Howard Zinn, from "You Can't Be Neutral On a Moving Train," 2004
We were sorry to hear about the passing of radical historian and activist Howard Zinn. He was probably best known for his book, The People's History of the United States, which is required reading in many schools throughout the country. Recent projects have included a television version of his book, "The People Speak," which ran on the History Channel in 2009, and a narration for his 2004 biographical documentary, "Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train."
Howard Zinn in the Army Air Corps, WWII
Not just an armchair philosopher, this professor worked tirelessly for civil rights and peace since he returned from World War II, where he served as a bombardier and was awarded the Air Medal. After the war, Zinn went to NYU on the GI Bill, where he got his bachelor's degree, and then received his master's and doctorate at Columbia. He wasn't content to be just another timid soul in Academia, and Zinn served on the executive committee of SNCC, the most militant civil rights group of its time, and was an early active opponent to the Vietnam War. He actively opposed the Reagan contra wars in the 1980s, and the Iraq war(s), and remained an opponent of conservatism, injustice, militarism, rampant capitalism and corporate power until his dying day.
"He's made an amazing contribution to American intellectual and moral culture," said fellow dissident Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, in the Boston Globe. "He's changed the conscience of America in a highly constructive way. I really can't think of anyone I can compare him to in this respect."
Chomsky added that Dr. Zinn's writings "simply changed perspective and understanding for a whole generation. He opened up approaches to history that were novel and highly significant. Both by his actions, and his writings for 50 years, he played a powerful role in helping and in many ways inspiring the Civil rights movement and the anti-war movement."
Howard Zinn and Walter Mosley talk about the history of America on C-SPAN
"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."