Friday, December 3, 2010

Reading Notes: A People's History, Part III

I'm not going to bore you to death with a long dissection of chapters 11–15. Why? Because I was bored to death with these chapters.

The previous 10 chapters had me constantly going, "Oh, good point...oh I didn't think of it from that perspective...yes." (And I'm saying that as if I had a pipe in one hand and a monocle in the other.) But this section, covering from post-Civil War to the Depression had one point. ONE. And Zinn repeated his "thesis sentence" about a billion times throughout 150 pages just by rearranging some words and changing the dates.

The rich keep getting richer at the expense of the poor, and the government uses war to distract lower-classes from organizing and rebelling. 

By this point I've come to the conclusion that this is the theme of this book, because it's been the focus of all 400 pages of it I've read so far. In the seventy years covered in this section, it went like this:
  1. Labor class gets exploited and people get angry.
  2. People start to rebel and go on strike.
  3. The government responds violently OR gets the country entangled in some war or foreign affair to distract people from the issues at home.
  4. War ends, people remember they're still angry with their own country. Cycle begins again.
At one point while reading, I just started to mark all the times Zinn rewrites his thesis in different words, so my book is filled with little margin notes that just say, "AGAIN??"

My biggest complaint about this section is that lots was going on in the country at this time, but he only writes about Reconstruction, WWI, and the Depression as they relate to labor disputes. So actually, I'm understanding this book is a very one-sided perspective. Now, I know it's easy to paint it black and white and say the working classes were victims of corporations, but there are a lot of people somewhere in the middle between the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. And all these perspectives are completely ignored. 

So that's all I have to say on that.

  • J.P. Morgan began business before the Civil War, during which he bought five thousand rifles from an arsenal for $3.50 each, then selling them to a general in the field for $22 each. They were defective and shot the thumbs off soldiers using them, but a federal judge upheld the deal as fulfillment of a valid legal contract. Scumbag.
  • In the 1890s, alliances between farmers began the Populist movement. They created a political party that was anti-elite and against mainstream parties, got some representation in the government, and spread new ideas and a new spirit—reminds me of the whole Tea Party hubaloo. And just to note, the Populist movement crashed and burned before 1900.
  • One interesting point I did not realize: all our international issues began because America was way overproductive and produced more than we could consume. So we searched for foreign markets. Or took them by force. So, see! That whole fighting an -ism (ideal) is just fluff propaganda to get the masses involved. Really, it's about money.
  • When did the term "socialism" get the connotations it has today? Because according to this, EVERYONE was a socialist in the early half of the 1900s. I'm convinced the majority of people saying Obama is a socialist have no idea what the word means. I mean, the socialists DID foster the "Progressive Era," which is a GOOD thing. We have socialists to thank for housing codes, health codes, and food/drug codes. My health and living conditions thank them.
  • W.E.B DuBois' "The African Roots of War" from the May 1915 issue of the Atlantic Monthly may be a good/important read.
  • "A socialist critic would go further and say that the capitalist system was by its nature unsound: a system driven by the one overriding motive or corporate profit and therefore unstable, unpredictable, and blind to human needs" (p 387).
  • "People organized to help themselves, since business and government were not helping them in 1931 and 1932" (p 394). We usually hear of FDR as a saint, saving the country from the Depression, but according to Zinn, he didn't have as immediate of success as we would expect. Oh hey look at that. A recession can't be fixed immediately. Things like this are why I think historical study is necessary—so people can learn from the past and gain a better grasp of how to deal with/react to present situations.

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