howard zinn

TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
—  Howard Zinn
If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, not as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one’s country, one’s fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government, when it violated those principles.
—  Howard Zinn, The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy

A great deal of my knowledge of history, politics, and international affairs comes from the books I read. I highly recommend them, especially in the age of Trump:

  • A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn: By my junior year of college, my politics had shifted from relatively conservative (yup, I leaned Republican for most of my life) to moderately liberal. After reading this book, I was firmly liberal. The sheer amount of information Zinn presents that you never learn in school is incredible. I consider this essential reading for every single American.
  • The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy, Howard Zinn: An indispensable collection of Howard Zinn’s writings on everything from race, to war, to social justice. Some of the best essays: Machiavellian Realism and US Foreign Policy: Means and Ends, Law and Justice, The Problem Is Civil Obedience
  • Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, Noam Chomsky: Written in 1983 after the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon, Chomsky utilizes primary sources (translated from Hebrew and other languages by Chomsky himself) hardly, if ever, presented to an American audience to reveal the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any Jews who support the Israeli government would do well to read this, and then try to justify themselves.
  • Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff & David Corn: An indispensable book about the failures and crimes of the Bush administration that led the US into a costly, unnecessary war in Iraq. Everyone needs to read this book. Absolutely jaw-dropping.
  • Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003-2005, Thomas E. Ricks: Written in 2006 in the wake of the disastrous invasion of Iraq, this book gives extraordinary military insight to complement the focus on the political end of the Iraq War. A good companion piece to Hubris, and great insight into military strategy for those of us who haven’t studied it before.
  • Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, Radley Balko: Astonishing and infuriating, and absolutely essential. This book is no liberal anti-cop smear: It is a bold and honest look at the government’s dangerous practice of preparing our police across the nation to violate all of the constitutional rights we hold dear, and denying accountability. 
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander: A companion piece to Rise of the Warrior Cop, focusing on the racism that underlies nationwide law enforcement. 
I’ve always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives who talked of how, in America, if you worked hard you would become rich. The meaning of that was if you were poor it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie, about my father and millions of others, men and women who worked harder than anyone, harder than financiers and politicians, harder than anybody if you accept that when you work at an unpleasant job that makes it very hard work indeed.
—  Howard Zinn
TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
—  Howard Zinn
There is the past and its continuing horrors: violence, war, prejudices against those who are different, outrageous monopolization of the good earth’s wealth by a few, political power in the hands of liars and murderers, the building of prisons instead of schools, the poisoning of the press and the entire culture by money. It is easy to become discouraged observing this, especially since this is what the press and television insist that we look at, and nothing more.
But there is also the bubbling of change under the surface of obedience: the growing revulsion against endless wars, the insistence of women all over the world that they will no longer tolerate abuse and subordination… There is civil disobedience against the military machine, protest against police brutality directed especially at people of color.
—  Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, (1999 Edition)
I’m very suspicious of people who would say that criticizing your government is unpatriotic. Somebody one said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism, and i think that that really puts it really concisely. I think that the world you wanna live in - the country you wanna live in - is shaped by people giving a shit.
— 

Tim McIlrath of Rise Against in “Another Station: Another Mile”

(The ‘somebody’ is Howard Zinn)

We were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness – embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television. This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.
— 

Howard Zinn

Love this quote as it encapsulates the process of “awakening” and starting to /get/ these issues so well.

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.
—  Howard Zinn
The system is racist. So, in a way, it doesn’t matter if individuals are racist. But if the system is racist and white folks aren’t proactively anti-racist in their words and deeds, they still give weight and momentum to systemic racism. As Howard Zinn famously said: “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
In other words, it isn’t enough to be not-racist. Even if that were possible, it would accomplish nothing except to serve as a form of self-justification. We must all be anti-racist…to name racism, work against racism, and deliberately model and enact what true equality and equity look in every aspect of life.
—  Mark Van Steenwyk