In a May 1976 column in The Boston Globe Howard Zinn wrote “Memorial Day should be a day for putting flowers on graves and planting trees. Also, for destroying the weapons of death that endanger us more than they protect us, that waste our resources and threaten our children and grandchildren.” Sadly his column in the Globe was discontinued soon after. And even more sadly his words are evergreen. Veterans are still returning from foreign wars with lost limbs, bodies and souls.
If an honest history is ever written of the U.S. war on Iraq it may not be believed. It’s ten years since Washington launched its shock and awe attack. Remember: weapons of mass destruction, axis of evil, mobile chemical labs, slam dunks, Curveball, smoking guns, mushroom clouds, cakewalks, liberators, regime change and mission accomplished? The architects of the war: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Feith, Wolfowitz, and others should be doing time instead of having a good time. Today, Iraq is a broken country. Nothing will bring back the hundreds of thousands of dead. The U.S. owes Iraq reparations for the destruction it has caused. But being the global superpower means you never have to say you’re sorry or face justice. The permanent war economy feeds on conflict and strife. Is it utopian to imagine a different future?
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 masterpiece, A People’s History of the United States, continues to sell in huge numbers. Among his many other books are You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian and Original Zinn with David Barsamian. Shortly 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 by many the world over, Howard Zinn, friend and teacher, passed away on January 27, 2010. He would say, Don’t mourn. Get active. The struggle for peace and justice continues.