Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Zinn and the Art of History

Went to Politics and Prose last night with MJ. Heard a lecture from Howard Zinn. Yes, THEE Howard Zinn, the Left-wing modern-day Thoreau (as in Civil Disobedience). Loved it for the crowd, loved it for the atmosphere, dismayed at propaganda in the stories, but nonetheless good brain food.

The crowd was what one might expect to find at a politically charged, slightly-to-the-left sort of bookstore in NorthWest DC. Full of scholarly radicals in dork-hip thick-rimmed glasses, brainy librarian types with fluffy hair, granola college kids, struggling to find their voice, a scholarly black man in well-kept braids-a passionate teacher, rich women in cashmere scarves, attending these sorts of things to feel "with-it", the token skinny guy with frizzy hair, in old jeans and a shirt that read something about social justice or the mistreatment of animals, and then curious on-lookers like me and MJ.

I wanted to go before I left this place. Love that bookstore. And hadn't been there in so long. I used to visit all the time, when I lived in the district. It was a mere 15 minutes up Conneticut and my refuge from the other interns I lived with at the time. They all seemed ready to pledge their life-blood for the Bush doctrine, and (though I was still forming a political mind at the time) have never been good at joining in the passions of the crowd.

So of course I had to go pay hommage.

Zinn, along with his editor, Anthony Arnove, spoke about his latest book, "A People's History of the United States". A book about the seedy underbelly of our Nation's history. The stuff they don't tell you in school. Some people passed out information on a lecture at some church later in the week. The lecture would be from a former ROTC recruiter, turned anti-war demonstrator, and how he used to lie to get young kids to sign up for war. Several attendees asked, almost in awe of the man, questions pertaining to this book and his philosophies. One stuck out to me. A young woman, short, dark brown hair, a graduate student (I think), in a black tank top and several tatoos, asked Zinn what he had to say to those who believe the War in Iraq to be wrong, but that we started it and we should not pull out now because it would be irresponsible. These are my sentiments. Naturally I paid attention. He explained to this young woman, most likely my same age, that this was the same thing they said in Vietnam, and that they finally had to pull out when they simply could not get enough war recruits. It struck me. Was he right?

He quoted Einstein, something about war would cease when people refused to fight.

He also said we aren't helping these people. They don't want us there, they didn't want us there. They want us out. Bush has said if the current Iraqi electorate tells America to leave then he'll pull out. The people seem to want us gone. The leaders seem to understand our presence, but want their autonomy. Why are we still there? Would the insurgents take over if we left? I stop and think on this. Sometimes the answer is in the question asked.

Right or wrong I don't know, but it made me think about the engine we provide these wars in the first place. Zinn preaches empowerment to the masses. I think about all the wars we, as Americans, have entered into, especially during the last four years. I think about Iran. The current administration has already lit the propaganda match. We're already spread so thin, and in debt so far our grandchildren will be paying for these wars nobody wanted and have most likely promoted the very thing they were supposed to stop: terrorism.

In the words of Bob Dylan, "How many people must die before too many people have died? How many times must the cannon balls fly before they're forever banned?"

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This might be picky, but I believe those are Bob Dylan's words that Baez was singing. Thanks for the recap of the event.

SJ said...

You are so right. He penned it at the Fat Black PussyCat in 1962, with the aide of David Blue by his side.

I've always associated the song with Baez, Dylan's long-time girlfriend. That's the way I heard it first, and still the way I like it most.