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Historian/Activist Howard Zinn dies at age 87

Retired Boston University professor and historian Howard Zinn, author of the iconic “alternative” textbook, “A People's History of the United States,” passed away on January 27, 2010, at the age of 87. He suffered a heart attack while traveling in Santa Monica, California.

Howard Zinn was always smiling, even when there wasn't much to smile about.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

A bombardier during World War II, Howard Zinn, while never calling himself a pacifist, came to view the world as a never-ending series of unnecessary and immoral wars. He was a leading critic of America's involvement in Vietnam. He even dared question the motives of “The Good War,” which he actively participated in, by not allowing the countless atrocities committed during that time to go undocumented, even if World War II was fought for a noble cause. Howard Zinn merely raised the question of whether the ends always justify the means, even in the case of the second world war. His speeches and writings on that subject caused controversy, to say the least.

Dr. Zinn unapologetically supported civil disobedience. He believed deeply that the powers-that-be, whether in Washington, in corporate boardrooms, even on the Supreme Court, would never work to improve the everyday lives of Americans without constant pressure from the people themselves. The politician's job is to stay in power, the people's job is to ensure the politician uses that power to work for them.

In his autobiography, “You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train,” Dr. Zinn wrote, “I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, is a recipe for trouble.”

But perhaps the most amazing constant throughout Zinn's life was his unfaltering faith in humanity and an eternal optimism that the people would always stand up and demand justice, and demand to be heard, no matter how daunting the climb may be.

Amazingly, whenever he spoke, Howard Zinn always had a smile on his face.

Because he never lost hope. And he will never be forgotten.

Rest in peace, Dr. Zinn.


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