DESPITE IAN MURPHY’S IDIOTIC PITCH (“All the cool social activists are doing it. If you do not participate, it will be clear that Noam Chomsky is way cooler than you, and I’ll be forced to get a tattoo illustrating that theme. I’m thinking Noam could be jumping over you on a motorcycle”), the inimitable author and historian Howard Zinn took the time to answer our questions. He’s a cool dude.
Your antiwar position is well known. Why do you hate the troops?
I do hate the troops who are occupying the White House. The troops whose weapons are lies and bullshit. As for the troops in Iraq, I feel for them—they are victims of the White House and the corporations. They are the young people I have known in various wars—very few with hatred in their hearts, mostly innocent, gullible, needing a break. I want them home immediately.
The recent violence in Basra shows that the surge has worked. Do you wish to comment on its success?
Yes, it has worked to keep the civil war going. It has worked the way the original surge (Shock and Awe) worked, to create chaos, to set people against one another, to ruin the lives of the Iraqis. And despite early reports of “violence down, surge worked,” the violence has now grown—to the deadliest month yet.
Is sustainable economic growth possible in a world with finite resources and a ballooning human population?
Difficult, but possible. The real problem is not finite resources and growing population although those are true. The real problem is, first, how these finite resources are distributed, and the market system, capitalism in other words, distorts what is done with these resources, that is, produces things not necessary for human life, creating a huge waste of resources. And second, the market system distributes these resources in the most inequitable way. So an economy based, not on what is profitable, but what is needed for human beings, would be hugely more efficient, so that even with scarce resources we could feed, house, clothe and give healthcare to everyone on earth.
In your opinion who is the superior Marx: Karl or Groucho?
It’s like comparing Babe Ruth and Carl Hubbell, or (to bring it closer to your generation) Joe Dimaggio and Sandy Koufax. Each one is valuable in his own way, and each one is indispensable. Can’t have good pitching without good hitting. Yes, Karl and Groucho are a winning team: fun and revolution.
You note in A People’s History of the United States that Wall Street takes its name from being on the site of a 17th century Dutch settlement barricade, which was erected by black slaves to keep out the Native Americans. Is Wall Street still exploiting labor and protecting wealth?
Has America become too stupid to see the value in educating its people?
Everyone believes in education. It’s just that people are being “educated” to take their obedient place in the system with the necessary technical and business knowledge to keep the system going. So education gives such tools, or if it ‘s not tools it’s history, philosophy, literature that has no bite, that is pleasant and interesting (not always!) but doesn’t challenge the status quo.
As a historian, do you view human morality as evolving over the ages, and if so, what do you see as the major impediment to the progress of humanist ethics and social justice?
A slow evolution, constantly disrupted by the control of information and education, which is the chief impediment.
In Orwell’s 1984, O’Brien ponders a grim future: “There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always – do not forget this, Winston – always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face . . . for ever.” In Zinn’s vision of the future, are there boots, and if so, what are they used for?
Orwell is describing the Establishment and its minions, Hitler and the Brown Shirts, Bush and the CIA. But most people do not want to trample on other people, and the problem is to organize the unorganized, to knock down the booted ones and remove their boots.
Is Matt Damon as dreamy in real life as he is on the big screen?
Yes, he is.