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War & Civil Disobedience

Program #ZINH037. Recorded in Denver, CO on October 09, 2008.

What are citizens to do when confronted by unjust laws and when their government commits crimes? Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela all advocated and practiced civil disobedience. This was not just some opportunistic temporary tactic. Non-violent civil disobedience was a deeply held moral position. Thoreau in his classic essay "Civil Disobedience" wrote, "Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure." He went to jail in opposition to the 1846-48 U.S. war against Mexico. When his friend and fellow writer Ralph Waldo Emerson visited him in prison, he reportedly asked, "What are you doing in there?' To which Thoreau replied, "What are you doing out there?"

Speaker(s):

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, was perhaps this country's premier radical historian. He was born in Brooklyn in 1922. His parents, poor immigrants, were constantly moving to stay, as he once told me, "one step ahead of the landlord." After high school, he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. After the war, he went to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He taught at Spelman, the all black women's college in Atlanta. He was an active figure in the civil rights movement and served on the board of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was fired by Spelman for his activism. He was among the first to oppose U.S. aggression in Indochina. His book Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal was an instant classic. A principled opponent of imperialism and militarism, he was an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience. He spoke and marched against the U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. His masterwork, A People's History of the United States, continues to sell in huge numbers. Among his many books are A Power Governments Cannot Suppress and Original Zinn with David Barsamian. Just before his death he completed his last great project, the documentary The People Speak. Always ready to lend a hand, he believed in and practiced solidarity. Witty, erudite, generous and loved, Howard Zinn, friend and teacher, passed away on January 27, 2010. His words inspire many the world over, "We don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. To live now, as human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

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