I had first heard about him back in 10th when a teacher of mine, Ms. Pfeffer (who I still consider as one of the two best teachers I had of all time), introduced our class to a chapter from a book called “A People’s History of the United States.” I had never heard of either the book or the author named Howard Zinn prior to that moment but I can safely point to that day in 2002 that changed me. Until earlier today, I don’t think I ever thanked Ms. Pfeffer for that brief introduction but I took care of that and let me thank her here again.
I think we only read one chapter for our class regarding how the farmers of the Shay’s Rebellion should be considered the real heroes in the true history of the United States of America. It certainly peaked my curiosity and I went on to read the whole book which questioned why the initial union organizers did not receive much credit over the course of history or why the founding fathers, for all the good they did, still were considered with such glamor since they were slave owners themselves.
At a time when few politicians dared even call themselves liberal, “A People’s History” told an openly left-wing story. Zinn charged Christopher Columbus and other explorers with genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.
During the civil rights movement, Zinn encouraged his students to request books from the segregated public libraries and helped coordinate sit-ins at downtown cafeterias. Zinn also published several articles, including a then-rare attack on the Kennedy administration for being too slow to protect blacks.
The attached quote above and the one below is from this NPR article and a lot of the stuff about him, I am learning now but already could have figured he would have had a rich history given his take from just a single book. I plan on reading You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times some day, hopefully sooner rather than later, and most certainly it will give be an even better perspective.
One of Zinn’s last public writings was a brief essay, published last week in The Nation, about the first year of the Obama administration.
“I’ve been searching hard for a highlight,” he wrote, adding that he wasn’t disappointed because he never expected a lot from Obama.
“I think people are dazzled by Obama’s rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president — which means, in our time, a dangerous president — unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”
His critical views of President Obama are pretty damning to say the least but it definitely brings to light the type of reality we all may be hiding from and need to wake up to. I’ll end the post with three quotes from Howard Zinn regarding what he worried about most and what he thought about politics and war.
“I’m worried that students will take their obedient place in society and look to become successful cogs in the wheel – let the wheel spin them around as it wants without taking a look at what they’re doing. I’m concerned that students not become passive acceptors of the official doctrine that’s handed down to them from the White House, the media, textbooks, teachers and preachers.”
Terrorism has replaced Communism as the rationale for the militarization of the country [America], for military adventures abroad, and for the suppression of civil liberties at home. It serves the same purpose, serving to create hysteria.
It’s not right to respond to terrorism by terrorizing other people. And furthermore, it’s not going to help. Then you might say, “Yes, it’s terrorizing people, but it’s worth doing because it will end terrorism.” But how much common sense does it take to know that you cannot end terrorism by indiscriminately dropping bombs?