have to become not just a military superpower, but a ‘humanitarian’
superpower,” historian Howard Zinn told a large audience at
the University of Georgia in April. “Terrorism is the extreme
fanatical edge of an ocean of resistance.”
known as the author of
A People’s History of the United
, Zinn has also written more than 20 other books since
he began writing history in 1959 with his book
La Guardia in
. His other works of history include
Disobedience and Democracy
Politics of History
Declarations of Independence
Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian
The Future of History
(2002), and his recent
Artists in Times of War
last year. Zinn also is the author of two plays,
Marx in Soho
—a play about Emma Goldman.
You are called a radical historian. Did you arrive at your philosophy
by evolution or by epiphany?
By evolution. Growing up in a working class environment in New York,
working in the shipyards, going to war, teaching at a predominantly
black college in Atlanta, and becoming involved in the civil rights
and antiwar movements gradually made it clear to me that so much
history, such as the history of black people, has been ignored.
the difference between a liberal and a radical?
liberal thinks that the system is basically good, but that it has
a few flaws. A liberal will say that we made a mistake in Vietnam,
while a radical will say that we didn’t make a mistake—it
was deliberate. Liberals think that you can work within the system
and maybe get a better president. Radicals think that the whole
system is so corrupt that it will swallow you up and spit you out.
Radicals also think that you need to create powerful social movements
outside the system that will put pressure on the system, what has
been called a permanent culture of resistance.
do you think are the real motivations for Bush’s war on Iraq?
that the United States does in the Middle East is based on a desire
to control the oil resources. A second reason is to have another
military base in the region. Military bases are like money to some
people—they can never have enough. The third reason is political.
Bush knows that if he gets the nation into a war, there will be
a rallying around the president.
an interview with C-SPAN, you called Theodore Roosevelt “the
most overrated American president.” Which U.S. president do
you consider the worst?
consider George W. Bush to be the worst American president. He has
aligned himself with the most reactionary elements in the country—with
corporate wealth and Christian fundamentalists. He sees as our enemies
the Islamic fundamentalists and in the U.S. he is representing the
Bush is the worst, which president is the best?
would have to call Franklin D. Roosevelt the best. Maybe one of
the reasons he was the best was because he was married to Eleanor
Roosevelt. She had a real compassion for black people and a warm
outlook. FDR was a kind of compassionate aristocrat, even though
he had all kinds of flaws, including his close ties to Southern
racist politicians whose support he depended on. To his credit,
he incurred the wrath of the rich and powerful. In one of his campaigns,
FDR said, “The rich hate me and I welcome their hatred.”
He believed in capitalism, but thought capitalism would be better
served by a more gentle approach.
historic U.S. figure would you most like to spend time with?
Keller, because she became a fierce antiwar person and supported
radical labor unions like the Industrial Workers of the World.
historical events of the last several decades have not received
enough attention in schools and colleges?
that come to mind are the migrant farmworkers movement and the rise
of activism among disabled people, many of whom are activists in
the spirit of the socialist Helen Keller.
is the greatest danger facing the U.S.?
greatest danger is our becoming a warfare state where the wealth
of the country is sacrificed for military adventures abroad with
less money for children and the environment—a movement toward
a kind of U.S. fascism. That’s an extreme statement, but in
the 1930s Sinclair Lewis wrote a book called
It Can’t Happen
about fascism coming to the U.S.
is the greatest hope?
greatest hope is that there will be a new social movement in this
country that will unite all those people who do not want us to be
a militaristic state and who want the wealth of this county to be
used for human needs. It will take that kind of movement to turn
this country in a new direction.
are some of your favorite historians?
Steele Commager, Charles Beard, and Richard Hofstadter are some
of my favorites. Paul Avrich, who writes about early anarchists,
is a fine historian.
are some of your favorite writers in the nation’s press and
what are some of your favorite alternative publications?
would put Barbara Kingsolver, Barbara Ehrenreich, Arundhati Roy,
and James Carroll, a
columnist, among the current
writers I enjoy. I like
In These Times
you could live in another country, what would it be and why?
because that way I could sneak across the border to have a milkshake
with my friends and cheer the Red Sox—and I’d have universal
Ed Tant is a
longtime activist from Athens, Georgia and an opinion columnist for