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A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn


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#21 mweb08

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 11:04 PM

I won't either but Zinn was a self-proclaimed socialist. I'm not throwing the word around frivolously.


I didn't say you were.

I'm simply saying that denying that the book cautions against relatively unchecked capitalism is wrong imo. It can do both that and praise socialism.

#22 Russ

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 11:04 PM

That's fine, I guess. I think the word socialism gets thrown around way too frivolously these days, but at least in this book, he does seem to at least be sympathetic to socialism in the book. In this case though, I'm not sure how you can dispute that he's also arguing against relatively unchecked capitalism. I think that was abundantly clear. And the book has more recent updates too.

I won't continue to debate this aspect since it's possibly getting too political.

Ill also grant you the unchecked capitalism idea. Like I said, it's been a while and I remember the main idea I took from it. Ill reread it and let you know what I think more specifically.

#23 mweb08

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 11:10 PM

Ill also grant you the unchecked capitalism idea. Like I said, it's been a while and I remember the main idea I took from it. Ill reread it and let you know what I think more specifically.


Cool.

Any other thoughts on the book from what you recall?

#24 RShack

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 02:46 AM

[quote name="mweb"]

Hey, we agree about something. [/quote]
Imagine that ;-)

[quote name="mweb"]
Well it's hard not to think it's better than the portrayal in the book since Zinn intentionally left out the good stuff since he assumed people already had that side of the story.[/quote]
Right... he was filling in the parts that get swept under the rug.
He didn't make them up, he just spelled them out, that's all... otherwise, most people would never know.

[quote name="mweb"]
You're right about the taking steps to fix mistakes part, but it wasn't very timely in the case of the treatment of blacks and other minorities ...[/quote]
Well, I did say "eventually" ;-)

The worst part IMO wasn't that we were so late about slavery. We were about 50 or so years late on that compared to places that did better. The worst part was the 100 years after that. But, once the Civil Rights movement made everybody actually notice it, we did the best job I think was possible, and way, way better than anyplace else had ever done. The parts of that which gov't can fix, we fixed amazingly fast. And the parts of that which gov't can't fix, we did pretty good at: we still had racists, but it was no longer socially acceptable, so most racists pretty much kept it to themselves. One of the things that really bothers me about the last several years is that some segments of influence have made that way more acceptable than it used to be. I think that sad trend shows the importance of having leadership that brings out the best in people, and the danger of having so-called leadership that brings out the worst in people. First time in my lifetime that we had influential forces bringing out the worst in people so overtly and getting away with it. The good news is that lots of younger folks instantly know it's BS, so I am still hopeful that the recent backwards steps are mostly a last-gasp blip of old retrograde attitudes. Only time will tell.

[quote name="mweb"]
and I don't think there's been many steps or even the admitting of mistakes in regards to foreign policy. Not that we can really talk about that much. I guess we can talk about some older stuff. The line between talking history and politics and often be blurry. At least it's not a party thing as both have been pretty consistent in this regard.[/quote]
Good point about not taking the conversation there. Suffice it to say, I think that we would have had a much better track record in that regard except for the fact that anybody in leadership who tries to do better about that would get lambasted for being chickencrap, for not being true-red-white-and-blue, etc. Because of that, it has to be handled with a lot more subtlety than it would be otherwise. All in all, I think most people would be fine with us owning up to that, provided it was handled properly. People teach their kids that you gotta treat people right and fix your mistakes and do all that kind of good stuff. It's the same basic thing, just on a different level. Shame that internal factors get in the way of us doing better about that kind of thing...

 "You say you've lost your faith, but that's not where its at.

  You have no faith to lose, and ya know it" - Bob Dylan


#25 Russ

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 11:23 AM

Cool.

Any other thoughts on the book from what you recall?

I'll post my thoughts as I read it again over the next couple weeks.

#26 mweb08

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 11:28 AM

I'll post my thoughts as I read it again over the next couple weeks.


Nice. You'll be reading it a lot more quickly than I did. While I think it's an important and interesting book, it wasn't a real page turner for me. Then again, I don't read as often as I should. At least with books.

#27 Ricker Says

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 11:36 AM

Well, I'm intrigued and will probably be reading this soon as well.
"You can't sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You've got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That's why baseball is the greatest game of them all." ~ The Earl of Baltimore

#28 Chris B

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 12:03 PM

Yes, U.S History in general.

But I'd be interested in an answer to both.


Like others have said, I think history is history. There are some bad points (in our history) that Zinn refers to, but I believe his goal is to just tell the story from a different vantage point.

As for how it's taught in American schools, I can only really answer it from my experience. For my AP class, I had a great professor that forced us to analyze how each event affected the United States as a whole on a political, social, and economic level. I am certain that this is probably not the way history is taught across the country. I feel like most history classes are solely about the memorization of definitions, dates, and names of people/places/events rather than why/how a certain thing happened and what its effects are.

#29 RShack

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 04:46 PM

When I was in high school (67-70), history was all about events and people... wars, presidents, kings, that kinda stuff...

They didn't say beans about the tenor of society, about how society evolved, that kind of thing... and certainly not a word about economics... and not more than 10 words about the crucial role of the labor movement in creating the America we like to think of it being... of course, when I was in high school, the importance of labor was something that was present in everybody's everyday life, it was what the WW2 generation did after they came back from the war to make everything better for almost everybody, it wasn't some controversial thing that was being dissed and rubbed out... that sad tale didn't happen until later...

 "You say you've lost your faith, but that's not where its at.

  You have no faith to lose, and ya know it" - Bob Dylan


#30 mweb08

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 06:15 PM

I'm not sure that the time at the end and following WWII was really that great of a time for America. It was great in the sense of the economy booming due to the war, but otherwise, there were tons of issues then too.

#31 RShack

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 06:26 PM

I'm not sure that the time at the end and following WWII was really that great of a time for America. It was great in the sense of the economy booming due to the war, but otherwise, there were tons of issues then too.

There's always issues. There's never not issues.

What mattered is that right after WW2 most of them were faced head-on and dealt with constructively. Over about 20+ years, an amazing number of good things happened in the world, and the US was largely responsible for most of them (sins notwithstanding). And most of that was because we had good leaders who pretty much demanded the best from everybody, and most folks believed in that and rose to the occasion.

Now, we don't face any of our more-than-several issues. What's crazy is that most of them are within our control, but we still don't do anything about them. Instead, lots of folks chant "We're Number 1" and talk about pride... which is way different than actually acting like we're grown-ups, which is how you get to be Number 1 in the first place. When we were fixing things, nobody chanted "We're Number 1" and nobody talked about pride either. Instead, we got things done, and many of those things were downright excellent. That's when the American Dream became real for normal folks.

 "You say you've lost your faith, but that's not where its at.

  You have no faith to lose, and ya know it" - Bob Dylan


#32 mweb08

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 06:31 PM

What worldwide good was the U.S. largely responsible for? Helping to reconstruct Europe I'll grant you even though it was out of self -interest more than anything. Same with Japan, but it's hard to give them much credit for that unless you're going to doc them much more for dropping the bombs on them to begin with. What else are you thinking of?

#33 RShack

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Posted 23 September 2012 - 02:21 AM

What worldwide good was the U.S. largely responsible for? Helping to reconstruct Europe I'll grant you even though it was out of self -interest more than anything. Same with Japan, but it's hard to give them much credit for that unless you're going to doc them much more for dropping the bombs on them to begin with. What else are you thinking of?

Well, first off, the bad/sad things don't negate the good things. Frankly, I don't have nearly as much problem with the 1st A-bomb as I do with the 2nd one... and with the fire-bombing of Dresden which we did for no good reason of any kind, it was just vengence. There was nothing to bomb in Dresden except normal people. I see no reason to believe that the 1st A-bomb cost more lives/misery than a D-Day like invasion of Japan would have caused (along with all the pre-invasion bombing). But the 2nd A-bomb and Dresden, well, they're just 2 examples of war dehumanizing people, including those at the top who make desisions like that. War always does that... a fact which obviously is lost on folks who are rah-rah about how we oughta get into wars about whatever, as if it's some kind of noble enterprise.

Whatever happened during the war doesn't say anything about what happened afterwards. Now, it's true that the Marshall Plan (and the equivalent for Japan) can be described as being in US self-interest. So can anything else that's good. If you make good things happen, it tends to be good for you in the long run. But that self-interest does not minimize the significance of what those things were: they were a new model of how you deal with enemies who tried to kill you and who you vanquished in the end. All the tradition was in the direction of punishment and retribution. That's what happened after WWI, which in turn helped cause WWII.

After WWI, Prez Wilson tried to stop the retribution approach, but nobody listened to him because the US was still a minor player. After WWII, we put a stop to that. We did it by cramming it down the throats of the British and French who wanted to do the same damn thing all over again. They actually started to do it. There are little historical oddities that reflect that. For example, if you know about cars, here's two stories about car companies which reveal that. The Shelby Cobra was Carroll Shelby cramming a Ford V8 in the car body of the British AC Bristol. AC made the chassis/body, and put Bristol engines in them. They were happy to deal with Shelby because Bristol had quit making the engines (Bristol started using Chrysler V8s instead), so AC had no business reason to keep making the body/chassis. Well, the engine that Bristol quit making was the one they swiped from BMW after the war. It was a straight-6 BMW from before the war, and the British simpy stole the damn thing. Another example is the first post-war Renault. It was designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, who the French suckered into coming to a meeting about getting the rights to make the VW Beetle which he had designed. Once he showed up for the meeting, they threw him in prison and kept him there until he designed a version for them. That's why those Renaults look kinda like 4-door VW bugs: the same guy designed them. Nothing wrong with getting Dr. Porsche to design a car for you, the problem is that they didn't hire him, they just threw him in prison and made him do it. His cell was constantly cold and damp, and it ruined his health. He was probably the greatest car designer ever (he had a petrol/electric *hybrid* running before WWI) , but he died soon after the French let him go, courtesy of what the French did to him. (It was his son, Dr. Ferry Porshe, who built the Porsche car company everybody knows about. His grandson, Butzi Porsche, desgined the 911; his other grandson, Ferdinand Piech. built the current VW/Audi/Porshe car conglomerate.) This kind of "take whatever you can get and punish them however you want" stuff happened before the occupation got organized, before the US could throw its weight around and make the British and French stop that kind of bullying crap.

In Japan, MacArthur was basically a postwar dictator. He set the tone for their economy by telling Toyota, et al., that their main job was not to make a profit. He told them their main job was to serve their society by providing stable jobs so that their country could rebound from the war and build a middle class. That set the tone of their recovery, and it was based on ideas from America about the importance of having a society built around the middle class. Same thing with their focus on endlessly focusing on improving quality. That wasn't their idea, that was Peter Demming's idea, he's the American guy who invented the system to do it. Amercian corporations didn't listen to him, but the Japanese did, simply because they needed to constantly expand if they were to satisify the directive from "Emperor MacArthur" to serve their society and build a middle class in Japan. That's where the Japanese focus on gaining market share came from: the best way to create jobs for their society was to gain market share. That was more important to them than profit was, because their main loyalty was to doing what was best for their society. (That attitude is perfectly in keeping with what the inventor of both economics and free market theory, Adam Smith, said in 1776: it only works if the guys running it are "moral men" who do what is best for their community/society, not just what is best for them personally.)

Apart from setting the rules for postwar Western Europe and Japan, the other thing the US did was to tell everybody that the days of having colonies was over. The British and French weren't happy about that, but they were in no position to argue. The US threw its weight around about that, and what were they gonna do? Now, lots of people point out that America developed a kind of pseudo-empire after the war, and there is some truth in that. But the big thing that lots of people miss is that it was only a *pseudo* empire, not a real empire. We did that by basically deciding that the rule for the postwar Free World was an end to actual empires. That is a very huge thing to have done. Of course, the flip side of that is that we also supported a bunch of dictators in Third World countries, in some part because we preferred "our dictators" to Soviet-supported dictators, and in some part because corporate interests wanted to get their own way in banana republics. Not saying that was right, but I am saying that we do deserve credit for establishing the idea that every country gets to be its own self, not somebody else's colony. We take it for granted now, but it really was a world-changing thing. And we did it in part because of our belief system, becaue of our own history of breaking away from being somebody else's colonies, it was not just because of cynical selfish reasons.

The main good thing that we did after WWII was to invent the political/economic system that defeated Communism and established what we used to call the Free World. The entire basis of that system was that we invented a very practical solution, based not on abstract idealogy but rather based on the very practical criteria of doing what works. What we invented was a hybrid based on very selectively integrating the best features of Capitalism and Socialsim. We used the economic system of Capitalism, which is necessary for a dynamic economy, and used that in the context of a larger social system that humanized it and made it work for almost everybody rather than just a few. That's what invented the huge middle class. We didn't kneel down to Capitalism, we didn't reify it like some people do now, we instead decided to use it for what it can do best. We also limited it to prevent the worst parts of it from taking over. The method we used was a combination of 2 things: One thing was to use gov't to establish rules that Capitalism had to follow, and to use gov't to do the social-benefit things that Capitalism won't do and cannot do, i.e., aspects of Socialism. We had a healthy balance of the best parts of both Capitalism and Socialism so that they kept each other in check. The 2nd thing was to use Labor to keep Ownership in check, which is how workers started to be treated decently, rather than just being used up and thrown out based on whim. That combination was the model for the entire Free World of industrial civilization (not counting the dictatorships in Third World countries) that competed with Communism.

The Cold War was essentially a 50-year contest to see which system could/would do the best job of providing a decent life for normal people. The entire claim of Communism that it would do a better job at that than Capitalism would. The way we defeated Communism was to invent the hybrid thing that incorporated the best elements of both Capitalism and Socialism. The entire Free World used it, with different countries having somewhat different balances between the Capitalism-part and the Socialism-part. From the end of WWII up until the 80's, we did the best job of that of anybody. We did it so well that after 50 years of seeing which system would work best, the Commies basically just gave up. They admitted that our system worked better, at which point they started to abandon Communism and adopt aspects of what we had done. The best thing that ever happened to most people in America was that hybrid system we invented, back when we were competing with the Communists. That hybrid system was... and still is... the only political/economic system in the entire history of the world that proved successful at creating and sustaining the middle class as the backbone of properous society.

Tragically, for the last 30 years we've been conned into dismantling that hybrid system we invented, the system that defeated Communism and changed the world. Once the Commies gave up, certain forces started rewriting history and started claiming that it was somehow pure Capitalism that deserves the credit for killing Communism, and claiming that the US Gov't that pretty much led the Free World is somehow a bad thing. But that story is complete and total BS. It wasn't pure Capitalism that did it, it was the American hybrid system that integrated the best features of Capitalism and Socialism that did it. And in that American system that did it, it just is not at all true that "gov't is the problem", that's BS. The actual fact is that gov't was a crucial part of the solution that actually worked. That hyrbid system that workd is what we had *until* we won the Cold War. Then, once we won, we got conned into dismantling it. We got conned into dismantling it so that American corporations could turn their back on America and boost their profits at the expense of America. We got conned into thinking that our own gov't is somehow bad at things that it proved to be very good at. We got conned into accepting the exact opposite of what MacArthur had the Japanese doing. We got conned into thinking that shipping US jobs overseas is just fine, when it's not just fine. We got conned into giving up pensions... and healthcare... and vacation days... and job security. We got conned into thinking that giving up all that good middle class stuff was somehow the all-American thing to do. It's not the all-American thing to do; rather, it's getting conned by ignorance into cutting our own middle class throats.

By the time we won the Cold War , the countries we helped to rebuild were rebuilt enough that they could compete with us. Which is fine, nothing wrong with that. Then, China got on the Capitalism bandwagon and they started competing with us too. Nothing wrong with that either. To the contrary, that's basically a good thing: in just 25 years, China has created an almost-middle-class from nothing ,and now they've got 300 million people in it, when just 25 years ago they were poor as dirt. That's an amazing achievement if you think about it. The problem isn't mainly them. The main problem is that we didn't adjust our policies to the world we created. Make no mistake: that *is* the world the US created... a world that can compete with us. We deseve immense credit for that. We didn't set out to keep our thumb on everybody. We set out to establsih the Free World where everybody can compete if they want to. That was a very radical and very unselfish thing we did, and we deserve a ton of credit for doing that.

The problem is that we've been heading back to the human disaster of pure Capitalism and away from the proven American hybrid Capitalism/Socialism system that works so well. There is no doubt about where that leads. We know what pure Capitalism does: it creates the world of Dickens, the world that Marx witnessed in England, the system that he was reacting to when he invented the ideas of Communism. The world of pure Capitalism is harsh and treats normal people like dirt. It is perfectly fine for taking people who are worried about starving and turning them into a downtrodden working class. That's why it worked here when people starving in Europe showed up here a hundred years ago. That's also why it's working for China: their challenge is to get away from starvation and make progress towards being able to survive hand to mouth. But pure Capitalism is not something that builds the kind of middle class where people can do things like retire and have ample money in the bank and things like that. Pure Capitalism is hostile to that level of well-being for people who work for a living, because that interferes with Maximal Profit.

The only system in the history of the entire world that has worked at creating a huge and growing middle class is the American hybrid version that combines the best features of Capitalism and Socialism. We already invented that. We already proved that it works. We just failed to update it to deal with globalization. We could have updated it, but we didn't. We didn't update it becasue we don't solve problems anymore. We didn't update it because corporations are not citizens, they don't care about what's good for America, they just care about what's good for their stock price, and they own Congress. Can't blame them for that, it's just the nature of corporations to do that, it's their job. If we want them to have the responsibilities of acting like citizens who care about America, we have to make that part of the rules, like MacArthur was able to do in Japan after the war. Sadly, it seems like most folks today think it's fine and proper to let corporations decide what they will and won't do, as if society should have rules for people to follow but no rules for corproations to follow. If we keep doing that, we're going back to a Dickensian society. Even Adam Smith knew that, and he knew it way back in 1776. I don't know why we don't realize it now. The greatest American postwar invention is a huge, growing, and prosperous middle class. I just hope we remember that fact, remember how we did it, and update society's rules so we can do it again. That will work out immensely better than if we continue to let ourselves get conned.

So, bottomg line: America's postwar accomplishments include two hugely important things that have no precedent in all of history:
1. Creating the Free World, in which each country gets to be it own self, not a colony of some other country, and gets to run itself pretty much however it wants.
2. Inventing the hybrid political/economic system that integrates the best aspect of Capitalism and Socialism to create a large and prosperous middle class of normal people.

I don't see how anything could be more important than those two things. The immense goodness of those two things is huge, and that's true nomatter what crappy things we also did (like send the Marines into Latin America whenever we felt like it, and the various other things we shouldn't have done but did anyway). The crappy things we did are unfortunate and regrettable, but they don't negate the good things we did. The good things we did are hard to beat. No other country did the good things we did, back when we were actually facing problems and solving them, instead of getting distracted by crazy stuff and doing nothing like we have been lately.

ps: I didn't even mention all the science/knowledge/technology breakthroughs, which are almost entirely the result of the American invention of academic/government partnerships. That kind of thing was part of the postwar American formula too, and is something else we've been conned into dismantling lately as part of our tragic do-nothing-but-maximize-profits stance.

 "You say you've lost your faith, but that's not where its at.

  You have no faith to lose, and ya know it" - Bob Dylan


#34 mweb08

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 02:05 PM

I haven't even read your post yet due to its length, but I'll say it's unlikely I'll respond to most of it.

Some thoughts as I skim:

I do have an issue with both A-bombs. I guess we as a nation are so used to our military targeting and killing non military targets that we don't have much of an issue with it, but I do. Then add the severe effects of the bombs used and it makes it that much worse. Plus, in the book we are talking about, Zinn says that Japan would have surrendered before the dropping of the bombs if a total surrender wasn't demanded. Furthermore, lets be honest about why they dropped the bombs, it was to finish off Japan before the Soviet Union could lay partial claim to victory. So in this case, while the U.S. should get some credit for helping to rebuild Japan, considering they caused the bad things, yeah, I do think when evaluated as a whole, the U.S. comes out well behind in terms of doing good here.

Yes, the U.S. deserves some credit for how they handled things when the war ended and afterwards. I think they were far from perfect in how they handled things, though.

As far as the end of colonization, well the U.S. was far from innocent in this regard prior to WWII and afterwards as you point out. Especially in the South Pacific. Then we took the exact opposite approach of what you're talking about with Vietnam. We also supported dictators in various countries as you mention. I don't think that can be mentioned as an aside either. What this country has historically done in this regard is atrocious imo and quite hypocritical. Overall, I don't think our foreign policy deserves to be lauded that much.

I think the Cold War was a negative and I don't think communism needed to be defeated by us. I also don't think much of what we did was all that effective or worthwhile in attempting to defeat it (way too many lives lost on our side as well as foreigners, plus way too much money wasted on wars and military equipment that wouldn't be used). McCarthyism was also an awful side effect of the U.S. anti Communism propaganda machine. I don't believe in the Domino Theory either. I do agree with much of what you write about more recent times, but we probably shouldn't be talking much about that.

As for as your two numbered points.

1. I don't think we are really in a world where each country gets to be its own self. The U.S. and China along with others to a lesser degree have a great deal of influence in other countries and the track record of how they use that influence is very questionable imo. I think the way we have dealt with other nations and innocent civilians throughout our history and specifically since WWII is not very positive. And it is certainly not a record of being unselfish.

2. That's partially true; although, I don't think things were nearly as good as how you make it seem.

So I think it's very much a mixed bag.

Yes, this nation has been great in regards to the types of breakthroughs you mention.




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