Howard Zinn- was an American historian, author, playwright, and social activist. He was a political science professor at Boston University. Zinn described himself as “something of an anarchist, something of asocialist. Maybe a democratic socialist.” He wrote extensively about the civil rights and anti-war movements, and labor history of the United States.
His memoir, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, was also the title of a 2004 documentary about Zinn’s life and work. Zinn wrote more than 20 books, including his best-selling and influential A People’s History of the United States.
Still, understanding the complexities, this book will be skeptical of governments and their attempts, through politics and culture, to ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nationhood pretending to a common interest.
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.” I don’t want to invent victories for people’s movements. But to think that history-writing must aim simply to recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat.
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 moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.
The writer’s approach is narrative and at the same time descriptive. Basically, the author wrote this book in great shape and emotionally driven. He wrote the account with critics and analysis in the political and cultural dynamics of the state on how the writers of history able to manifest the idea of “common cost” pretending to be.
This book consisted 21 thorough chapters highlighting the significant events from the history of United States.
In chapter I, the author talked about Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress, where he discussed the coming of Columbus when he first set foot to the continent and how the natives looked like during the pre-colonial age as he descriptively narrate the physical attributes of the natives, their appearances, their own customs before the colonizers, their means of living, moral standards and their geographical set up. It also made comparison from different conquistadors of American continent and how the natives fought against colonizers. The author were able to ask these questions:
“Was all this bloodshed and deceit-from Columbus to Cortes, Pi- zarro, the Puritans-a necessity for the human race to progress from savagery to civilization? Was Morison right in burying the story of genocide inside a more important story of human progress? Perhaps a persuasive argument can be made-as it was made by Stalin when he killed peasants for industrial progress in the Soviet Union, as it was made by Churchill explaining the bombings of Dresden and Ham- burg, and Truman explaining Hiroshima. But how can the judgment be made if the benefits and losses cannot be balanced because the losses are either unmentioned or mentioned quickly?”
If there are necessary sacrifices to be made for human progress, is it not essential to hold to the principle that those to be sacrificed must make the decision themselves? We can all decide to give up some- thing of ours, but do we have the right to throw into the pyre the children of others, or even our own children, for a progress which is not nearly as clear or present as sickness or health, life or death?
In the next chapter, chapter II entitled; Drawing the Color Line, basically suggest and provoke the hostile living conditions of slaves, black and white under different level of circumstances. It also explained as why slavery prevailed despite rebellious acts countering brutality and unjustness among the slaves. Howard Zinn, noted how the masters could economically benefit from its slaves. The author also brought up the factors and reasons as to why slavery sprouted in the continent as he stated “We see now a complex web of historical threads to ensnare blacks for slavery in America: the desperation of starving settlers, the special helplessness of the displaced African, the powerful incentive of profit for slave trader and planter, the temptation of superior status for poor whites, the elaborate controls against escape and rebellion, the legal and social punishment of black and white collaboration.”·· “The system was psychological and physical at the same time. The slaves were taught discipline, were impressed again and again with the idea of their own inferiority to “know their place,” to see blackness as a sign of subordination, to be awed by the power of the master, to merge their interest with the master’s, destroying their own individual needs.”
In the 3rd chapter of the book entitled “Persons of Mean and Vile Condition”, Howard Zinn emphasizes the people’s condition, and its state. The author discussed how the people were treated from the newly founded colonies, the struggle of the mass from the hostility and animosity. He jotted down the poor condition of the people from enslavement, how it was very common for a slave to be beaten and whipped every time then women were sexually exploited like nothing new, the usual scenario. How colonial laws existed but were never exercised. This chapter talks deeply to the wretched lives of the slaves over long period of moral neglect from continuity.
In chapter IV entitled “Tyranny Is Tyranny”; this chapter presents the outcome of slavery and hostilities to the English colonist where it mounted a deep regional sentiment to a common goal, to outcast the English throne from entangling the natives from oppression and suppression. In this chapter, the author enumerated the early uprisings and revolts and later how it went to revolution.
Chapter V entitled “A Kind of Revolution”, the chapter presents the internal struggle for mobilization, where the mass was divided into committing themselves and fight for the cost of revolution or to exclude themselves from a great danger, some stayed neutral. According to Howard Zinn, conflicts have arose before their common enemy, recruitments for militias had gone wrong and even escalated dispute over the matter. “What soldiers in the Revolution could do only rarely; rebel against their authorities, civilians could do much more easily. Ronald Hoffman says: “The Revolution plunged the states of Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and, to a much lesser degree, Virginia into divisive civil conflicts that persisted during the entire period of struggle.” The southern lower classes resisted being mobilized for the revolution. They saw themselves under the rule of a political elite, win or lose against the British.”
In chapter VI entitled “The Intimately Oppressed” basically talks about the history’s long been denied regard for the women on its role and importance in the society. The author discussed the different characteristics of women from one state to another. He contested the depiction of the society’s common knowledge about women, which were so called child bearers and sexual apparatus for men. Enumerating the crucial conditions of women from the age of colonization to revolution. Women before men composed almost half of the population of the old society yet gets a little regard for its contribution highlighting only of those men without reconsidering their importance. In this chapter the author collected stories of women which history did not tell the world and simply putted aside.
In the seventh chapter of the book, entitled “As Long as Grass Grows or Water Runs” it presents the idea of a bloody integration to a hope it could’ve been modified to a little extent. However, Howard Zinn pointed out the lapses of those revered American heroes for the outcome, how these leaders even initiated the marginalization casting out the native Indians from their settlements and acquired those territories like it’s a manifest call to do so. As stated in the book, an article mentioned and states that “a smaller sacrifice; that the aboriginal population had accommodated themselves to the inevitable change of their condition. . . . But such a wish is vain. A barbarous people, depending for subsistence upon the scanty and precarious supplies furnished by the chase, cannot live in contact with a civilized community.”
In chapter VIII entitled “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God”, it presents the gradual expansion of United States to the extent of waging war from Mexico which then became known as the Mexican-American War, that have driven with political aggression bombarded with its idea of “manifest destiny” which again to conquer and expand. The war had provoked factional ideas and stands as to either go with it or not. Thus created again an opposing perception with a grasp of political and personal interest.
“The determination of our slaveholding President to prosecute the war, and the probability of his success in wringing from the people men and money to carry it on, is made evident, rather than doubtful, by the puny opposition arrayed against him. No politician of any considerable distinction or eminence seems willing to hazard his popularity with his party . . . by an open and unqualified disapprobation of the war. None seem willing to take their stand for peace at all risks; and all seem willing that the war should be carried on, in some form or other.”
Chapter IX, in this chapter entitled “Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom”, as stated on its first line, the author wrote “The United States government’s support of slavery was based on an overpowering practicality.” Thus· it would take either a full-scale slave rebellion or a full-scale war to end such a deeply entrenched system.”
As Howard stated, “with slavery abolished by order of the government-true, a government pushed hard to do so, by blacks, free and slave, and by white abolitionists-its end could be orchestrated so as to set limits to emanci- pation. Liberation from the top would go only so far as the interests of the dominant groups permitted. If carried further by the momentum of war, the rhetoric of a crusade, it could be pulled back to a safer position. Thus, while the ending of slavery led to a reconstruction of national politics and economics, it was not a radical reconst~uction, but a safe one-in fact, a profitable one.” The chapter presents and contest that the motives for slavery were not actually racial, but economically driven. Thus Americans developed racism largely as a way of justifying the brutal enslavement of African people. Howard again, presented the resentment of the slaves against their masters and rebelled against them. Thus running away was much more realistic than armed insurrection. The emancipation that was enacted was not a complete freedom but “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.”
In Chapter X entitled “The Other Civil War”, it talks about the resistance due to the prevalence of growing inequalities in United States, legislations that was heavily carried by the oppressed citizens, the tenants. These bills were countered by Anti-rent movement and basically defeated and rejected. Allowing the birth of civil conflicts that have led to inevitable consequences with the growing antagonism of the poor.”The period before and after the Civil War is filled with politics, elections, slavery, and the race question. Even where specialized books on the Jacksonian period deal with labor and economic issues they center on the presidency, and thus perpetuate the traditional dependency on heroic leaders rather than people’s strug- gles. Andrew Jackson said he spoke for “the humble members of soci- ety-the farmer, mechanics and laborers. . . .” He certainly did not speak for the Indians being pushed off their lands, or slaves. But the tensions aroused by the developing factory system, the growing immigra- tion, required that the government develop a mass base of support among whites. “Jacksonian Democracy” did just that.”
In chapter XI entitled “Robber Barons and Rebels”, this chapter presents the crucial truth behind the 19th century’s growth and development lays the bearer of burden, the poor which robbed and robbed by the elites or the upper class on the extent of exploitation. As Howard noted that United States is becoming a capitalist, hence lower class being exploited yet propagating the idea for everyone’s well-being thus anyone could and must benefit from it. The chapter also presented the expense of industrialization with its inventions to the working class. Howard pointed out how the federal government supported the literal robbers from the oppressed working class.
Chapter XII, the chapter was entitled “The Empire and the People”, in this chapter, it talks about United States as an emerging superpower that extends its venture from conquering and acquiring new lands. How they prompted aggression to these nations and enacted policy of intimidation. In this chapter the author discussed how United States developed a false platform of recognizing independence and freedom as a natural right and must be exercise where in fact in contrary, they conquer lands and exploit whatever resources they could get and propagated racism on the other hand. Military intervention in Cuba, the war in the Philippines is few good examples on their hypothetical platforms.
“As with other American military interventions, America’s intervention in the Philippines was laced with racist condescension. Many Americans seemed to believe that the war was waged “for the Filipinos’ own good.”
“And would not a foreign adventure deflect some of the rebellious energy that went into strikes and protest movements toward an external enemy? Would it not unite people with government, with the armed forces, instead of against them? This was probably not a conscious plan among most of the elite-but a natural development from the twin drives of capitalism and nationalism.”
Chapter XIII, the 13th chapter talks about the “The Socialist Challenge” basically, this chapter talks about the early 20th century, where the number of strikes was growing at a startling rate. An increasing number of moderate and middle-class people were embracing the idea that capitalists exerted too much power over the country. Around 19th and early 20th century, Americans embraced non-capitalist economic theories and ideologies. Many people, including moderate, middle-class people, recognized the dangers of capitalism and wanted radical change.
Chapter XIV, this chapter presents “War Is the Health of the State”, “War is the health of the state.” As the radical writer Randolph Bourne said, in the midst of the First World War. In United States, at the height of the World War I, socialism was growing, an opposition from a capitalist state. In this chapter, Howard discussed as to how United States joined the great war where it was said to be an economic necessity.
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