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Why the Feds Fear Thinkers Like Howard Zinn

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Posted on Aug 1, 2010
AP / Dima Gavrysh

By Chris Hedges

(Page 3)

We are amassing unprecedented volumes of secret files, and carrying out extensive surveillance and harassment, as stupid and useless as those that were directed against Zinn. And a few decades from now maybe we will be able to examine the work of the latest generation of dimwitted investigators who have been unleashed upon us in secret by the tens of thousands. Did any of the agents who followed Zinn ever realize how they wasted their time? Do those following us around comprehend how manipulated they are? Do they understand that their primary purpose, as it was with Zinn, is not to prevent terrorism but discredit and destroy social movements as well as protect the elite from those who would expose them? 

Zinn’s book is revered in my cramped classroom. It is revered because these men intimately know racism, manipulation, poverty, abuse and the lies peddled by the powerful. Zinn recorded their voices and the voices of their ancestors. They respect him for this. Zinn knew that if we do not listen to the stories of those without power, those who suffer discrimination and abuse, those who struggle for justice, we are left parroting the manufactured myths that serve the interests of the privileged. Zinn set out to write history, not myth.  And he knew that when these myths implode it is the beginning of hope.

“If you were a Native American,” one of my students asked recently, “what would have been the difference between Columbus and Hitler?”

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By balkas, August 2, 2010 at 6:24 am Link to this comment

What hedges reveals had been happening since first govt had been established by priests in sumerian cities such as lagash, nippur, eridu, et al.

The sole difference between sumer and US is that US has much greater population, money to spend than sumer did.

But there is no slightest difference in-thought between ruling class in US from the ruling classes in any asocialistic structures of society.

Not that it is of no value what chris reveals to americans class nine, eight, seven, six.

Asocialistic structures of society—in all degrees—appear as iniquitous; thus, can only bring us woes, warfare, exploitation, deceptions, lies, demonization of critics and alien peoples.

And in US all that appears not only permissible, but also constitutional commands.

For what is any constitution in classful societies, but a set of ‘laws’; i.e., diktats?

In such societies, we’ve lived in lawlessness for at least 8 k yrs!
Hedges had said that US constitution does not need changing.
Maybe not. But if ruling class via their judges solely interpret it, we’ll continue to undergo same or worse or treatments.

It is fact, that most or all salient statements contained in bible, quran, or any writ cannot be ever understood—it can be only intepreted.

And only lawyers, banksters, priests, and judges are permitted to interpret ?all ‘laws’ tnx

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By elisalouisa, August 2, 2010 at 6:22 am Link to this comment

Teaching a history class from Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States in any prison is indeed altruistic and also dangerous considering the content of Chris Hedges’ article. Hopefully, the satisfaction gained from helping others understand the real history of our country and thus more understand who they are made such an unselfish act worthwhile.

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By norman birnbaum, August 2, 2010 at 5:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Not only our splendid colleague Ellen Schrecker has written about assaults on academic freedom, the Columbia historian and sociologist Sigmund Diamond did so in his book, Compromised Campus, which sheds some stark light on Harvard, amongst other places. Perhaps the chief effect of the Cold War in our faculties, however, was the limit it set on general exploration of our world—-implicit, sometimes unseen, intellectual boundaries gew were able or willing to cross…....but nothing excuses the plebian vulgarity and self-righteous bullying of
John Silber as BU President, a very intelligent and even learned man contorted by the inner demons which drove him to external conformity…

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By Anthony, August 2, 2010 at 5:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m happy to see that we have something in common, Mr. Hedges.  We both teach in prisons.  There is only one thing that matters to these kids—authenticity—, brutal or otherwise.  It is the dysfunctional, mendacious and cult-like atmosphere on the outside that invariably puts these kids in the position that they are in.  Thank you for not giving up.

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By ardee, August 2, 2010 at 5:04 am Link to this comment

Anna Nomad, August 2 at 7:06 am #



Yes, very nice words about Howard Zinn, who was indeed a respectable person. 

But governments do what governments have always done; leaders do what leaders have always done; activists do what activists have always done; teachers do what teachers have always done; writers do what writers have always done; humans do what humans have always done.

So what effect do you imagine Zinn’s actions or words could possibly have on the course of human events when, after millennia of outstanding prophets, philosophers, teachers, thinkers, writers, and leaders, we are where we are today?

How many changes have occured by people remaining silent? There have been changes made during those millenia you speak of, and, your pessimism notwithstanding, change will continue to occur.

I think you take a very closeted view of our history and succumb to hopelessness when hope is much more worthy of your time and energies.

Words and ideas have remained with us, some for two thousand years and more in fact, and some will never be forgotten, some have moved us to make great changes, others to make small ones. Yours ,however, will quickly be dismissed and forgotten as we move to correct injustices.

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JohnnyOstentatious's avatar

By JohnnyOstentatious, August 2, 2010 at 4:49 am Link to this comment

Wow, I hadn’t even heard about the release of that file (thank you, mainstream media). And let’s not forget that Zinn didn’t go it alone; if memory serves, he almost gave up on writing PEOPLE’S HISTORY because of the immensity of it, but his wife encouraged to keep plowing on. Glad she did.

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By octopus, August 2, 2010 at 4:48 am Link to this comment

RIP Howard Zinn
Last of the true Patriots.

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By Terminator, August 2, 2010 at 4:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When will the silly liberals and progressives join the Libertarians in calling for an abolition of the FBI? Stop being girlie men and avenge Zinn’s persecution.

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By tedmurphy41, August 2, 2010 at 4:30 am Link to this comment

It is apparent that our “great” democracies didn’t dump everything used by the Nazi party in Germany following
the end of the war.

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By Terminator, August 2, 2010 at 4:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When will the silly liberals and progressives join the Libertarians in calling for an abolition of the FBI? Stop being girlie men.

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By davidreese, August 2, 2010 at 4:15 am Link to this comment

I heard Zinn speak a few years ago.  Zinn was naturally gifted as a speaker, with an incisive mind and a compassionate, gentle spirit.  His knowledge of society and culture and politics was encyclopedic.  He handled questions with brilliant analysis and disarming grace.

We’ll not see his like again.

(Apropos whether Zinn was accessible to the poor.  The lecture I attended was held in an inner city auditorium.  It was free and open to the public.  Zinn donated his time.)

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By parnell44, August 2, 2010 at 4:11 am Link to this comment

Thanks for this column!  I have long admired Howard
Zinn but was unaware of his involvement in the Pentagon
Papers.  My admiration has risen yet again.  I am glad
to see you are involved in prison teaching.  I am
involved in something similar and have found the people
I teach to be smart, curious and eager to learn.

Keep up these columns!

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dkenneth's avatar

By dkenneth, August 2, 2010 at 3:34 am Link to this comment

Dear Mr. Hedges,

Thank you for today’s column (Aug 2, 2010), about J. E. Hoover’s persecution of
Howard Zinn during a time in our national history which might become, I fear,
different from today’s relationship between the National Security State and its citizens
only in the sophisticated public relations the state employs, and the advanced
technology available for its surveillance and data collection.

One last thing: was the 7th paragraph in your column inadvertently spell checked by
your editor?

The informant’s letter, you wrote, is presented in your column “complete with
misspellings,” but there is none.

I would like to see the informant’s letter to the Bureau reproduced as you said it would
be, complete with misspellings. I don’t like to feel that I’ve missed reading something
humorous.

I don’t see much else in my day to make me grin.

Sincerely,

dkenneth
Los Angeles

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Anna Nomad's avatar

By Anna Nomad, August 2, 2010 at 3:06 am Link to this comment

Yes, very nice words about Howard Zinn, who was indeed a respectable person. 

But governments do what governments have always done; leaders do what leaders have always done; activists do what activists have always done; teachers do what teachers have always done; writers do what writers have always done; humans do what humans have always done.

So what effect do you imagine Zinn’s actions or words could possibly have on the course of human events when, after millennia of outstanding prophets, philosophers, teachers, thinkers, writers, and leaders, we are where we are today?

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, August 2, 2010 at 12:25 am Link to this comment

While Howard Zinn’s work is priceless, one wonders if the poor actually have access to people like him. Did he ever speak at public schools? I only ask because a friend of mine in Santa Monica has a kid attending the prestigious Crossroads school where Zinn was scheduled to speak the day after he ended up passing away.

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