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The People’s Historian: Howard Zinn

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He overturned the sacred myth of Christopher Columbus as a courageous hero. He unmasked military leaders like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt as racists, war lovers, imperialists and Indian killers. He revealed our most liberal presidents — Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy — as more concerned with political power and national might than the rights of nonwhite people. And he exposed the Cold War as a competition fueled by thirst for empire and domination.

He rewrote history from the perspective of the people, turning victors into villains and retrieving generations of unsung heroes from the historical record: the farmers of the Shays’ Rebellion, the Black abolitionists, conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War, striking factory workers.

I’m speaking of Howard Zinn, the great scholar, activist, teacher, author. No other historian has attacked the distortions and myths about the history of the United States as forcefully as he has. In book after book, he has stood the traditional “great men” approach to history on its head. He has shown that historical change occurs more though mass movements of ordinary people than through the decisions of world leaders. His groundbreaking book, “A People’s History of the United States,” was one of the first major looks at American history from this perspective. It transformed the field of historical research, going through 25 printings and selling more than 400,000 copies.

But Zinn did not confine his revolutionary work to his scholarship. While he was overturning history, he was also making it — adding his voice to the movements for peace, civil rights, social justice, and equality. As a professor at Spelman College in the 1950s, he joined his students on the picket lines and at sit-ins, traveling throughout the South as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He headed north to Boston University in the 1960s and took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War. He was arrested numerous times for his antiwar actions, but he could not be silenced. He traveled to North Vietnam and Japan to speak out against U.S. policies, and he testified at some dozen trials on the importance of breaking unjust laws.

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.

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StoryNov 25, 2022“You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train”: Remembering the People’s Historian Howard Zinn at 100
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Amy, you know, there’s an interesting little tidbit in the latest Jet magazine, which Anthony Sloan tells us, reminds us, is the Bible in some some areas. A new Brookings Institution poll on trust in government shows that Secretary of State Colin Powell is more popular in the country than President George Bush by about 10 percentage points, which I guess goes to show you that a cautious and cerebral warmonger is always preferred to a loose-lipped, rash and one of limited intelligence.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go beyond limited intelligence today with our next guest, Howard Zinn. He overturned the sacred myth of Christopher Columbus as a courageous hero. He unmasked military leaders like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt as racist war lovers, imperialists and Indian killers. He revealed our most liberal presidents — Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy — as more concerned with political power and national might than the rights of nonwhite people. And he exposed the Cold War as a competition fueled by thirst for empire and domination. He rewrote history from the perspective of the people and, in the process, tore down heroes, giving us new ones in the process — the farmers of the Shays’ Rebellion, the Black abolitionists, conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War, striking factory workers.

I’m speaking of Howard Zinn, the great scholar, activist, teacher, author. No other historian has attacked the distortions and myths about the history of the United States as forcefully as he has. In book after book, he has stood the traditional “great men” approach to history on its head. He’s shown that historical change occurs more through mass movements of ordinary people than through the wisdom and insight of world leaders. His groundbreaking book, A People’s History of the United States, was one of the first major looks at American history from this perspective. It transformed the field of historical research, going through 25 printings and selling close to half a million copies.

But Howard Zinn did not confine his revolutionary work to his scholarship. While he was overturning history, he was also making it, adding his voice to the movements for peace, civil rights, social justice and equality. As a professor at Spelman College in the 1950s, he joined his students on the picket lines and its sit-ins, traveling through the South as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He headed north to Boston in the ’60s to Boston University, took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War, was arrested numerous times for his antiwar actions. But he could not be silenced. He traveled to North Vietnam and Japan to speak out against U.S. policies, testified at some dozen trials on the importance of breaking unjust laws. Most recently, he has been an outspoken critic of the so-called war on terrorism. This spring, he published the book 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. And today he graces us with his presence in our firehouse studio here in New York.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Howard Zinn.

HOWARD ZINN: Oh, thanks, Amy. That’s the best summary of my writing that I’ve ever heard. I mean, I couldn’t do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Which is why we did it for you at the beginning of the program.

HOWARD ZINN: Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have been extremely active since September, going around the country.

HOWARD ZINN: I have, yeah. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t you expect this to be your golden retirement years?

HOWARD ZINN: I never expected any golden retirement years, but I expected more leisure than I’ve had, you know, yeah. Since September 11th, yeah, I’ve been going nonstop, like a lot of us have, because I guess we have felt that our voices are very badly needed at a time when they’re trying to stifle voices of dissent. And so I can’t say no when somebody invites me to Walla Walla, Washington, you know, or places all over the country, or high schools. I had this interesting experience. I don’t know if you want to hear this, Amy, but, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan does.

HOWARD ZINN: I’ll tell you anyway. You know, high schools are always interesting, because, you know, when you speak to college audiences, you think, “Well, maybe they’re a lot of liberal kids, or maybe they’re more attuned, or maybe they…” you know, but high school students are more, I think, open, in a sense, that — then, certainly, not on my — they don’t start out on my side. High school kids, I think, are a very militarized part of the population. You know, they’re subject to military recruiters coming into the high schools, drumming up superpatriotism. And high school kids are seeing TV, movies of glorifying war and military heroism. And so, I like to speak to high schools, because, you know, yes, you know, they’re — the young people are the coming generation. I always wonder how they’re going to react to what I say.

And I spoke at a high school in my community in the Boston area. It was the first invitation I’d had from a high school to speak to a student assembly, hundreds of students assembled there. You know, when there’s a student assembly in high school, they haven’t volunteered to come. You know, high school is a, you know —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There’s very little voluntary about it.

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah. High school is a very — you know, a little like a police state. But so, so there were these students, and hundreds of them. I spoke. I spoke, of course — I say “of course” — against the war, against Bush’s so-called war on terrorism, and spoke about the civilian casualties in Afghanistan. I spoke about the deceptions practiced on the American public. And I got this wonderful reception from the students. Wonderful reception.

Then a few parents made the local newspapers by protesting my appearance. Not only did they protest what I said, they protested the fact that I had been invited. They didn’t think my voice should even be heard. You know, they learned a lot from Bush and Ashcroft, I guess. And that made the local newspaper, because local newspaper doesn’t have much news, so this was a big thing and was in the local newspaper for weeks. The result of this was that I immediately got invitations from seven other high schools in Massachusetts to speak. And I spoke to all of them. And in all of them, I got wonderful, positive receptions to my criticism of the war.

So, yeah, so I’ve been doing a lot of this. And I’m encouraged by what I see, because I feel that — I feel that a lot of people are having second thoughts about this war. I feel that this, you know, figure that they give out, 85% in support of Bush, is very misleading and that the support for Bush is very thin, based on very little information, and that as soon as people begin to get a little bit of information, as soon as a few questions are asked that make them think, that initial support disappears. So, I’m hopeful about a sort of a growing, growing understanding about what is going on.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, but speaking about this whole issue of attempting to squash dissent, and as a historian, how do you see the current climate here and the USA PATRIOT Act and the government’s suspension of civil liberties compared to other periods, other wartime periods in American history?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, probably — you know, there have always been dissent in American wars. I mean, even the American Revolution, you know, which people think as a unanimous American opposition to England, there was dissent. There were mutinies in the Revolutionary Army. There was dissent in the Mexican War, the desertions by soldiers in the Mexican War, criticism of the Mexican War — of course, people like Thoreau and Emerson, and soldiers who came back from the war.

But probably the closest parallel to what we are seeing now in the attempt to dragoon the American population to support of the war, to suppress dissent, is probably World War I. And what happened in World War I was, you know, they passed legislation like the PATRIOT Act, you see. They passed the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act. And just as the PATRIOT Act doesn’t have anything to do with patriotism, but has a lot to do with suppression of free speech, the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act had nothing to do with espionage. They had to do with people speaking out against the war. And they put a thousand people in jail — prosecuted 2,000 people, put a thousand people in jail — and rounded up towards the end of the war in a kind of state of hysteria — actually, you know, about what they called terrorism. One bomb had exploded, you know, and they rounded up thousands and thousands of noncitizens, and, just like today, no due process, no constitutional rights, paraded them through the streets of cities manacled to one another, and put them on board ship and sent them back to various countries in Europe. So, you know, the World War I situation is one that comes closest to this really hysterical atmosphere that they’re trying to create today.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of we have Americans — even in this situation, we have American citizens now, alleged members of al-Qaeda, who are suddenly being disappeared, not allowed even — not even allowed even legal representation. And yet, there’s very little outcry from many Americans.

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, that’s an interesting phenomenon. And I think the press has been very complicit in maintaining silence about this and not playing up this horrendous fact, that not only are noncitizens subject to, you know, these illegal detentions and interrogations and violations of due process, but now, yes, American citizens. And on what basis? When you examine the evidence that they, you know, have produced against this American citizen who is supposed to have plotted, you know, a dirty bomb — and all you have to do is put things like that in the headlines, “dirty bomb,” you know —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As opposed to a clean bomb.

HOWARD ZINN: Like the United States has always used clean bombs, yes. And the United States hasn’t just, you know, planned to use bombs; they’ve used them. But this guy, they don’t even know what he did. They can’t produce any evidence. But they’re detaining him, and he doesn’t have any rights and so on.

Now, maybe — I mean, my hope is that when people become aware of this, that they will see that what they may have accepted at first, and that is OK — it’s OK to detain noncitizens, you know, aliens — I like that word “alien,” because it immediately separates these noncitizens from the rest of the population. But maybe people will understand that what has been done, what is being done to noncitizens, can also be done to American citizens, that every one of us is subject to the kind of Gestapo treatment. I know that sounds like harsh language, but, you know, I think it’s accurate, really. I mean, that’s what they did. They rounded up people without charges and just, you know, put them away. And my hope is that more and more people will realize that all of us, all of us, are subject to that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to historian Howard Zinn. Among his books are his latest, Terrorism and War. We’ll be back with him in a minute.

[break]

NOAM CHOMSKY: So, there’s no doubt that one of the major issues of 20th century history, surely of the United States, is corporate propaganda. That’s a huge industry. In fact, it extends over the — obviously, the commercial media, but the whole range of systems that reach the public — the entertainment industry, television, a good bit of what appears in schools, a lot of what appears straight out in the newspapers and so on. Huge amount of that comes straight out of the public relations industry, which was established in this country early in the century, and it sort of developed, mainly in the '20s and on. That has become an enormous industry. It's now spreading over the rest of the world, but it’s primarily here. And its goal, from the beginning, perfectly openly and consciously, was to control the public mind, as they put it. And the reason was that the public mind was seen as the greatest threat to corporations. That’s from early in the century. Business power was strong.

AMY GOODMAN: “Metahistorical Disquisition” from Paranoise, featuring Noam Chomsky, a close friend of our guest today, Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States and many other books. His autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. His latest is Terrorism and War. Paranoise, Noam Chomsky. You’re neighbors, aren’t you?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, we live in the same environment, in the Boston area. And in the summer, in those rare moments when Noam takes time off and I take time off, we are even closer neighbors, on Cape Cod, you know. I shouldn’t tell people that Noam ever spends time on Cape Cod, because it will ruin his reputation as a person who spends 24 hours a day fighting the establishment. But he takes a few minutes off.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back even before this book, Terrorism and War, before your autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, to A People’s History, that has made — had such an impact, not only in this country but around the world, as you documented people’s movements that shape history. How did you start that book? What made you decide to write this? And how hard was it to do?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, I like to say it was really hard to do, so people will feel sorry for me. But how did I — I came to do it, I suppose, simply because I had studied history, you know, up through graduate school, Columbia University and so on, and I realized, as a result of my own life experiences, you know, that the history books were not telling stories that were very, very important in the American past. You know, my first experience teaching was in a Black college in Atlanta, Georgia, and Black history was given a, you know, quick nod. You know, it’s a few — you know, a little bit on Frederick Douglass and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: This was Spelman?

HOWARD ZINN: This was Spelman College in Atlanta, yeah. And that was an important experience for me, spending seven years in the South and beginning to look at history from a Black point of view. If you look at history from a Black point of view, everything looks different. The Constitution suddenly is not that marvelous document that Ronald Reagan praised, you know, said was written with the helping hand of God, and so on. And you learn a lot about so-called heroes in American history, who, when looked at from a point of view of African Americans, were not heroes at all — Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson — who looked the other way when Black people were killed by the hundreds in the South. So I saw I learned a lot about looking at history from a different point of view.

And I was aware — and I had grown up in a working-class family, working-class neighborhood, went to work in a shipyard at the age of 18. I grew up with a kind of class consciousness. And I was aware that the history textbooks had virtually nothing on the great American labor struggles, the working class, to win the eight-hour day, to change their conditions. And the result of that is you got the impression that, well, whatever benefits that workers had received, you know, like Social Security or a minimum wage or the eight-hour day, came as a result of the kindness of Congress or of benevolent presidents, instead of from the struggles of working people, who faced off armies and National Guardsmen and police and went to jail and were killed.

And so, with this kind of a background understanding, and also being in a war — you know, I was a bombardier in World War II and came away from that with a — and this was the “good” war. And I came away from the “good” war with a feeling that war doesn’t solve any fundamental problems. You know, it may seem to. It may, you know, seem to solve something quickly and immediately, but very soon you realize that all those things the war was supposed to do away with — racism and fascism — were not done away with it.

So, with all these experiences, which I didn’t find represented in the point of view of the history I was learning in the history books, led me to write A People’s History of the United States. And I knew immediately — you know, in a sense, it was easy, in the sense that once you know — when you write a book, once you know what your point of view is, it’s a lot easier to write. I knew that when I was going to deal with Columbus, I was not going to deal with Columbus from the point of view of the Spanish or from point of view of Columbus himself, but from the point of view of his victims, and so on. You know, I was going to look at the Mexican War from the standpoint of the deserting soldiers and not from the generals, or look at it from the standpoint of the Mexicans, who lost half their country as a result of this expansionist war, you know. And so, yes, I was led to really write the book as a result of my own experiences.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you expect it to have the kind of response that it did, close to half a million books?

HOWARD ZINN: Amy, I never like to correct you, you know, publicly —

AMY GOODMAN: Millions?

HOWARD ZINN: — you know, like before a radio audience. It’s now sold a million copies, you see, and which is — which is, I must say, in all modesty, right, remarkable for, you know, any book on history. It’s not a textbook. You know, textbooks very often sell a lot of copies, because people are forced to buy them. But this is not a textbook. So people buy this voluntarily. And so, it’s sold a million. And this, you know, did I expect this? No. Did my publisher expect it? No. Did my editor? No, none of us expected it.

And so, when I try to explain it, well, I think what it means is that there are, yes, millions of people in this country who want a different kind of history, millions of people in this country who have some suspicion that they have not been getting the truth in the educational system, from the media, from our officials. And they are looking for a point of view which represents them, which represents working people and people of color and women. And that’s the only thing that explains why so many people, you know, have bought this book.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, interestingly, given the book’s radical perspective, of course, many people were surprised a couple of years back, I think, when we heard the news that Fox, I think, was interested in creating a television dramatization of the book. Of course, Murdoch, who runs Fox, is considered the Darth Vader of corporate media. And what’s happened with that, with that endeavor, or has it gone anywhere?

HOWARD ZINN: Darth Vader finally found out about the project. You know, it’s a great empire. Well, I don’t really know what happened. You never know what happens, you know, behind the scenes. All I know is that after a couple of years of fooling with the project, you know, they were going to produce dramatized episodes, and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and I and Chris Moore were going to be the executive producers, and so on and so forth. And after a couple of years of fooling around with it, Fox dropped it.

But HBO picked it up. And right now, I mean, HBO is, I guess, more daring, because they don’t have to pay attention to advertisers. They don’t have commercials. So, HBO now — we have a contract with HBO. HBO has hired two writers to write the first two scripts, one about the — you know, these are not documentaries. These are feature films, the first one about Columbus, las Casas, and second one on the American Revolution — very different view on the American Revolution, and Mel Gibson as the patriots, you know. And so, these two writers are working now on these scripts. And who knows if something might happen? You know, with Hollywood, you never know.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we do know something about Hollywood. These big blockbusters recently, Black Hawk Down

HOWARD ZINN: Oh.

AMY GOODMAN: — Pentagon investing millions in it.

HOWARD ZINN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Also, Sum of All Fears, Pentagon giving over military equipment, military advisers. And, of course, I mean, in the case of Black Hawk Down, for example, that — I can’t really say “documents” the U.S. invasion of Somalia, because it makes it sound like it was true, how they depicted it, but the — Mark Bowden, who is The Philadelphia Inquirer writer of the book, said that the Pentagon, yes, had to approve the transcript in order to be willing to invest all this money, and changed it where they didn’t like it. What about this Hollywood-Pentagon relationship?

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, it’s very interesting. I mean, it goes back to the Vietnam War, you know, with the Green Berets, you know, where the movie producers go back and forth to the Pentagon to produce a film that will, you know, glorify the Green Berets and the American involvement in Vietnam. And, you know, the media have — television and movies have always been pitifully timid, obsequious — and I like the word “obsequious” — in relation to the government and the Pentagon.

Black Hawk Down is an example of it. I mean, my son saw Black Hawk Down. I couldn’t bring myself to see it, and I asked him what it was about, and he told me what it was about. And it was obvious, you know, from — and I’ve read a lot about it — and obvious that what Black Hawk Down did was to portray the American soldiers as victims. You know, there was the famous picture of the American Ranger being dragged through the streets, you know, in Somalia and so on. But if you — you know, if you read about what happened in Somalia, which I’ve done, you know, you find out that the anger of the Somalis was caused by something that they don’t tell about in Black Hawk Down. And that is, a few months before these American soldiers were killed — I mean, 19 or so Rangers killed — a thousand or 2,000 Somalis killed. But before that happened, several months before, the Americans had committed an atrocity in Somalia. They had barged into a building where a group of elders were meeting, and just fired away, just killed everybody in sight, you know. And the Somalis didn’t forget this. That part of the history is ignored.

And so, you know, Black Hawk Down is a typical example of what Hollywood and the government collaborate to do to build up this pro-war sentiment and the idea that, you know, the Americans are the good guys. I mean, we are there in another country, invading another country, and we are the good guys.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, as a veteran of, as you say, the “good” war — and it’s gotten increasingly attention, obviously, from — network anchors have been making a lot of money off of World War II these days. In your book Terrorism and War, you talk about your change of view about war, that you did at one point believe there were just wars and unjust wars, and as time has developed, you’ve had — your thoughts on that have evolved. Could you talk a little bit about that?

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah. I volunteered for the Air Force in World War II, became a bombardier, dropped bombs on Europe. I was an enthusiastic bombardier. And it seemed very simple: They were the bad guys, we were the good guys. And I came out of that having learned a lot about the psychology of war and warriors. You know, one element is that once you decide that they are the bad guys and you are the good guys, you make two judgments, which, on later reflection, turn out to be very, very dangerous.

One is the idea that if they’re the bad guys, you must be good. But, of course, that isn’t so. They could be bad, and you could be bad. They could be worse, and you are still bad. I mean, after all, World War II was fought against the worst — the fascist powers. But the people who fought against the fascist powers, who were they? They were the imperialist powers of the West, of the United States and France. And there was the dictatorship of the Soviet Union, you know? And so, no, the fact that they are bad doesn’t mean you’re good.

And the second thing is that, although you may start off looking like the good guys, fighting a good cause, as we did in World War II, but war corrupts everybody. War turns the people with a good cause into people who commit atrocities. And so, of course, the Germans committed horrendous atrocities in World War II. But soon, the United States and England, which had denounced Hitler for bombing civilians — soon the United States and England were bombing civilians, deliberately. I mean, this was a deliberate decision on the part of Churchill and his advisers, and Arthur Harris is, you know, in command of the bombers, and with the compliance of the Americans, Curtis LeMay and others, a deliberate decision to bomb the working-class districts of German cities. And so we killed 100,000 people in Dresden in one night, 50,000, 60,000 in Hamburg and Frankfurt, and then, of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And, I mean, these are atrocities. And so we become corrupted by war.

So I came out of World War II still feeling fascism was terrible; something had to be done about fascism, but not in the way that we did it, and not in a way which, in fact, doesn’t end fascism, doesn’t end racism. Hitler was gone. Mussolini was gone. Japanese military machine was gone. Fascism was still there. Imperialism was still there. The United States and the Soviet Union were now building up nuclear arsenals, which, if used, would make Hitler’s Holocaust look puny. So, World War II had to be reexamined, you see.

And now I believe that, today, a just war is impossible, simply for this reason. War, inevitably, is the indiscriminate killing of large numbers of people, no matter what they say about, oh, limited warfare, smart bombs, we only bomb military targets. We have enough history of those statements to know that they are lies, really. War is the indiscriminate killing of large numbers of people. Which means, really, if you think about it, that war is the killing of children, inevitably. War is always a war against children. So, whatever the cause, the good cause — oh, somebody invaded somebody, Iraq invaded Kuwait, you know, Milosevic is doing bad things, really evil things — whatever the cause, if you react to it with war, you are then in the business of committing more and more atrocities. You are in the business of matching the horrors that you are supposedly fighting against. To put it another way, in war, the means — that is, bombing and so on — the means of war are always certain and immediate. The ends of war — well, freeing somebody, getting rid of some tyrant — the ends of war are always uncertain and far off. And therefore, from a moral point of view, war can no longer be just. And the human race had better figure out ways to solve problems in the world without war.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn is our guest. How old are you now?

HOWARD ZINN: You know, why do journalists always ask that question? But I’m going to be 80. You know, I shouldn’t say that. I should say I’m only 79.

AMY GOODMAN: When will you be 80?

HOWARD ZINN: When will I be 80? In August. Yeah. Are you coming?

AMY GOODMAN: Hope so. Eight years old?

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So you were born in 1922.

HOWARD ZINN: Born in the 19th century. I was born in 1922, yeah. Harding was president, one of my favorite presidents.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

HOWARD ZINN: I’m half-serious, half-serious. Harding — if you study American history, the tradition is, oh, Wilson was the good guy. Wilson was a liberal. Harding was a conservative. Wilson put Eugene Debs, the socialist leader, in jail. Harding pardoned him, you see. So I have a soft spot in my heart for Harding.

AMY GOODMAN: He ran for president from jail.

HOWARD ZINN: He ran for president from jail, yeah. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Got as many votes as you got people who bought your book.

HOWARD ZINN: Got a million votes, yeah. He — yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Wilson championed self-determination, then invaded half of Latin America.

HOWARD ZINN: That’s right, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in this 80 years, do you feel like things are getting better?

HOWARD ZINN: Yes and no. How’s that for a straight answer? Well, some things are worse, definitely worse. There a nuclear bombs, nuclear weapons, and people prepared to use them, and absolute idiots in charge of these nuclear weapons, in the Soviet Union, in Russia, in India, in Pakistan. I mean, that’s — you know, this is a worse time in terms of the possibilities of the destruction of the human race, worst time that we ever had, worse time in terms of the environment. You know, the technology of our time, the so-called progress that we’ve made, has only resulted in enormous pollution of the air and water and the warming of the — you know, all of that. So, some things, definitely worse.

On the other hand, I’m always looking for something. On the other hand, I do believe that there is a gradual learning that takes place, that there’s an awareness of certain things that people weren’t even aware of before. And even though that awareness has not yet been turned into action and change, the awareness is there under the surface. For instance, I think there’s an awareness now of the issue of race, in the way — I mean, race, it just wasn’t — you know, Ralph Ellison wrote The Invisible Man. You know, Blacks were invisible. We still have racism, but Blacks are no longer invisible. The issue of racism is no longer invisible. People have to think about it. The issue of women’s equality today is there. It’s on the agenda. I mean, it was simply not talked about. The rights of gays and lesbians, I mean, it was unmentionable 30 years ago, and now it’s in the culture.

And when I’m saying that, even though we have not succeeded in changing policy, even though there are terrible, terrible people in power, and threatening to use their power over everybody, I do believe that under the surface of that control there is a gradual sort of bubbling of awareness, which I hope one of these days, if people continue to learn and act and resist, that will turn into some great social movement that will bring about change. I’m hopeful about that. It’s a possibility, not a certainty. Nothing is certain.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you think, in terms of President — if you can call him President Bush right now, a man not popularly elected president, who has declared war on the world — do you — where do you see him going, and the issue of the election that he took and the wars that he’s waging?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, Bush, what can I say about Bush? I can’t watch him. You know, I listened to his State of the Union address only because I was forced to, because somebody — some radio station said, “Will you comment on it?” So I had to — maybe you did. You! It was you who forced me to this torture of listening to Bush’s State of the Union address. Really! You know, and —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: At least he had a script there.

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah. You know, I read recently where Bush was talking to the president of Brazil, and he said to the president of Brazil, “Do you have any Blacks here in Brazil?”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Condoleezza Rice had a jump right in and salvage him.

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, that’s right. But his ignorance is not the most serious thing. I’m not worried about people not knowing facts and not knowing things. That’s OK. That can be corrected. You could send Bush to a Quaker school, you know, and educate him. Problem is not ignorance, and the problem is morality. The problem is who he’s connected to. The problem is his connection to very wealthy corporations and the oil interests, and his viciousness. I mean, after all, let’s not forget, he was the governor of Texas when they executed more people — you were just talking before about executions — execution of more people than anybody else. And, of course, it’s not just Bush; it’s all the people around him. It’s that whole — I very often feel we’re in an occupied country. It’s like we’re in World War II, and, you know, we’re Czechoslovakia, we’re Norway. You know, we’ve been occupied by an alien power. Really, I feel that way. And we need to build up a resistance against this. That’s how I feel about Bush and all those people up there.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Howard Zinn, I want to thank you very much for joining us, people’s historian. His latest book is Terrorism and War. It’s published by Seven Stories Press here in New York. I know tomorrow night, Saturday, you’ll be at Seven Stories Press at 140 Watts Street for a party celebrating this book, but also your many years of activism and scholarship.

And speaking of the death penalty, I actually have to head off right now to catch a plane to go to the Pacifica board meeting in Berkeley, California, celebrating the new Pacifica, but, Juan, you’re going to go back to the beginning of this show with some very rare recording of a man who was executed, who was mentally retarded, his last words, and this landmark decision of the Supreme Court on Thursday that says the Constitution bars the execution of the mentally retarded. You are listening to Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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The Supreme Court Rules Executing Mentally Retarded Is “Cruel and Unusual Punishment”

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