what i'm reading: you can't be neutral on a moving train by howard zinn

On September 11, 2001, teams of hijackers flew two passenger planes, loaded with jet fuel, into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, and the ensuing catastrophe killed close to three thousand people who were burned or crushed to death as the buildings burst into flames and collapsed.

Like so many others who saw those events on television, I was horrified. And when President George W. Bush immediately announced to the nation that we were now at war, I was horrified again because solving problems with bombs has never worked. It seemed clear to me that this was exactly the wrong response to the act of terrorism that had just occurred. And when, soon after, the United States began bombing Afghanistan, I considered that, if terrorism can be defined as the willingness to kill innocent people for some presumed good cause, this was another form of terrorism -- one I had seen up close many years ago after meeting the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who also suffered needlessly for an alleged 'good cause'.

In this book I tell of my experience as a bombardier in the Second World War. I describe how I came to the conclusion, after dropping bombs on European cities, and celebrating the victory over fascism, that war, even a "good war," while it may bring immediate relief, cannot solve fundamental human problems. Indeed, the glow of that 'good war' has been used to cast a favorable light over every bad war for the next fifty years, wars in which our government lied to us, and millions of innocent people died.

Howard Zinn, from the preface of You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train - A Personal History of Our Times.

Later, the brilliant and ever-inspiring Zinn continues:

"Considering all this, I might be incurably depressed, except for other experiences... What did I learn? That small acts of resistance to authority, if persisted in, may lead to large social movements. That ordinary people are capable of extraordinary acts of courage. That those in power who confidently say 'never' to the possibility of change may live to be embarrassed by those words. That the world of social struggle is full of surprises, as the common moral sense of people germinates invisibly, bubbles up, and at certain points in history brings about victories that may be small, but carry large promise.

* * * *

The willingness to undertake such action cannot be based on certainties, but on those possibilities glimpsed in a reading of history different from the customary painful recounting of human cruelty. In such a reading we can find not only war but resistance to war, not only injustice but rebellion against injustice, not only selfishness but self-sacrifice, not only silence in the face of tyranny but defiance, not only callousness but compassion.

Human beings show a broad spectrum of qualities, but it is the worst of these that are usually emphasized, and the result, too often, is to dishearten us, to diminish our spirit. And yet, historically, that spirit refuses to surrender. History is full of instances where people, against enormous odds, have come together to struggle for liberty and justice, and have won -- not often enough, of course, but enough to suggest how much more is possible."

To say that Howard Zinn is inspiring is not a hollow or trite tribute. He inspires me every day - not just to continue The Struggle, but to continue with hope, and with optimism.

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