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Zinn Wields History to Motivate Optimism

Rhetorical analysis: The Optimism of Uncertainty


by Howard Zinn
September 4, 2004, Howard Zinn wrote an article in The Nation Magazine titled
The Optimism of Uncertainty. This article was adapted from, The Impossible Will Take a
Little While: A Citizens Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear. Zinn was a historian,
playwright, and social rights activist. He spent a majority of his life dedicated to
changing the mindset around human rights and equality. His goals were to change
awareness around who holds the power in our society. He was also political science
professor at Boston university and wrote numerous books. The Nation Magazine is a
well established magazine that cater to the progressive and politically minded. It is
considered the flagship of the political left. The Nation targets the well-educated and the
economically diverse. Ranging from politicians, journalists, and teachers.

Zinn opens his essay speaking of the awful world where the efforts of caring
people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power. He writes in
response to a questions that was raised how he manages to stay involved and happy
despite the odds being stacked against his agenda. Zinn caters his response to directly
address the liberal activist who is currently struggling with pessimism. These activists
are faced with daunting odds when thinking about the adversary's they face. Zinn seeks
to motivate them to continue their efforts. He answers this question by being optimistic
of change because the future is uncertain. Zinn gives numerous historic examples of
how seeming invincible powers have fallen. He speaks of the Nazi germany falling, the
change of chinese politics, and how americas invasion of indochina failed. He uses

these examples to provide evidence that often the powerless are able to overcome the
powerful. Zinn says that human history is a history of not only cruelty but also of
compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

Zinn succeeds in using pathos, logos, and ethos to create to help create
optimism in his pessimist audience. He uses concrete examples that are relatable and
factual that prove that humans often overcome adversity with persistence and higher
awareness.

Through historical examples he successfully creates logical arguments. Historical


examples are effective logos tactics. They give undeniable examples that adversity
tends to be eventually overcome. An example Zinn uses to great effect is I recall a
veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade telling me that he could not imagine Spanish
Fascism being overthrown without another bloody war. But after Franco was gone, a
parliamentary democracy came into being, open to Socialists, Communists, anarchists,
everyone. This example makes the audience think about how unlikely this outcome
was. It begins to open the mind of the audience. The audience feels intellectually
stimulated as Zinn continues to use well known logical examples. This makes his
argument more effective because we do not need to seek more education to know what
Zinn is speaking about. We cannot debate with the logic that these events have
happened. They are factual and outcomes are our history. This is supportive evidence
to his claim that often guns and money are not enough to stop human compassion and
determination. An additional example Zinn provides is The United States has faced the
same reality. It waged a full-scale war in indochina, conducting the most brutal

bombardment of a tiny peninsula in world history, and yet was forced to withdraw. This
is further evidence that this tactic effectively creates optimism in logically minded
individuals.

Zinn also effectively uses historical examples to evoke sadness. These examples
can create empathy in the readers. These event are relatable to numerous diverse
cultures and cause the reader to put themselves in the shoes of the powerless. This
emotional effect can inspire action to further prevent recurrences of these events. The
audience would have felt that the odds are stacked against them in these situations.
This effectively draws me in as a reader through genuine emotional connection. This
emotional connection fuels my desire to keep taking the small actions Zinn speaks
about in this article. Therefor effectively inspiring me to continue action through pathos.

Additionally his tone in the essay is relatable and human. The language he uses
does not make him appear to be simply reading the page of a text book. He connects to
his audience using empathy and speaking to us as though we knew him as a friend. An
example of this effect is when Zinn says, I have tried hard to match my friends in their
pessimism about the world, but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all the
evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope. He has obvious
passion that allows the readers to feel empowered by his words and gives hope and
motivation to the causes they so desperately fight for. He speaks to how confident he is
that the world may not better, but that we should not give up the game before all the
cards have been played. This confidence is effective and creates a tone of authority
and wisdom creating the identity of a figurehead.

In summary Zinn uses historical connection and hard evidence to create a


positive effect in his audience. Additionally the tone Zinn uses positions him to his
audience as a figurehead. Zinn effectively answers the question that was presented to
him on how he remains positive and happy despite the injustice in our lives. Zinn
reaches his intended audience and succeeds in using logos, pathos, and ethos
effectively. Inspiring positivity and creating a more passionate audience then he started
with.