05 June 2015
To Utilize our Privileges for the Betterment of Humanity: A Discussion of Howard Zinn's "Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress"
In Howard Zinn’s “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” he explores three main ideas, using the early European conquest of America as a case study: the lack of an American “national interest”; the oppressors’ role in deciding events of historical merit; and that in times of sacrifice for innovation, historians must always firstly look to the oppressed peoples for proper justification. In discussing an “American national interest,” Zinn argues that although “governments, conquerors, diplomats, [and] leaders” throughout history have contended that the existence of a “national interest” is the excuse for their subjugation of others, “nations are not communities and never have been”; ergo, as nation-states rarely ever look after the interests of their entire populace, it is imperative for onlookers to trust both the stories of the conquerors and the conquered, in order to develop a truer sense of the past. Additionally, Zinn contends that history mustn’t be decided by oppressors, but instead through scrutinizing a variety of contemporaneous perspectives. Be the societies or sub-societies the native Americans, the New York Irish, the industrial-age women, the socialists, or the national Islamic community, rarely ever have a conquered society’s writings entirely vanished, and it is to any critically thinking person’s advantage to explore the punishments of the past in order to ruminate on new ideas for post-modern political ideologies. Lastly, Zinn declares that, in times of sub-communal sacrifice for innovation, the privileged minority executing new “national” policies must consult the damned communities within its midst, for he argues that we, as people, may never maintain “the right to throw into the pyre the children of others, or even our own children, for a progress which is not as nearly clear or present as sickness or health, life or death.” While Zinn utilizes the early conquest of the Native American populations as a case study for each of his ideas, these lessons ultimately apply to most, if not all, of history and contemporary political affairs, stemming from the early subjugation of Native Americans to the present proliferate use of styrofoam, ultimately pulling us to form our own conclusions towards behaving justly and utilizing our privileges for the betterment of humanity.