Category Archives: politics

About That Paris March…

HEADSOkay, I’m feeling dense here. The massacre at Charlie Hebdo was an act of fundamentalist religious madness with an undeniable political dimension that makes it all the more horrendous as a potential goad to other criminal and/or deranged extremists who see it as an acceptable act of revenge for insults to Islam

The simultaneous attack on the kosher market was another facet of religio-fascist Islamic fanaticism that considers Jews a particularly heinous subset of infidels.

I understand the spontaneous gatherings of the thousands who poured out into the streets of Paris. My older son was among them. In the midst of such trauma and uncertainty (the killers were still on the loose; the shoppers in the market were being held hostage) such an act of community, solidarity, and mourning is a good, positive response.

I understand the immediate messages to the French nation of concern and condolence from world leaders and prominent international figures.

What I don’t really get, as I think about it, is the meaning of all those dignitaries and heads of state, many of of them, as has been pointed out, among the cruelest dictators on the planet, some of the most repressive national leaders, who, even as they march in Paris, hold journalists, dissenters, political rivals, etc. in brutal captivity. Who torture, exile, spy on, and silence their own people on merely the suspicion of dissenting ideas.

What, exactly, is the message of this outpouring of the notable and the just plain folk? Why do I feel this is one big anti-Islamic gesture that will further marginalize millions of men, women, and children resident in western nations, and give license to the demonization of Muslims worldwide? I just don’t see this cadre of “world leaders” dropping everything to go stand up and be counted for Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, or for freedom of the press, or for… what, exactly?


Late Summer Rant

angryWe just do not have the margin to lose so much capability to bigotry. If you have a debilitating ailment, you want all capable hands on deck working to figure it out, to stop it in its devastating tracks.  If you have engineering problems to solve, you want all the interested trained minds drawn to excellent solutions. We need the arts to connect us to our selves and our world, ink for every writer, paints for every painter, an instrument for every musician, teachers to get them launched in the directions they are feeling for in the first light.

What is it in us that acts so persistently against our own best interests? All those centuries when women were labeled intellectually inferior to men — and that’s all it was, a pernicious label. All the fathers, all the brothers of the world knew their mothers, sisters and wives to be as intelligent, as capable, as creative, imaginative, visionary, rigorous, curious, dedicated, as they themselves were at any task to which they set their hands. But women were systematically barred from realms of opportunity. Medical school, law school, the doors were closed. Teaching, perhaps, but only until marriage. Consider the cruelty of that choice.

And consider the bizarre rationales that carried the day. The female brain was smaller than the male. The female physical constitution was was too fragile, the world was a series of hierarchical categories, and functioned best when everyone knew and occupied their ordained places therein. One half of all human brain-power was denied access to the tools and forums turned to the alleviation of human suffering.

Over the centuries, women, worldwide, have made their way forward against opposition even unto death. There are women in politics, far too few, women in science, far too few, women in the arts, far too few, and on and on. And because  millions of young girls, worldwide, are not actively encouraged, educated, incorporated into the great enterprise of improving the human condition, how far behind are we in all of the areas in which their brainpower would have made a difference? The idea of male superiority has inevitably slowed human progress.

In the United States, and elsewhere, the brutally imposed fantasy of white superiority truncates the physical, mental, and spiritual lives of us all. The massive potential in black and brown babies born every day is denied at their birth, their intellect pronounced nonexistent. How did we develop societies that work so hard, so deliberately, to smother human capacity? What is the perverse gratification beyond the exercise of brute force, capricious discrimination, and the establishment of misinformation, that chooses dehumanization over survival?

We have chosen fear over cooperation and progress. And yes, it is a choice. A choice  imposed by political, religious, and other forms of manipulation, pitting groups against each other; for profit, out of ill-informed belief, for control. And it is always the case that the more fearful those who feel themselves marginally holding the upper hand become, the more brutal and suppressive they become. Fear, indeed terror, active and passive, is an enemy of  reason. Fight or flight translates into stop and frisk, lock them up, stand your ground, and keep “them” penned in over there. While “we” are penned in over here; in much nicer pens, of course.

Because it is obvious, although not spoken, among the powerful, that superiority based upon force, and upon fantasies of inferiority is illegitimate and cannot last, those in power live for the moment, for their lifetime, not for the future, not even, these days, for the future of their own children and grandchildren. Perhaps this is a recurring historic pattern, possible because of the annihilation of genuine education at almost all levels. Perhaps we are moving toward a neo-feudalism in the West and even beyond.

Perhaps, even here, violent revolution, in a form we cannot yet perceive, is inevitable, leading to a great correction, a new formulation of democracy. The absence of primary and secondary education except for the privileged few, the vast expense of higher education, the systematic dismantling of human and civic rights, the rise of mindless and deadly “solutions” such as a heavily armed citizenry, all lead to enraged, armed camps. Camps impervious to rational thought, and dependent upon narrower and narrower definitions of humanity.

When powerful white men  reject basic scientific method and allow their own physical environment to deteriorate, when worldwide, religious fundamentalists share the belief that this  life can, and even should, be sacrificed for a greater one to come, when our supremacists in power not only incarcerate millions of harmless people of color, and work to disenfranchise as many others as they can, but also work to compromise the reproductive health of their own mothers, wives and daughters, what is this but the shadow cast by the threshold of a new Dark Age?


By Howard Zinn, Memorial Day, 1976

Published on June 2, 1976 in the Boston Globe (from the Zinn Reader)
Whom Will We Honor Memorial Day?
by Howard Zinn
ZINNMemorial Day will be celebrated … by the usual betrayal of the dead, by the hypocritical patriotism of the politicians and contractors preparing for more wars, more graves to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days. The memory of the dead deserves a different dedication. To peace, to defiance of governments. 

In 1974, I was invited by Tom Winship, the editor of the Boston Globe, who had been bold enough in 1971 to print part of the top secret Pentagon Papers on the history of the Vietnam War, to write a bi-weekly column for the op-ed page of the newspaper. I did that for about a year and a half. The column below appeared June 2, 1976, in connection with that year’s Memorial Day. After it appeared, my column was canceled.

* * * * *

Memorial Day will be celebrated as usual, by high-speed collisions of automobiles and bodies strewn on highways and the sound of ambulance sirens throughout the land.

It will also be celebrated by the display of flags, the sound of bugles and drums, by parades and speeches and unthinking applause.

It will be celebrated by giant corporations, which make guns, bombs, fighter planes, aircraft carriers and an endless assortment of military junk and which await the $100 billion in contracts to be approved soon by Congress and the President.

There was a young woman in New Hampshire who refused to allow her husband, killed in Vietnam, to be given a military burial. She rejected the hollow ceremony ordered by those who sent him and 50,000 others to their deaths. Her courage should be cherished on Memorial Day. There were the B52 pilots who refused to fly those last vicious raids of Nixon’s and Kissinger’s war. Have any of the great universities, so quick to give honorary degrees to God-knows-whom, thought to honor those men at this Commencement time, on this Memorial Day?

No politician who voted funds for war, no business contractor for the military, no general who ordered young men into battle, no FBI man who spied on anti-war activities, should be invited to public ceremonies on this sacred day. Let the dead of past wars he honored. Let those who live pledge themselves never to embark on mass slaughter again.

“The shell had his number on it. The blood ran into the ground…Where his chest ought to have been they pinned the Congressional Medal, the DSC, the Medaille Militaire, the Belgian Croix de Guerre, the Italian gold medal, The Vitutea Militara sent by Queen Marie of Rumania. All the Washingtonians brought flowers .. Woodrow Wilson brought a bouquet of poppies.”

Those are the concluding lines of John Dos Passos angry novel 1919. Let us honor him on Memorial Day.

And also Thoreau, who went to jail to protest the Mexican War.

And Mark Twain, who denounced our war against the Filipinos at the turn of the century.

And I.F. Stone, who virtually alone among newspaper editors exposed the fraud and brutality of the Korean War.

Let us honor Martin Luther King, who refused the enticements of the White House, and the cautions of associates, and thundered against the war in Vietnam.

Memorial Day should be a day for putting flowers on graves and planting trees. Also, for destroying the weapons of death that endanger us more than they protect us, that waste our resources and threaten our children and grandchildren.

On Memorial Day we should take note that, in the name of “defense,” our taxes have been used to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a helicopter assault ship called “the biggest floating lemon,” which was accepted by the Navy although it had over 2,000 major defects at the time of its trial cruise.

Meanwhile, there is such a shortage of housing that millions live in dilapidated sections of our cities and millions more are forced to pay high rents or high interest rates on their mortgages. There’s 90 billion for the B1 bomber, but people don’t have money to pay hospital bills.

We must be practical, say those whose practicality has consisted of a war every generation. We mustn’t deplete our defenses. Say those who have depleted our youth, stolen our resources. In the end, it is living people, not corpses, creative energy, not destructive rage, which are our only real defense, not just against other governments trying to kill us, but against our own, also trying to kill us.

Let us not set out, this Memorial Day, on the same old drunken ride to death.


Held Hostage

As Will Rogers said, decades ago,

“We have the best politicians money can buy”



Solid Gold Rachel Rant

Now we get down to business . . .