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Brookline Newcomer 

Chomsky-Zinn and Reich
in competing forums 

Published in the Brookline TAB

September 21, 2000

Robert Reich speaks this Monday to the Brookline League of Women Voters on the topic "Why America is Turned Off Politics." Although the always-entertaining professor-politician will no doubt offer interesting observations about the sorry state of public affairs, his brand of progressive politics is limited by its adherence to Democratic Party dogma. Fortunately, town residents seeking a more intense political challenge have an alternative forum that evening right down the street.

Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, two of the nation's most influential thinkers on the political terrain further to the left than liberalism, will speak at the Coolidge Corner Theatre as part of a panel hosted by Brookline Booksmith. The controversial professors, neither of whom is likely to run for any political office, always offer mind-bending facts and sharp analysis that leave their audiences both stunned and energized.

Radical historian Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, is best known for his 1980 book "A People's History of the United States." Recently updated, the book presents an overview of American history from the perspective of those whose lives traditional historians have ignored, especially native Indians, descendents of enslaved Africans, women, and white working class men. Columbus's arrival and its genocidal aftermath--the book's starting point--is very different described from the shore rather than from the ship.

One of my sons used "A People's History" throughout high school as a starting point for a slew of social studies assignments. Some teachers appreciated this more than others. His later decision to major in history seemed fitting.

More surprising was the mention of Zinn in the movie "Good Will Hunting" and local actor Matt Damon's continuing efforts to turn the book into a TV miniseries free of Hollywood cliches.

MIT professor Noam Chomsky has long combined his work in linguistics with his devastating critiques of US policy and media manipulation on an endless array of topics. I've got five Chomsky books on my shelves, and have cited him in my academic work as someone who's broken through psychology's narrow boundaries to address the effect of political and social structures on psychological functioning.

I'm not the only one to cite Chomsky. A few years ago I read that he was the world's most-cited living social scientist. Plug his name into a Web search engine and you'll be astounded.

Of course, when the American Psychological Association gave Chomsky a lifetime achievement award for his groundbreaking linguistics work, they pretty much ignored his political views, which have been subject to wildly inaccurate attacks on a number of fronts.

Both Zinn and Chomsky have criticized those who use the facade of objectivity and the myth of inevitability to mask ideologically motivated affirmations of American power and superiority. These themes, which undoubtedly will be missing from the MCAS history exam, will be much in evidence at their talk next week. The professors will be part of a panel on "Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War," along with Anthony Arnove, editor of a book by that name.

Recently returned from a trip to Iraq forbidden by US law and the United Nations embargo, Arnove has movingly described the devastating consequences for Iraqi civilians of the failed US-backed sanctions and continuing British and American air assaults. Former US ally Saddam Hussein remains in power a decade after the Persian Gulf War, but child mortality has more than doubled (according to UNICEF, there have been more than half a million excess child deaths), the advanced Iraqi medical system is in disarray, and unemployment is up past 60 percent. Malnutrition and diarrhea increase while the embargo keeps out replacement parts for polluted water systems.

Two UN coordinators of the minimal humanitarian effort have resigned in protest and called for an end to the deadly sanctions.

Brookliners who want to hear comforting mainstream discourse will head over to Reich's 8:00 talk at the Holiday Inn on September 25th (call the League of Women Voters at 566-3238 to register). People willing to consider entirely new perspectives should first check out Chomsky and Zinn, at 6:00.

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