians in textbooks given to little children all over the United States. That year the Indian Historian Press was founded. It evaluated four hundred textbooks in elementary and secondary schools and found that not one of them gave an accurate depiction of the Indian." Eventually teachers got rid of the outdated material and used newer, more accurate sources. Hollywood made more Indian-friendly movies.

"In the sixties and seventies, it was not just a women's movement, a prisoner's movement, an Indian movement. There was general revolt against oppressive, artificial, previously unquestioned ways of living. It touched every aspect of personal life: childbirth, childhood, love, sex, marriage, dress, music, art, sports, language, food, housing, religion, literature, death, schools."

Zinn's last three paragraphs of this chapter are worth quoting in their entirety as well. I add the citation and link to this book chapter again in case you want to find and cite it yourself at some point:

"With the loss of faith in big powers-business, government, religion-there arose a stronger belief in self, whether individual or collective. The experts in all fields were now looked at skeptically: the belief grew that people could figure out for themselves what to eat, how to live their lives, how to be healthy. There was suspicion of the medical industry and campaigns against chemical preservatives, valueless foods, advertising. By now the scientific evidence of the evils of smoking- cancer, heart disease-was so powerful that the government barred advertising of cigarettes on television and in newspapers.

"Traditional education began to be reexamined. The schools had taught whole generations the values of patriotism, of obeying authority, and had perpetuated ignorance, even contempt for people of other nations, races, Native Americans, women. Not just the content of education was challenged, but the style-the formality, the bureaucracy, the insistence on subordination to authority. This made only a small dent in the formidable national system of orthodox education, but it was reflected in a new generation of teachers all over the country, and a new literature to sustain them: Jonathan Kozol, Death at an Early Age; George Denison, The Lives of Children; Ivan Illich, De-schooling Society.

"Never in American history had more movements for change been concentrated in so short a span of years. But the system in the course of two centuries had learned a good deal about the control of people. In the mid-seventies, it went to work."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 18

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."

"Why is the United States [involved in Vietnam, funding 80% of France's war effort]? To the public, the word was that the United States was helping to stop Communism in Asia, but there was not much public discussion. In the secret memoranda of the National Security Council (which advised the President on foreign policy) there was talk in 1950 of what came to be known as the "domino theory"—that, like a row of dominoes, if one country fell to Communism, the next one would do the same and so on. It was important therefore to keep the first one from falling.

"A secret memo of the National Security Council in June 1952 also pointed to the chain of U.S. military bases along the coast of China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea:
"Communist control of all of Southeast Asia would render the U.S. position in the Pacific offshore island chain precarious and would seriously jeopardize fundamental U.S. security interests in the Far East.
"Southeast Asia, especially Malaya and Indonesia, is the principal world source of natural rubber and tin, and a producer of petroleum and other strategically important commodities. ..."
Yup, it's about resource control.

A U.S. government analyst wrote this about what he saw in South Vietnam: "The purpose of this vast organizational effort was ... to restructure the social order of the village and train the villages to control themselves. This was the NLF's [National Liberation Front] one undeviating thrust from the start. Not the killing of ARVN (Saigon) soldiers, not the occupation of real estate, not the preparation for some great pitched battle... but organization in depth of the rural population through the instrument of self-control."

The president we imposed on the area was defeated by locals, and we abandoned our backing of him weeks before Kennedy was asssassinated. Why couldn't we win this? "Again and again, American leaders expressed their bewilderment at the popularity of the NLF, at the high morale of its soldiers. The Pentagon historians wrote that when Eisenhower met with President- elect Kennedy in January 1961, he "wondered aloud why, in interventions of this kind, we always seemed to find that the morale of the Communist forces was better than that of the democratic forces.""

Zinn describes how we got into the Congressionally-sanctioned conflict and some of the atricious details of the war, especially the burning of civilians.

"By the end of the Vietnam war, 7 million tons of bombs had been dropped on Vietnam, more than twice the total bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II—almost one 500-pound bomb for every human being in Vietnam. It was estimated that there were 20 million bomb craters in the country. In addition, poisonous sprays were dropped by planes to destroy trees and any kind of growth—an area the size of the state of Massachusetts was covered with such poison. Vietnamese mothers reported birth defects in their children."

In addition to the atrocities in Vietnam as well as Cambodia and Laos, Zinn describes the opposition to the war back home. He talks about the statistics of people who were against the war. More lower-class than upper-class people were against the war, a statistic that might surprise people today. Zinn touches on the massacre at Kent State and the high numbers of draft dodgers, conscientious objectors, and people who disobeyed direct military orders to fight.

Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton wrote in the late 1960s: " There may be a limit beyond which many Americans and much of the world will not permit the United States to go. The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1000 non-combatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission, on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one, It could conceivably produce a costly distortion in the American national consciousness."

Eventually even the 'establishment' caved to the pressure of popular opinion: "One sign that the ideas of the antiwar movement had taken hold in the American public was that juries became more reluctant to convict antiwar protesters, and local judges too were treating them differently. In Washington, by 1971, judges were dismissing charges against demonstrators in cases where two years before they almost certainly would have been sent to jail. The antiwar groups who had raided draft boards—the Baltimore Four, the Catonsville Nine, the Milwaukee Fourteen, the Boston Five, and more—were receiving lighter sentences for the same crimes."

In this chapter Zinn sticks mostly to facts, figures, and narratives about Vietnam, but he occasionally makes ties between the opposition to the war in Vietnam and the opposition to fascist and totalitarian use of force for the economic benefit of a ruling power. He writes about how blacks in particular tended to be anti war because they could see parallels between the struggles of the brutalized Vietnamese people and themselves. There promises to be more about class struggle in the next chapter.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 17

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."
Zinn starts the chapter (17) by sharing some of the powerful poetry and prose of the Harlem Renaissance. I had learned in one of my classes that Richard Wright was first a communist and then became a radical conservative later in his life. Reading Zinn helps me understand why - when Communism as such becomes a self-serving rather than a people-serving Entity, it's time to move on. As usual, it's not about a title or a name but about whether something helps or hurts the U.S. economy.

Harry Truman created a Committe on Civil Rights in 1946: "Truman's Committee was blunt about its motivation in making these recommendations. Yes, it said, there was "moral reason": a matter of conscience. But there was also an "economic reason"- discrimination was costly to the country, wasteful of its talent. And, perhaps most important, there was an international reason:
"Our position in the post-war world is so vital to the future that our smallest actions have tar- reaching effects. .. . We cannot escape the fact that our civil rights record has been an issue in world politics. The world's press and radio are full of it. . ., Those with competing philosophies have stressed-and are shamelessly distorting-our shortcomings. . . . They have tried to prove our democracy an empty fraud, and our nation a consistent oppressor of underprivileged people. This may seem ludicrous to Americans, but it is sufficiently important to worry our friends. The United States is not so strong, the final triumph of the democratic ideal is not so inevitable that we can ignore what the world thinks of us or our record."
 Kind of resonates with me today as well.

Finally Truman began slowly enforcing laws that had been on the books for a while, things like the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. Segregation ended by law but was followed with a lot of backlash and a lot of the important Civil Rights stories we all know about.

Here's one I hadn't heard:

In Lee County, Georgia, after the events of 1961-1962, a black teenager named James Crawford joined SNCC and began taking black people to the county courthouse to vote. One day, bringing a woman there, he was approached by the deputy registrar. Another SNCC worker took notes on the conversation:
REGISTRAR: What do you want?
CRAWFORD: I brought this lady down to register.
REGISTRAR: (after giving the woman a card to fill out and sending her outside in the hall) Why did you bring this lady down here?
CRAWFORD: Because she wants to be a first class citizen like y'all.
REGISTRAR: Who are you to bring people down to register?
CRAWFORD: It's my job.
REGISTRAR: Suppose you get two bullets in your head right now?
CRAWFORD: I got to die anyhow.
REGISTRAR: If I don't do it, I can get somebody else to do it. (No reply)
REGISTRAR: Are you scared?
REGISTRAR: Suppose somebody came in that door and shoot you in the back of the head right now. What would you do?
CRAWFORD:I couldn't do nothing. If they shoot me in the back of the head there are people coming from all over the world.
CRAWFORD: What people?
REGISTRAR: The people I work for.

More stringent and effective laws were passed to give blacks federal physical protection when they went to register to vote. Yet the violence against blacks escalated. When a contingent went to march on Washington, the Democrats in power tried to pacify and [my words] whitewash the situation. In many ways, the politicians of that and other times have used the momentum of morally correct movements but tried to dull it and twist it to their own benefit, to control it for their own contexts.

Zinn writes about the difference between the Civil Rights movement in the South, which started out as peacefully as possible (and in so doing helped keep national opinion on the side of the oppressed), while the movement in the North faced different problems and different practices.

Malcolm X and many like him advocated for Black Power. In 1964 he said: "You'll get freedom by letting your enemy know that you'll do anything to get your freedom; then you'll get it. It's the only way you'll get it. When you get that kind of attitude, they'll label you as a "crazy Negro," or they'll call you a "crazy nigger"—they don't say Negro. Or they'll call you an extremist or a subversive, or seditious, or a red or a radical. But when you stay radical long enough and get enough people to be like you, you'll get your freedom." Strength and persistent were important because other means weren't working.

Martin Luther King Jr. approached the issue from a different angle and "became more and more concerned about problems untouched by civil rights laws-problems coming out of poverty. In the spring of 1968, he began speaking out, against the advice of some Negro leaders who feared losing friends in Washington, against the war in Vietnam. He connected war and poverty:
"... it's inevitable that we've got to bring out the question of the tragic mix-up in priorities. We are spending all of this money for death and destruction, and not nearly enough money for life and constructive development... when the guns of war become a national obsession, social needs inevitably suffer."
The FBI had him followed and threatened, and I believe it was his opposition to the imperialistic corporate fascism he saw in our foreign and domestic policy that got him killed (I've written about this, quoting King at length, at the link cited).

A few stories of the other atrocities at the time:
  1. In the 1967 riots in Detroit, three black teen-agers were killed in the Algiers Motel. Three Detroit policemen and a black private guard were tried for this triple murder. The defense conceded, a UPI dispatch said, that the four men had shot two of the blacks. A jury exonerated them.
  2. In Jackson, Mississippi, in the spring of 1970, on the campus of Jackson State College, a Negro college, police laid down a 28-second barrage of gunfire, using shotguns, rifles, and a submachine gun. Four hundred bullets or pieces of buckshot struck the girls' dormitory and two black students were killed. A local grand jury found the attack "justified" and U.S. District Court Judge Harold Cox (a Kennedy appointee) declared that students who engage in civil disorders "must expect to he injured or killed."
  3. In Boston in April 1970, a policeman shot and killed an unarmed black man, a patient in a ward in the Boston City Hospital, firing five shots after the black man snapped a towel at him. The chief judge of the municipal court of Boston exonerated the policeman. (This italicizsed list is quoted directly from Zinn.)
Stuff like this continued to happen and the government tried different means to enforce integration, sometimes successfully but more often resulting in class conflicts between rich and poor as well as race conflicts. As usual, it was the powerful rich against the systematically and repeatedly oppressed.

Zinn, Chapter 16

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."

In Chapter 16, it does not appear that Zinn is trying to argue that WWII was an unjust war, merely that it was a hypocritical war. Hitler and his totalitarian regime were evil, but so have been countless other global atrocities that we as a nation have chosen to ignore. When we have intervened in other places - like Latin America and Asia - it has been to improve our ability to acquire resources and improve our trade conditions.

Zinn claims convincingly that the way we interfered in World War II (and we ignored the poor treatment of Jews in Germany throughout the 30s and sold oil to Italy after fascism had already taken root) was not for moral but for pragmatic capitalistic and imperialistic reasons. "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."

I imagine some readers will be outraged by this. Zinn knows this and backs it up further: "It was not Hitler's attacks on the Jews that brought the United States into World War II, any more than the enslavement of 4 million blacks brought Civil War in 1861. Italy's attack on Ethiopia, Hitler's invasion of Austria, his takeover of Czechoslovakia, his attack on Poland-none of those events caused the United States to enter the war, although Roosevelt did begin to give important aid to England. What brought the United States fully into the war was the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Surely it was not the humane concern for Japan's bombing of civilians that led to Roosevelt's outraged call for war-Japan's attack on China in 1937, her bombing of civilians at Nan king, had not provoked the United States to war. It was the Japanese attack on a link in the American Pacific Empire that did it."

But no matter how we got into it, our plan was clear. "In April 1944 a State Department official said: "As you know, we've got to plan on enormously increased production in this country after the war, and the American domestic market can't absorb all that production indefinitely. There won't be any question about our needing greatly increased foreign markets."" As we've seen throughout the book, if the market doesn't exist already, we create it.

Zinn discusses the ways we ended the war and how we gained from it. He also talks about the atrocities we committed against Americans in the name of patriotism and security. As usual, we promoted racism and xenophobia so that those with power and control could maintain it more easily. Go ahead, read the chapter.

Zinn also talks about the fascinating ways that the government created the Cold War and used it to manipulate Americans into buying into oppressive and exploitive foreign policy decisions.

"World events right after [WWII] made it easier to build up public support for the anti-Communist crusade at home. In 1948, the Communist party in Czechoslovakia ousted non-Communists from the government and established their own rule. The Soviet Union that year blockaded Berlin, which was a jointly occupied city isolated inside the Soviet sphere of East Germany, forcing the United States to airlift supplies into Berlin. In 1949, there was the Communist victory in China, and in that year also, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. In 1950 the Korean war began. These were all portrayed to the public as signs of a world Communist conspiracy.

"Not as publicized as the Communist victories, but just as disturbing to the American government, was the upsurge all over the world of colonial peoples demanding independence. Revolutionary movements were growing—in Indochina against the French; in Indonesia against the Dutch; in the Philippines, armed rebellion against the United States."

Zinn talks about McCarthyism, how Republicans started it and Democrats helped implement the prosecutions and censureships. The Red Scare unified even the more liberal parts of society against Communisism, permitting the military to get bigger and stronger to defend against the enemy. "At the start of 1950, the total U.S. budget was about $40 billion, and the military part of it was about $12 billion. But by 1955, the military part alone was $40 billion out of a total of $62 billion."

"By 1970, the U.S. military budget was $80 billion and the corporations involved in military production were making fortunes. Two-thirds of the 40 billion spent on weapons systems was going to twelve or fifteen giant industrial corporations, whose main reason for existence was to fulfill government military contracts. Senator Paul Douglass, an economist and chairman of the Joint Economic Committee of the Senate, noted that "six-sevenths of these contracts are not competitive. . . . In the alleged interest of secrecy, the government picks a company and draws up a contract in more or less secret negotiations."" You can bet I know this to be true. My dad was a fighter pilot in the Air Force, then retired and went to work for Boeing and Lockheed Martin. As a country, we wanted control over oil and other resources, so we interfered in the governments of South America and Lebanon and Cuba.

" The country was on a permanent war economy which had big pockets of poverty, but there were enough people at work, making enough money, to keep things quiet. The distribution of wealth was still unequal. From 1944 to 1961, it had not changed much: the lowest fifth of the families received 5 percent of all the income; the highest fifth received 45 percent of all the income. In 1953, 1.6 percent of the adult population owned more than 80 percent of the corporate stock and nearly 90 percent of the corporate bonds. About 200 giant corporations out of 200,000 corporations—one-tenth of 1 percent of all corporations—controlled about 60 percent of the manufacturing wealth of the nation."

The military was huge and ensuring that big business's interests were being favored all around the world. At home, though, the disparity continued. Thus Zinn concludes this chapter: "Nothing had to be done for blacks. Nothing had to be done to change the economic structure. An aggressive foreign policy could continue. The country seemed under control. And then, in the 1960s, came a series of explosive rebellions in every area of American life, which showed that all the system's estimates of security and success were wrong."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 15

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 15

The war was over, but still the stirkes continued.

In response to a particularly disruptive strike in Seattle, the city's major wrote: "The so-called sympathetic Seattle strike was an attempted revolution. That there was no violence does not alter the fact. .. . The intent, openly and covertly announced, was for the overthrow of the industrial system; here first, then everywhere. .. . True, there were no flashing guns, no bombs, no killings. Revolution, I repeat, doesn't need violence. The general strike, as practiced in Seattle, is of itself the weapon of revolution, all the more dangerous because quiet. To succeed, it must suspend everything; stop the entire life stream of a community. . .. That is to say, it puts the government out of operation. And that is all there is to revolt-no matter how achieved."

A writer in the periodical The Nation wrote later that same year, "The common man .. . losing faith in the old leadership, has experienced a new access of self- confidence, or at least a new recklessness, a readiness to take chances on his own account . .. authority cannot any longer be imposed from above; it comes automatically from below."

This isn't a difference between Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal - both options in this false polarity point to a pyramid scheme of perverted capitalism.

As he wrote in previous chapters, Zinn describes in Chapter 15 how the establishment relied on racism and xenophobia to stop strikes, pitting one ethnic group against the other to distract them from the struggle between the working class and the ownership class. Of course, it probably didn't help the ruling class that there was an influx of immigrants who sought to improve their stations in life by finding horrible conditions in their home countries. This probably made it easier for companies to find cheap, plentiful labor. Socialism dwindled as the KKK was revived and expanded.

On one hand, "There was some truth to the standard picture of the twenties as a time of prosperity and fun-the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties. Unemployment was down, from 4,270,000 in 1921 to a little over 2 million in 1927. The general level of wages for workers rose. Some farmers made a lot of money. The 40 percent of all families who made over $2,000 a year could buy new gadgets: autos, radios, refrigerators. Millions of people were not doing badly-and they could be shut out of the picture the others-the tenant farmers, black and white, the immigrant families in the big cities either without work or not making enough to get the basic necessities."

"But," Zinn continues, "prosperity was concentrated at the top. While from 1922 to 1929 real wages in manufacturing went up per capita 1.4 percent a year, the holders of common stocks gained 16.4 percent a year. Six million families (42 percent of the total) made less than $1,000 a year. One-tenth of 1 percent of the families at the top received as much income as 42 percent of the families at the bottom, according to a report of the Brookings Institution. Every year in the 1920s, about 25,000 workers were killed on the job and 100,000 permanently disabled. Two million people in New York City lived in tenements condemned as rattraps."

Enter the Fourth Estate: "It was, in fact, only the upper ten percent of the population that enjoyed a marked increase in real income. But the protests which such facts normally have evoked could not make themselves widely or effectively felt. This was in part the result of the grand strategy of the major political parties. In part it was the result of the fact that almost all the chief avenues to mass opinion were now controlled by large-scale publishing industries," wrote historian Merle Curti about the 1920s.

Amidst these strikes and income disparity came "The stock market crash of 1929, which marked the beginning of the Great Depression of the United States[. It] came directly from wild speculation which collapsed and brought the whole economy down with it. But, as John Galbraith says in his study of that event (The Great Crash), behind that speculation was the fact that "the economy was fundamentally unsound." He points to very unhealthy corporate and banking structures, an unsound foreign trade, much economic misinformation, and the "bad distribution of income" (the highest 5 percent of the population received about one-third of all personal income)."

The depression brought fates worse than the strikes as the poor lost their jobs, their homes, their means of providing for their families. Zinn's chapter provides countless snippets of inviduals' sad stories. When these individuals realized that the government would not help them or would not help them up, many took matters into their own hands. Some forcibly borrowed/stole groceries with which to feed their families. Others developed elaborate systems and communities of trade.

Among those still working, strikes continued and got "worse" (to the companies) and more creative. Workers didn't have to rely on their union leaders to organize sit-down strikes, in which people chose collectively to stop working at their stations. One advantage was that they didn't free up the positions for strikebreakers to come through and take up. Corporations didn't like this, and even some bigger and increasingly organized union leaders didn't like it either, so more laws and more deals with unions were passed. Zinn interprets it thusly: "Thus, two sophisticated ways of controlling direct labor action developed in the mid-thirties. First, the National Labor Relations Board would give unions legal status, listen to them, settling certain of their grievances. Thus it could moderate labor rebellion by channeling energy into elections-just as the constitutional system channeled possibly troublesome energy into voting. The NLRB would set limits in economic conflict as voting did in political conflict. And second, the workers' organization itself, the union, even a militant and aggressive union like the CIO, would channel the workers' insurrectionary energy into contracts, negotiations, union meetings, and try to minimize strikes, in order to build large, influential, even respectable organizations."

As this book (that I've added to my to-read list) puts it, "Factory workers had their greatest influence, and were able to exact their most substantial concessions from government, during the Great Depression, in the years before they were organized into unions. Their power during the Depression was not rooted in organization, but in disruption." I believe in the power of organization but not when it (the organization) becomes its own justification for being.

I can't say this better, even as I read more to learn about its nuances and question its veracity: "The coming of World War II weakened the old labor militancy of the thirties because the war economy created millions of new jobs at higher wages. The New Deal had succeeded only in reducing unemployment from 13 million to 9 million. It was the war that put almost everyone to work, and the war did something else: patriotism, the push for unity of all classes against enemies overseas, made it harder to mobilize anger against the corporations. During the war, the CIO and AFL pledged to call no strikes."

Also "Still, the grievances of workers were such-wartime "controls" meant their wages were being controlled better than prices-that they felt impelled to engage in many wildcat strikes: there were more strikes in 1944 than in any previous year in American history, says Jeremy Brecher." and "The thirties and forties showed more clearly than before the dilemma of working people in the United States. The system responded to workers' rebellions by finding new forms of control-internal control by their own organizations as well as outside control by law and force. But along with the new controls came new concessions. These concessions didn't solve basic problems; for many people they solved nothing. But they helped enough people to create an atmosphere of progress and improvement, to restore some faith in the system," which I cite again as I'm borrowing large chunks directly from Zinn himself.

Zinn also summarizes the merits and dissapointments of the New Deal, acknowledging what it did well but making it clear that he thought it didn't do enough.

What's interesting to me is to read the accounts of individuals struggling, suffering. Even the most hard-nosed conservatives today, when met with such injustice, respond with compassion. Many of them (us/me) feel impotent when faced with such systemic issues of injustice. Some, like author Daniel Quinn, try to seek the deeper roots of injustice. Others, like so-called "eco-terrorist" and author Derrick Jensen, become angry and lash back at the system itself, proposing at times that we take out more than just the specific offenders in order to fix the system from its roots. He believes that even when people are faced with the sad facts, they refuse to act because they are greedy and self-serving. I'm not quite that hopeless. Right now I'll stick with feelings of compassion and sometimes righteous anger. And I'll try to help educate myself and others through reading, talking, advocating, marching, volunteering, and (often insufficiently) blogging.

Next: WWII

Zinn, Chapter 14

This chapter is about World War I. It doesn't much discuss the supposed military purposes of the war but rather the political purposes and then the way the civilized West reacted to it.

Political purposes a la Zinn: "Back in 1907, Woodrow Wilson had said in a lecture at Columbia University: "Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. . . . the doors of the nations which are closed must be battered down." In his 1912 campaign he said: "Our domestic markets no longer suffice, we need foreign markets." In a memo to Bryan he described his aim as "an open door to the world," and in 1914 he said he supported "the righteous conquest of foreign markets.""

W.E.B. Du Bois looked at an even grander scale, bringing up how the increased wealth in nations such as the U.S. was built on the spoils of, basically, Africa. The land of Africa had diamonds, minerals, other precious commodities, and the stronger, whiter nations came in and stole them with Imperialism, leaving the natives desolate. "Du Bois saw the ingenuity of capitalism in uniting exploiter and exploited-creating a safety valve for explosive class conflict. "It is no longer simply the merchant prince, or the aristocratic monopoly, or even the employing class, that is exploiting the world: it is the nation, a new democratic nation composed of united capital and labor."

Zinn writes, "The United States fitted that idea of Du Bois. American capitalism needed international rivalry-and periodic war-to create an artificial community of interest between rich and poor, supplanting the genuine community of interest among the poor that showed itself in sporadic movements. How conscious of this were individual entrepreneurs and statesmen? That is hard to know. But their actions, even if half-conscious, instinctive drives to survive, matched such a scheme. And in 1917 this demanded a national consensus for war."

As for how we and the Allies in Europe handled the PR: "Back home, the British were not told of the slaughter. One English writer recalled: "The most bloody defeat in the history of Britain . . . might occur . . . and our Press come out bland and copious and graphic with nothing to show that we had not had quite a good day-a victory really..." The same thing was happening on the German side; as Erich Maria Remarque wrote in his great novel, on days when men by the thousands were being blown apart by machine guns and shells, the official dispatches announced "All Quiet on the Western Front."

This reminds me so much of the obvious PR disaster that was Vietnam and how the media made sure during Desert Storm to put a good face on the war at all times. More recently, I am reminded of how the covers of recent issues of Time magazine have been grossly different in the U.S. and abroad. Everywhere else we see pictures and read stories of the many conflicts around the world, while stateside it's pictures of puppies and discussions of why anxiety is good for you (nevermind sharing real world issues that might increase one's anxiety).

If you disagreed with the war, you certainly shouldn't say anything about it. The Espionage Act had some points that made sense, but some of its provisions (many since repealed... and then exploded in the much more recent Patriot Act and even more recent Obama-signed bills) were just heinous.

"Two months after the [Espionage Act] passed, a Socialist named Charles Schenck was arrested in Philadelphia for printing and distributing fifteen thousand leaflets that denounced the draft law and the war. The leaflet recited the Thirteenth Amendment provision against "involuntary servitude" and said the Conscription Act violated this. Conscription, it said, was "a monstrous deed against humanity in the interests of the financiers of Wall Street." And: "Do not submit to intimidation."

"Schenck was indicted, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to six months in jail for violating the Espionage Act. (it turned out to be one of the shortest sentences given in such cases.) Schenck appealed, arguing that the Act, by prosecuting speech and writing, violated the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.. . ."" Even the liberal Oliver Wendell Holmes agreed that he was guilty.

People who spoke or wrote against the wall were imprisoned. This is because when the war started, the majority of men drafted tried to get out of it. There was not popular support for the war and people wanted none of it. 2000 people were prosecuted under the Espionage Act. There were 65,000 conscientious objectors to World War I in the U.S. Zinn shares many stories, anecdotes, and events about it all.

After the war, the government still feared the pull of socialism. One way to counteract this was to create a new enemy. One way they did this was to start deporting immigrants (which was not in their Constitutional power to do), pretty much for no good reason. Sexism and racism still ran rampant as well, and, of course, a general classism - the rich owners against the poor workers. Zinn concludes this chapter, " There had been reforms. The patriotic fervor of war had been invoked. The courts and jails had been used to reinforce the idea that certain ideas, certain kinds of resistance, could not be tolerated. And still, even from the cells of the condemned, the message was going out: the class war was still on in that supposedly classless society, the United States. Through the twenties and the thirties, it was still on."