Critical Thinking

excerpts from an interview with

Howard Zinn

by David Barsamian

International Socialist Review, Jan/Feb 2005


Historian and author of A People's History of the United States, HOWARD ZINN, spoke to Alternative Radio's DAVID BARSAMIAN on July 21, 2004, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(source: Critical Thinking, David Barsamian interviews Howard Zinn, International Socialist Review, January-February 2005)


... it's a sad commentary on the capitalist system that the capitalist system could only solve unemployment through war (WWII). But, in fact, it's sort of a basic fact about this system that it is only driven to give people jobs when those jobs contribute to war and militarism.


... war is a class phenomenon. It is the poor who go to war, who get wounded and die in war.


... [war] gives the government a reason for existence. It gives the government a rationale for all it does. It gives the government more security from the possible rebelliousness of its own population when they face difficult conditions. Because war gives the government, the state ... an opportunity to unite the country around a foreign enemy and therefore to put into the shadows the grievances that people have against their own system.


... in the colonies just before and just after the American Revolution ... 1 percent of the population owned 33 percent of the wealth. You could take that figure all through American history, and it will only deviate maybe five or six or seven percentage points one way or the other. Today, the figure is not 1 percent owning 33 percent, but 1 percent owning 40 or 41 percent.


The market system in the ! Soviet Union has been disastrous. It has resulted in the flow of enormous wealth to a handful of people while at the bottom there is great difficulty for people in surviving.


Huey Long
"If fascism ever came to the United States, it would be wrapped in an American flag."


... if fascism did come to the United States, it would come as a result of the silence and the pitiful weakness of the American media, who would, as they have done again and again, go along with whatever the president says so long as he says he is doing it for national security.


... democracy is meaningless if the public cannot get accurate information. If information is withheld from the public by government secrecy, the public is misled by government lies, if the media do not report these lies, and if the media do not investigate what the government is doing and watch very carefully what the government is doing, then we do not have a democracy.


... many thousands of people who have been hired by private corporations to be security people, really a paramilitary function in Iraq. The press has repeatedly referred to them as contractors, implying that they're just there for business reasons. The more accurate term would be mercenaries. They are being paid to work with the American military. They are armed; they're just not wearing uniforms. This is the privatization of an ugly war.


There is a kind of belief that if you elected the government, then everything is democratic and you can trust the government.

You're also brought up to believe that your interests and the government's are the same. You're not brought up to look at history and find that very often the interests of the government are not the same as the same as the interests of the people ...


Congress is presumably there to check the excesses of the executive branch. That's what they mean when they talk about checks and balances and separation of powers. That's what Congress is supposed to do. But Congress doesn't do that in matters of foreign policy. Congress goes along with absolute obsequiousness to whatever the president does. So if Congress does that, and then the newspapers go along and the TV networks go along, then the public has no independent source of information from which to criticize or to suspect that something is being put L over on them.


The university traditionally is supposed to be a place for independent thought and a place that teaches critical thinking... But when it comes to really critical matters of life and death, of war and peace, you do not find that the educational system prepares young people to be critical of American foreign policy... in general, the education that young people get mostly does not prepare them to be critical thinkers about American society.

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