Reading Bageant and Zinn together is enlightening and encouraged. Different sides of the same coin. It's been said that history is written by the winners. In the U.S. the winners are the wealthy ruling class. They determine the reality that is presented in the media. They define what is America. Or, as Bageant calls it, the hologram called America. There aren't many writing about those that aren't in control. Check out any American newspaper. You will find a business section. Do you see a labor section? Didn't think so. So, who tells the people's side? You could start with Bageant and Zinn.
Zinn's A People's History of the United States rewrites American history to include the powerless. And what a different story it is than that which was served up to us in school. Not unlike watching Fox news and then reading this blog. It isn't just the lies, it's what has been left out. It starts out in 1492.
Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:
They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned... . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... . They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.
For the Indians, it was downhill from there. Columbus was the first slaver in the new world. Something to think about on the next Columbus Day. And the American Revolution wasn't quite as advertised.
Around 1776, certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years. They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.
When we look at the American Revolution this way, it was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have received over the centuries. They created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command.
A People's History of the United States is a litany of those rebellions and how the government controlled its citizens, often brutally. Remember that the Constitution gave the right to vote not to women, not to blacks, and not to whites that didn't hold property. It was a Constitution for the wealthy ruling class. As it was, it is still. This is a book that must be read.
A People's History of the United States looks back. Deer Hunting with Jesus looks at the now and trembles for the future. I first ran across Joe Bageant on the internet. Aside from being a hell of a writer, a veritable silver tongued devil, what he was writing about struck a chord. Joe writes about the working class poor, the redneck class. He does it not as an outsider. These are his people. He grew up with them, escaped, went to college, and became a pinko atheist. Then he went back home to Winchester, Virginia. He has a liberal perspective but his heart is with these people. And they are getting screwed. If they only realized it.
They're getting screwed in work, screwed out of an education, screwed with their mortgages, and screwed in their health care. Screwed by the same people they vote for. But liberals are pretty much in the same boat. They are being screwed by the Democrats. What happens when a Democrat comes along that speaks truth to power? What did they do to Howard Dean and Ralph Nader? How much are the Democrats working to fix health care? Do you think Hillary is going to do something about health care? It turns out she is the second-highest recipient of campaign donations from the health-care industry. She doesn't advertise that, does she? The media would like us to think it's Red State vs. Blue State. It's a magic trick, folks. An illusion. It's a false dichotomy. The class war, and don't delude yourself that it isn't a war, is not between liberal white collar workers and conservative blue collar workers. It's not between those that drink Red Hook ESB and those that drink Bud Light. We are both in the same leaky boat that is sinking fast while the wealthy and powerful steam off in the luxury yacht having cast us adrift. The sooner we realize we are in the same boat the better off we will be. Oh, where was I?
That's right, Joe Bageant and Deer Hunting with Jesus. Here is his opening shot:
Faced with working-class life in towns such as Winchester, I see only one solution: beer. So I sit here at Royal Lunch watching fat Pootie in a T-shirt that reads: ONE MILLION BATTERED WOMEN IN THIS COUNTRY AND I'VE BEEN EATING MINE PLAIN! That this is not considered especially offensive says all you need to know about cultural and gender sensitivity around here. And the fact that Pootie votes, owns guns, and is allowed to purchase hard liquor is something we should all probably be afraid to contemplate. Thankfully, even cheap American beer is a palliative for anxious thought tonight.
Then too, beer is educational and stimulates contemplation. I call it my "learning through drinking" program. Here are some things I have learned at Royal Lunch:
1. Never shack up with a divorced woman who is two house payments behind and swears you are the best sex she ever had.
2. Never eat cocktail weenies out of the urinal, no matter how big the bet gets.
As you can see, learning through drinking is never dull. But when karaoke came to American bars, my hopsy approach to social studies got downright entertaining, especially here where some participants get gussied up for their three weekly minutes of stardom.
Take Dink Lamp over there in the corner, presently dressed like a stubble-faced Waylon Jennings. Dink is fifty-six. His undying claim to fame in this town is not his Waylon imitation, however, which sucks (as do his Keith Whitley and his Travis Tritt). It is that he beat up the boxing chimpanzee at the carnival in 1963. This is a damned hard thing to do because chimpanzees are several times stronger than humans and capable of enough rage that the pugilistic primate wore a steel muzzle. Every good old boy in this place swears Dink pounded that chimpanzee so hard it climbed up the cage bars and refused to come back down and that Dink won a hundred dollars. I don't know. I wasn't there to see it because my good Christian family did not approve of attending such spectacles. One thing is for sure, though: Dink is tough enough to have done it. (To readers who wonder whether people really have names such as Dink and Pootie: Hell, yes! Not only do we have a Dink and a Pootie in Winchester, the town that stars in this book, we also have folks named Gator, Fido, Snooky, and Tumbug—whom we simply call Bug.)
Joe does have a way with words. Beautifully written, funny, scary, and guaranteed to leave your head pointed in a different direction. There are a lot of books that I recommend that deal with many of these issues. If you are only going to read one, this is it. Deer hunting with Jesus is a clean shot with a bolt-action .30-06. An old but well oiled .30-06.
As Joe would say: Solidarity, in art and labor.
[disclosure: Joe sent me a review copy and mentioned me in the book's acknowledgments. This in no way affected my review. It only surprises me that anyone might listen to me.]
Deer Hunting with Jesus:
Dispatches from America's Class War
by Joe Bageant
Joe has a web site that is essential reading: Joe Bageant.
And here are some of his words about his book:
Joe Bageant’s book available on Amazon
The book is a non-fiction continuous work, not a collection of essays or a collection of previous online material -- although there are some parts of essays included. In a sense however, it is a series of linked essays, with the real life people from my home town recurring throughout, along with explorations into deep Christian fundamentalism, and why, despite what most urban liberals think, they share many commonalities with the red state farmer, the Baptist preacher and the deep fried double wide world of service working Americans who grease their cars and wipe the asses of America’s elderly in nursing homes, or sit at terminals all day doing mindless meaningless work under the eye of the management classes.
A People's History of the United States:
1492 to Present
by Howard Zinn
Here is a site that has selections from People's History of the United States:
A People's History of the United States
And here's a site that has the whole book, but I know that once you start it you will want a dead tree version.
A People's History Of The United States
And Howard has a website.