Howard Zinn was born on December 7 19922 in Brooklyn New York. Zinn was raised in a working-class family in Brooklyn, and flew bombing missions for the United States in World War 2, which experience he uses to shape his opposition to war. Howard Zinn is one of the most respected historians, the author of various books and plays, and a passionate activist for radical change. A clear statement of his nature is his autobiography You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. He is perhaps best known for A People’s History of the United Sates, which presents American history through the eyes of those outside of the political and economic establishment, like the Native Americans, slaves, women, blacks, etc. In his essay “Violence and Human Nature” Howard Zinn points that; even if humans are capable of violent behavior, it is social conditions that harness that cruelty. He warns us to steer clear of the widespread notion that humans are biologically predisposed to violence and warfare.
Mr. Zinn starts off by using an arsenal of famous thinkers, pointing out their pessimistic views and believes on human behavior. Views based on no concrete evidence that we humans are born with this trait called violence. Zinn starts off using Machiavelli’s positive view in the “The Prince” that humans tend to be bad. Zinn add great minds such as Einstein and Freud and their correspondence to illustrate their own views on the subject, and their conclusions that humans are violent by nature. Other scholars are also thrown in to support this traditional view of human nature being evil.
The writer goes on with the idea that scientific evidence doesn’t proves it, and that is the notion that humans are in nature prone to violence. Howard picks on some scientific fields to show as that there is no evidence of human instinct for the kind of aggressive hostility that characterizes war. He turns to sociobiology, where the Harvard professor E.O Wilson in his book “On Human nature” answers with a yes on the question “Are human beings innately aggressive?” and finds his evidence not in his field but as Freud did in History.
Wilson goes on to describe that humans are born with such a trait as violence, that we own it to our genes. Zinn counter attacks this with the following, Stephen Jay Gould a colleague of Wilson and a expert in evolution categorically just replies when asked that there no evidence for such a statement by Wilson. Zinn is starting to show us an interesting pattern, a blueprint that clearly show us that every explanation from those important people look to root their selves with evidence found only in History.
Zinn invites us to illustrate why History is being picked as the field from where those people can pull their evidence of Human violence. It’s easily proven when you choose humans to be evil, you just need to pick your example, and history is flooded with it. Zinn shows us that there is a down side of it picking on history, because it depends on which historical events you examine to be in your favor. It’s dangerous and very biased to follow this trail.
Zinn goes on to convince us that our concentration get deflected by the real cause of violence and war. Zinn uses the 1986 international conference of scientists in Spain to express their conclusion on the question of human nature and violent aggression, to lure as to the very point of the whole essay that society has the power to harness this violent instinct in humans, and not our biological makeup. To further straighten his observation, Zinn uses the well-known Milgram experiment. In sum, carefully controlled experiments demonstrate that we follow others more often than we might like to think. However, it also seems to true that we don’t always conform. We are more likely to conform when authority figures are close by, and are more likely to express our individuality and dissent when the consequences of our actions are more apparent.
Also from the area of anthropology Zinn uses the two tribes of The Forest People and The Mountain People from the studies of Colin Turnbull, to show us what an impact can an out side disturbance have on one tribe, which brought out a violent behavior in them. But the second tribe uninterrupted continued on a gentle and peaceful life.
Howard decided to turn our attention from all does academic studies to the war itself. He gives himself as an example to explain war. Zinn argues that he and his fellow soldiers killed as a result of a set of experiences that brought them to the front lines of war, not because they felt an instinctual compel to do so. He doesn’t view the soldier’s willingness to go to war as genuine to their human nature but is rather triggered by existing social conditions. This is what is expected from you, the pressure of people around him to do his duty. Zinn recalls being brought up to trust that the nation’s political leaders would make just and fair choices, and that the world was divided into good and bad countries, his own country being one of the good. He also recalls being trained not to question orders and being reminded that there was no reason to question those orders since they all stemmed from good political leaders and you should obey those people.
Ones in the war and having such obedience, produced in him by his society, a soldier easily demonstrates the power of culture in extreme ways, like for example the My Lai Massacre. Where a detachment of units annihilated a whole village consisted only by elderly people, women and children. Zinn decides to show us that in the aftermath of the massacre, GI’s as in the case of Charles Hutto said that he did what he was told to do. But we see that also a helicopter offices decides to save as much people as he can from the village below, Howard suggests that men are disposed to war under certain setting.
Society should come to turns to this power which it holds over people harnessing this violent instinct and avoid doing so at all costs.
Courtney from Study Moose
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