Audio and Video with Howard Zinn
"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 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.
Last week’s announcement of the proposed merger of two oil giants, Exxon and Mobil, would create not only the largest oil company in the world, but also the world’s single largest corporation. We speak with historian Howard Zinn for the historical context of the merger, as well as his philosophy on life and activism.
HOWARD ZINN: "It’s just part of a long-term development in American history of the increasing power of corporations."
"HOWARD ZINN: Whatever we’re doing, we’re urged to be neutral. And to be neutral in an unneutral world, that is, to be neutral in a world where thing are already happening—that is, children are already going hungry, wars are going on, and terrible things are going on—and you can’t—to be neutral in a world like that is to collaborate with whatever’s happening. And we don’t want to—the people we’re honoring here tonight have chosen not to collaborate."
"Today we’re going to play a speech [Howard Zinn] gave in California for the founding convention of the Alliance, a political movement led by Ronnie Dugger. HOWARD ZINN: After you lived a little and struggled a little and been involved a little, you learn at some point along the line that that’s not quite democracy. It’s very far, very far from democracy. I remember seeing—that voting is a puny act in a society which is much, much more complex and where power and people have a much more intricate relationship than they could possibly have in a voting booth.
HOWARD ZINN: That word "disinterested" has been used a lot. And I never believed in doing disinterested history. I didn’t believe it was possible to do disinterested history. History always represents interests of one sort or another. History always has an effect.
In 1985, Dr. Howard Zinn testified for the defense in the criminal trial of seven citizens who hammered equipment and poured blood on blueprints for the Cruise Missile and Missile X factory in Wilmington, MA. The video shows Dr. Zinn’s compelling testimony in which he makes the case for non-violent civil disobedience as instrumental in changing American history and advancing democracy.