Interviews With Howard Zinn
Legendary historian Howard Zinn joins us to talk about war, torture and the teaching of history. Zinn says had Obama heeded the lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he wouldn’t be escalating U.S. attacks abroad and increasing the size of the U.S. military budget.
Discussion ranges from the U.S. elections, the New Deal in the 1930s, the struggle for racial justice, equal marriage, and the need to recreate a socialist alternative.
"Significant changes occur when social movements reach a critical point of power capable of moving cautious politicians beyond their tendency to keep things as they are — or when these movements, by direct action, bypass the political system and bring about change by acting directly on the obstacles to change."
"We resemble other times in history before the movements were effective — when they were just growing, when they were just developing. The anti-slavery movement had to develop over 30 years. The anti-war movement against Vietnam had to develop over four or five years. The Civil Rights movement had to develop over decades and decades. So, we are in a stage of development. You can’t just look at where we are right now and say, 'Well, we’re not doing it, we’re incapable, we’re hopeless.'"
Q: Is there any hope the US will change its approach to the rest of the world?
"If there is any hope, the hope lies in the American people. [It] lies in American people becoming resentful enough and indignant enough over what has happened to their country, over the loss of dignity in the world, over the starving of human resources in the United States, the starving of education and health, the takeover of the political mechanism by corporate power and the result this has on the everyday lives of the American people."
GMS: Let's start with the second resolution of the March 4 Manifesto: "To devise means for turning research applications away from their present emphasis on military technology toward the solution of pressing social and environmental problems." Would you explain the importance of this idea of scientific reconversion?
It's been a long-standing problem of science being used for destruction or for construction. It goes back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki—it goes back to the atomic bomb. In fact, that probably was the first really dramatic instance of the use of the latest scientific knowledge to kill human beings.
Do you have any advice for Obama?
"Yes. Speak boldly to the American people, the American people want to get out of Iraq. Speak boldly and say, 'I'm going to withdraw from Iraq as fast as ships and planes can carry them,' and I think that Obama will have a much better chance of winning the election because he will be speaking to the hearts of the American people, who really are sick of the war."
What is the state of democracy in America?
HOWARD ZINN: We don’t have a lot of democracy in America today. We have these formal institutions. We have representative government and we have a Bill of Rights… Sure, we are more democratic than an absolutist and totalitarian state, but we in the United States are still quite a long way from democracy and certainly a long way from economic democracy.
What do you want to be remembered for?
HOWARD ZINN: If I want to be remembered for anything, it’s for introducing a different way of thinking about the world, about war, about human rights, about equality, for getting more and more people to think that way. Also, for getting more people to realize that the power which rests so far in the hands of people with wealth and guns, that the power ultimately rests in people themselves and that they can use it. At certain points in history, they have used it.
"There is one central characteristic of anarchism on the matter of means, and that central principle is a principle of direct action. ... In the South, they did not wait for the government to give them a signal, or to go through the courts, to file lawsuits, wait for Congress to pass the legislation. They took direct action; they went into restaurants, were sitting down there and wouldn’t move. They got on those busses and acted out the situation that they wanted to exist."