Welcome to weeks 10 and 11! We’re not even to the halfway point yet. *sigh*
I had the best of intentions of doing my reading early. Did it happen? Noooooooooo. I’m writing this Sunday afternoon…the same day I forced myself to sit down and read chapters 10 and 11. The bad news? The chapters are getting longer. The good news? They were slightly more interesting!
We’ve moved into labor unrest, a period of US history that I once knew quite a bit about and have since forgotten quite a bit about. I was interested enough in the topic to write a paper in high school about labor unions, and a paper in college on Emma Goldman. I think Zinn gave her maybe two sentences in Chapter 11. She shouldn’t be offended, though…pretty much everyone gets two sentences before ADD Zinn is off to another example.
Chapter 10 is The Other Civil War, a title I found a wee bit ironic since I spent most of Chapter 9 trying to figure out where the info on the Civil War was. But the other Civil War is a reference to the rising protests by tenant farmers and workers in the 1800s. Zinn’s point is that, despite all of the protests that occurred, there is little to no attention given to these movements in traditional history texts. Rather, the focus is on politics and slavery.
Another interesting point from this chapter is what Zinn calls the “politics of ambiguity.” He states that this was the time when the two-party system solidified. As Zinn wrote:
“To give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control. Like so much in the American system, it was not devilishly contrived by some master plotters; it developed out of the needs of the situation.” p. 217
In Chapter 11, Robber Barons and Rebels, Zinn continues the discussion of labor unrest and strikes. He gives brief attention to the big guns of the time…Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan…and then moves onto the rebels, which are obviously more dear to his heart. This chapter was actually shaping up to be my favorite, but I would’ve liked a little more focus (my common refrain when discussing Zinn) on the people and fewer examples.
I’m also finding some intriguing and inflammatory statements such as this:
“The rich, giving part of their enormous earnings this way [he'd just discussed Vanderbilt, Stanford, Duke and Cornell and the colleges they founded], became known as philanthropists. These educational institutions did not encourage dissent; they trained the middlemen in the American system – the teachers, doctors, lawyers, administrators, engineers, technicians, politicians – those who would be paid to keep the system going, to be loyal buffers against trouble.” p. 263
It’s at times like this that I get really frustrated with Zinn, because he tends to say things like that and then just move right on to his next example or point. On the one hand, I see his point, since these colleges are traditionally bastions for the wealthy. But on the other hand…surely they weren’t all drones trained to work in support of the system? Aren’t there exceptions to be found?
So those are my brief thoughts on this week’s reading. Like Zinn, I’m starting to sound like I’m beating a dead horse, eh? How’d your reading go?