vrijdag 8 oktober 2010

Must read: “A People's History of the United States”

 
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US emerged as the world's sole superpower. Its reliance on the reach of the Pentagon to compensate for a waning hegemony in other domains, and the necessity to contend with shrinking resources, rising adversaries, and growing resistance, led to a record number of US interventions. With two of the most massive interventions, those in Iraq and Afghanistan, underscoring the inability of Washington to realize all of its imperial goals, the United States has turned to expanded and deadly military imperial overkill, which now also becomes visible in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

To comprehend America's rationale for its post-cold war global role, one has to understand the less widely known side of America's history. When Martin Luther King Jr. stated that the US was the most violent of all nations, he would only have needed to point to history books such as A People's History of the United States in support of his view. Since its publication in 1980, this great work by the late American historian and political scientist Howard Zinn has been chronicling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version of history taught in schools. “I wanted to present American history from the standpoint of those people who had been left out of the textbooks," Zinn said. "You know, from the standpoint of GI’s rather than generals, of working people, rather than industrialists; of the victims of war, rather than the military heroes.”

Critics claimed that Zinn was unpatriotic. He responded that patriotism also requires dissent, activism, and a critical assessment of standard takes on history. The World War II Army Air Force veteran - an early and outspoken critic of the US war in Vietnam - was 87 when he died January 27, 2010. Too bad Howard was not around to document the first black President's failures. In Zinn's view these were ever so similar to the other ambitious politicians' grab for more land and power, at the expense of the people.

Asked 17 November, 2008, by The Indypendent how the newly elected president Obama could ensure transformational change, Zinn answered:
“Withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan as fast as ships and planes can carry them home, declare that the United States will not engage in aggressive wars, renounce the Bush doctrine of preventive war and the Carter doctrine, which threatens force to control Mideast oil, and start dismantling our military bases overseas. He should announce that we are henceforth a peace-loving nation, no longer a target for terrorists and no longer engaging in terrorism ourselves. He should reduce the military establishment and the military budget down to a bare minimum and create a jobs program for young people instead of recruiting them for military service.”
The similarity to the quote Obama used during his Cairo speech of June 4, 2009 is striking: “Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: ‘I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be’." A pledge the current president has yet to redeem.

"I’ve been searching hard for a highlight,” Zinn wrote in The Nation January 21, 2010, about the first year of the Obama administration. “I don’t see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies. … I think people are dazzled by Obama’s rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president - which means, in our time, a dangerous president.”

A People's History of the United States possesses something few books offer: the potential to re-wire how people think of their government, their history, their relationship to democracy, and their own political agency. It is currently ranked 169th in books on Amazon, 21st in History of the Americas, 20th in History of the United States, and first in Nonfiction Government Democracy.

A 752 pages updated hardcover edition is on sale at HarperCollinsPublishers. Whilst we strongly recommend the purchase of a physical copy, our readers may first like to take a look at two online versions: a full version (made available by History is a Weapon with Howard Zinn's explicit permission), and a summary. Dutch readers may prefer the hardcover version Geschiedenis van het Amerikaanse volk, published by EPO. Democracy Now  recorded audio and video material with a reading of “A People’s History of the United States", featuring  Howard Zinn and a group of actors.

Notes
Francis Shor: “Imperial Overkill and the Death of US Empire”
Patt Morrison: “A People’s History of the United States' author spoke with KPCC a month before his death”
Wikipedia: "A People's History of the United States"
Wikipedia: "Howard Zinn"
Wikipedia: "The Indypendent"
The New York Times: "Obama’s Speech in Cairo"
  

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