Howard Zinn was born on August 24, 1922. He grew up in a working-class family in the slums of New York City. After landing a job in the shipyards, he fought in World War II as a bombardier in the Air Force. He then became a professor of history at Spelman College in Georgia, where his connections to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee earned him a place on the FBI's list of persons to watch. As a result, he was fired from his teaching post.
In the 1960s, Zinn began teaching political science at Boston University, where he remained for 24 years. He spoke out persuasively and persistently against the war in Vietnam and wrote or contributed to dozens of books. His bestseller, A People's History of the United States (1980), has sold over two million copies.
Zinn expressed in memorable ways his moral outrage against political leaders and power brokers who tolerated racial discrimination, class warfare, the massive effort to stamp out the unions, the stifling of dissent in America, and the business-as-usual approach to war. "It remains to be seen," he wrote, "how many people in our time will make the journey from war to nonviolent action against war. It is the great challenge of our time: how to achieve justice — with struggle, but without war."
To Name This Day . . .
Watch Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, a rousing documentary about this historian and activist. It was chosen by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2004.
Choose one of these quotations by Howard Zinn to reflect upon today:
"There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."
— from Failure to Quit
"Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can change the world."
— from Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train
"The strike, the boycott, the refusal to serve, the ability to paralyze the functioning of a complex social structure — these remain potent weapons against the most fearsome state or corporate power."
— from A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
On March 14, 2005, Howard Zinn gave a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge that included these reflections:
"Fortunately, there are people all over the world who believe that human beings everywhere deserve ... rights to life and liberty. On February 5, 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, more than ten million people in more than sixty countries around the world demonstrated against the war.
"There is a growing refusal to accept U.S. domination and the idea of American exceptionalism. Recently when the State Department issued its annual report listing countries guilty of torture and other human rights abuses, there were indignant responses from around the world commenting on the absence of the United States from that list. ...
"Here in the United States despite the media's failure to report it, there is a growing resistance to the war in Iraq. Public opinion polls show that at least half the citizenry no longer believe in the war. Perhaps most significant is that among the armed forces, and families of those in the armed forces, there is more and more opposition to it.
"After the horrors of the First World War, Albert Einstein said, 'Wars will stop when men refuse to fight.' We are now seeing the refusal of soldiers to fight, the refusal of families to let their loved ones go to war, the insistence of the parents of high-school kids that recruiters stay away from their schools. These incidents, occurring more and more frequently. may finally, as happened in the case if Vietnam, make it impossible for the government to continue the war, and it will come to an end.
"The true heroes of our country are those Americans who refused to accept that we have a special claim to morality and the right to exert our force on the rest of the world. I think of Arthur Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist. On the masthead of his antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, were the words: 'My country is the world. My countrymen are mankind.' "
— collected in Howard Zinn Speaks: Collected Speeches 1963-2009, edited by Anthony Arnove
Zinn's observations still apply in our own time. In keeping with his words, here are seven steps for just peacemaking from Edward LeRoy Long's Facing Terrorism:
(1) affirm common security interests with adversaries
(2) take independent initiatives
(3) talk with your enemy
(4) seek human rights and justice
(5) acknowledge vicious cycles
(6) end judgmental propaganda and make amends
(7) work with citizens' groups for the truth.
Pick one of these ways of healing conflict that you can strengthen in your own life today.