Actors including Viggo Mortensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald gathered in New York on Friday, the 10th anniversary of the publication of “Voices of a People’s History of the United States” — a work based on the late historian Howard Zinn’s million-title selling book “A People’s History of the United States” — for a reading of “Voices.” Mortensen spoke with “Democracy Now!” about “history’s corporate takeover[s].”

In particular, Mortensen discussed a selection from Zinn’s work that he read during a 2005 reading of “Voices.” The author was the 16th century Spanish historian Bartolome de las Casas, who wrote a short account of the destruction of the Indes. “Into this sheepfold,” wrote de las Casas of the people who once populated the island of Hispaniola, “into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days—killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three million), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.”

Mortensen went on:

Bartolomé de las Casas was a priest, a religious man, who accompanied some of the first Iberian expeditions to what we call the New World, you know, and what he’s talking about in that text, where he talks about extreme cruelty and basically that period in history’s corporate takeover of what we now call Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, that region, it’s really–it is very disturbing, what he describes. And he wrote these texts and presented them to the court, to the king in Spain, and complained about it. Nothing really changed, because economic interests are what they are, just as they are in this country and other places. Citizens have to do something, have to demand change, you know.

And, you know, this book, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, is unusual in that it has to do with firsthand accounts, contemporary accounts, throughout this nation’s history by people that maybe we’ve never heard of, events that we’ve never heard of, unfortunately. You know, I think that all tribes, all nations have what some call foundation myths, you know, which are—foundation myths, I think, are—well, Anthony can correct me, he’s the scholar here, but they are stories that we like to tell, or that governments like to tell, to protect, to further, to enforce a status quo, you know, established states of affairs. And what this book presents, however, are texts that are, as I say, firsthand historical accounts, reactions by more or less regular people to real social, political events. I think what I call this is foundation facts, you know, which is, I think, what you guys deal with or try to every day here.

Read a transcript of Mortensen’s remarks, and remarks by “Voices” co-editor Anthony Arnove, here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly


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