Prison system and Judges

One of the individuals that Howard Zinn focus on is the prisoner. Zinns introduces that “The prison was intended, through isolation, to produce repentance and salvation, but prisoners went insane and died in that isolation.” Original purpose of making prison is to help people who committed crime to relieve the sins, but it has made prisoner went crazy. In 1950s, there were more than 50 riots because prisoners could not stand the punishment and the condition of living in the prison. Eventually, the prisoners started rebellions, they took over the prison and took hostage. It was a chaos during that period. Howard Zinn mentions this because it was the beginning of prison system.


With such power in the hands of the courts, the poor, the black, the odd, the homosexual, the hippie, the radical are not likely to get equal treatment before judges who are almost uniformly white, upper middle class, orthodox.

Another individuals in the 1960s to 1970s is the judges. All the judges in that era were white people, and they are holding too much power. Different judges can decide a case totally differently. For example, there were 673 people drunk in public, and 531 people did not get punished by the decision of one judge. However, when transferring the case to another judge, there was only ONE person did not get punished with the same crime they committed. Moreover, the people who committed the crime were poor and low class. Even if the riches got caught and committed crime, they could still get out of it because they could use money to be bailed. Howard Zinn includes this history because different classes were treated so differently. In that period, if you have the money, you can be the King.

Feeling of “alienated” and “disaffected”

The number of Americans feeling “alienated” and “disaffected” with the general state of the country climbed (from 29 percent in 1966) to over 50 percent. After Ford succeeded Nixon, the percentage of “alienated” was 55 percent. The survey showed that people were troubled most of all by inflation.

The instability of the world economy intensifies since 1973. As the world’s largest economies, the United States was gradually losing its advantage in the world economic hegemony. The significant price rising phenomenon appeared in the U.S., and inflation and unemployment rate were simultaneously growing. The stagflation crisis of 1973-1975 is the most typical one in the history. In the early Nixon administration, the U.S. government did not consider domestic economic policy as the key areas that governance should focus on. They think Inflation is a problem, but not the most worrying problem compares to others, nor the area to use the expense of other issues. In fact, unemployment hurts people a lot more seriously than inflation. The increasing of unemployment rate from 5.6% in 1974 to 8.3% in 1975 reflects the unemployed is more painful than the general view of rising prices. People are disaffected by this economic crisis; their standard of living were very low at that period of time.

Furthermore, energy crisis in 1973 the energy crisis made the situation out of control. The oil crisis happens so quick which are very rare; it hits the U.S. economy unusually heavy. According to Howard Zinn, Oil company economists discussed holding back production of oil to keep prices up. ARAMCO—the Arabian- American Oil Corporation, 75 percent of whose stock was held by American oil companies and 25 percent by Saudi Arabia—had made $1 profit on a barrel of oil in 1973. In 1974 it was making $4.50. Because of this, the inflation and unemployment are out of control. The number of unemployed people in the United States had reached the highest point since the Great Depression. After 1973, the price increase trend became steeper than before; food, fuel and medical care increase the price most dramatically. It seems the inflation will become more volatile, even more difficult to predict. I think Howard Zinn mention this to tell us why people are not satisfied with the economic situation during 1970s, and why people’s optimism for the future had changed significantly.

Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)

“The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended all Chinese immigration for ten years and declared the Chinese ineligible for citizenship. Chinese workers already in the country challenged the constitutionality of the law, but their efforts failed. The act was renewed in 1892 for another ten years, and in 1902 Chinese immigration was permanently prohibited. Not until 1943 did Congress grant Chinese Americans eligibility for citizenship.Whereas, in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory”

The Chinese Exclusion Act appears to me as Americans slapping their own faces. The United States is the country that advocates human rights. On July 9, 1868, before Chinese Exclusion Act was adopted, American established the Fourteenth Amendment, which states, “No State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This Amendment should protect not only citizens but also aliens. But 14 years later, all Chinese immigrations were suspended. The Chinese Exclusion Act considered not only the racial, but also the national discrimination. They were ignoring the human rights that Amendment protects.

The Chinese Exclusion Act reflects two situations. First one is the rapid growth of Chinese population during the California Gold Rush period, which have caused the increasing of unemployment rate and economic crisis. The phrase “endangers the good order of certain localities” indicates that the influx of Chinese laborers resulted U.S. workers fight for the job within the tense situation. They were considering the job opportunities that Chinese took “endangers” residents’ life. American citizens lost their job due to the cheap Chinese laborers. Furthermore, American politicians exaggerated the negative image of Chinese laborers for votes. They are saying that Chinese have a lot of bad habits and prejudices. It is impossible for them to be Americanized, and it is unlikely they will accept the basis of the Christian ethical standards that the United States has established.