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Why the Feds Fear Thinkers Like Howard Zinn

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/08/02-0 Monday, August 2, 2010 TruthDig.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2010
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/08/02-0
      Monday, August 2, 2010
      TruthDig.com
      Why the Feds Fear Thinkers Like Howard Zinn
      by Chris Hedges

      Today I will teach my final American history class of the semester to
      prison inmates. We have spent five weeks reading Howard Zinn’s “A
      People’s History of the United States.” The class is taught in a small
      room in the basement of the prison. I pass through a metal detector, am
      patted down by a guard and walk through three pairs of iron gates to get
      to my students. We have covered Spain’s genocide of the native
      inhabitants in the Caribbean and the Americas, the war for independence
      in the United States and the disgraceful slaughter of Native Americans.
      We have examined slavery, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the
      occupations of Cuba and the Philippines, the New Deal, two world wars
      and the legacy of racism, capitalist exploitation and imperialism that
      continue to infect American society.

      We have looked at these issues, as Zinn did, through the eyes of Native
      Americans, immigrants, slaves, women, union leaders, persecuted
      socialists, anarchists and communists, abolitionists, anti-war
      activists, civil rights leaders and the poor. As I was reading out loud
      a passage by Sojourner Truth, Chief Joseph, Henry David Thoreau,
      Frederick Douglass, W.E.B Du Bois, Randolph Bourne, Malcolm X or Martin
      Luther King, I have heard students mutter “Damn” or “We been lied to.”

      The power of Zinn’s scholarship—which I have watched over the past few
      weeks open the eyes of young, mostly African-Americans to their own
      history and the structures that perpetuate misery for the poor and
      gluttony and privilege for the elite—explains why the FBI, which
      released its 423-page file on Zinn on July 30, saw him as a threat.

      Zinn, who died in January at the age of 87, did not advocate violence or
      support the overthrow of the government, something he told FBI
      interrogators on several occasions. He was rather an example of how
      genuine intellectual thought is always subversive. It always challenges
      prevailing assumptions as well as political and economic structures. It
      is based on a fierce moral autonomy and personal courage and it is
      uniformly branded by the power elite as “political.” Zinn was a threat
      not because he was a violent revolutionary or a communist but because he
      was fearless and told the truth.

      The cold, dead pages of the FBI file stretch from 1948 to 1974. At one
      point five agents are assigned to follow Zinn. Agents make repeated
      phone calls to employers, colleagues and landlords seeking information.
      The FBI, although Zinn is never suspected of carrying out a crime,
      eventually labels Zinn a high security risk. J. Edgar Hoover, who took a
      personal interest in Zinn’s activities, on Jan. 10, 1964, drew up a memo
      to include Zinn “in Reserve Index, Section A,” a classification that
      permitted agents to immediately arrest and detain Zinn if there was a
      national emergency. Muslim activists, from Dr. Sami Al-Arian to Fahad
      Hashmi, can tell you that nothing has changed.

      The file exposes the absurdity, waste and pettiness of our national
      security state. And it seems to indicate that our security agencies
      prefer to hire those with mediocre or stunted intelligence, dubious
      morality and little common sense. Take for example this gem of a letter,
      complete with misspellings, mailed by an informant to then FBI Director
      Hoover about something Zinn wrote.

      “While I was visiting my dentist in Michigan City, Indiana,” the
      informant wrote. “This pamphlet was left in my car, and I am mailing it
      to you, I know is a DOVE call, and not a HOCK call. We have had a number
      of ethnic groups move into our area in the last few years. We are in a
      war! And it doesn’t look like this pamphlet will help our Government
      objectives.”

      Or how about the meeting between an agent and someone identified as
      Doris Zinn. Doris Zinn, who the agent says is Zinn’s sister, is
      interviewed “under a suitable pretext.” She admits that her brother is
      “employed at the American Labor Party Headquarters in Brooklyn.” That is
      all the useful information that is reported. The fact that Zinn did not
      have a sister gives a window into the quality of the investigations and
      the caliber of the agents who carried them out.

      FBI agents in November 1953 wrote up an account of a clumsy attempt to
      recruit Zinn as an informant, an attempt in which they admitted that
      Zinn “would not volunteer information” and that “additional interviews
      with ZINN would not turn him from his current attitude.” A year later,
      after another interrogation, an agent wrote that Zinn “concluded the
      interview by stating he would not under any circumstances testify or
      furnish information concerning the political opinions of others.”

      While Zinn steadfastly refused to cooperate in the anti-communist witch
      hunts in the 1950s, principals and college administrators were busy
      purging classrooms of those who, like Zinn, exhibited intellectual and
      moral independence. The widespread dismissals of professors, elementary
      and high school teachers and public employees—especially social workers
      whose unions had advocated on behalf of their clients—were carried out
      quietly. The names of suspected “Reds” were handed to administrators and
      school officials under the FBI’s “Responsibilities Program.” It was up
      to the institutions, nearly all of which complied, to see that those
      singled out lost their jobs. There rarely were hearings. The victims
      did not see any purported evidence. They were usually abruptly
      terminated. Those on the blacklist were effectively locked out of their
      professions. The historian Ellen Schrecker estimates that between 10,000
      and 12,000 people were blackballed through this process.

      The FBI spent years following Zinn, and carefully cutting out newspaper
      articles about their suspect, to amass the inane and the banal. One of
      Zinn’s neighbors, Mrs. Matthew Grell, on Feb. 22, 1952, told agents that
      she considered Zinn and another neighbor, Mrs. Julius Scheiman, “to be
      either communists or communist sympathizers” because, the agents wrote,
      Grell “had observed copies of the Daily Workers in Mrs. Scheiman’s
      apartment and noted that Mrs. Scheiman was a good friend of Howard Zinn.”

      The FBI, which describes Zinn as a former member of the Communist Party,
      something Zinn repeatedly denied, appears to have picked up its
      surveillance when Zinn, who was teaching at Spelman, a historically
      black women’s college, became involved in the civil rights movement.
      Zinn served on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He took
      his students out of the classroom to march for civil rights. Spelman’s
      president was not pleased.

      “I was fired for insubordination,” Zinn recalled. “Which happened to be
      true.”

      Zinn in 1962 decried “the clear violations by local police of
      Constitutional rights” of blacks and noted that “the FBI has not made a
      single arrest on behalf of Negro citizens.” The agent who reported
      Zinn’s words added that Zinn’s position was “slanted and biased.” Zinn
      in 1970 was a featured speaker at a rally for the release of the Black
      Panther leader Bobby Seal held in front of the Boston police
      headquarters. “It is about time we had a demonstration at the police
      station,” Zinn is reported as telling the crowd by an informant who
      apparently worked with him at Boston University. “Police in every nation
      are a blight and the United States is no exception.”

      “America has been a police state for a long time,” Zinn went on. “I
      believe that policemen should not have guns. I believe they should be
      disarmed. Policemen with guns are a danger to the community and themselves.”

      Agents muse in the file about how to help their unnamed university
      source mount a campaign to have Zinn fired from his job as a professor
      of history at Boston University.

      “[Redacted] indicated [Redacted] intends to call a meeting of the BU
      Board of Directors in an effort to have ZINN removed from BU. Boston
      proposes under captioned program with Bureau permission to furnish
      [Redacted] with public source data regarding ZINN’s numerous anti-war
      activities, including his trip to Hanoi, 1/31/68, in an effort to back
      [Redacted’s] efforts for his removal.”

      Zinn and the radical Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan had traveled
      together to North Vietnam in January 1968 to bring home three prisoners
      of war. The trip was closely monitored by the FBI. Hoover sent a coded
      teletype to the president, the secretary of state, the director of the
      CIA, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of
      the Army, the Department of the Air Force and the White House situation
      room about the trip. And later, after Berrigan was imprisoned for
      destroying draft records, Zinn repeatedly championed the priest’s
      defense in public rallies, some of which the FBI noted were sparsely
      attended. The FBI monitored Zinn as he traveled to the Danbury Federal
      Prison in Connecticut to visit Berrigan and his brother Philip.

      “Mass murders occur, which is what war is,” Zinn, who was a bombardier
      in World War II, said in 1972, according to the file, “because people
      are split and don’t think … when the government does not serve the
      people, then it doesn’t deserve to be obeyed. … To be patriotic, you may
      have to be against your government.”

      Zinn testified at the trial of Daniel Ellsberg, who gave a copy of the
      Pentagon Papers to Zinn and Noam Chomsky. The two academics edited the
      secret documents on the Vietnam War, sections of which had appeared in
      The New York Times, into the four volumes that were published in 1971.

      “During the Pentagon Papers jury trial, Zinn stated that the ‘war in
      Vietnam was a war which involved special interests, and not the defense
      of the United States,’ ” his FBI file reads.

      By the end of the file one walks away with a profound respect for Zinn
      and a deep distaste for the buffoonish goons in the FBI who followed and
      monitored him. There is no reason, with the massive expansion of our
      internal security apparatus, to think that things have improved. There
      are today 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies
      working on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and
      intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States, The
      Washington Post reported in an investigation by Dana Priest and William
      M. Arkin. These agencies employ an estimated 854,000 people, all of whom
      hold top-secret security clearances, the Post found. And in Washington,
      D.C., and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret
      intelligence work are under construction or have been built since
      September 2001. Together, the paper reported, they occupy the equivalent
      of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings—about 17 million
      square feet.

      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?”

      Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated
      from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign
      correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books,
      including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person
      Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and
      the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End
      of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

      --
      Dan Clore

      New book: _Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon_:
      http://tinyurl.com/yd3bxkw
      My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0035LTS0O
      Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      http://tinyurl.com/292yz9
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
      in charge on this island?
      Professor: Why, no one.
      Skipper: No one?
      Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
      -- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"
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