From the bestselling author of A People's History of the United States comes this selection of passionate, honest, and piercing essays looking at American political ideology. Howard Zinn brings to Passionate Declarations the same astringent style and provocative point of view that led more than a million people to buy his book A People's History of the United States. He directs his critique here to what he calls "American orthodoxies" -- that set of beliefs guardians of our culture consider sacrosanct: justifications for war, cynicism about human nature and violence, pride in our economic system, certainty of our freedom of speech, romanticization of representative government, confidence in our system of justice. Those orthodoxies, he believes, have a chilling effect on our capacity to think independently and to become active citizens in the long struggle for peace and justice.
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June 16, 2003
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Excerpt from Passionate Declarations by Howard Zinn
When this book first appeared, over a decade ago, under the title Declarations of Independence (claiming that the ideas in the book were fiercely independent of authority), the United States was soon to go to war against Iraq. As I write this now, American troops, planes, ships are massing in the Middle East, the nation poised again for war, once more against Iraq.
As always, in a situation of war or near-war, the air becomes filled with patriotic cries for unity against the enemy. What is supposed to be an opposition party declares its loyalty to the president. The major voices in the media, supposed to be independent of government, join the fray.
Immediately after President Bush declared a "war on terrorism" and told Congress, "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists," television anchorman Dan Rather (to what, I have wondered, is he anchored?) spoke. He said, "George Bush is the president. He makes the decisions, and, you know, as just one American, if he wants me to line up, just tell me where." Speaking again to a national television audience, Rather said about Bush: "He is our commander in chief. He's the man now. And we need unity. We need steadiness."
Machiavelli would understand this. Writing in sixteenth-century Florence, his concern is to serve the prince. He does not question the aims of the prince. He cares only to give advice to the prince. He does not question the ends, only the means. The end is national power, and the only question is: what means are best to sustain and extend that power?
As I write this, I hear no voices on high questioning that the end of American foreign policy is to maintain the power of the United States. There are such voices, but they are not in positions of authority, either in government or in the media. Wherever they are, I propose to add my voice to theirs. I want to question the premise of Machiavelli, that one must serve the prince, that the all-important thing is national power, and the only issue is how best to augment it.
Thus, I suggest in the following pages that we think about questions other than the goals of states and statesmen. I want to go beyond Machiavellian obedience and discuss dissent and resistance to foreign policies aiming only at national power.
In my first chapter I tell of those Americans who, despite their positions close to power, decided to speak truth to that power. There were the scientists who spoke out against the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There were the aides of Henry Kissinger who resigned rather than collaborate in the plans he made with President Nixon to invade Cambodia in 1970. There were Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, who turned on their old employers at the Rand Corporation and the Department of Defense, and turned over to the public 7,000 pages of top-secret documents exposing government lies about the war in Vietnam. At the close of 2002, Ellsberg called on those in high positions to defy protocol and reveal the secrets kept from the public by a government determined to go to war.
In "Violence and Human Nature," I argue against the idea that violence and aggression are inborn, and insist they are determined by culture and indoctrination. I claim that it is possible for people to overcome that indoctrination and act with compassion toward fellow human beings. I now see that claim corroborated in the behavior of some of the families of those who died on September 11, 2001, in the fiery destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City. They reject the idea of retribution, believing we should not react to the terrorism of fanatical groups with the terrorism of war.
In the chapter called "The Use and Abuse of History," I ask that history be more than a cold recitation of facts about the past, that it serve a purpose in shaping the future. Traveling the country this past year, speaking against the drive to war on Iraq, I suggested that history might be useful in showing the futility of war as a solution for fundamental problems in international relations. Studying the past, I believe, would reveal the persistence of governmental deceit in luring the nation into armed conflict ...