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xcurmudgeon

On this day . . . . on any day . . . .

by: teacherken

Sat Jan 30, 2010 at 08:57:38 AM EST


Regular readers of my diaries are aware that it is not unusual for me to focus on an event of the day, perhaps a birthday, a death, an important event.  Some days, such as the birth of Beethoven (Dec 16) or Mozart (Jan 27) are ingrained in my DNA as one intimately involved with music since my earliest years.  Others, such as the 1963 Civil Rights March (Aug 28) I know because I was there.  Then of course there are the personal dates -  the birthdays of my spouse (Jan 29) and me (May 23), or of our shared events (encountering one another at the Bryn Mawr train station - Sept 21;  1st date - Sept 27; wedding - Dec 29).

Each day I check on the events connected with the date, in part because as  teacher I often find teachable moments, perhaps for my students, perhaps in my writing.  I use a number of sites, among which is Scope Systems (which is sometimes a bit off, so I do crosscheck their info).

This morning I cannot focus on one event - I find myself overwhelmed with history.  

Let me explain

teacherken :: On this day . . . . on any day . . . .
Today might well be a day to commemorate Franklin Delano Roosevelt, born in 1882, because the dime in his memory was first issued in 1946 and Dore Schary's play about the younger FDR, "Sunrise at Campobello," premiered on this day in 1958 - and for that I have a personal connection, as my parents took my sister and me to see it about 2 months later.

In 1965, Britain held the official state funeral of FDR's great contemporary Sir Winston Churchill, who after all is also an American citizen, not merely because of his American mother, but because the Congress of the United States chose to so honor him as they had done earlier with Lafayette.

IN 1948 Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated -  a man who served as a model for Martin Luther King Jr, and for many who sought non-violent means of changing the inequities of the world in which we live.

But this is also a day in which the malevolent presence of Adolph Hitler looms large.  In 1933 he was sworn in as Chancellor.  And in 1939 he called for the extermination of the Jews -  it was not that the world did not know his intent, because major newspapers around the world, including The New York Times, had that information in their stories the following day (although for some reason the list of events the NY Times offers for this date includes no mention of Hitler).

Perhaps one interested in Woman's history would note several of the births on this date -  eminent historian Barbara Tuchman in 1912;  Congresswoman and presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm in 1920; and feminist leader Eleanor Smeal in 1939.

Two people whose politics were very different were also born this day, actress and radical activist Vanessa Redgrave in 1937, Dick Cheney in 1940.

There are deaths of importance.  Perhaps we can remember that 1972 was Bloody Sunday in Londonderry, when British troops opened fire killing 13.  Or the shame of our own nation, as Seminole leader Osceola died in Jail in 1838.

Perhaps appropriately, Bob Herbert's New York Times column today is on the late Howard Zinn, who reminded us of how selectively we are in our recall and teaching of our own history.  In A Radical Treasure Herbert, who recently had a meal with Zinn, offers this:  

Mr. Zinn was often taken to task for peeling back the rosy veneer of much of American history to reveal sordid realities that had remained hidden for too long. When writing about Andrew Jackson in his most famous book, "A People's History of the United States," published in 1980, Mr. Zinn said:

"If you look through high school textbooks and elementary school textbooks in American history, you will find Jackson the frontiersman, soldier, democrat, man of the people - not Jackson the slaveholder, land speculator, executioner of dissident soldiers, exterminator of Indians."

Radical? Hardly.

Zinn called himself a radical.  I suppose I would similarly describe myself, although in doing so I make no attempt to elevate myself to Zinn's level.  It IS radical to insist upon an accurate portrayal of history, with all of its warts as well as its triumphs.  Just as it is radical to parse the language of modern day politics and policy to see what it really says.  That is, getting to the root of things is radical from the Latin radix - I was always fascinated by etymology -  and it is radical because we are rarely willing to be so honest about ourselves and our own history, to examine the flaws as well as the achievements of our heroes.

We often miss what we can learn from taking the time to remember the past.  For example, another date today is from 1781, when Maryland - the state in which I teach - became the 13th state to ratify the Articles of Confederation.  The Congress had adopted the document in 1777, but it required unanimity to go into effect.  Thus the Revolution was largely fought on behalf of a nation that lacked an approved governing document.  Yes, Yorktown was still in the future, thus the war was ongoing.  But might it not be beneficial to reexamine the Revolutionary period to recognize how unique the cooperation of the 13 states was given no document defining how a central government should operate?

I do not claim to be an historian, even though I have taught a variety of history courses over the years.  I have also researched topics that interested me, sometimes in conjunction with work in college and graduate schools, sometimes independently of any ongoing academic endeavor.  My perspective on historical matters is personal, shaped by my own experience and  the limits of my knowledge, yet also informed by my curiosity.   The idea of each day reminding myself of what has happened on that date in the past serves to connect me to something greater than the length of my own life, to see my own experience in a broader and richer context.  It can challenge me to rethink my attitudes, to deepen and reshape my perspectives and interpretations.

Today would be a very difficult day for me to choose one of the events of this date as a sole focus.  Thus I find myself reflecting on the nature of history, of what - and of whom - we remember.  

As a teacher of American Government, were today a school day I would probably find occasion to point the students both at FDR and Maryland's ratification of the Articles of Confederation.

But it is a Saturday.  And on Saturdays part of my personal pattern is to turn to the words of certain men whose columns appear that day, one of whom is Bob Herbert.  As I reflect over the history, I turn again to Herbert's words about Howard Zinn, particularly these  

I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. (He called himself a radical.) He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?

who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it  -  words that challenge me to examine how I lead my own life, what lessons I impart by words and actions to the students for whom I am responsible

that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet? - are those interests even included in much of the history we teach?  Why should it have been so radical for Zinn to insist upon our focusing on them in his People's History?  Do we avail ourselves of the kind of material he pioneered, and someone like Joy Hakim (A History of US) also offered?  

History.... births ...  deaths ... anniversaries ....   memories of all sorts.

On any day the are so many things to which we can turn to remind ourselves of how we arrived where we now find ourselves.  And as I write those words I find I am reminded of other - poetic - words, from T. S. Eliot:  

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

I am also chastened and remind myself that while it is good to remember that which has gone before, we should not be so consumed that we fail to notice what is happening now, around us, in which we are a part. We are participating in the creation of new history by what we do - or don't do,  by what we say - or how we remain silent when perhaps we should speak out in protest.  

As I write that last phrase, additional words come to mind, those attributed to Edmund Burke:  

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
  . . . to do nothing in the presence of recognizable wrong is to acquiesce in the damage that it does.

Remembering those words, and those from Eliot's "Little Gidding," I return again to the various events of this day.  I look at Bloody Sunday, at the deaths of Gandhi and Osceola, and most of all at the 1939 pronouncement of Hitler.  There is a lesson, at least for me, one that outweighs notable births such as that of FDR.  It is the requirement to speak out against injustice, as Howard Zinn did throughout his life.  It is the challenge to live in opposition to tyranny and oppression, as Gandhi demonstrated.  It is to be willing to risk oneself on behalf of others, as Osceola demonstrated.

And most of all, it is to never remain silent or fail to take seriously the radical statements offered by those in or aspiring to positions of power.  Adolph Hitler should have taught us that.

On this day ...   on any day ...   there are lessons we can learn from the past.  There are also present challenges to meet.

Present challenges:   health care, economic suffering,  political conflict at home,  armed strife around the world, . . .

Most of all, there are the challenges of ordinary living, taking the time to acknowledge those who are a regular part of our existence, being willing to open our hearts to others even in the smallest of ways.

Which reminds me of still other words, from the Gospel of Matthew:  "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!"  

Not all things are within our power to change.  We cannot use that as an excuse to turn inward, to avert our eyes.  Yes, we are entitled to live our own lives, to celebrate our personal joys, such as the birthday yesterday of my spouse.  Yet there is something more we are called to do -  to remember, to allow memory to help us open our hearts as a flower opens to the sun, rather than to close it off in a clenched fist.

That is true on this day ...   on any day ...  

Peace.

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If you have read this far, I thank you
one could dismiss what I have posted as too unfocused.  After all, I seem to start with one idea, yet wind up in a very different place.

And yet ..  if we do not allow our thoughts some freedom to explore, how do we learn, how do we grow?

For me, offering something like this is a way of challenging myself to live up to the idea of being vulnerable, of being open to possibilities I might otherwise not consider.

Perhaps my words will not speak to you.  I do not mind.

Perhaps one person will find value in what I have posted.  That might be a value I had not anticipated.  It does not matter.  It will still justify the time I took to write this, and will in some fashion connect us in a common purpose of attempting to understand, and hopefully heal, the world in which we live?

Peace.

This is my world and welcome to it


Howard Zinn is a fraud
I think the books Lies My Teacher Told Me, Don't Know Much About History and Not So, get at the heart of what Zinn attempted to do better than Zinn. Louis R. Harlan who died several days after Zinn, wrote a book on Booker T. Washington, a decade before People's History came out;which has no footnotes, and basically stayed out of the limelight, and was credited on by C. Vann Woodward, is a far more notable Historian.  Zinn, its all about Zinn.  His followers are all in Hollywood. Ayn Rand's followers are all on Wall Street. Zinn was a man, Rand was a woman. Zinn was a leftie communist, Rand was a rightie unabashed capitalist-who came from Communism. Zinn also questioned WWII and the use involvement. He thought America bombed Pearl Harbor.  Ironically, Howard Zinn was Jewish, and he didn't think the war against the Nazis or Japan was in his best interest.  His actions as "Historian" are more of an I was there kind, rather than writing books, I mean how can you write books and sit still, you might get hit by a moving train.  He was there at Ole Miss in Oxford in 1962 during the riot. He was there as the first white male at a black woman's college at Spellman, who later got fired, for chastising his employer for not getting more involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He was there when Pentagon Papers were exposed, his friend was Daniel Ellsberg. I am ashamed,as a Unitarian Universalist, that the publishing arm Beacon Press was Zinn's publisher, and that we carry his books.  He just comes across as egomaniac. Even standard liberal historians didn't accept him.

The rest of your post, I checked out Bloody Sunday awhile ago(about the Londonderry incident), very thought provoking. I hardly knew about that part of history, though I am old enough to recall violence in Northern Ireland, on the news. The part about Gandhi and Churchill deaths and the FDR dime are interesting. I find it fitting that Churchill who swore to oppose Gandhi and keep the colonial British Empire holdover of India in her majesty's kingdom, and the Gandhi, the man associated with colonial independence from backward 19th century pursuits, died around the same time-if years apart. Interesting post overall.


All History Is Viewpoint
History is what the word seems to say: "His Story," with an emphasis on "story."

From reading the usual world history, one would believe that nothing ever occurred in human history before civilization arose in the Middle East. Greece was some ideal of democracy (forget Sparta, forget slavery, forget that women were property). The Roman empire was wonderful (forget interminable wars of conquest, women as property, slavery)until it became lazy  and allowed "barbarians" to conquer Rome. Nothing much except plagues and cathedrals happened in the Middle Ages but civilization returned with the Renaissance. America was from its birth a beacon of freedom and equality (forget slavery, women with no civil rights, a genocide against the indigenous people of America) America's history is usually taught from war to war...Need I go on?

Zinn was another voice, one not heard much before he came along. Did he go overboard the other way, almost always finding fault with the winners who inevitably write the history? Yes.

Do I think he did that because he was trying to force people to confront truths they did not know about? Yes. He is not, as you say, highly respected by most mainstream historians. You are right there.

However, I haven't found anything written that says he lied about the facts he presented. He included his own opinions. That is not the way academics do things, but it was Zinn's way. Take him or leave him. But...don't dismiss him out of hand.


[ Parent ]
Hear, hear. n/t


"One person, one vote" died at the hands of SCOTUS, January 21, 2010

[ Parent ]
somewhat over the top with our language
in calling Zinn a fraud

s far as Loewen, there are problems with some of his work as well. He brings as much of a point of view to what he does as Zinn does.  I have seen Loewen get more than snippy with someone who did not agree with him, and this in a public book forum.  While I respect what he has tried to do, I would argue his impact was far less than that of Zinn, in large part because Zinn's work opened the door for others who wished to challenge the conventional way of presenting our history.


This is my world and welcome to it


[ Parent ]
Well,
I'm not skilled in this area. I can say though I can't respect a a guy who didn't believe fighting the Nazis was a good thing. But fraud, let's be honest here, historians are known for there books, Zinn has a slim slection. Do I know that John F. Kennedy is one of our greatest presidents for his inspiring oratory and things like the peace corps and his leadership with the Cuban Missile Crisis-yes. Do I know that John F. Kennedy was probably one of our worst presidents with foreign policy disasters such as the Bay of Pigs and the Coup of Diem-yes. These things are good to know, but Zinn seems to run too far away in a way that I can follow him.

[ Parent ]
brian12: I am afraid you might be looking at him through the
lens of a corporate media, and as one who swallowed the propaganda about Zinn whole. It's really easy to buy outright what, for example, the FBI said about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  For a very brief time I believed the garbage.  And I didn't blame Bobby Kennedy for his actions against King.  And then I realized they were WRONG.  In those days and since, it was easy to paint ultra liberals with one brush stroke.  A caricature was created by the extant media.  And so many Americans gust ingested it.  But the fable they told was the lie and the fraud.  So too is much of the storyline about Zinn.  He was a self-avowed radical.  He was passionate about what he believed, but he was nonviolent.  

Howard Zinn may be more liberal than I am.  But I think if you put aside the all-too-convenient contempt you will see not only a good man, but one who served others his whole life.  He did more for others in his retirement than most people do in a lifetime.  Any of us should be so lucky to have the millions of people who appreciate his contributions and his  honesty.  You have it all wrong about his behavior during WW2 also.  He fought in that war for the US.  He was a bomber pilot.  But he felt guilty about the "collateral damage" to everyday people who were beneath the bombs he dropped in our name.  It is one thing to fight Hitler.  And another to reckon with the civilian casualties.  Others have said as much of other wars.  Recently, former Sec of Defense during the Kennedy administration, Robert Mcnamara, outlined in great and grave detail the overkill in the firebombing of Japan.  The war against Japan was already won, when the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But you take every morsel of his life and try to twist it into something it wasn't.  First, he was no counterpart to Ayan Rand, a 3rd rate novelist. Novels are fiction, not history or (worse) economic theory upon which to base an economy.  Second, anyone should be proud of why he left Spellman.  Would that I had fought that hard for anyone.  My contributions pale.  

Pentagon papers being published by Beacon Press?  Condemned by you?  As a Unitarian-Universalist myself I am proud that they had the courage.  The fact that I do not does not lessen the importance of what happened then.  The Pentagon Papers revealed a fraud upon Americans (and VietNam).  There was no right to secrecy for such a fraud upon millions of people, which killed 58,000 Americans, one million VietNamese and scorched a country with napalm.  We were lied into that war too.  And like 2003 there was no accountability.  "Good Dems" just let Johnson get away with it.  "Good Dems" just turned their vision toward a cleaner tidier story about what happened.

Too many historians have sanitized our history, as they do in other countries as well.  But there is a more real story to tell, one which politicians and monopolistic textbook publishers would never countenance.  Sadly, your portrait of Zinn is pretty much "kill the messenger."  I say, we shouldn't be afraid to search our history really re-examine it and question it.  How else do we learn?  How else do we work to better both ourselves and our nation?  If you have a better way, have at it.  Meanwhile, I think we should have the courage to at least read what some contrarians write.  I rejected some as reflexively as you.  And then I revisited them later, only to find that there was much more to what they had said than I first believed. Maybe you should actually read the People's History of the US, or re-read it, as the case may be.

All I know is that Howard Zinn was a better person than I.  His legacy of millions of admirers, who worked tirelessly as he did to improve civil liberties, to make life better for those who struggled, is way, way more than most of us will ever accomplish.  

"One person, one vote" died at the hands of SCOTUS, January 21, 2010


[ Parent ]
Johnson called William Fulbright-Halfbright and ended their friendship
because Fulbright investigated the war long before it was on anyone's radar. I have Netflix and I used to work at a Hollywood Video. I was working there when Zinn's "You Can't Stay Neutral On A Moving Train, came out.  I checked the reviews of the movie-from ordinary folks,this is what laid the groundwork for raising an eyebrow against him,people had some negative comments about him. When I looked at Amazon's People's History,ordinary people had some hostile things to say about him. So I can't say I'm taking my cues from MSM.

When I got into the Beat Movement, that contradicted a lot of my beliefs, because in America, Ginsberg talks,a red diaper baby,about the Wobblies and Sacco & Vanzetti, let's see I have something of a brain fart right now,so anyhow.


[ Parent ]
Also
to suggest that ordinary folks' opinions aren't at least partially formed (if not entirely) by the extant media would suggest that ordinary folks live in a vacuum.

Sometimes hostile statements argue FOR being willing to see or read something.  

"One person, one vote" died at the hands of SCOTUS, January 21, 2010


[ Parent ]
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