By Chet Yarbrough
A People’s History of the United States
Written by: Howard Zinn
Narrated by: Jeff Zinn
The pitfall of history is subjectivity. Howard Zinn offers a coda for history’s myopia. Harry Truman is alleged to have said “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know”. Zinn shows how little Americans know about America’s failure to create a “…more perfect union” (a name given to a speech delivered by Senator Barack Obama on March 18, 2008).
No American institution is untarnished by Zinn’s rumination. Zinn challenges every aspect of American culture. The malpractice of American businesses, politicians and society are exposed by Zinn. Neither Republicans, Democrats, or other party affiliates, escape responsibility for America’s abhorrent actions.
Unadorned historical facts show Indians indiscriminately isolated and murdered, Blacks treated as property and hung, immigrants vilified for being different, wars being waged on the innocent, women being treated unequally, and greed being praised as virtue–all in the face of professed American freedom and equality.
Zinn implies all Presidents; including Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama buy into an economic principle that the business of America is business. (He certainly could have included President Trump.)
With few exceptions, Zinn argues every President tacitly or overtly supports corporate America. The only Presidential exception Zinn notes is Eisenhower’s expressed concern about the military/industrial complex and its penchant for distorting American values.
Zinn recounts Andrew Jackson’s isolation and murder of Indians, Lincoln’s willingness to preserve the union at the cost of slavery, Andrew Johnson’s southern sympathies, Roosevelt’s incarceration of American Japanese, Harry Truman’s decision to nuke Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Carter’s support for Iran’s military dictatorship, Reagan’s expansion of the military/industrial complex, Clinton’s cuts in taxes and welfare, the Bushes’ wars, and Obama’s rescue of the banking industry.
Zinn argues—both Republican and Democratic presidents endorse corporate control of America at the expense of citizen values written into the Constitution.
From discrimination against minorities to unequal pay for women, America has failed to follow the ideals of the Constitution of the United States.
Zinn implies there is never a justification for war; presumably even in the case of WWII.
Some Americans would agree that Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan wars were and are a waste of human lives.
This is a hard argument to dispute when seen in the context of a burgeoning gap between rich and poor, and man’s inhumanity to man. One might argue as some historians do, sovereignty of a country is an inalienable right, even when it is ignored or used as an excuse for war.
There is no moral or ethical justification to countenance political repression, murder, slavery, sexual or racial discrimination. But, the right of sovereign nations to choose their own government seems arguably justified. Genocide is a potential consequence of such a hard rule, but indigenous populations have a right to resist and/or revolt.
What nation (based on its own cultural belief) has the right to invade another country that chooses to victimize its own citizens.
This is not meant to suggest America or any nation founded on beliefs in freedom and equal rights should become isolationist. To the extent that humanitarian relief may be offered by an outside country, it should be offered. Relief would not include transfer of weapons of war, but aid in goods and services meant to sustain life. Outside military intervention in a sovereign country seems destined only to lead to more loss of innocent life.
Taking Zinn’s observations to heart suggests there is no justification for war or violence against our fellow man. However, human nature is what it is. Humans choose what they choose; often out of the instinctual desire for money, power, and prestige, rather than any common good. Individual cultures are based on memes of the country in which they were born.
Invasion of a sovereign country is a slippery slope that only leads to more death and destruction. However, Zinn’s review of history seems to deny all reasons for war. There seem two modern exceptions to Zinn’s argument–WWII and the way H. W. Bush handled the invasion of Kuwait. These two exceptions are clearly related to one country’s violation of another’s sovereignty. And, America’s Presidents enlisted cooperation from other countries, before taking any military action.
It is a dangerous world, but the danger is in human beings and their quest for personal gain; i.e. their greed for money, power, and prestige. America needs to look at itself and its reliance on corporate excess. The gap between rich and poor must be addressed in all nations; not the least of which, the United States. Zinn reminds America of how flawed we are in “A People’s History of the United States”.