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An Ocean of Resistance
An Interview with Howard Zinn
W e have to become not just a military superpower, but a ‘humanitarian’ superpower,” historian Howard Zinn told a large audience at the University of Georgia in April. “Terrorism is the extreme fanatical edge of an ocean of resistance.”
Best known as the author of A People’s History of the United States , Zinn has also written more than 20 other books since he began writing history in 1959 with his book La Guardia in Congress . His other works of history include The Southern Mystique (1964), Disobedience and Democracy (1968), The Politics of History (1970), Declarations of Independence (1991), Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian (1993), The Future of History (1999), Terrorism and War (2002), and his recent Artists in Times of War , published last year. Zinn also is the author of two plays, Marx in Soho and Emma —a play about Emma Goldman.
TANT: You are called a radical historian. Did you arrive at your philosophy by evolution or by epiphany?
ZINN: By evolution. Growing up in a working class environment in New York, working in the shipyards, going to war, teaching at a predominantly black college in Atlanta, and becoming involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements gradually made it clear to me that so much history, such as the history of black people, has been ignored.
What’s the difference between a liberal and a radical?
A liberal thinks that the system is basically good, but that it has a few flaws. A liberal will say that we made a mistake in Vietnam, while a radical will say that we didn’t make a mistake—it was deliberate. Liberals think that you can work within the system and maybe get a better president. Radicals think that the whole system is so corrupt that it will swallow you up and spit you out. Radicals also think that you need to create powerful social movements outside the system that will put pressure on the system, what has been called a permanent culture of resistance.
What do you think are the real motivations for Bush’s war on Iraq?
Everything that the United States does in the Middle East is based on a desire to control the oil resources. A second reason is to have another military base in the region. Military bases are like money to some people—they can never have enough. The third reason is political. Bush knows that if he gets the nation into a war, there will be a rallying around the president.
In an interview with C-SPAN, you called Theodore Roosevelt “the most overrated American president.” Which U.S. president do you consider the worst?
I consider George W. Bush to be the worst American president. He has aligned himself with the most reactionary elements in the country—with corporate wealth and Christian fundamentalists. He sees as our enemies the Islamic fundamentalists and in the U.S. he is representing the Christian fundamentalists.
If Bush is the worst, which president is the best?
would have to call Franklin D. Roosevelt the best. Maybe one of
the reasons he was the best was because he was married to Eleanor
Roosevelt. She had a real compassion for black people and a warm
outlook. FDR was a kind of compassionate aristocrat, even though
he had all kinds of flaws, including his close ties to Southern
racist politicians whose support he depended on. To his credit,
he incurred the wrath of the rich and powerful. In one of his campaigns,
FDR said, “The rich hate me and I welcome their hatred.”
He believed in capitalism, but thought capitalism would be better
served by a more gentle approach.
What historic U.S. figure would you most like to spend time with?
Helen Keller, because she became a fierce antiwar person and supported radical labor unions like the Industrial Workers of the World.
What historical events of the last several decades have not received enough attention in schools and colleges?
Two that come to mind are the migrant farmworkers movement and the rise of activism among disabled people, many of whom are activists in the spirit of the socialist Helen Keller.
What is the greatest danger facing the U.S.?
America’s greatest danger is our becoming a warfare state where the wealth of the country is sacrificed for military adventures abroad with less money for children and the environment—a movement toward a kind of U.S. fascism. That’s an extreme statement, but in the 1930s Sinclair Lewis wrote a book called It Can’t Happen Here about fascism coming to the U.S.
What is the greatest hope?
Our greatest hope is that there will be a new social movement in this country that will unite all those people who do not want us to be a militaristic state and who want the wealth of this county to be used for human needs. It will take that kind of movement to turn this country in a new direction.
Who are some of your favorite historians?
Henry Steele Commager, Charles Beard, and Richard Hofstadter are some of my favorites. Paul Avrich, who writes about early anarchists, is a fine historian.
Who are some of your favorite writers in the nation’s press and what are some of your favorite alternative publications?
I would put Barbara Kingsolver, Barbara Ehrenreich, Arundhati Roy, and James Carroll, a Boston Globe columnist, among the current writers I enjoy. I like Z M agazine , the Nation , the Progressive , and In These Times .
If you could live in another country, what would it be and why?
Canada, because that way I could sneak across the border to have a milkshake with my friends and cheer the Red Sox—and I’d have universal health care.
Ed Tant is a longtime activist from Athens, Georgia and an opinion columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald .
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.