As my grandchildren grow and mature, I hope they’ll read the real histories of America – the people’s histories – and understand that global peace is possible if we’re humble enough to work for it.
by Charlie Leck
Yesterday, I sat for a few moments with a woman a bit more elderly than even I. I had delivered to her some lamb from our farm. We chatted. The subject turned sharply and became volatile.
She’s a wealthy woman. She lives on a big piece of land that was settled in 1857 by my wife’s great-great-grandfather. There’s a pretty pasture south of the house and some handsome horses grazing in it. You’d think she’d be a soft, conservative lady who would acquiesce to her husband’s politics.
I know her husband real well. I’ve played plenty of golf with him. We went out to Pebble Beach together and down to Palm Springs for golf outings.
America, she thinks, ought to stop being so hypocritical in its criticism of other nations of the world. She’s angry about the way we treated those detainees we held for the last eight years.
“We’ve got no right to complain about the way other nations treat people,” she went on. “Just look at the way we fire bombed Dresden and Tokyo during the war – even before that ghastly atomic bombing. I’m tired of this country being so self-righteous about everything. Look what we did in that prison in Iraq. Look what we did to them in Guantanamo.”
She pointed me toward the books of Howard Zinn.
“He wrote what’s called ‘a people’s history of the United States.’ None of this balderdash they teach in school. Zinn tells the truth. You didn’t go hear him on Monday night?”
I meekly shook my head.
“I told you about it!” She looked both displeased and disappointed. I looked out the window at the grazing horses. That pasture is land that old grandpappy Bradford Wakefield would have cleared.
She handed me a book by Stephen Kinzer.
“Be sure to read this. You’ll find out who really runs this nation. It certainly isn’t the people!”
Oh how I wished there had been time to sit with her and chat. She was frantic, however. I could see it in her face. She had warned me she was busy and had other plans for the morning. She had fire in her eyes and I wanted to hear everything she had to say.
There was so much truth that needed to be gotten out, and so little time!
Instead, I took the book and made my way to the car. Jasper and I pulled over into the parking lot of one of the town’s fancy country clubs and we took a moment to look at the book. I started by reading down the back cover. There is high praise from the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune. The publisher’s blurb was interesting.
“Regime change did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush but has been an integral part of U.S. foreign policy for more than one hundred years. In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer tells us the stories of the audacious American politicians, spies, military commanders, and businessmen who took it upon themselves to depose foreign regimes, starting with the toppling of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. He details the three eras of America’s regime-change century: the imperial era, when Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Honduras were brought into the U.S. orbit; the Cold War era, when the CIA deposed governments in Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam and Chile; and the invasion era, when American troops overthrew governments in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq.“Kinzer explains why the U.S. government carried out these operations and why so many of them have had disastrous long-term consequences. Overthrow is a cautionary tale that serves as an urgent warning as the United States seeks to define its role in the modern world.”
He sighed and seemed to understand.
“Let’s go home and find out about Howard Zinn, big fella. Oops, now, don’t get upset. We’ll go to the dog park first.”
So it wasn’t until this morning that I googled (oh, how I love that verb) Howard Zinn. In a tenth of a second I had 1,340,000 hits. (See why I like that verb!)
I started off at the Howard Zinn website and read the latest Howard Zinn news and some biographical information about him.
The following came from the Harper Collins website.
“Howard Zinn is a historian, playwright, and social activist. He was a shipyard worker and Air Force bombardier before he went to college under the GI Bill and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He has taught at Spelman College and Boston University, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Paris and the University of Bologna. He has received the Thomas Merton Award, the Eugene V. Debs Award, the Upton Sinclair Award, and the Lannan Literary Award. He lives in Auburndale, Massachusetts.”
Wikipedia tells me that Zinn is best known “for A People’s History of the United States, which presents American history through the eyes of those he feels are outside of the political and economic establishment.”
Zinn flew bombing missions in World War II. He stands in total opposition to war these days. He was active in the American civil rights movement in the 60s and served as an advisor to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was a mentor to a young student of some reknown – Alice Walker.
Howard Zinn has authored more than twenty books. And, I’ve never read a one of them.
“So little time.”
Well, I’ll begin with Kinzer’s book, Overthrown, while I wait for A People’s History of the United States to arrive.
Zinn was here in town on Monday. He spoke over at my wife’s alma mater, the College of Saint Catherine. Why the hell weren’t we there? Because I’m not supposed to drive at night and my poor wife has been going so fast and furiously that I just couldn’t ask her to spend another night out. And, I hadn’t yet sat with this kindly, tiger of a woman and heard her lash out at the emptiness of the histories we give to our children to read.
“I’m not saying, you know; I just saying!”
Now, you’ve got to add a couple more books to your reading list. So little time!
"...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, 1996]