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In memory of Howard Zinn

He may lie at the opposite end of the political spectrum from where I do, yet no matter what one’s political views are – there is no denying the fact that Howard Zinn was and is one of the single most important figures in contemporary political history. Mr. Zinn died last Wednesday of a heart attack, he was 87.

We know and generally accept now that history is written by the powerful, the winners and the wealthy. We know that there are classes of people in not just the history of the U.S., but around the world, whose voices are not heard by the writers of history. That knowledge is thanks in part to Zinn and his book “A People’s History of the United States,” (one of many works he authored) which challenges many of the fanciful notions of American history that we are brought up believing. His book chronicles the history of our country, from the landing of Columbus, to the tyranny of colonial government, to the Civil Rights movement and up to the War on Terrorism.

Howard Zinn is a champion for the political left and taught at Boston University for 24 years. During that time he was the professor of our very own Stuart Shulman, who once referred to Zinn in an email as “an American hero!”

I am quite sure he, and countless others, still hold that view today. Although he may not be everybody’s favorite social or political figure, David Horowitz, who is scheduled to speak at UMass on Feb. 23 said that “there is absolutely nothing in Howard Zinn’s intellectual output that is worthy of any kind of respect.” I beg to differ on this point. His teachings and intellect have not only intrinsic worth, but also value as a way of studying history, analyzing politics and living an engaged life.

Claims he was a fascist or communist (whether to praise or denounce him, depending on where you stand) are wrong. Howard Zinn was a bombardier in World War II, eager to fight against tyranny and oppression sweeping the globe. It may have been these experiences that made him critical of certain tactics in war, such as the bombing of civilians.

Zinn was also a major voice in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. As a professor at Spelman College in Ga. he lobbied, organized sit-ins and mentored students on civil rights. He was eventually fired from Spelman for standing up against segregation with the students.

Along with his teachings as a professor and authoring a bestseller, Zinn was a playwright and activist. A documentary featuring his works, “The People Speak,” was released last year and Zinn traveled across the country giving performances and viewings in bookstores, on stage and on college and high school campuses until recently.

He was a voice for progress who inspired generations of students not just at BU, but around the country, to be active in their society and their governments, to challenge conventional wisdom and to speak up against injustices we see in the world. It is said that he not only taught history, but encouraged his students to make it, to live it. I think this is a philosophy that resonated down the Pike and stuck here at UMass, one of the most politically active campuses in the nation, for better or worse.

Although I disagree with some of his politics – his teachings will, nevertheless, live on in the hearts and minds of millions of students here in Massachusetts and across the nation. After more than forty years, Howard Zinn was invited back to Spelman College, where he gave the commencement speech in 2005.

In it he told students, “The lesson of history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies.”

Justin Thompson is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at jandrewt@student.umass.edu .

Comments
9 Responses to “In memory of Howard Zinn”
  1. Ben says:

    Are you sure he lies on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum from you?

    I read “A People’s History” a few years ago. Makes a great doorstop or paperweight. Other than that, it’s not to be taken seriously.

    Zinn has single-minded hatred of all things American that he attempts to justify by backing them up with “facts” that are distorted and are lacking any type of context. He has defended all sorts of despotic dictators, just as long as these despoctic dicatators were on the opposite side of the Cold War dichotomy. At the same time, he was merciless in his criticism of our allies, frequently citng “human rights violations”, as if he gave a hoot about human rights. (Furthermore, these human rights violations didn’t need to be factual.) You can’t feign shock about the minor pecadillos of Nguyen Van Theiu while at the same time defending Castro, Ho Chi Minh, etc.

    In short, the man was a fake. Sorry he died, but he lived a long and mendacious life.

  2. Nick says:

    To Ben: Nonsense. He “defended” Cold War dictators insofar as they were consistently bullied by the United States and its rampant imperialism. I have no doubt that to you, A People’s History has no use other than as a paper weight or doorstop, for you are the unrepentant product of the brainwashing and undereducation of the American school system. Surely, WE could do no wrong! How dare he suggest it? Ignore the fact that the Cold War was no more than a campaign to unite the public against a fictitous enemy in order to ensure their submission. If you insist upon reading history with such a biased and uncritical mind, simply stop reading it and concentrate instead on some John Wayne films and Time magazine.

  3. Donna says:

    I respect Howard Zinn’s work, striving to reveal truth and standing for integrity. Mr. Zinn leaves a most impressive legacy and I feel fortunate to have read his books. A People’s History of American Empire I found illuminating. He will be missed.

  4. eliza says:

    may he rest in peace
    i admire all his work

  5. Rey says:

    @Ben: “Zinn has single-minded hatred of all things American”…really?! Do you expect anyone to take what you have to say seriously with such a broad statement…all things American? I guess he hates himself and Hamburgers even from your view. It’s clear to see that you don’t know how to disagree with somebody’s stance without making baseless claims & lies…to bad for you. On a more important note…many thanks to Mr. Zinn for dedicating his heart, mind & breath to such important work and for spreading the spirit of being engaged in MAKING history everyday…this is the message that I hope continues to spread to the young minds sprouting in our schools today…to be engaged in making notable moments in our society that have truly positive effects that when looked back upon in the future we can be proud of as opposed to being ashamed of something that we wish could be buried and hidden away.

    Peace be with you Howard!

  6. students dad says:

    while I grieve for the friends and relatives of Howard Zinn I am glad he and his anti-american, anti-capitalist and anti-military voice is gone. Zinn’s own website admits to this. Zinn while being a combat mission who courageously flew missions over dresden, germany developed into a crybaby and seditious man living in the world of academia to poison generations of students.

    I can only hope Chomsky is next!

  7. Michelle says:

    To Arafat,

    Was the post of this website necessary? The headline is “Unholy Alliance: Zinn, Chomsky, Bin Laden,” a ridiculous attempt to gain readers by drawing an imaginary connection between a celebrated historian to an enemy of the State. Alongside of this article is a link to another story comparing bin Laden to Al Gore. This website is clearly slanted and driven towards a prejudice reader basis.

    If you disagree with Howard Zinn and his political beliefs, that is fine. I can respect the arguments of others who have a solid backing for their ideals, not a link to a racist blog.

  8. Greg says:

    May you both rest in peace Howard and Rozlyn Zinn you will be missed but not forgotten.

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