1. Zinn describes “The Socialist Challenge”. What was it? Be sure to mention at least three (3) people involved in that challenge. Do you believe that socialism is feasible today? Why or why not? (Chapter 13)
In order to understand why the socialistic model was a challenge for the United States, one needs to know the historical background. Zinn clearly states that even high levels of patriotism and public focus on elections could not hide numerous shortcomings of capitalism. They included inhuman working conditions, small salaries, and a contemptuous attitude to employees. Under such conditions, the development of socialism as an alternative to the existing system was the most logical step. Socialism received strong support from the African American people and women. These two groups of the population saw an opportunity to achieve complete equality. Moreover, Zinn claims that the development of socialism had a positive effect on the existing system.
One of the first persons who supported socialism was Jack London. The famous writer saw numerous cases of discrimination and power’s abuse and decided to be a member of the Socialist Party. While his view of socialism was idealized to some degree, he was one of the first men who loudly spoke about the current problems. Another crucial person for the development of socialism in America was Big Bill Haywood. As the head of the Western Federation of Miners he took an active part in a struggle against inhuman labor conditions. He and leader of the Socialist Party Eugene Debs formed the Industrial Workers of the World, a strong organization that tried to resolve the existing labor problems.
Under the current conditions, pure socialism can be hardly implemented. In economic terms, the socialism model cannot compete with capitalism. The productivity of social labor and living standards are much lower in socialism. At the same time, this model demonstrated advantages in the social sector. The most important achievements of socialism include the system of free higher education with scholarships, good healthcare system, and appropriate working conditions. The most perspective way for the development of both systems is a combination of their advantages. Such attempts can be seen in modern China and countries of Latin America.
2. Why is war so important to the American economy? What was President Wilson's role in war? What was the role of national press in war? Why does Zinn say that “war is the health of the state?” (Chapter 14)
The importance of the World War for the America’s economy consisted in different factors. Firstly, America received access to different markets across the ocean. Secondly, the industry received a lot of working places; therefore, it could produce a much larger quantity of goods. Finally, Zinn insists that the overall standards of living increased mostly because of the exploitation of African countries. In this situation, actions of President Wilsons look inevitable. However, he played a crucial role in politics by declaring America’s entry into the war. While there is no evidence of public support of the war, Wilson’s actions were aimed to achieve economic success. Therefore, his strong words about the importance of democracy and willingness to end all wars were just a cover of real motives. Another significant step of Wilson’s policy was the adoption of the Espionage Act in 1917. This act showed governmental focus on the patriotic national press. From the first days of the war, a variety of publications were dedicated to the implementation of patriotic views in society. The government sponsored numerous speeches to create a feeling of a real threat from Germany and its allies. At the same time, the Espionage Act allowed to prevent any attempts of antiwar views expression. Strong influences of the national press were caused by the significant amount of men who did not want to fight and searched for different ways to evade the draft. However, such public hostility to the war was observed at the end of the conflict. Zinn claims that every war brings prosperity because the community forgets about current internal issues and focuses on some abstract or real opponents. At the same time, the war does not only stimulate patriotic views and the sense of duty, but also the industry and economy development.
3. What did Zinn mean by “... self-help in hard times”? Do you agree or disagree with him in this chapter? Why or why not? (Chapter 15)
The concept of “self-help in hard times” is strongly related to the historical situation in America in the 1920s-30s. The end of the Word War I again caused old internal conflicts. Moreover, the financial crisis in 1929 emphasized the differences between the rich and the poor segments of the population. Various strikes, hunger, poverty, and racial intolerance constituted a far from complete list of social problems of those days. However, such situation resulted into the development of mutual assistance and united people with a low social and economic background. Zinn provides different examples of self-help. One of them is the creation of a Labor War Veteran’s Guard. This organization consisted of veterans who could handle a crowd of workers without the use of physical force. Another example of self-help occurred in the coal district of Pennsylvania where unemployed miners sold stolen coal at low prices to help the community.
Zinn provides various evidences of strong differences between wealth and poverty. While most part of society lived below the poverty line, the rich people continued to multiply their wealth. I agree with him that no one should condemn poor people who commit a crime for food or money. “These were simple actions taken out of practical need”. I believe that the most difficult times force people to unite and help each other. At the same time, Zinn’s statement about weak actions of President Roosevelt is rather controversial. Any misstep of the President can lead to irreversible consequences against the background of such a large number of social problems. Under such conditions, Roosevelt’s cautious steps were the most appropriate policy. The economic and social situation was stabilized in 1939 with the help of the reforming program named “New Deal”. I feel that strong governmental activity could lead to completely opposite results.
4. Describe two of the explosive rebellions in the 1960s that indicated that the American system’s estimates of security and success were wrong. What are your thoughts? (Chapter 17)
While a common opinion sees black revolts in the 50s and 60s as a surprise, Zinn doubts this statement. The system that focuses on some social issues and completely ignores others will face expressions of displeasure and anger at some point. In fact, every revolt, no matter big or small, complemented the whole picture of inequality. For example, the demonstration in Albany, Georgia, in 1961 consisted of more than twenty thousand protesters. The mass character of these revolts is absolutely impressive. Moreover, the protesters did not only include adults but also little kids. Another massive rebellion occurred in the Black Ghetto in Los Angeles and showed that protesters were ready to strike back. Zinn outlined that this protest was the most violent after the World War. These and other examples show how the character of rebellions changed from non-violence to aggression while actions of the government remained the same.
In this chapter, Zinn asks some serious and important questions. Is the origin of rebellions the most logical result of social issues in American society? Can aggression be an adequate response to offenders? Why was the governmental policy based on violence only instead of real steps towards a compromise? Zinn compares the protesters with a timing mechanism. As the reader can see, early non-violent protests could not bring sufficient results. Therefore, as indicators of social controversy as well as a transition to violence, the rebellions are logical and understandable. The American government made a serious mistake when tried to implement palliatives instead of real actions. Political focus on caution was appropriate in the days of President Roosevelt, but in this case it only caused violence and aggression. While the protests were only first steps on the way of struggle against discrimination, they forced America to search for a compromise.
5. Chapter 19 in Zinn’s text is called “Surprises”. Name and describe two (2) surprises. (Chapter 19)
The 1960s were an amazing time for America. The real conditions of the most solid social institutes were complete surprises to the whole community. For example, the penitentiary system that was always considered as a successful and effective one, in fact, included outrageous violations of human rights. While prisoners were treated like animals, leaders of the largest jails congratulated each other on successful work at annual conferences. Conservative society was accustomed to seeing the prisoner not as a person but rather as a broken element of the community that should be sent off. The rebellion in the Attica prison in 1971, when prisoners created their own community without any racism, was a truly unexpected turn of events in this context. Although this example ended tragically, it showed that expectations of society may be sometimes absolutely wrong. However, the Attica case was one of the hundreds of proofs of the need for radical changes.
Surprises did not only include social institutes but also such life aspects as music, literature, art and many others. Moreover, each particular aspect was a reflection of global changes. For example, people tried to find ways of expression in clothes against the background of such different but equally important events. The voice of the youth was clearly discernible in the lyrics of American singer Bob Dylan. Society found that a radical change in the style of clothing was the most effective measure. Therefore, some old concepts such as corsets were rejected, and completely new tendencies such as women’s pants appeared. The success of the women’s rights movement also found its reflections in the clothing style. These examples are just some of the numerous surprises. Zinn is absolutely right stating, “Never in American history had more movements for change been concentrated in so short a span of years”.
6. What is the “unreported resistance”? (Chapter 22)
Zinn blames the American political system for ignoring the needs of voters. Nevertheless, numerous cases of ignorance did not stop the development of opposition. “Unreported resistance” had a significant potential. The first manifestations of opposition can be seen in anti-war sentiments during the World War II. The theme of war and weapons has been hotly debated for the last one hundred years. The Cold War brought about a threat of nuclear weapons that is relevant to the present day. Moreover, the Vietnam War, conflict in the Persian Gulf and the Iraq campaign demonstrated an enormous level of human aggression and senseless violence. At the same time, they forced even the most ardent supporters of militarism to ask questions about the justification of such actions. However, despite significant public discontent and different actions taken by war opponents, the government continued to implement the policy of violence.
Nevertheless, war and aggression are not the only subjects for debates. Poverty is a social problem inherent in any and all countries of the world, but only in America one percent of the population controls thirty-three percent of all money. Therefore, the opposition tried to change the situation creating labor unions, organizing protests and making different publications faced with absolute governmental ignorance. The lack of an adversarial culture is one of the primary obstacles to the formation of a democratic society and the development of a full-fledged political system in any country. Meanwhile, it is required as an alternative to the existing regime and an indicator of the current development of the country. However, every political force can be replaced regardless of power. In this chapter, Zinn sees the existence of such culture as the only hope for the future of America.
7. In your mind, was President Bill Clinton an ethical president? Cite and explain two (2) actions he took as president that support your claim. What advice would you give his wife as she runs for President? (Chapter 24)
People can argue about advantages and shortcomings of Clinton’s policy, but the question about his ethicality has a definite answer. Bill Clinton had never been an ethical president. Of course, the scandal involving Monica Lewinsky is the strongest association with Clinton’s presidency, but it cannot tell anything about ethics. His actions are far more important than details of private life. One of the most illustrative examples of unethical actions is the Clinton’s policy related to poor families. In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was adopted. Zinn calls this title “deceptive”. While Clinton spoke about a new government and work places, he deprived poor families of the last opportunities to have normal lives. Moreover, he completely ignored the ethical side of the question focusing only on the sizes of the federal budget.
Clinton’s focus on the army and aggression in the international policy was another violation of all ethical norms. His supporters may ignore the fact of constant manifestations of power in Iraq or Bagdad since Clinton himself characterized them with such words as “terrorism” and “threats”. However, even the most ardent supporter cannot deny the fact that America supplied deadly weapons to the most horrible regimes. How can the president of the most prosperous democracy in the world support killing and destruction? Moreover, these examples are not single in a long list of unethical actions. Eventually, Clinton became the second president who ended his career with an impeachment, and this fact speaks for itself. The primary advice that I can give to Mrs. Clinton is to focus on people and their needs rather than on election results and prove her desires with actions rather than words. I feel that every politician needs to consider mistakes of Bill Clinton and prevent their recurrence.