Howard Zinn would have been 92 years old today. Zinn passed away on January 27, 2010. I remember listening to NPR and crying my eyes out. Zinn has been one of my heroes since I first read his People’s History of the United States in 1987. Zinn has had such a powerful impact on my life that I would actually say he is, in part, why this blog exist and why I try to work towards global equity and equality.
Zinn was from a Jewish Austrian-Hungarian immigrant family. He fought in WWII as a bombadier to try and end fascism. His experience in the war influenced his anti-war stance. Zinn reflects on what some refer to as “collateral damage” and many of us call the loss of so many civilian lives in war:
I recalled flying on that mission, too, as deputy lead bombardier, and that we did not aim specifically at the ‘Skoda works’ (which I would have noted, because it was the one target in Czechoslovakia I had read about) but dropped our bombs, without much precision, on the city of Pilsen. Two Czech citizens who lived in Pilsen at the time told me, recently, that several hundred people were killed in that raid (that is, Czechs)—not five.
Zinn also influenced my energy around trying to unpack racism, sexism, homophobia, and all of the intersections of how we target and marginalize people. In 1963 Spelman College dismissed the then tenured Zinn from his teaching position for his activism with students in the struggle against segregation. I love Spelman College and I suspect this was a very messy and difficult decision. I try to look at the level of risk for the college and balance that with the amazing work being done by Zinn and the students. Two of his students in particular are also heroes of mine, Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman.
If there are a few of you who are not familiar with Howard Zinn, I strongly encourage you to read People’s History of the United States and watch the amazing documentary, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.
Thank you, Howard Zinn and Happy Birthday! I can only imagine how the world could be a better place for all with his inspiration.