r i p howard zinn

R.I.P. Howard Zinn

January 29th, 2010 By: Orson Buggeigh
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Radical historian Howard Zinn has died. My sympathies go to his family. I will offer some thoughts about his work as a historian at a later time. This is not the time for a critical analysis of his work as a scholar. It is worth reporting that Mr. Zinn was a World War II veteran of the US Army Air Corps. Like Senator George McGovern, another World War II veteran Mr. Zinn went to college on the GI Bill, and majored in history. He made a career out of teaching, while McGovern did not teach history, but made a career out of politics. Both Senator McGovern and Professor Zinn reached the conclusion that the United States was wrong to become involved in Viet Nam.

While it is important to honor and respect Mr. Zinn’s service to his country in the Air Corps, it is worth noting that his negative view of the U.S. use of military power was distinctly a minority view compared to that of most of his World War II comrades in arms.

UPDATE: PoliSnark has a characteristically off-beat take on this story.

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  1. Kellie Bostick Russell

    January 29th, 2010 at 17:04

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    I was shocked and deeply saddened to read this announcement this morning. Howard changed my life and my thinking… I will be eternally grateful to this awesome soul and his profound gift of telling the TRUTH. I pray that future and current generations will continue to educate themselves with Mr. Zinn's vast work of knowledge and insight.

  2. PhilosopherP

    January 29th, 2010 at 17:09

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    I find it fascinating that Zinn could be so anti-American — while accepting the benefits of being an American, starting with the GI Bill.

  3. mandy

    January 29th, 2010 at 19:38

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    while I have agreed with this view in the past, I think that a person can find themselves in circumstances and still have an opinion outside of those circumstances

  4. nicrivera

    January 29th, 2010 at 23:20

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    On what basis do you conclude that Zinn was “anti-American”?

    Zinn was extremely critical of the American government, but being anti-government is not the same thing as being anti-American. Americans seems to lost the distinction between government and country, and therefore, criticism of government is all-too-often labeled as “anti-American.”

    Zinn had some pretty leftist-views and ran into a bit of controversy at Boston University for his political activism. But to label him as “anti-American” without giving a single reason to back up this accussation seems patently unfair.

  5. redfish

    January 29th, 2010 at 23:30

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    I don’t know enough about Zinn’s full views on the subject but there are a lot of leftist-type academics who aren’t only against the American government but are big critics of Western culture and society, and often in particular, American culture and society. I think its fair to call those people ‘anti-American’-and its something they would call themselves, actually.

    I think people can appreciate the intellectual work of people outside of the mainstream though even if they disagree with it.

  6. Patrick Glenn

    January 30th, 2010 at 06:22

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    nicrivera: in the spirit of Orson’s post, I’ll leave the question of whether Zinn might be regarded as “anti-American” alone for now. But you miss the mark when you write that “Zinn was extremely critical of the American government, but being anti-government is not the same thing as being anti-American. Americans seems to lost the distinction between government and country, and therefore, criticism of government is all-too-often labeled as ‘anti-American.'”

    I did read enough of Zinn’s, A People’s History of the United States to recall that he was harshly critical of the actions of many Americans in history – individuals and groups – who were not part of any government agency, etc. Indeed, if you accept Zinn’s thesis that Americans were guilty of committing genocide against Native Americans, for example, the historical record would suggest that the U.S. government (and many state governments, for that matter) was often in a reactive mode, whereas private parties tended to be the aggressors.

  7. Patrick Glenn

    January 30th, 2010 at 06:22

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    Think what you want about Zinn’s work, but let’s not pretend that Zinn was like a 21st century Parisian coffeehouse socialist who, when the media asks him about America, he says, “We have nothing against the American people, we just hate your Georg Boooosh!” No, Zinn’s depiction of everyday Americans in history (not counting those he considers to have been “oppressed”) was not the least flattering – more like what the Parisian coffeehouse socialist would say amongst his comrades.

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