One Nation Under God… Indivisible? By John Rasplicka

John Rasplicka is a junior in my Advanced Placement United States History class. One of our required readings is Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. The point of view reflected in this piece is that of Mr. Rasplicka.

I recently watched Good Will Hunting at the request of my teacher, Mr. Carson; in that movie there is one particular line that he said to watch for: “Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, that book will f*ckin’ knock you on your a**.” I didn’t understand it at the time, but as I read the book for Mr. Carson’s course the last few months, it has.  I have grown up in a very conservative, Republican home, family, and community all my life.  Howard Zinn is, to say the least, a liberal.  I found that out not only through reading A People’s History, but also through recently reading Zinn’s response to the question “What’s the Future of the American Dream?”

In his response to what the future of the American dream is, Zinn asserts that if America did not spend so much on its military, and instead invested its money in to its people, it would be respected rather than feared around the world.  Zinn first criticizes America’s military power, stating that this power is used to extend its power across the globe; furthermore, Zinn calls for use of American money not for defense but for its people in terms of provision for fundamental necessities for every American. Zinn’s purpose is to challenge a widely held view (that military power is paramount) and introduce his view (that every American should be provided necessities such as food, health care, decent housing, and jobs. Given the fact that Zinn himself is a leftist and therefore holds leftist views, he aims to address those with much more conservative views and challenge their beliefs.

My conservative views and beliefs were, without a doubt, challenged. Though I have wrestled with why our military is so large, one of the largest areas of spending for our government, the idea of free healthcare, free food, housing, and jobs… for everyone? It could just be my upbringing, but the idea of free healthcare, food, housing, and jobs for everyone, even if some are taxed more than others? Simply preposterous, at least to the seventeen year old, upper class white male from Houston.

I am not close-minded to view points other than my own, but I am logical. I wonder why someone should receive something if they do not get taxed (read: pay) for it, why the “handout mentality,” in which the government will help pay for or provide whatever your heart desires abounds in our society. To me, Zinn’s response to the future of the American dream seems like a utopia that forever dwells just out of reach, a unicorn: the one thing that, no matter how hard is sought after, cannot be attained. I honestly do not think that the disparity of wealth in the “United” States provides for a society in which everyone will help their neighbor.

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2 thoughts on “One Nation Under God… Indivisible? By John Rasplicka

  1. Oh, SO much to address here!

    First, thank you for approaching this with an open mind. So many people, it seems, aren’t willing to extend even a smidge past what they ‘believe’ is right, and your venturing into ideas that are different from those with which you were raised is admirable. Would that more people did it.

    I wonder if, as we consider the idea of the government funding the necessities of life for all people, we might want to think that, in a very real way, it was/is the government that put in place the environment that creates the kind of crushing disparity we see in our current system – the kind of disparity that Zinn wants addressed with his advocacy of universal care for all?

    As a self-proclaimed liberal, I’m not comfortable with the idea of government-sponsored necessities for everyone. Despite what some people may assume I believe, I think that it is good and right that there be some competition; I understand human nature enough to understand the adage about teaching a man to fish. I also understand, however, that we have a systemic problem of inequality in our country; that not everyone has the same chances as everyone else. Women still make less money than men for the same work, blacks and Hispanics make up a disproportionate number of our nation’s poor, and how much one can achieve and attain is often much more a question of one’s place and situation of birth than of one’s drive and ambitions. In order for one to pull oneself up from one’s bootstraps, one must first have the luxury of boots.

    Until we get our system figured out – until we’re willing to admit that we DO need regulations and laws that dictate how people are allowed to treat each other, and that we need watchdogs for oversight – until we come to terms with the idea that the categories we put people in have nothing to do with their ability to contribute successfully to our society – we need to make sure that there are safeguards in place to care for those the system screws over. I suspect you would find that MOST people don’t WANT the government to give them anything other than a fair footing in the game.

  2. Nice thoughts, John. Great comments, Mrs. Chili.

    I made it through a few chapters of A People’s History myself. To his credit, Zinn is very up-front about his particular slant and sees it as a counter to the majority of books that have been written. Discussing the skeletons that are in the closet can be helpful, but Zinn goes metatarsal by metatarsal. Depending on your ideology you may find that method thrilling, painful, or annoying. Too much tunnel vision for my taste, and as a stand-alone book it would be ridiculous. In a library, however, A People’s History is thought-provoking. Props to Zinn: you won’t look at Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson the same way again.

    Zinn seems to want a utopia. Life just isn’t like that, and it never has been despite the suggestion that Europeans destroyed The Shire. I do agree with him that there is much to admire and consider about past cultures, though judging past cultures (native or advanced) by today’s standards is a thorny endeavor. There is much to be sad about when reading history, but there is much to be inspired by as well.

    Regarding defense spending: Bad guys exist, and they will take advantage of the unprepared. Yes, we could give all our military budget to the poor… then our enemies would roll us up and our culture would be gone. What would history have been like if the natives had crushed every European landing party they came across once it was obvious they were up to no good? (Exit question: If we took the money we use to defend Europe and kept it in America, would Europe be able to afford the entitlements they scoff at us for not having?)

    Regarding opportunity: It would be too expensive for the government to make sure everyone started out at the 20 yard line. Some people may have to grind it out starting inside the 10, while others can pass for bigger chunks of yardage. It’s more important to protect the ability of everyone to move the ball and have the opportunity to score regardless of age, race, or sex than to mandate a universal starting point.

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