Remembering Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn, US historian and activist, dies aged 87
By Alison Flood
American historian, playwright and social activist Howard Zinn died yesterday, aged 87.
The author of the million-plus bestseller A People's History of the United States, which gave a leftist view of American history, died of a heart attack in Santa Monica, California, his daughter Myla Kabat-Zinn told the Associated Press today.
Zinn wrote more than 20 books and his plays have been produced around the world, but it is for A People's History, first published in 1980 with a print run of just 5,000 copies, which the historian is best known.
Told from the perspective of America's women, Native Americans and workers, the book provides a revisionist view of American history from the arrival of Christopher Columbus – who Zinn charges with genocide – to president Bill Clinton's first term.
"My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality," wrote the author in the bestselling book. "
But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all) – that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth."
Growing up in an immigrant, working-class family in Brooklyn, Zinn became a shipyard worker at 18, later joining the air force and flying a bomber during the second world war. His experiences shaped his opposition to war, and on his return he took a PhD in history at Columbia University, later working with civil rights movement activists including Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman, and leading antiwar protests.
Professor emeritus at Boston University, Zinn received a host of honours, most recently the 2010 Martin Luther King, Jr Humanitarian award from New York University for embodying "a vision of peace, persistence in purpose, and inspirational action".
In December, a documentary narrated by Zinn and based on A People's History aired on the History Channel. Intended to give a voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout US history, producers on the film included Matt Damon and Zinn himself, with performances from Morgan Freeman, Bob Dylan, Viggo Mortensen, Bruce Springsteen and others.
The Zinn Education Project, which promotes the teaching of A People's History in schools throughout America, said it was "deeply saddened" to learn of Zinn's death.
"His incredible energy, wit, knowledge, political analysis, vision, and dedication had us convinced that he would outlive us all," the project posted on its website. "At 87, he continued to inform and inspire in his presentations across the country, radio interviews, essays, and film-making."
You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train
A Tribute to the Legendary Historian
with Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein and Anthony Arnove
Daniel Ellsberg: A Memory of Howard:
I just learned that my friend Howard Zinn died today. . .The interviewer asked me who my own heroes were, and I had no hesitation in answering, first, “Howard Zinn.”
. . . in my opinion, the best human being I’ve ever known. The best example of what a human can be, and can do with their life.
Howard Zinn, author of 'People's History of the US,' dead at 87
My son was barely nine when we attended a talk by Howard Zinn at the Le Moyne College in upstate New York.
Normally very shy, he had no hesitation walking up to Zinn after the talk with an old, yellowed copy of The People’s History of the United States for an autograph.
The graciousness with which Zinn, besieged by hundreds of admirers, received this little boy and made him “my young friend” was an unforgettable moment, and prompted him to read the book more seriously.
My son learned from Zinn to question mainstream narratives of history and to understand that history is very often, as Napoleon said, “a fable that has been agreed upon.”
Zinn, capable of making even children think for themselves, died Wednesday. He was 87.
The Huffington Post reported that Zinn died of a heart attack in Santa Monica, California.
It quoted linguist and fellow peace activist Noam Chomsky as saying: "I can't think of anyone who had such a powerful and benign influence. His historical work changed the way millions of people saw the past."
Vietnamese readers have had the opportunity to come to know Zinn through the translation of his most famous book. Lich Su Dan Toc My was published in Vietnam late last year by Alphabooks.
Zinn, a bomber pilot during World War II, turned to history to understand how people could be brought to inflict such wanton violence on other people. He came to understand how history was authored by the elites and written primarily to serve their agenda to exploit and subjugate.
In an act of incredible bravery, his “People’s History of the United States” broke centuries of propaganda and myth that was taught in schools, colleges and universities.
The book showed how historical figures like Christopher Columbus and other celebrated explorers actually engaged in genocidal actions, and how the lack of a common person’s perspective of events distorted history, condemning it to repetition.
The Huffington Post reported that Zinn was born to Jewish immigrants in New York in 1922. Strongly influenced by the novels of Charles Dickens that explored the misery of those exploited by an industrializing society, his political awakening began when he was beaten unconscious by police when he was attending a rally in Times Square.
After the World War, he was thoroughly disillusioned by institutionalized violence. In 1956 he took up a teaching position at an all-black women's school in then-segregated Atlanta.
He was very active during the civil rights movement, encouraging his students to request books from the segregated public libraries and helped coordinate sit-ins at downtown cafeterias, the Huffington Post reported.
Zinn was also a prominent opponent of the Vietnam War and was a strong peace advocate until his death.
The Post report said that one of Zinn's last public writings was an 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."
Zinn’s passing is a major blow for the peace movement in the US and the world, but his works will continue to inspire millions to question mainstream historical narratives.
By Hari Chathrattil
* * *
An Illegal War is State-Terrorism
By Yamin Zakaria
The war had no mandate from the UN Security Council; it was a unilateral and barbaric act of aggression by the Anglo-US regime. Without a legal backing – the invasion was state terrorism dispensed to the innocent civilians of Iraq.