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Activist and author Howard Zinn spoke to an audience at the Glenn Miller Ballroom Thursaday night about the obstacles facing Americans today.
Taking the stage, Zinn said it is always nice when someone shows up to his lectures. In fact, it was so crowded that a live feed was set up in other rooms at the UMC to accommodate the number of people who came to hear Zinn.
The event was presented by the Cultural Events Board who have brought many people to CU to speak, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and Lisa Ling.
Zinn said his talk does not have a name but some have called it “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train,” which is also the name of his autobiography. He started his talk by asking two questions: “What is the situation today in America?” and “What can we do about it?”
As for the situation in the country, Zinn said, “We all know the country’s been taken over by aliens. I feel like we live in an occupied country.”
The solution according to Zinn is for people to stop supporting the government. He said to do this people need to overcome certain obstacles that prevent them from responding to the government.
The first obstacle Zinn talked about was neutrality.
“There is no point in trying to be neutral,” Zinn said. “You can’t do it.”
According to Zinn, not taking a stand is a form of collaboration, a form of acceptance by omission.
Zinn said the second obstacle is the notion that we live in a democracy.
“We are not on the democratic point of the political spectrum,” Zinn said. “We are somewhere in the middle, between democracy and totalitarianism.”
The media, Zinn said, are an important part of any democracy. He said our mass media are controlled by only a few individuals, which doesn’t allow for a free and independent voice.
“Had the media done their job when America attacked Iraq,” Zinn said, “it might have reminded the people that it is a war crime to wage aggressive war on a country.”
Zinn said after World War II, the remaining Nazi leaders were brought to trial, convicted and hung for war crimes. Zinn does not condone capital punishment, but suggested that President Bush might be given community service instead of being hung.
A third obstacle facing Americans is the idea that we are the greatest country in the world, Zinn said.
“It’s like we’re the Boy Scouts of the world, helping other countries to cross the road,” Zinn said.
The idea that America is God’s favorite is a part of this obstacle. The song “God Bless America” is sung everywhere, Zinn said. He then asked, “Why us? Does not the rest of the world get blessed by God?”
According to Zinn, that is the overwhelming feeling in government, the one that allows one country to attack another.
“Almost anything Bush does is either blessed by God or suggested by God,” Zinn said. Apparently, he said, God is a Middle Eastern expert.
The final obstacle Zinn spoke about was the idea that all Americans have a common interest. “We the people” is the message that as one people the government must have our common interest at heart. History, Zinn said, does not prove this. The people’s interests and the government’s interest are simply not the same. He went on to say the government and the people can and must be divided when the government is wrong as in the definition of patriotism.
“Patriotism does not mean supporting the government,” Zinn said. “Patriotism is supporting the principles found in the Declaration of Independence.”
War is terrorism according to Zinn. He believes the war in Iraq will end, one way or another. When governments face soldiers who do not want to fight anymore their power disappears. In the same way when people withdrawal their obedience, governments lose power.
Zinn ended his talk with the poem “The Low Road” by Marge Piercy.
Eli Hartman, a senior international affairs major was a part of the audience.
“I absolutely liked his talk,” Hartman said. “He hit on some key ideas like the government’s interests are opposed to our interests.”
A similar reaction came from Christine Buckley, a senior history and women’s studies major.
“I thought it was great,” Buckley said. “I admire what Howard Zinn is doing for people studying history.”
Zinn is the author of over 20 books including his best seller, “A People’s History of the United States.” He has also written three plays, his first, “Daughter of Venus,” in 1985.