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American ideals in my own opinion represent the history of the ordinary Americans who are subjected to the brutality of those in power in the pretext that they are championing for progress. Those in power champion for the upholding of human rights but they are the ones who go against such rights and torture those who go against their wishes. One such example is Thomas Jefferson who despite writing various articles and books against slavery, he was a slave trader and owned thousands of them. Howard Zinn in his book gives an account of the history of the Americans from the bottom up contrary to the official formats used for teaching in schools. Instead of focusing on the great men of the land i.e. political and economic elites, Zinn chose to follow another path and emphasized more on those people least recognized in the society, those at work places, at the streets and at home.
When a group of Spaniards in the leadership of Christopher Columbus arrived in America, this marked the beginning of false promises and atrocities that aimed the Native American inhabitants. Columbus on first sight of the Native Americans, he saw servants, “They would make fine servants…with 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want” (Zinn, p. 1). This attitude fuelled the enslavement, killing and the raping of the people of America. Stannard in his book notes that the Spaniards were, “furnaces of death that sustained their Indian population for as long as they did only by driving more and more natives into their confines” (Stannard, p. 137). Columbus and his crew enslaved the Americans and were central in the various genocides that the American people witnessed in the hands of the Spaniards. The discovery of gold further fuelled the intensity of the enslavement. The Spaniards took the Native Americans as slave miners and those who failed to gather enough gold were murdered. The motive behind this enslavement was that, the Spaniards wanted to prove to their royalties back home that America was a rich land full of resources.
The royalties were to use such precious minerals to achieve their own industrial progress. They did not see any fault in enslaving the natives for their own personal gains. Such a mentality is also present in the world today were the political bigwigs take it upon themselves to intimidate a certain group of people so that they can advance their own political ambitions, a phenomenon known to many as divide and rule. Such was the suffering that the Americans had to form rebellions to fight for their rights and put an end to the enslavement. The most affected of the Americans were the American-Africans because of their color disparity.
In the fourth chapter, the author explores the various movements that led to American Revolution and the attainment of economic equality. Howard, in his book, argues that those behind the revolution mooted for war in order to drive the attention of the Americans from their own economic problems. At the same time, they did away with the then popular uprisings that had come to birth, a strategy that the author sees as having the potential of been used later by the leaders. The leaders saw it as the best ever strategy but according to the native people who actually participated in the war, it was pure human torture and molestation, a fact I concur with. It is completely out of mind to form rebellion groups and when time for war comes, you do not accompany them.
However, not all the slaves who were for the idea of war to liberate their economic fortunes, some were against it. Chapter five of this book covers the war itself, those who were against the war, the impacts both activities had on the American people as well as the ever-widening gap of inequalities among the American people. An account by then a young priest, Bartolome, documents that in the period between 1494-1508, close to three million lives of Native Americans were lost mainly through forced mining, slavery and war, true to say that the invasion by the Spaniards led to complete genocide. In addition, Stannard states that the Spaniards arrival was “far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world” (Stannard, p. x).
Zinn also brings into light other similar conquests by the Spaniards. He mentions the Spaniards who initially received the Aztecs but after a while, they turned into traitors and coordinated a series of invasions that caused countless deaths. The reason for the attacks was that the Spaniards envied the gold and silver that were in possession of the Aztecs and therefore raided them. This is a common phenomenon whereby a certain group of people becomes friendly during the first days of interaction but after discovering what the newfound friends have, they become enemies, and subsequently destroy them and take their properties with them. In another similar incident, the early colonialists pushed the then natives of the coastal town away into the inlands. When more of the colonialists came into the land, more space was needed and the colonialists put the natives into a state of dilemma. They gave them two choices, either they migrate to another land or else they go into war with them.
In chapter six, the author gives an account of the resistances leveled against the inequalities with reference to the lives of women in the first few years of the colonial invasion. Howard gives a detailed description of how women rejected the much famous status quo and instead chose to go into suffering with their fellow citizens. Zinn does not tire to show that the various battles for fair wages, racial, equality, fights for the rights of women and girl child, laws governing child-labor and the general suffering of the less privileged citizens in the united states began at the grass root level and that they were won against a hefty bloodshed. It is evident in the whole text that all the goodies the people of America enjoyed and even do enjoy today were because of the struggles of those oppressed by the mighty and powerful.
Howard argues that the major reason behind the United States’ foreign policy is and will forever remain that they are out to safeguard and at the same time expand their interests while pretending that they are protecting the freedom and democratic rights of those oppressed. Zinn further explores the reasons behind the United States military action in countries like Cuba, Indonesia, Korea and most recently Iraq. This clearly shows that the Americans are still holding tight to the idea of divide and rule. They are the always on the front line criticizing countries that do not uphold the tenets of democracy yet on the other hand they cause death and psychological torture of many innocent citizens.
In the seventh chapter of his book, the author discusses the plight of the Indian Americans who were forced to do with the various promises by the whites, which all went unfulfilled. Thomas Jefferson is alleged to have been behind a motion to purchase and double the lands owned by the whites and encourage the Indians to quit hunting and instead start small-scale farming and trading with the whites that would render them in bad debts, which they would repay with large volumes of land. He said, “Two measures are deemed expedient. First to encourage them to abandon hunting…secondly to multiply trading houses among them…leading them thus to agriculture, to manufacturers and civilization…”.
Andrew Jackson is describe as having instructed a senior army officer to tell certain tribes of the Indians that he was on the verge of giving them land outside their homeland where they could settle and he would guarantee them protection. They could own the land, “as long as grass grows or water runs” (Zinn, p. 132). This turned out to be the greatest lies of all time. This clearly reveals how the whites can make promises and keep on shifting them from time to time just to make sure that they meet the needs of their constantly increasing population while at the same time ignoring the plight of those who once occupied the land.
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