Sunday, January 31, 2010

Howard Zinn

Reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States was a revelation for me. I had been brought up to believe, as most Americans are, that "our nation is the greatest country that has ever been and that ever will be. We are a force for good and have never done evil." All those beliefs were shattered as I read Mr. Zinn's expose of some of the hidden truths of American history.

Mr Zinn died this week and there wasn't much notice taken in the media. He was a "radical" after all, outside the mainstream so not worthy of much attention.

Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote a moving tribute to him, “A Radical Treasure”:

I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. (He called himself a radical.) He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?

Mr. Zinn was often taken to task for peeling back the rosy veneer of much of American history to reveal sordid realities that had remained hidden for too long. When writing about Andrew Jackson in his most famous book, “A People’s History of the United States,” published in 1980, Mr. Zinn said: “If you look through high school textbooks and elementary school textbooks in American history, you will find Jackson the frontiersman, soldier, democrat, man of the people — not Jackson the slaveholder, land speculator, executioner of dissident soldiers, exterminator of Indians.”

Radical? Hardly.

If you'd like to see a film that tells you a lot about Howard Zinn, watch "Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train," by Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller.

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