On this day, in 1922, a great man was born. I take a moment to remember and honor Howard Zinn. I admire him, and what he stood for. Unfortunately, our world doesn’t have enough human beings like him. He was one of those who had the courage to speak truth to power, and as any who does so, he too was surrounded by controversy. In my opinion, he did what he could to wake us up from our sleepwalking, and make us better human beings. He lifted humanity up.
He left us in 2010.
I would like to encourage you to take some time today to learn more about Howard Zinn. Maybe you can read about him, or read one of his books, or watch the documentary about his life, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. Maybe you can take time to reflect, as he did, about the insanity of violence, both the direct violence that men inflict upon men through war, as well as the indirected violence that men inflict upon men through oppression and exploitation.
What follows are parts of the entries about Howard Zinn, from his pages on Amazon and Wikipedia.
From Amazon’s Howard Zinn Page
Howard Zinn (1922-2010) was a historian, playwright, and activist. He wrote the classic A People’s History of the United States, “a brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those … whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories” (Library Journal). The book, which has sold more than two million copies, has been featured on The Sopranos and Simpsons, and in the film Good Will Hunting. In 2009, History aired The People Speak, an acclaimed documentary co-directed by Zinn, based on A People’s History and a companion volume, Voices of a People’s History of the United States.
Zinn grew up in Brooklyn in a working-class, immigrant household. At 18 he became a shipyard worker and then flew bomber missions during World War II. These experiences helped shape his opposition to war and passion for history. After attending college under the GI Bill and earning a Ph.D. in history from Columbia, he taught at Spelman, where he became active in the civil rights movement. After being fired by Spelman for his support for student protesters, Zinn became a professor of Political Science at Boston University, were he taught until his retirement in 1988.
Zinn was the author of many books, including an autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, the play Marx in Soho, and Passionate Declarations. He received the Lannan Foundation Literary Award for Nonfiction and the Eugene V. Debs award for his writing and political activism.
From Wikipedia’s Howard Zinn Page
Zinn was born to a Jewish immigrant family in Brooklyn. His father, Eddie Zinn, born in Austria-Hungary, emigrated to the U.S. with his brother Samuel before the outbreak of World War I. Howard’s mother, Jenny (Rabinowitz) Zinn, emigrated from the Eastern Siberian city of Irkutsk.
Both parents were factory workers with limited education when they met and married, and there were no books or magazines in the series of apartments where they raised their children. Zinn’s parents introduced him to literature by sending 10 cents plus a coupon to the New York Post for each of the 20 volumes of Charles Dickens‘ collected works. He also studied creative writing at Thomas Jefferson High School in a special program established by principal and poet Elias Lieberman.
World War II
Eager to fight fascism, Zinn joined the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and was assigned as a bombardier in the 490th Bombardment Group, bombing targets in Berlin, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. As bombardier, Zinn dropped napalm bombs in April 1945 on Royan, a seaside resort in southwestern France. The anti-war stance Zinn developed later was informed, in part, by his experiences.
On a post-doctoral research mission nine years later, Zinn visited the resort near Bordeaux where he interviewed residents, reviewed municipal documents, and read wartime newspaper clippings at the local library. In 1966, Zinn returned to Royan after which he gave his fullest account of that research in his book, The Politics of History. On the ground, Zinn learned that the aerial bombing attacks in which he participated had killed more than 1000 French civilians as well as some German soldiers hiding near Royan to await the war’s end, events that are described “in all accounts” he found as “une tragique erreur” that leveled a small but ancient city and “its population that was, at least officially, friend, not foe.” In The Politics of History, Zinn described how the bombing was ordered—three weeks before the war in Europe ended—by military officials who were, in part, motivated more by the desire for their own career advancement than in legitimate military objectives. He quotes the official history of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ brief reference to the Eighth Air Force attack on Royan and also, in the same chapter, to the bombing of Pilsen in what was then Czechoslovakia. The official history stated that the famous Skoda works in Pilsen “received 500 well-placed tons,” and that “because of a warning sent out ahead of time the workers were able to escape, except for five persons.”
I recalled flying on that mission, too, as deputy lead bombardier, and that we did not aim specifically at the ‘Skoda works’ (which I would have noted, because it was the one target in Czechoslovakia I had read about) but dropped our bombs, without much precision, on the city of Pilsen. Two Czech citizens who lived in Pilsen at the time told me, recently, that several hundred people were killed in that raid (that is, Czechs)—not five.
Zinn said his experience as a wartime bombardier, combined with his research into the reasons for, and effects of the bombing of Royan and Pilsen, sensitized him to the ethical dilemmas faced by G.I.s during wartime. Zinn questioned the justifications for military operations that inflicted massive civilian casualties during the Allied bombing of cities such as Dresden, Royan, Tokyo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, Hanoi during the War in Vietnam, and Baghdad during the war in Iraq and the civilian casualties during bombings in Afghanistan during the current and decade-old war there. In his pamphlet, Hiroshima: Breaking the Silence written in 1995, he laid out the case against targeting civilians with aerial bombing.
Six years later, he wrote:
Recall that in the midst of the Gulf War, the U.S. military bombed an air raid shelter, killing 400 to 500 men, women, and children who were huddled to escape bombs. The claim was that it was a military target, housing a communications center, but reporters going through the ruins immediately afterward said there was no sign of anything like that. I suggest that the history of bombing—and no one has bombed more than this nation—is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like ‘accident’, ‘military target’, and ‘collateral damage’.