People’s Historian Howard Zinn Dies at 87


“TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” – Howard Zinn


Howard Zinn was born in Brooklyn, New York, into a working-class family and began his working life as a shipfitter. He flew as a bomber in World War II during which time he learned to hate war itself.  When he returned home he put his medals in an envelope and sealed it with the words “never again.”

After his military service he went to college under the GI bill, earning a doctorate in history at Columbia University.  He went on to teaching at Spelman College in Georgia where he was active in the Civil Rights movement. In 1963 he moved to Boston University and became a prominent, outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.

He is best known for his A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, a history of America through the perspective of “those outside of the political and economic establishment,”  which sold over two million copies.  This book exposed the seedy underbelly of some of Americas heroes and told the often silent stories of the women, minorities, and working class folk and how they experienced history.

He was a playwright, an historian, an activist and a working class hero.  We will miss him terribly.  Howard Zinn, Presente.

Obituaries and Tributes:

In the NY Times, by Bob Herbert

From NPR and The Nation by Peter Rothberg

The Progressive, by Matthew Rothschild

Notable Quotations

No form of government, once in power, can be trusted to limit its own ambition, to extend freedom and to wither away. This means that it is up to the citizenry, those outside of power, to engage in permanent combat with the state, short of violent, escalatory revolution, but beyond the gentility of the ballot-box, to insure justice, freedom and well being.
— Howard Zinn, “Non-Violent Direct Action”, in: Howard Zinn on History (2000)

It is possible, reading standard histories, to forget half the population of the country. The explorers were men, the landholders and merchants men, the political leaders men, the military figures men. The very invisibility of women, the overlooking of women, is a sign of their submerged status.
— Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (1980)

With the indiscriminate nature of modern military technology (no such thing as a “smart bomb,” it turns out) all wars are wars against civilians, and are therefore inherently immoral. This is true even when a war is considered “just,” because it is fought against a tyrant, against an aggressor, to correct a stolen boundary.
— Howard Zinn, Howard Zinn on War (2000)

“(Nationalism is) a set of beliefs taught to each generation in which the Motherland or the Fatherland is an object of veneration and becomes a burning cause for which one becomes willing to kill the children of other Motherlands or Fatherlands”

Howard Zinn on the problem of war…

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