HOWARD ZINN: “Once we decided, at the start, that our side was the good side and the other side was evil …… we did not have to think any more. Then we could commit unspeakable acts and it was all right.”
NEW YORK TIMES: Howard Zinn, an author, teacher and political activist whose leftist ”A People’s History of the United States” became a million-selling alternative to mainstream texts and a favorite of such celebrities as Bruce Springsteen and Ben Affleck, died Wednesday. He was 87. Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first printing of 5,000, ”A People’s History” was — fittingly — a people’s best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003. Although Zinn was writing for a general readership, his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country, and numerous companion editions were published, including ”Voices of a People’s History,” a volume for young people and a graphic novel
”I can’t think of anyone who had such a powerful and benign influence,” said the linguist and fellow activist Noam Chomsky, a close friend of Zinn’s. ”His historical work changed the way millions of people saw the past.” At a time when few politicians dared even call themselves liberal, ”A People’s History” told an openly left-wing story. Zinn charged Christopher Columbus and other explorers with genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters. In a 1998 interview with The Associated Press, Zinn acknowledged he was not trying to write an objective history, or a complete one. He called his book a response to traditional works, the first chapter — not the last — of a new kind of history.
”There’s no such thing as a whole story; every story is incomplete,” Zinn said. ”My idea was the orthodox viewpoint has already been done a thousand times.” ”A People’s History” had some famous admirers, including Matt Damon and Affleck. The two grew up near Zinn, were family friends and gave the book a plug in their Academy Award-winning screenplay for ”Good Will Hunting.” When Affleck nearly married Jennifer Lopez, Zinn was on the guest list. Oliver Stone was a fan, as well as Springsteen, whose bleak ”Nebraska” album was inspired in part by ”A People’s History.” The book was the basis of a 2007 documentary, ”Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind,” and even showed up on ”The Sopranos,” in the hand of Tony’s son, A.J. MORE
THE GUARDIAN: In December, a documentary narrated by Zinn and based on A People’s History aired on the History Channel. Intended to give a voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout US history, producers on the film included Matt Damon and Zinn himself, with performances from Morgan Freeman, Bob Dylan, Viggo Mortensen, Bruce Springsteen and others. MORE
HOWARD ZINN: “My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality,” wrote the author in the bestselling book. “But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all) – that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth.”