An Obituary – Howard Zinn

29 Jan

No matter what we’re told, no matter what tyrant exists, what border has been crossed, what aggression has taken place, it’s not that we’re going to be passive in the face of tyranny or aggression, no, but we’ll find ways other than war to deal with whatever problems we have, because war is inevitably—inevitably—the indiscriminant massive killing of huge numbers of people. And children are a good part of those people. Every war is a war against children… …

… When you fight a war against a tyrant, who do you kill? You kill the victims of the tyrant. Anyway, all this—all this was simply to make us think again about war and to think, you know, we’re at war now, right? In Iraq, in Afghanistan and sort of in Pakistan, since we’re sending rockets over there and killing innocent people in Pakistan. And so, we should not accept that.

We should look for a peace movement to join. Really, look for some peace organization to join. It will look small at first, and pitiful and helpless, but that’s how movements start. That’s how the movement against the Vietnam War started. It started with handfuls of people who thought they were helpless, thought they were powerless. But remember, this power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power. When workers go on strike, huge corporations lose their power. When consumers boycott, huge business establishments have to give in. When soldiers refuse to fight, as so many soldiers did in Vietnam, so many deserters, so many fraggings, acts of violence by enlisted men against officers in Vietnam, B-52 pilots refusing to fly bombing missions anymore, war can’t go on. When enough soldiers refuse, the government has to decide we can’t continue. So, yes, people have the power. If they begin to organize, if they protest, if they create a strong enough movement, they can change things. That’s all I want to say. Thank you.

– Howard Zinn (source: Democracy Now! tribute to Howard Zinn)

In my bookshelf sits a second hand and yellowed copy of ‘The Twentieth Century – A People’s History’ by Howard Zinn. It is a book which I should read again (and would highly recommend) for those who have yet to do so.

A historical account of peoples’ struggle against the US government from the late 1970s to 1984 (which was the year of the edition of my copy), it aroused an interest in me to understand history, in particular, the history of the US and also of the people who are often forgotten in mainstream historians’ accounts. I find such history valuable not simply due to the fact that it gives us the other side of the story but also because it always reveal something intrinsic and beautiful about people. Through their struggles, humanity is reaffirmed and continued, as if like a time capsule, throughout the course of time since civilisation started.

An excerpt in the preface of this book sums what what I believed, is the gist or his grand purpose of writing the peoples’ history:

My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.


Dr Howard Zinn passed away on 27 January 2010 at the age of 87 in California. Besides being a respected academic and historian, he was also at the forefront of some of the most important US social movements of his time. He continued to speak out against the injustices committed by the US government even into his later years.

In this Democracy Now! tribute, Amy Goodman interviewed activists including Noam Chomsky who said:

‘… And he not only wrote about them [peoples’ movement] eloquently, but he participated in them. And he inspired others to participate in them. And the antiwar movement was one case, civil rights movement before it, Central American wars in the 1980s. In fact, just about any—you know, office worker strikes—just about anything you can—any significant action for peace and justice, Howard was there. People saw him as a leader, but he was really a participant. His remarkable character made him a leader, even if he was just sitting on the—you know, waiting for the police to pull people away like everyone else’.

Or from Naomi Klein,

‘So I don’t think he needed the New York Times. I don’t think he needed the official historians. He was everybody’s favorite teacher, the teacher that changed your life, but he was that for millions and millions of people. And so, you know, that’s what happened. We just lost our favorite teacher’.

Other noteworthy tributes include an elegy from The Progressive, ‘Thank You, Howard Zinn’ by Matthew Rothschild.

Dr Howard Zinn’s homepage also contains a more extensive list of obituaries as well as his biography, interviews, essays and other important/ significant works.


2 Responses to “An Obituary – Howard Zinn”

  1. Singazine January 29, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    Linked under, ‘Perspective’. Cheers:)

  2. Charles January 29, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    An interview on Zinn’s political view:

    An excerpt:

    Howard Zinn: I am an anarchist, and according to anarchist principles nation states become obstacles to a true humanistic globalization. In a certain sense, the movement towards globalization where capitalists are trying to leap over nation state barriers, creates a kind of opportunity for movement to ignore national barriers, and to bring people together globally, across national lines in opposition to globalization of capital, to create globalization of people, opposed to traditional notion of globalization. In other words to use globalization—there is nothing wrong with idea of globalization—in a way that bypasses national boundaries and of course that there is not involved corporate control of the economic decisions that are made about people all over the world…

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