Day 2 Spring 2003 Jan. 9


1. Names.  Thanks for responses; for next time, group B, and we’ll start into Missing Peace.


Sign-up for WORTH Center/UMADAOP projects.


Issues from last time, slightly rearranged:


War and Peace                                   Economics                                          Social Issues             

Iraq                                                      Stock market declines                           Health care

Korea (North and South)                      Corporate corruption                            Cloning

Terrorism                                             Energy/oil prices                                   Technology

Homeland Security                               Unemployment                         Education

Civil liberties                                         Wages                                                  Minority rights


                                    Global warming/environmental issues (?)


What about these lists? Things are present here in highly abstract and reduced ways, right? To trace out the realities of these brief terms could take us a lifetime; we could list many sub-headings and questions under many of these terms. 


Here’s a piece by Thomas Friedman that discusses one set of connections:


And one by Robert Fisk, an overview of the current situation:


To me it’s startling to think back to two years ago, when Bush was inaugurated, and remember what was going on then. The biggest topic was still his “election,” with a minority of votes from the minority of American voters who bother to vote at all, secured only with the aid of his brother the governor of Florida and a Supreme Court decision that was unabashedly partisan. If such a process had happened in Russia or Nicaragua, American pundits would have skewered it as astonishingly undemocratic . . . here, it seems to have faded entirely from the memory of most Americans, just as most of us seem unworried about yielding up our most basic civil liberties to preserve our “security” and quite reconciled to invading Iraq on the grounds that it might someday be a threat to us . . . what is going on?


2. From Zinn (Declarations of Independence, 1991):


First reactions? What did you find most striking or unexpected here? what most exciting or doubtful? What about what he says about “freedom” and pluralism in America? What does he mean by “ideology”?


So, what about all this? Do you accept these ideas? If not, which ones would you question?


What about the idea that “this is the way things are” and they will never change very much? What might history tell us about that? Have things always been this way? Have small groups of determined people ever changed the world before?


“A close look at this [American] pluralism shows that it is very limited. We have the kinds of choices that are given in multiple-choice tests, where you can choose a, b, c, or d. But e, f, g, and h are not even listed.

And so we have the Democratic and Republican parties (choose a or b ), but no others are really tolerated or encouraged or financed. Indeed, there is a law limiting the nationally televised presidential debates to the two major parties.

We have a "free press," but big money dominates it; you can choose among Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report. On television, you can choose among NBC, CBS, and ABC. There is a dissident press, but it does not have the capital of the great media chains and cannot get the rich corporate advertising, and so it must strain to reach small numbers of people. There is public television, which is occasionally daring, but also impoverished and most often cautious.

We have three branches of government, with "checks and balances," as we were taught in junior high school. But one branch of government (the presidency) gets us into wars and the other two (Congress and the Supreme Court) go sheepishly along.

There is the same limited choice in public policy. During the Vietnam War, the argument for a long time was between those who wanted a total bombing of Indochina and those who wanted a limited bombing. The choice of withdrawing from Vietnam altogether was not offered. Daniel Ellsberg, working for Henry Kissinger in 1969, was given the job of drawing a list of alternative policies on Vietnam. As one possibility on his long list he suggested total withdrawal from the war. Kissinger looked at the possibilities and crossed that one off before giving the list to President Richard Nixon.

In debates on the military budget there are heated arguments about whether to spend 5300 billion or $290 billion. A proposal to spend $100 billion (thus making $200 billion available for human needs) is like the e or f in a multiple-choice test-it is missing. To propose zero billion makes you a candidate for a mental institution.

[ . . . . . . . . . ]

Thus we grow up in a society where our choice of ideas is limited and where certain ideas dominate: We hear them from our parents, in the schools, in the churches, in the newspapers, and on radio and television. They have been in the air ever since we learned to walk and talk. They constitute an American ideology-that is, a dominant pattern of ideas. Most people accept them, and if we do, too, we are less likely to get into trouble.

The dominance of these ideas is not the product of a conspiratorial group that has devilishly plotted to implant on society a particular point of view. Nor is it an accident, an innocent result of people thinking freely. There is a process of natural (or, rather unnatural ) selection, in which certain orthodox ideas are encouraged, financed, and pushed forward by the most powerful mechanisms of our culture. These ideas are preferred because they are safe; they don't threaten established wealth or power.

For instance:

"Be realistic; this is the way things are; there's no point thinking about how things should be. "

"People who teach or write or report the news should be objective; they should not try to advance their own opinions."

"There are unjust wars, but also just wars."

"If you disobey the law, even for a good cause, you should accept your punishment."

"If you work hard enough, you'll make a good living. If you are poor, you have only yourself to blame."

"Freedom of speech is desirable, but not when it threatens national security."

"Racial equality is desirable, but we've gone far enough in that direction."

"Our Constitution is our greatest guarantee of liberty and justice."

"The United States must intervene from time to time in various parts of the world with military power to stop communism and promote democracy."

"If you want to get things changed, the only way is to go through the proper channels."

"We need nuclear weapons to prevent war."

"There is much injustice in the world but there is nothing that ordinary people, without wealth or power, can do about it."

These ideas are not accepted by all Americans. But they are believed widely enough and strongly enough to dominate our thinking. And as long as they do, those who hold wealth and power in our society will remain secure in their control.”


3. Needleman: what is his vision of “the American soul”?

Where does he say the greatness of George Washington lay? Jefferson? Frederick Douglas?


The last paragraphs of this piece are the most important, I think:


What about “humility and remorse” as new and necessary responses to the American story?


What do you think about this emphasis on both “inner greatness” and “profound weakness”?


How does this vision differ from the usual ways we think about America? Do we tend to either idolatry or contempt? “This is the greatest country ever” vs. “The Evil Empire”?

American seekers
When we accept these truths about ourselves—both our triumphs and our failures—how will the story of America change? Will our heroes no longer be heroes? Our triumphs no longer triumphs? Not at all. Instead, something entirely new and necessary will fill every limb and cell of the story of America, and that “something” has a very precise designation—humility and remorse.

I seek neither to revile nor to romanticize the actions and actors of America’s past. The cultural hero of the present age is no longer the Warrior or the Savior or the Adventurer, the Lover, or the Wise Man. It is the Seeker. Our heroes will remain heroes, but now more clearly heroes of both the inner and the outer worlds of history.

We ask for a vision of America that can help us see more clearly what we actually are and what we can work to become. This is the same kind of vision that we need as individuals struggling for self-knowledge and moral power. Like America itself, we must discover how to look impartially at both our inner greatness and our profound weaknesses—self-deception, arrogance, and betrayal.

America is an original expression of ideas that have always been part of the great web of Truth. Explicitly and implicitly, the idea of America has resonated with this ancient, timeless wisdom and has allowed something of its power to touch the heart and mind of humanity. We must recover this resonance, this relationship, however tenuous and partial, between the teachings of wisdom and the idea of America.

Student Responses


The readings were certainly refreshing for me, since I have been frustrated with the self-deception of the population of the US and I haven’t seen much self-criticism from many people of the country since 9-11, which doesn’t make much sense to me.  It certainly was a horrendous tragedy, and I was deeply moved by it, but I would hope that instead of the event silencing the public to criticizing the government, we should be digging deep into the problems that create such terrorism. 

            However, the first reading by Howard Zinn I didn’t agree with completely.   It compared the democracy of the US to a multi-part monarchy or dictatorship or some other strongly controlling government.  I agree mostly that the government of the US certainly seems to have far more independent judgment on action than it was meant to have, yet I don’t see much advantage to having a completely free, thousands of choices society.  Besides, obviously there are thousands of choices and opinions, however, we cannot deliberate all of them in the governmental bodies.  It seems like that would only lead to chaos.  Zinn talked about that not all Americans believe the same, and some don’t take the word of the government as gospel truth, or accept one of there decisions anyway; but isn’t a democracy run by the majority?  Since that is how the public functions, even if we think the majority to be ignorant and lead on by the government, are they still not the majority?  Therefore ultimately democracy serves it’s purpose, no matter if a small percentage of the populations understands that what the government thinks is right, isn’t always right.  I just have a difficult time picturing the country escaping narrow-mindedness when the people are willing to give up their sovereignty for the “safety” and increase of power and wealth of the nation that controls their lives more and more. 


Jacob Boehr   

In American Ideology, I do agree that people get treated differently. No matter the skin color or the wealth that they might have. I feel that there is always going to be a level of people and that's how society is going to see that. Everyone is equal in the world and that's how it should be. I feel that even people higher up such as the presidency had that authority over people and it should not be that the president should just do what he wants, such as wars. But he should ask the American people what they feel should be done. Today, in America it's basically controlled by how much money people have or how much power you have and that shouldn't be right. I thought that America was about having freedom of speech and many times past and present we still don't have that right. I feel many times American people say one thing and do something else totally different. I think right now America has to change and not look at the color of skin or how much money someone has. People should all be at the same level in America and think of important things in life.

In Founding America, there were many great men that started out to make America a great place to live. The Peacemaker wanted the other tribes to have peace and free their mind of the wars against the other tribes. George Washington, he wanted to have a new president after him and he thought it would be the best for the people. This is why he decided to not be a king or a dictator. Jefferson, he just wanted the freedom for the people so that's why he added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. He just wanted the people to be happy and have freedom of speech and religion. Fredrick Douglass, he was a brave man and he had to have courage to leave his slavemaster at the age of 16 years old and to speak out and tell other people how he felt about certain issues. These were 4 great men and they did so much for our country.

Cari Bowman


I found both articles, "American Ideology" and "Founding America" very interesting and i agreed with both of them.  On one hand, "founding America" showed one side of view where America can be a place for people to improve their lives, through the triumphs of our four fathers and the ever precedent constitution.  The article does an excellent job outlining how America has the foundation of laws, liberties, etc. for citizens to get an education, practice religion, voice their opinion, etc.;however, as the other article points out these rights are overrun by power and wealth, and that only the strongest survive and benefit from these justices. Also, in "Founding America" the story that Needleman tells of the great peacemaker of the world, is nice, but how can one believe that?  no one in the story questions the peacemaker intentions they just except the fact that someone has come to offer peace.  now, me, if there was that much war going on in the land, i would question ones intentions on why they came to my tribe and are offering peace. 

 The second article, "America ideology" also makes some valid points that America is not a country that offers protection and structure as the other article states, but only to those that hold power.  Why is it that our founding fathers questioned what england was doing to them (taxes with out representation), but a great majority of the population today accepts the governments ways?  All the points that the article makes-free press, checks and balances, is right to an extent.  i feel this way because i have gotten in trouble for voicing my opinion at this school, and i was punished for it and was told that it was no appropriate is that freedom of speech?  a lot of views that the author makes are very interesting and i agree with a lot of them, including: "if you work hard enough, you'll make a good living.  if you are poor, you only have yourself to blame," that's not true, but people in America believe that.  And i feel that people think this way because America has brainwashed people into believing that America only produces opportunities and wealth that everyone can obtain, but that is not true in the least bit.  those statistics clearly point that out, wow those were shocking!

Kelly Dietrick


Prof. Gundy,

Howard Zinn's article from The American Ideology seemed well thought out, but also repeating a lot similar sentiment that's been going around the past year or so, and sevearl sentiments that have lasted decades. It certainly takes an intelligent man to point out the not so obvious problems in our country, but it takes someone of true intelligemce to derive a solution for them. Zinn offered few solutions to the problems he presented and the article as a whole seemed to be an enormous complaint list of things wrong with our country. All well and good, but I've heard more of the same before and this just seems to be the usual fair. Of course our government and the media use their positions of power to try and control opinion; that's how large governments stay in power, they sway public opinion. If our government was bad at swaying public opinion, the political system would be shambles and our economy would be worse off than it is now. I'm not saying it's a good thing so many people's opinions are being maipulated day by day by the government and media, I'm just saying it shouldn't be so much of a shocker that it's going on. 

 Jacob Needleman's exerpt from Founding America actually hit home with me on a certain level. While I can't really relate to having grown up in a time where patriotism was more widespread, I can agree whole heartedly that is not too late to take back up the ideals that founded our country in days past in order to help improve its current condition. Our founding fathers were incredible men who sacrificed much to make the dream of a truly free country come true. And while we have lost a great deal of the original integrity that founded America, an ideal cannot be destroyed or lost, merely ignored or forgotten. Change and reform is always possible, and it never hurts to have pride in one's country, even when the country is far from perfect.

-Brian Daniel


I did not like the American ideology. I didn;t feel there was any point to the messafe it was just a bunch of opinions and facts randomly put down. It is true however that we are stuck in believing all the safe ways the system says it is in the list. I did not agree with the statment of being nuetral. Because i am. As bad as this sound i don't care. I hate politics and reading about them. This course i s going to be challenging for me becasue i have tor read it for assimgnents. I know i can't change anything so i'm not gonna be loud and voice my opionions if its not gonna change anything. I don't vote or watch the news or read about politcs or even current events. I know that sounds bad but i'm content in my own littlw world not having to worry about what politician said what and got elected and were in some war.

on a different note, fouding america was more pleasant to read. i likes the part about the peace maker, i reaminded me of jesus as gods gift to save the world. Yeah these are tough to respond to i din';t like the american idlology, it got me heated up and founding america seemd more tolerabt to me, i felt more peace as i read it because is was about our origins and origianl presedents not all the things going wrong today. thats all. I'll try my best to force myself to like politics for a semeseter, maybe i will benefit fromj this course.

Brooke Diller

In the article "Founding America" by Needleman, he says something to the point that it is because of America's greatness that its evil is made so clear. I hadn't thought about the 'evil's' of America like this before. If America wouldn't draw attention to the homeless for example, would we look at homelessness as a problem. Although I don't think that America is doing half of what could be done for the homeless is it because we have the opportunity to help them that we think that we aren't doing enough. Do we see the lack of what is being done for the homeless or people in poverty as an evil in America today? It is an evil but would I think that it was an evil if there never had been anything offered to aid the homeless in the first place?

Zinn did a good job of illustrating America's democracy. We think that we have different options with the different magizines and t.v. stations but who is influencing our options? It makes you think about the American media and the situations in other countries. It is intersting to find out who is telling the story. With conflict in the Middle East for example, are we hearing the Isreali side, influenced by Americans or are we hearing what the Palestinians would say? In this situation specifically I think that it is sad to see how the American media has show the story.

Faith Blough

“If those in charge of our society-politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television-can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves.”

This thought is particularly disturbing, in response to the first reading. I think I, and we, as a surprisingly trusting culture, wants to believe, and do believe, that the people at the “top” know what is right, and will do for us what is right, including giving us the correct and important news, using the media as an example, or making the most helpful and people-serving laws as appropriate to the needs of the people, thinking of politicians for example. It is sometimes confusing and almost scary to think the people with the most power may deceive us, as the American public, at times to do just that: control our ideas. Call me naïve. Give us what we are supposed to think and believe in order to have a civil society, one which in the most extreme case, prevents us from needing soldiers in the streets. I don’t think we like to think about ways we do not and cannot control ourselves, or our ideas, at least. It takes a lot of work to think against the grain of American society when you are a part of it everyday, and going with the grain is the thing to do in the “most powerful” country. Right? But at the same time, it is important to consider along with our American –ideology, the ideologies of other countries and why ours may be different, lacking, or good in comparison. Countries like the Netherlands have so many freedoms and so many un-laws that their ideology becomes one that is not as controlling as what this article suggests America to be. And any dictatorship is certainly not something we want to be a part of, right? We want our freedoms. However, the Netherlands is far from not having its problems, so where do you find a happy medium? That is, between dictatorship and complete liberalism? Isn’t this where America does fall in? And what is exactly good? Aren’t some controls/securities helpful in the way we are able to function? As the author suggested, we do go by certain “checks and balances” and continuous efforts keep our rights in check, but how much freedom do we have? And if we knew, would we want to? Would we seriously try to do anything in efforts to change it, if we accept the ideas of those in power?

Needleman’s article was more hopeful of America, in a way, reminding us of how we came to be where we are today. I especially liked the notes on those founders who were passionate and had a vision for the common good, including the young slave, Douglass. Needleman reminding us of his word, “Look at what you are and measure it against what you imagine you are and what your conscience tells you must be,” is a statement to challenge America today, holding on a bit to what we are good at, but always thinking of what could be better, and especially for the common good.


Kathy Dixon


The title of this course, "Issues in Modern America", scares me. I do not like political "stuff" as I usually call it, but it is a required course. Of course then, I was a little apprehensive when checking out these sites. After doing so though, I was surprised that I actually enjoyed their content. Instead of what I assumed would be the usual boring views, I found questions being asked that I myself might wonder. Even better though, their were some points of views that I had never even considered before. The first article, "The American Ideology", is the article I found most intriguing. The authors exploration of what could be referred to as the "other side" of our "democracy" is what captured me. I have always put the U.S. on a pedestal with no questions asked. I now feel that it is my lack of knowledge and or interest on political "stuff" that places me in this category. The multiple choice analogy made me realize this. I really have always thought that we can do whatever we want in our great land. The multiple choice analogy shows though that there really isn’t an x, y, or z in our choices. Sure, we can choose either a or b, but, beyond that is nearly impossible. This minor glimpse into political "stuff" will hopefully encourage me to use a more legitimate term when referring to items having to do with politics.

Angie Darr