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Howard Zinn (1922-2010)--A Professor of Patriotism

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Howard Zinn was a historian, an author, a playwright; an anti-war activist and a champion of civil rights; but above all, Howard Zinn was a teacher.

He chaired the Department of History and Social Sciences at Spelman, an all-black women's college in Atlanta, Georgia, from 1956 to 1963. He also served as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at Spelman--until he was fired for "encouraging Spelman's young women to picket and engage in other "unladylike' activities." He then became a Professor of Political Science at Boston University, where he repeatedly clashed with University officials over his public opposition to the Viet Nam War (Forbes.com, 2/1/10). Zinn retired from BostonUniversity in 1988, "spending his last day of class on the picket line with students in support of an on-campus nurses' strike."--AP, 1/29/10


Wherever Howard Zinn taught, his lessons went far beyond the names and dates, facts and figures that pass for history in too many classes. He wanted something more for his students:

"I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it."--You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Beacon Press, 1994

"My hope is that you will not be content just to be successful in the way our society measures success; that you will not obey the rules, when the rules are unjust; that you will act out the courage that I know is in you.", 2005 Commencement address at Spelman College (where Zinn had been fired in 1963)

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Howard Zinn didn't just teach history; he taught patriotism--not the flag-waving, Chicken-Hawk kind of patriotism that Rush Limbaugh and Fox News sells-- but a higher form of patriotism.

"The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one's country deep enough to call her to a higher plain."--George McGovern, Democratic anti-war candidate for President, 1/18/71

"The peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: 'Our country--when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right'."--Carl Schurz (1829-1906), American statesman and Union Army General in the American Civil War


Zinn's anti-war sentiments began after his participation in WWII bombing missions in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and France (where one of the first uses of military uses of napalm took place). That experience, along with Zinn's post-war academic research on Allied bombing missions, made him realize that we were not just killing "enemies" in the war; we were also knowingly and deliberately killing innocent civilians; and that was unacceptable to Zinn--no matter who was doing it or how they tried to justify it. (The following quotes are from Zinn's A Just Cause, Not a Just War in The Progressive, December 2001)

"Terrorism and war have something in common. They both involve the killing of innocent people to achieve what the killers believe is a good end. "They (the terrorists) deliberately kill innocent people; we (the war makers) aim at "military targets,' and civilians are killed by accident, as "collateral damage'."

"...[W]hen children die at the hands of terrorists, or--whether intended or not--as a result of bombs dropped from airplanes, terrorism and war become equally unpardonable."

"World War II analogies are conveniently summoned forth when there is a need to justify a war, however irrelevant to a particular situation. At the suggestion that we withdraw from Vietnam, or not make war on Iraq, the word "appeasement" was bandied about. The glow of the "good war' has repeatedly been used to obscure the nature of all the bad wars we have fought since 1945."

Howard Zinn was not a pacifist. He did not believe in appeasement or aggression, and he knew the difference between the two:

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Mick Youther is an American citizen, an independent voter, a veteran, a parent, a Christian, a scientist, a writer, and all-around nice guy who has been aroused from a comfortable apathy by the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush Administration.

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