1.30.2010

herbert on zinn: "that he was considered radical says way more about this society than it does about him"

Bob Herbert has a beautiful remembrance of Howard Zinn: "A Radical Treasure".
Think of what this country would have been like if those ordinary people had never bothered to fight and sometimes die for what they believed in. Mr. Zinn refers to them as "the people who have given this country whatever liberty and democracy we have."

Our tendency is to give these true American heroes short shrift, just as we gave Howard Zinn short shrift. In the nitwit era that we’re living through now, it’s fashionable, for example, to bad-mouth labor unions and feminists even as workers throughout the land are treated like so much trash and the culture is so riddled with sexism that most people don’t even notice it. (There’s a restaurant chain called "Hooters," for crying out loud.)

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.

Mr. Zinn would protest peacefully for important issues he believed in — against racial segregation, for example, or against the war in Vietnam — and at times he was beaten and arrested for doing so. He was a man of exceptionally strong character who worked hard as a boy growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression. He was a bomber pilot in World War II, and his experience of the unmitigated horror of warfare served as the foundation for his lifelong quest for peaceful solutions to conflict.

. . .

He was a treasure and an inspiration. That he was considered radical says way more about this society than it does about him.

Thank you, Bob Herbert! Read it here.

5 comments:

redsock said...

Chris Floyd notes that Herbert's employer -- the New York Times -- insults Zinn's work in its obit:

"The NYT obituary, while duly respectful in tone – our radical activists are always duly respected when they are safely dead (Martin Luther King, Woody Guthrie, etc., etc.) – also provides a bit of comedy in its attempt to let readers know that Zinn was not really "serious." To do this – and here's the comedy bit – they drag poor old Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. out of the grave. The Times exhumes a quote from Schlesinger – best known as one of John F. Kennedy's minor minions – to prove that "even liberal historians" rejected the silly, unserious Zinn ..."

Ah, the "liberal" Times.

L-girl said...

Someone on JoS noted that, too. He said something like "God forbid someone on the left could be quoted or referenced without belittling his ideas."

You know, Schlesinger was a stand-up guy. He was more than a minion, and I have a hard time believing if he were alive, he'd have slagged Zinn. Shame on the Times for using him that way.

Oemissions said...

Democracy Now did an excellent tribute
Zinn: "I'm left of Mao Tse Tung"!
"Every war is a war against children"
Looking at his face through the years and photos with his wife, I do not recall ever seeing such loving human faces as these ones.

James said...

Keith Knight did a tribute to Zinn this week. (He even threw in a Salinger reference.)

L-girl said...

Thanks! Tributes from alternative sources have been everywhere, a nice antidote to the half-assed obits in the MSM. So many people have said how his work changed their worldviews, changed their lives. So cool.