Thursday, February 4, 2010

Howard Zinn has Died

It’s been about a week since Howard Zinn died, and I’ve wrestled with whether I would comment on the man’s legacy, as so many have been doing, or not. Because the issues of extra-judicial, state-sponsored terrorism of Americans and bioslavery are unquestionably the most dire ones facing our nation today, and because these issues are largely ignored by most activists, I offer my thoughts on Zinn in regards to them. First, though, I’ll let Zinn speak for himself.

This is not the type of letter Zinn sent to Barbara Lubin of Middle East Children’s Alliance when she asked for his endorsement. Obviously, when the producers of the 2003 documentary, The Corporation, contacted Zinn to request his participation in their project, they didn’t receive a brush-off from him, either. Yes -- I know he was well over 80 when I approached him. Yes – I know his wife was ill and then died. But within a year of my meeting him, Zinn had a new website, and then a play based on his encounters with the legatees of the voices of the historically oppressed, and then an even newer website, a book, then a documentary based on the play, and then a national tour for the documentary – all aimed at building a high-profile, national dialogue among the well-established, thriving communities of formerly voiceless people, none of whom were – or were like – me. Nowhere in Zinn’s work are activists represented who are today working to raise awareness of extra-judicial, state-sponsored terrorism and torture of American citizens, or of our government’s many bioslaves, though he admits to knowledge of them both. Today’s Palestinian victims of Israel’s genocide in the West Bank? They do merit his acknowledgement and support, as well they should. But one must ask of a man to whom so many have looked for endorsement and support in their activism why he turned his back on what are certainly the most critical issues in our now closed American society that face its citizens – the fastest moving trains in history on which no freedom-defending individual could possibly be neutral. Here is one possible avenue to understanding his evident hypocrisy.

“’What is common to all of these voices,’ Zinn and co-editor Anthony Arnove write in the book’s [Voices of the People’s History of the United States] introduction, ‘is that they have mostly been shut out of the orthodox histories, the major media, the standard textbooks, the controlled culture . . . to create a passive citizenry.’ With Voices, Zinn and Arnove seek to address that malaise, showing that the impossible – slaves rising up against their slave masters, for example – is not only possible but has occurred repeatedly throughout the country’s history.’”


accessed 2/3/10)

Zinn obviously knew that protest in the U.S. was continuous – even protest against government-sanctioned slavery, which is as ubiquitous today as it was in 18, or 19, 61. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s less possible today than it ever has been before for oppressed people to come together in opposition to government-sanctioned oppression, and notwithstanding the fact that what was once government-sanctioned oppression has turned into actual government-sponsored oppression, Zinn’s (what we infer as) contempt for “controlled culture” and its discriminatory mechanisms begs us to ask why he would bother at all to create his own ‘legitimization machine’ and then exclude the members of silenced, rapidly growing communities of oppressed persons, communities which historically have included even a substantial number of his own peers. The issues of extra-judicial, state-sponsored terrorism of Americans and bioslavery haven’t merited his legitimization, for some reason, and because they haven’t, you who have looked to him for direction in your human and civil rights activism believe it doesn’t merit yours, either. That’s the key. Our secret prisons are the wall-less ones erected to socially exterminate us, and Zinn’s exclusion of us from his high-profile community of social activists aids in that social extermination. No matter what the color of our skin, or the type of liberal activism we do, we have no voice, and Zinn’s legitimization machine is another of the reasons we do not. For how long this has been so is impossible to tell; I met an elderly woman at a weekly peace protest in 2006 who maintained that she had been a target of gangstalkers since she first began protesting unsafe nuclear energy plants in the 1970s. She even described to me the failed attempts to hire a lawyer of a substantial group of people who are similarly oppressed and with whom she was associated, after being turned away by the ACLU, to sue the federal government, á la Brian Glick. Though this woman and her constituents live and work within the same alleged peace-and-justice community in Boston as Zinn, the larger world has never heard from him about these issues. I’ve never seen him associated with even the most visible and oldest of such communities,, or any other similar Targeted Individual support and advocacy group. Zinn’s job of late, in fact, seems to have been to provide another way to limit the scope of issues in which the broader activist community can become engaged in opposing today’s fascist American government. Clearly, his last work was to help “create a passive citizenry.” That brings to mind yet more questions, such as, why?

One reason Zinn does not give us the public platform that he assiduously provides to the historically recognizable oppressed is because his doing so would expose as false the one tenet he has spent his life proclaiming as true to the world – that though it may be difficult at times for us to make use of it, the people of the United States have the same democratically-ensured right to be heard that they’ve always had, and justice triumphs in the end, once the oppressed enforce this right. ‘Look at our racially and politically diverse society,’ he seems to be saying, as if racial diversity couldn’t exist in a fascist state; as if a country such as France – so racially diverse many of our own oppressed African-Americans moved there at the beginning of the 20th century to escape the de facto slavery that existed for them here, via Jim Crow – sat out the Second World War! But War at Home: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It wasn’t written by Zinn. It was written by a one-time public defender who had represented protesters falsely arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights. There are many people such as the woman to whom I referred above who are still suffering government persecution, but their stories, the stories of the individuals whom the FBI has systematically and continuously persecuted since the 1960s, have not figured in Zinn’s activism. Employed for his lifetime by government contractors who’ve participated in the creation of both bioslavery and the so-called security technology industries which have replaced our public law enforcement infrastructure, and preferring only to tell others how activists in the past utilized now outmoded tactics to fight their government oppressors, Zinn has offered nothing to the targets of his employers’ sponsors.

As Zinn himself tells us, he was well aware of the problems of extra-judicial, state-sponsored terrorism and bioslavery – not because of his work with the victims of them, but because he was in a position to know the extent of the power now wielded in American society by the private sector aligned with the largely defense-contracting public sector, an alliance which, in the 20th century, was called fascism, and not, patronizingly, a “point of view.” He also knows this fascism has succeeded in removing any possibility for the government-and-private-sector oppressed in America today to be recognized, listened to, enfranchised, or granted justice since our laws protect only our right to redress by our government, and not private industry, to which our government’s entire security has been outsourced.

Will Arnove, or any other high-profile activists’ flak, grant me, and those like me, the dignity Zinn didn’t? That remains to be seen. One thing is clear: if you’re furtively looking at America’s past for its government’s misdeeds, you’re not looking where you should be: around, about you, today. As an historian, Zinn knew better than anyone that his point of view was dated. As “the activist’s activist,” he has much to answer for, since the perception management campaign in which he was engaged to persuade the liberal left in America to believe all their problems here are behind them, continues. This misperception is exponentially more dangerous to us today than it was even when George H.W. Bush declared in 1991 that the “new world order” of “law-and-order” government – instead of government of, by and for the people – had arrived.

In the final analysis, it is not the Howard Zinn’s of the world that have ever waged the war for freedom on its frontlines, no matter the number of nascent groups of activists, or sporadic protests, he or she participated in, or even organized. It has been you and me – the people – facing the amorphous, pervasive, unmitigated terror that defines our particular epoch each and every day of our lives, terror which prevents us from truly living freely. It is up to you to face the truth about those terrors, including the fact that your leading activists may very well be just another component of them, before, you, too, find yourself excluded from society and terrorized into a secret, wall-less prison.

“First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Former Moabit prison inmate and (Lutheran) Pastor Martin Niemöller

Post-war Lectures on the Work of Germany’s Pastors’ Emergency League during WWII, 1945

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