Many obituaries and remembrances have paid tribute to the life of Howard Zinn. Sadness is not for the dead but for the living, who would like (as Elizabeth di Novella says) to have read Zinn’s writings on such stuff as the recent Supreme Court decision on campaign funding. Matthew Rothschild and Elizabeth di Novella have written a celebration of Howard Zinn’s life and contributions, words that will help us recognize that Zinn’s presence will be felt as long as we remember, as long as his writings survive to teach other generations about our history — Lew Rosenbaum]
Thank You, Howard Zinn
Thank You, Howard Zinn, for being there during the civil rights movement, for teaching at Spelman, for walking the picket lines, and for inspiring such students as Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being there during the Vietnam War, for writing “The Logic of Withdrawal,” and for going to Hanoi.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for always being there.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a man who supported the women’s liberation movement, early on.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a straight who supported the gay and lesbian rights movement, early on.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a Jew who dared to criticize Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, early on.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a great man who didn’t believe in the “Great Man Theory of History.”
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for taking the time to write your landmark work, “A People’s History of the United States,” and for educating two generations now in the radical history of this country, a history, as you stressed, of class conflict.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for grasping the importance of transforming this book into “The People Speak,” the History Channel special that ran in December and that should be used by secondary, high school and college classes for as long as U.S. history is taught.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for opposing war, all wars, including our own “good wars,” our own “holy wars,” as you called them—and for pointing out that a “just cause” does not lead to a “just war.”
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for pointing out that soldiers don’t die for their country, but that they die for their political leaders who dupe them or conscript them into wars. And that they die for the corporations that profit from war.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for urging us to “renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed. We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.”
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for stressing that change comes from below, and that it comes at surprising times, even when things seem bleakest, if we organize to make it happen.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for stressing the value of engaging in action to make this world a better place, even if we don’t get there.
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for this amazing, inspiring paragraph, which I’ve had on my wall for years now:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacriﬁce, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magniﬁcently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an inﬁnite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in deﬁance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for recognizing the beauty and power of culture, and for exalting the poet, the singer, the actor, the artist.
Thank you, Howard, for being kind enough to write your columns this last decade for a relatively obscure magazine called The Progressive, and for doing so with the utmost intelligence and grace.
Thank you, Howard, for calling me your editor.
Thank you, Howard, for your wry and self-deprecating sense of humor.
Thank you, Howard, for your kindness.
Thank you, Howard, for your friendship.
Thank you, Howard.
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.
Remembering Howard Zinn
I am deeply saddened by the news of the death of Howard Zinn. He was a longtime columnist for The Progressive, and his most recent piece, “The Nobel’s Feeble Gesture,” expressed his dismay about President Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize.
Here’s an excerpt:
“I think some progressives have forgotten the history of the Democratic Party, to which people have turned again and again in desperate search for saviors, later to be disappointed. Our political history shows us that only great popular movements, carrying out bold actions that awakened the nation and threatened the Establishment, as in the Thirties and the Sixties, have been able to shake that pyramid of corporate and military power and at least temporarily changed course.”
It was a “classic” Zinn piece—piercing but playful, saying in no uncertain terms what needed to be said. It’s not surprising he was a favorite columnist for many of our subscribers. He was my favorite, too.
On matters of war and peace, he was absolute. In our July 2009 issue, he wrote, “We’ve got to rethink this question of war and come to the conclusion that war cannot be accepted, no matter what. No matter what the reasons given, or the excuse: liberty, democracy; this, that. War is by definition the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers of people for ends that are uncertain. Think about means and ends, and apply it to war. The means are horrible, certainly. The ends, uncertain. That alone should make you hesitate. . . . We are smart in so many ways. Surely, we should be able to understand that in between war and passivity, there are a thousand possibilities.”
What I loved most about Zinn was his sense of humor, which didn’t always translate onto the page. I didn’t know how funny he was until I heard him speak at our 95th anniversary party six years ago. He was gracious enough to attend our recent 100th birthday bash, too.
When I was a just becoming politicized, I read A People’s History of the United States and it blew my mind away. Reading Zinn’s book was a rite of passage in my activist circles, and I hope it still is.
It’s been nearly twenty years since I’ve read A People’s History, and it is no small thrill to be at a magazine that regularly publishes the work of a peace mongering historian, a World War II soldier who flew bombing missions over Europe but later staunchly advocated for peace. That was thing about Zinn—when he spoke of war, he knew what he was talking about.
Back in 2003 when George W. Bush was gunning for Saddam Hussein, Zinn wrote a cover story for The Progressive called “A Chorus Against War.”
This is how it ends:
“If Bush starts a war, he will be responsible for the lives lost, the children crippled, the terrorizing of millions of ordinary people, the American GIs not returning to their families. And all of use will be responsible for bringing that to a halt.
Men who have no respect for human life or for freedom or justice have taken over this beautiful country of ours. It will be up to the American people to take it back.”
I would have loved to read what Zinn thought about the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing even more money into our political system. Or what he would have written after hearing Obama’s first State of the Union Address. The President’s speech hasn’t even started yet tonight, but this much I do know: Zinn would have reminded us, as he did over and over, that we need to organize our neighborhoods and workplaces and schools in order to create change, and not leave it up to the politicians.
“Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war,” Zinn wrote in a piece called, “Election Madness” back in March 2008. “Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.”
Elizabeth DiNovella is Culture Editor of The Progressive.