The incalculable importance of Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States cannot be expressed in words, so this sentence ends here. Anyone who has read the book should understand, anyone who hasn’t should read it and do the same. To read Zinn’s history of this country is to be dragged face-first through a continent-wide gutter of senseless bloodshed, unending atrocity, and omnipresent injustice, before arriving, at gutter’s end, upon the vile cultural moment known as the present. The words of this dead person are as relevant to what’s happening in Iraq and Ferguson and Israel as anything recently written on the subjects. Had I not read the book, the situation in Ferguson, Missouri wouldn’t make half as much sense to me as it does. Why would the media, in a week where J.P Morgan, a company worth $3.4 trillion, was fined only $9 billion for its role in the Financial Crisis, devote so much coverage to lower class African Americans warring against middle class police officers? Well, it’s because the common enemy of the lower and middle classes understands how to exert control, has understood for centuries how to exert control, and has perfected its unjust system of societal control to such a degree that it has become the defining, horrible essence of what we fallaciously refer to as freedom. Fun! Here are some personal highlights.
My Howard Zinn Highlight Reel
Me: How nice of a guy was Christopher Columbus to the “Indians” he “discovered” in “The New World”?
Zinn: “In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where Columbus and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. Within two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.”
Me: And that, my friends, is the greatest Italian who ever lived.
Me: Columbus, sure, everyone was a barbarian back then. George Washington was chill though, right?
Zinn: “…a smaller mutiny took place in the New Jersey Line [during the Revolutionary War], involving two hundred men who defied their officers and started for the state capital at Trenton. Washington was ready. Six hundred men marched on the mutineers and surrounded and disarmed them. Three ringleaders were put on trial immediately, in the field. One was pardoned, and two were shot by firing squads made up of their friends, who wept as they pulled the triggers. ‘An example,” Washington said.”
Me: Sure, sure, but we’ve evolved since then!
Howard Zinn (quoting a newspaper editor, Thomas Fortune, in 1880): “The white man who shoots a negro always goes free, while the negro who steals a hog is sent to the chain gang for ten years.”
Howard Zinn: “The two-party system came into its own in this time. To give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control.”
Me: Ummmmmmmm (*Obama yells “fore!” somewhere on Nantucket*)
Howard Zinn: “Dead Filipinos were piled so high that the Americans used their bodies for breastworks.”
Howard Zinn: “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. In addition, poisonous sprays were dropped by panes to destroy trees and any kind of growth–an area the size of Massachusetts was covered with such poison.”
Howard Zinn: “A citizenry disillusioned with politics and with what pretended to be intelligent discussions of politics turned its attention (or its attention tured) to entertainment, to gossip, to ten thousand schemes for self-help. Those at its margins became violent, finding scapegoats within one’s group (as with poor-black on poor-black violence), or against other races, immigrants, demonized foreigners, welfare mothers, minor criminals (standing in for untouched major criminals). Ronald Reagan was elected as President.”
Howard Zinn: “Ronald Reagan was reelected as President of the United States.”
Howard Zinn: “From there, everything went straight to shit.”
ME: From there, everything went straight to shit.