Howard Zinn: Worth Reading
January 26, 2014
Here are some passages from Howard Zinn, precisely The Zinn Reader. This guy knew what was going on although he still hoped for a national democracy of some equality. And this even though he saw through, for the most part, the limited character of political change at the national level, e.g., in his piece “The Limits of the New Deal.” The following is from a piece entitled “The Bombing of Royan,” a small town in France that was bombed twice, and in all likelihood unnecessarily, toward the end of World War II. Zinn himself took part in this bombing.
“One can see in the destruction of Royan that infinite chain causes, that infinite dispersion of responsibility, which can give infinite work to historical scholarship and sociological speculation, and bring an infinitely pleasurable paralysis of the will. What a complex of motives! In the Supreme Allied Command, the simple momentum of the war, the pull of prior commitments and preparations, the need to fill out the circle, to pile up victories as high as possible. At the local military level, the ambitions, petty and large, the tug of glory, the ardent need to participate in a grand communal effort by soldiers of all ranks. On the part of the American Air Force, the urge to try out a newly developed weapon. (Paul Metadier wrote: ‘In effect, the operation was above all characterized by the dropping of new incendiary bombs which the Air Force had just been supplied with. According to the famous formulation of one general: “They were marvelous.”) [This weapon is now called “napalm.”] And among all participants, high and low, French and American, the most powerful motive of all: The habit of obedience, the universal teaching of all cultures, not to get out of line, not even to think about that which one has not been assigned to think about, the negative motive of not having either a reason or a will to intercede. . . .
“More and more in our time, the mass production of mass evil requires an enormously complicated division of labor. No one is positively responsible for the horror that ensues. . . .” [Pp. 279-280]
And that want or obfuscation of responsibility is precisely what “government” is all about. It is also part and parcel of what Alexander Hamilton – and others - called “energetic government,” because when responsibility cannot be assigned, then those with the power to act are free to do so as they see fit. The “enormously complicated division of labor” Zinn sees is not accidental, not the result of some “historical process.” It is deliberate, it is chosen, and it is so precisely because it protects those who find it “necessary” to do horrible things and, as all “realists” contend, it is always necessary to do horrible things.