Interviews With Howard Zinn
"When you say the country was founded by people who believed in dissent, well, they believed in their own right to dissent in the relationship with England. But it happens very often that people who believe in their own right to dissent, when they gain power they don't really accept the idea that other people have the right to dissent. And so, for instance, when the Founding Fathers, who very powerfully defended their right to dissent against the British when they expelled the British, and then they were faced with dissenters, like the former rebels of Shay's Rebellion in 1786, they sent an army to put them down."
More recently, he has been an outspoken critic of the so-called war on terrorism. This spring he published Terrorism and War, a book exploring the loss of civil liberties during war and the history of American resistance to wars from World War I to the war in Afghanistan.
In this clip, Zinn recounts his role as an expert on civil disobedience in the trial of the Camden 28, as well other Vietnam war protesters. The civil disobedience by the Camden 28 is described on the Camden 28 film website as follows
"Why can’t we take our cue from the rescue workers, from the compassion shown by the medical teams, the doctors and nurses and medical students, the firemen and policemen, whose thought—when they are taking care of these people and trying to find people and help them and cure them, their thought is not of retaliation. No, their thought is of human compassion and how to end the suffering."
KREISLER: Let's talk a little about your youth first and then talk about the other things. How specifically do you think your parents shaped your character?
ZINN: The only influence that had in my life was my observation of their lives. My observation that my father was working very hard, of honest hardworking men. My mother working very hard, raising four sons and yet, of course, they had nothing to show for it. That is, they were perfect counterpoints to the Horatio Alger myth that if you work hard in this country you will get somewhere. And I think that that intensified my feeling about the injustice of an economic system in which there are people all over the country like my parents who worked very, very hard had nothing to show for it.
"I talk to audiences in Oklahoma and Texas and here and there and mostly to audiences of people who don't really know my work. I certainly don't expect them to be sympathetic to my ideas. When I express my ideas — and they are radical ideas — except that I don't start off by saying, 'I'm now going to tell you radical ideas.' Or, 'I'm now going to expound ideas of socialism or attack capitalism. Or, 'This is going to be a hate imperialism talk.' None of that. People respond to common sense ideas about foreign policy and domestic policy. It encourages me about the potential in this country, despite who is running it."
"I mean, what’s astonishing, or maybe not so astonishing, is here over 200 years later, we are still operating with an undemocratic system of electing the president of the United States, a system which not only was flawed from the beginning by the requirements of the founding fathers, but had become more and more flawed as the election process has become dominated by two major parties, which monopolize the political arena, and dominated more and more by the fact that money decides who can reach the American people."
"But what the history of this country shows, and especially in this century, is that democracy comes alive when people who see that the formal structure of government doesn’t help them. The formal structure of government does not change the 12-hour day, doesn’t change the conditions of work, doesn’t change the power of the corporations over working people. When people see that that formal structure doesn’t work, then they organize. They go out on strike. They demonstrate."
Howard Zinn looking back at the millennium.
"My aim is to kind of provoke people to get active, people who've got some awareness of what's going on in the world, who have enough awareness to come to one of my talks. They have a little bit of awareness, and my hope is to increase that awareness, and turn it into action.… I use history to expose information which has been concealed, and which is troubling. History has a very—you might say gloomy—message when you look at what has happened in history. And then on the other hand to counter that with the stories of social movements that have done very inspiring and marvelous things."