Historian, activist, and bestselling author Howard Zinn has been interviewed by David Barsamian for public radio numerous times over the past decade. Original Zinn is a collection of their conversations, showcasing the acclaimed author of A People ' s History of the United States at his most engaging and provocative.
Touching on such diverse topics as the American war machine, civil disobedience, the importance of memory and remembering history, and the role of artists ' from Langston Hughes to Dalton Trumbo to Bob Dylan ' in relation to social change, Original Zinn is Zinn at his irrepressible best, the acute perception of a scholar whose impressive knowledge and probing intellect make history immediate and relevant for us all.
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June 27, 2006
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Excerpt from Original Zinn by Howard Zinn
I want to start with something from F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, a novel about the Roaring Twenties and the excesses that characterized that period just before the Great Depression. Fitzgerald wrote, "They were careless peopleý. they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
It's interesting that you should quote Fitzgerald. The twenties have much in common with what we are seeing today. Then there were governments in power that insisted on distributing the wealth of the country in such a way that the rich got richer and the poor were stuck where they were or got even poorer. Wild speculation took place. Vast fortunes were made, while people in poor areas of cities were struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table. It was capitalism run amok. Interestingly, Pope John Paul II, in an interview in an Italian newspaper, talked about "savage, unbridled capitalism." That's what we saw in the twenties and that's what we are seeing today. Except that today it is even more unbridled, more savage. And it is running amok on a global scale. It is causing havoc in various countries. Here in the United States many people are in desperate circumstances without medical care, adequate housing, and education.
Why is it that crime in the streets has historically attracted much more attention than what Ralph Nader calls crime in the suites, white-collar crime?
There are several reasons. The people who define crime are connected to those in the suites. They are the ones who say what it is. If somebody holds up a store or robs someone on the street, of course those are crimes. If somebody robs consumers of millions of dollars or robs workers of their lives because of unsafe work conditions, that's not crime. That's business. The media constantly focus on mayhem being done by ordinary people. But what is being done by the corporate giants usually doesn't get into the media until it explodes in a wave of scandals as we have now. There are other reasons for the emphasis on street crime over corporate crime. Street crime is overt, whereas the corporate variety is secret. It is therefore important to have some individuals point out what is being done in secret. At the turn of the century, they were called muckrakers. People like Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell exposing the doings of the Standard Oil Company. In the twenties, there was Fiorello LaGuardia, a congressman from East Harlem, who criticized the rich because the poor in his district were struggling to make ends meet. And today we have our muckrakers. There's Jim Hightower and Barbara Ehrenreich. Ralph Nader has long fought corporate crime. We need to seek out the information that the muckrakers of our time are putting out so that they we aren't completely ignorant of what is going on.