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153 of 185 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Propagating truth, April 4, 2008
This review is from: A People's History of American Empire (American Empire Project) (Paperback)
The word "propaganda" has an almost universally negative connotation. Whenever we use it, we generally mean to refer to systematic and deliberate misinformation. But it's worth remembering that the word is etymologically derived from the same root as the word "propagate," to increase or grow. Propaganda, as the word was originally used, is simply a means of spreading the news, of getting the word out to large numbers of people, of disseminating information that needs to be disseminated.

It's in this original sense of the word that A People's History of American Empire is propaganda. Using the medium of the comix or graphic novel, Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki, and Paul Buhle get the word out about a side of U.S. history that almost never gets taught in public schools, and about which many Americans even today remain clueless. Their treatment is entertaining and accessible--which means that it has a potentially huge audience--but neither patronizing nor simplistic--the book contains an extensive bibliography, and references both graphics and narrative claims. It's ideal for folks who have neither the time nor inclination to read Zinn's bulky classic A People's History of the United States, from which much of the volume is mined.

The format is ingenious. Zinn (wonderfully drawn, by the way) is the up-close narrator of the book. He begins by expressing bewilderment that the U.S. response to 9/11 has followed the same old violent pattern that the U.S. (and, of course, not only the U.S.) has typically adopted when threatened. This response, Zinn argues, ultimately only makes matters worse because it does nothing to get to the root causes of unrest. It is "an old way of thinking," one that tragically keeps following the same destructive script, and Zinn proceeds throughout the rest of the book to chronicle its many historical manifestations, ranging from the Wounded Knee massacre to the invasion of Cuba, Hawaii, the Philippines, and Central American nations such as El Salvador and Nicaragua (according to a list published by the State Department in 1962, the U.S. militarily intervened 103 times in foreign countries between 1798 and 1895). Zinn also discusses governmental and big business response to domestic workers' strikes (the Pullman strike and the Ludlow massacre, for example), and draws a connection between this "internal" imperialism and the "external" variety.

Of particular interest are Zinn's treatments of what he calls the "cool war," a culture and ethnic battle over black music in the 1950s, and the current Iraq War.

Another especially interesting feature of the book is its inclusion of Zinn's life story (derived from his autobiographical You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train) which traces his childhood poverty (and tenderness for his parents), his radicalization, his repudiation of violence following his service in World War II, his activism at Spelman College (which led to his dismissal), and his anti-war work--including the famous peace mission to Vietnam--during the Vietnam conflict.

Although the story of the insidious partnership between state and money is shocking and even horrifying at times, Zinn ends the book on an upbeat note. There's much to be hopeful about, he insists, when one considers the extraordinary achievements of the last fifty years. Legal racial apartheid in the U.S. was ended; the Vietnam war was stopped by public protests; velvet revolutions throughout Europe and South Africa succeeded in overthrowing tyranny in relatively bloodless fashion. So "to be hopeful in bad times is not foolishly romantic," Zinn concludes. "It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness" (p. 263).

Both of those messages deserve propagation.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 18, 2008 1:05:50 PM PDT
panopticon7 says:
From Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry:
\prä-p-gan-d, pr-\
New Latin, from "Congregatio de propaganda fide" -- Congregation for propagating the faith; organization established by Pope Gregory XV (died 1623)

1capitalized : a congregation of the Roman curia having jurisdiction over missionary territories and related institutions2: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person3: ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect
- pro·pa·gan·dist \-dist\ noun or adjective
- pro·pa·gan·dis·tic \-gan-dis-tik\ adjective
- pro·pa·gan·dis·ti·cal·ly \-ti-k(-)l\ adverb

Propaganda's etymology does NOT simply come from the verb "propagate" nor was it ever about "spreading the news, of getting the word out to large numbers of people, of disseminating information that needs to be disseminated." Propaganda has unequivocally NEVER been about "propagating" truth; propaganda began as a systemic approach of lying to the public. It's negative connotations are inherent and are no misunderstanding.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 19, 2008 3:58:32 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 19, 2008 4:00:37 AM PDT
I'm afraid you need to go back a bit earlier. The word is derived from the Latin "propagare" = "to cause to increase or spread; to disseminate." (Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology). If you're correct about proaganda beginning "as a systemic approach of lying to the public," this would mean that a congregation of the Roman curia deliberately called itself the "Congregation for Systematically Lying to the Public," which seems highly unlikely. I grant your point that today the connotations associated with the word are negative. But connotations aren't inherent. They attach to words over time and from a variety of contexts. "Propaganda" was originally a word with quite benign meaning. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.

Posted on Sep 15, 2008 10:54:24 AM PDT
Also on the word "propaganda." I'm inclined to argue against using it, as is noted in the other two comments, because of its strongly negative connotations. Zinn is not engaged in propaganda, I think, so much as necessary revisionism, or ultimately demystification. I haven't read the Empire book yet, or gotten fully through his original People's History, but I am fully steeped in the People's perspectives based on Walt Whitman, Karl Marx, Ralph Nader, Gloria Steinem, Langston Hughes, and most recently William Greider's The Soul of Capitalism. I read his book thoroughly because it is a modern analysis of society with ample description of the solutions, including Civil Society activism, analysis of Corporations, Whole Cost Accounting of externalized costs, Progressive Christianity, and I think an eminent solution, the insufficiently discussed economic entity, entrepreneurial cooperative partnerships. Nevertheless, I look forward to taking in ample amounts of this creative work by Zinn. Thanks for the description and the discussion. Mark

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2009 11:07:27 PM PDT
Hans Scholl says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 19, 2009 11:01:39 AM PDT
I'll admit that Howard Zinn's historical work tends to have a certain bias based on his personal beliefs, as does almost every historian, journalist, social commenter and human being. It's nearly impossible to give a objective view of anything because we are always effected by our subjective experience. I've read this graphic novel as well as Zinn's People's History and notice a lack of citation, that said he is a historian and does a solid effort of fact checking and verifying his sources. Your comments seem to lack any facts or evidence to back your claims and must say that instead of demonizing those who attempt to broaden their perspective and understanding perhaps you could insert some resources which would allow others to gain a more objective view of history.

This book and ones like it are important because of the difficulties associated with gaining access to first source documents, the CIA intentionally burned most of the records associated with their actions through from the 50's-70's to prevent individuals from gaining a fuller awareness of the things that were done in this country. As someone who has worked in archives and will soon be starting graduate studies to continue my knowledge of the profession I can tell you how difficult it is to locate first source documents and perceptions of the events in this book, the people responsible for such hostility and suppression worked fairly hard to cover their trails and suppress knowledge of what they were doing and the voices of the people they were doing it to.

I'm sorry that you find empathy to be so distasteful and seem unwilling to recognize a certain universalism in human experience, I believe it's impossible to ever truly know another individual but and at best we can only walk away with a partial image of another no matter how long or well we know them, but oppression is oppression. There is a certain universalism to the feelings of being isolated or ostracized for your beliefs and genetics.

I find it strange that you seem willing to label liberals fake or insincere. By claiming them unable to know what it's like to be black, gay etc. you seem to imply that no liberal is a member of these subgroups and imply that these subgroups are composed of a mental perception that makes them inherently different from anyone else.

While claiming it impossible to know what it's like to be a member of these categories I'll remind you that they are merely labels, and terms used to identify groups based on genetics, beliefs or behaviors and are not representations of the group on the whole. Black is a limiting term, based on skin color and the experience of someone who is labeled by this term is inherently different based on location, social standing, economics and education, someone from Haiti will hold a different view of what it means to be a member of their "race" then someone from the US or Cuba.

When mentioning the sanitized information we doll out to k-12 it should be noted that most if not all of the things mentioned in this book rarely is ever are even brought up in those history classes. Were the Philippines mentioned in your school? They certainly weren't in my high school, the last date any history class I took in high school stopped shortly before the start of world war II and focused mainly on US history, my world history course ended with British colonialism with a focus on North America.

It's strange that you used your lineage as a justification to tell others to stop speaking, hush, I think not.

Posted on Feb 1, 2012 6:05:28 PM PST
Bruiser235 says:
I'll only mention Vietnam here, as it interests me the most, and it must have been the easiest chapter for the communist Zinn to have written, as it is word for word left wing lies and disinformation. Vietnam was not ended by peaceful protests. It was ended by Soviet supplied T-54 tanks on April 30, 1975. Please do your research.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 13, 2012 11:37:10 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 13, 2012 11:37:31 PM PDT
R. WINN says:
Mmmmm.... maybe you need to decide how Vietnam "began" before you can rule on how it "ended". As Zinn points out, it was fighting foreign invaders for decades before our United States decided to fight the Cold War there. American involvement in Vietnam was definitely limited by peaceful protests ... although I tend to think that the American middle class just got tired of having its boys shipped home in boxes ... but Vietnam the nation continues, ironically perhaps as just the sort of authoritarian regime serving export firms that the American invention "South Vietnam" aspired to be.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 21, 2013 2:14:43 AM PDT
Spreading facts about evolution in order to further the cause of education would be propaganda, too, by defintions #2 and #3.

Or lying to your spouse about how they look in order to make them feel better.

Or the government disseminating facts about HIV to prevent the spread of the disease.

Or the government telling you that you're fighting for freedom and liberty and the American way in order to inspire you to kill people you don't know.

Point is that the definition covers good and bad information, good and bad causes. You can read it in the definition you posted. Thanks for posting that, btw. Helps immensely when discussing the meaning of a word.
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