Scare Words Leave Scars on Everyone

By Carl Mirra

The 2020 U.S. presidential election has liberals and reactionaries alike unearthing “scare words” like socialism in response to the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. Such words should have been buried in 1991 with the end of the Cold War.

Starting with his characteristic wit and humor, Howard Zinn’s 1989 essay below from Newsday skillfully transitions to the seriousness of such discourse. Scare words are used to “end rational discussion” and “arouse hatred.” In fact, all the uproar over “Socialist Sanders” comment that Cuba has commendable literacy rates is designed precisely to “stop thinking” and “arouse hate.” Curiously Mike Bloomberg’s praise for Mohammad bin Salam and insistence that Xi was not a dictator was largely ignored.

Zinn recalls a 1948 pamphlet, produced by the House Un-American Activities Committee, “100 Things You Should Know About Communism.” It defines Communism as “a system by which one small group seeks to rule the world.” Ironically, readers can decide for themselves whether today’s capitalism fits that definition.

There is much chatter on how to stop fake news. There is one easy step we can all take. Follow Zinn’s advice to stop yourself from being aroused to hatred by scare words.

The news clipping below was retrieved from the Howard Zinn Archives at the Tamiment Library and shared with by Carl Mirra, associate professor, Adelphi University. 

Scare Words Leave Scars on Everyone

By Howard Zinn
Newsday • January 22, 1989 • Transcription of news article

Click to view an image of the original article.

In 1948, a series of pamphlets were distributed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, entitled, “100 Things You Should Know About Communism.” When I came across this in my files (they have files on me, I have files on them), I was impressed that this committee knew 100 things about communism. The pamphlets had questions and answers:

Question 1: “What is communism?” (The idea is to start with something easy.) Answer “A system by which one small group seeks to rule the world.”

Question 76: “Where can communists be found in everyday life?” (This question interested me because there had been times when I was in need of a communist and didn’t know where to find one.) “Look for him in your school, in your labor union, your church, or your civic club.”

Question 86: “Is the YMCA a communist target?” (This really worried me. I always wondered why there was so much chlorine in the YMCA swimming pool.) Answer: “Yes, so is the YWCA.”

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