I hate when I discover something too late to use it in the classroom. I was teaching Barbara Jane Reyes’ poem “Anthropologic” a few weeks ago, and my first-year students had such a violent, non-curious reaction to Reyes’ anti-colonialism that I felt I must have been doing a poor job of relating the little-known history of U.S. imperialism. I plan to revisit this topic in the coming weeks, as we begin to discuss Reagan’s failed Presidency in Angels in America. My teaching philosophy of late is evolving to include a strong emphasis on the connection between literature and politics.
“Empire or Humanity?”: This animated video of Howard Zinn on American Empire, only about eight minutes long, is paced well and visually interesting (and narrated with a dry though passionate narration by Viggo Mortensen). I also like the approach of the narrative through the personal history of Zinn himself, and his realization that his participation in U.S. bombing during the WWII–ostensibly for the U.S. war against Hitler’s fascism–was naive. His awakening to the idea of American imperialism is both personal and analytical.
“My motive was to help defeat fascism,” Zinn reflects upon his time as a soldier, “and to create a more decent world, free of agression, militarism, and racism.” But were his thoughts on the ground matched by the design of the architects in Washington? And what’s changed from our impulses toward American exceptionalism? Are current U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan more of the same?
Zinn writes that little has changed since the great wars of the past: “As George W. Bush said in his second inaugural address, ‘Spreading liberty around the world is the calling of our time.’ The New York Times called this address, ‘Striking for its idealism.’ We can hardly ask for a clearer, more blunt articulation of imperial design.”