I suppose it is part of the corruption of contemporary language that an analysis of American foreign policy by a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace should argue for the right of the United States to use military force, regardless of international law, and international opinion, whenever it unilaterally decides its “national interest” requires it. Robert Kagan’s book Of Paradise and Power is important, not because it’s logic is unassailable, or his values admirable, but because it serves as intellectual justification for the foreign policy of the United States, and therefore (as the New York Times reviewer put it) demands “serious attention”. That attention it has received, with the major media rushing to review it, mostly with admiration.
As the prize of the presidency lurched wildly back and forth in the last days of the year, with the entire nation hypnotized by the spectacle, I had a vision. I saw the Titanic churning through the waters of the North Atlantic toward an iceberg looming in the distance, while passengers and crew were totally concentrated on a tennis game taking place on deck.
There came a rare amusing moment in this election campaign when George Bush (who has $220 million dollars for his campaign) accused Al Gore (who has only $170 million dollars) of appealing to 'class warfare'.… I noticed that neither of the accused responded with a defiant "Yes, we have classes in this country." Only Ralph Nader has dared to suggest that this country is divided among the rich, the poor, and the nervous in between. This kind of talk is unpardonably rude, and would be enough to bar him from the televised debates.
I am surprised that my friend Hans Koning, a stalwart protester against the war in Vietnam, seems to have been taken in by the argument of Richard Frank, in his review of Frank's Downfall. Yes, we must all be willing to reconsider our most hardened judgements in the light of new evidence. But there is nothing in Frank's argument -- however assiduous his research -- to make those of us who see the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an unspeakable atrocity change our minds.
In this year 2000, I cannot comment more meaningfully on the Fourth of July than Frederick Douglass did when he was invited in 1852 to give an Independence Day address. He could not help thinking about the irony of the promise of the Declaration of Independence, of equality, life, liberty made by slaveowners, and how slavery was made legitimate in the writing of the Constitution after a victory for "freedom" over England. And his invitation to speak came just two years after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, committing the national government to return fugitives to slavery with all the force of the law. So it is fitting, at a time when police are exonerated in the killing of unarmed black men, when the electric chair and the gas chamber are used most often against people of color, that we refrain from celebration and instead listen to Douglass' sobering words…
Recently, meeting with a group of high school students, I was asked by one of them: "I read in your book, A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, about the massacres of Indians, the long history of racism, the persistence of poverty in the richest country in the world, the senseless wars. How can I keep from being thoroughly alienated and depressed?" That same question has been put to me many times, in different forms, one of them being: "How come you are not depressed?" Who says I'm not? At least briefly.
As the twentieth century came to an end last December, an extraordinary man, whose life spanned the century, died at the age of ninety-seven. His name was Sender Garlin. I first met Sender, ten years before his death, when he was only eighty-seven years old. It was the fall of 1989, and I had traveled to Boulder to give a talk at the University of Colorado. One of the chief organizers of my stay was a man named Sender Garlin, a longtime radical journalist and pamphleteer. I did not know him, and so I was not prepared for the excitement of my encounter with him.
I have been asked to imagine this situation: "The progressive third party movement has captured the White House, 60% of Congress and 30 Governorships. What do we do now?" First, we have a party, maybe three, with the third party being special. Then, we have Congress pass, and the President sign, the following legislation…
In the spirit of killing two obligations with one effort, I offer as my Commentary a response I just made to a letter by a retired professor in California, who wrote:
“As a great admirer of Howard Zinn [should he have said “as a former great admirer…”?] I was profoundly disappointed by some of his comments made during his interview with David Barsamian [I blame Barsamian for losing me an admirer] in the March issue of Z Magazine.” [You can see how long it takes me to respond to critical letters—I simply don’t want to believe that any rational person can disagree with me].Without reproducing my correspondent's letter I think the gist of his comments are clear from my responses. Fundamentally, he did not like my saying I was “very glad” the rule of the Soviet government ended. He took issue with my skepticism about violent revolutions. He made interesting, provocative, thoughtful arguments. My response…
Some years ago, when I was teaching at Boston University, I was asked by a Jewish group to give a talk on the Holocaust. I spoke that evening, but not about the Holocaust of World War II, not about the genocide of six million Jews. It was the mid-Eighties, and the United States government was supporting death squad governments in Central America, so I spoke of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of peasants in Guatemala and El Salvador, victims of American policy. My point was that the memory of the Jewish Holocaust should not be encircled by barbed wire, morally ghettoized, kept isolated from other genocides in history. It seemed to me that to remember what happened to Jews served no important purpose unless it aroused indignation, anger, action against all atrocities, anywhere in the world. A few days later, in the campus newspaper, there was a letter from a faculty member who had heard me speak -- a Jewish refugee who had left Europe for Argentina, and then the United States. He objected strenuously to my extending the moral issue from Jews in Europe in the 1940s to people in other parts of the world, in our time.