Howard Zinn

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Howard Zinn speaks at Marlboro College on February 16, 2004.

Template:Wikiquote Howard Zinn (born August 24, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York) is an influential American historian and political scientist, whose political philosophy incorporates ideas from Marxism, anarchism, socialism, and social democracy. Together with Noam Chomsky (with whom he has collaborated on several books and speaking engagements), Zinn is among the most well-known figures of the radical Left in the United States.

Author of more than fifteen books, Zinn offers a radical re-telling of United States history in his most popular work, A People's History of the United States, first published in 1980 and often updated. Zinn is also a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy, arguing that the U.S. military often commits acts of terrorism, and that since World War II "there has not been a more warlike nation in the world than the United States."1



Zinn was brought up in a blue-collar immigrant family in Brooklyn, worked in the Brooklyn shipyards, and flew bombing missions in Europe during World War II, an experience that shaped his opposition to war. Zinn was a B-17 bombardier with the 490th Bomb Group, and in April, 1945 he participated in the napalm bombing of Royan, France, which was occupied by German troops. Nine years later, Zinn visited Royan, examining documents and interviewing residents, and wrote an account of the bombing of Royan, which was published in his book The Politics of History, and is also included in The Zinn Reader.

Because of the immense number of civilian casualties that resulted from U.S. bombing of cities such as Dresden, Royan, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Zinn argues that the role of the U.S. military in World War II was wrong. He contends that Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers could have been opposed through popularly organized acts of nonviolent resistance. He writes: "The term 'just war' contains an internal contradiction. War is inherently unjust, and the great challenge of our time is to how to deal with evil, tyranny, and oppression without killing huge numbers of people."2

Zinn does not call himself a pacifist: to him the term suggests passive — rather than active — resistance. For example, he offered the following alternative to bombing Kosovo: "I think of South Africa, where a decision to engage in out-and-out armed struggle would have led to a bloody civil war with huge casualties, most of them black. Instead, the African National Congress decided to put up with apartheid longer, but wage a long-term campaign of attrition, with strikes, sabotage, economic sanctions, and international pressure. It worked." [1] (

After World War II, Zinn attended New York University on the GI Bill, graduating with a B.A. in 1951 and Columbia University, where he earned an M.A. (1952) and Ph.D. in history with a minor in political science (1958). His doctoral dissertation LaGuardia in Congress was a study of Fiorello LaGuardia's congressional career. It favorably depicts LaGuardia representing "the conscience of the twenties" as he fought for public power, the right to strike, and the redistribution of wealth by taxation. "His specific legislative program," Zinn wrote, "was an astonishingly accurate preview of the New Deal." It was published by the Cornell University Press for the American Historical Association.

In 1956, Zinn was appointed chairman of the department of history and social sciences at Spelman College (now Atlanta University Center, Spelman College) a school for black women in Atlanta, where he participated in the Civil Rights movement. Zinn served as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Of his experiences at Spelman, Zinn says, "Those seven years at Spelman College are probably the most interesting, exciting, most educational years for me. I learned more from my students than my students learned from me." [2] (

Zinn collaborated with historian Staughton Lynd at Spelman and mentored young student activists including Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman. A tenured professor, Zinn was fired in June 1963 after siding with some students in their desire to challenge Spelman's traditional emphasis of turning out "young ladies" when, as Zinn described in an article in The Nation, Spelman students were likely to be found on the picket line, or in jail for participating in the greater effort to break down segregation in public places in Atlanta. A full account of Zinn's years at Spelman is contained in his autobiography, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times.

In the early 1960s, Zinn wrote frequently about the historic struggle for Civil Rights, both as a participant and historian. [[3] (] and in 1963–64, he took a year off from teaching to write SNCC: The New Abolitionists and The Southern Mystique.

In 1964, he joined the faculty at Boston University where he taught history and civil liberties until 1988. He was a leading critic of the Vietnam War. Zinn's diplomatic visit to Hanoi with Rev. Daniel Berrigan during the Tet Offensive in January 1968 resulted in the return of three American airmen, the first American POWs released by the North Vietnamese since the U.S. bombing of that nation had begun. Zinn remained friends [[4] (] and allies [[5] (] with the Berrigan brothers, Phil and Daniel over the years.

Daniel Ellsberg entrusted "The Pentagon Papers" to Zinn (and others) before they were finally published in The New York Times. Called as an expert witness in Ellsberg's criminal trial, Zinn was asked to explain to the jury the story of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from World War II to 1963. Zinn discussed that history for several hours. Later he reflected on his time before the jury. "I explained there was nothing in the papers of military significance that could be used to harm the defense of the United States, that the information in them was simply embarrassing to our government because what was revealed, in the government's own interoffice memos, was how it had lied to the American public.… The secrets disclosed in the Pentagon Papers might embarrass politicians, might hurt the profits of corporations wanting tin, rubber, oil, in far-off places. But this was not the same as hurting the nation, the people," Zinn wrote on pp 160–161 of his autobiography. Ellsberg was acquitted.

Howard Zinn is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Boston University. He has received the Thomas Merton Award, the Eugene V. Debs Award, the Upton Sinclair Award, and the Lannan Literary Award. He lives in the Auburndale neighborhood of Newton, Massachusetts with his wife Roslyn in the United States. The couple have two children, Myla and Jeff, and five grandchildren. Roslyn is an artist and editor who has a role in editing all of Howard's books.

Zinn's autobiography is You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. A biographical documentary film of the same name was produced in 2004 and shown in select theaters, and is now available on DVD.

A People's History

Zinn is best known for A People's History of the United States, a detailed work which presents American history through the eyes of ordinary people outside of the political and economic establishment: workers, Native Americans, slaves, women, blacks, Populists, and others whose struggles are not often recognized or recorded. Since its publication in 1980, the book has been assigned reading both as a high school and college textbook and has sold over a million copies.

Actor Matt Damon moved with his mother and brother next door to Zinn in West Newton, MA after the divorce of his parents. The Zinns babysat the Damon boys, and have since become lifelong family friends; Matt included a reference to A People's History in his film Good Will Hunting (in a nod to his history teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. This teacher was responsible for introducing the book to Damon, as it was the main text in his course) and read the latter half for an audiobook version. The book was also referenced in a Columbus Day episode of the TV show The Sopranos.

In the Spring of 2003, to commemorate the sale of the millionth copy of A People's History, a dramatic reading from the book was held at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. The reading featured Alice Walker, Marisa Tomei, Myla Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Kurt Vonnegut, Harris Yulin, Andre Gregory, Danny Glover, James Earl Jones, Jeff Zinn, Producing Artistic Director of the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater [[6] (], and Howard Zinn (as the narrator). [7] ( The result was published as The People Speak: American Voices, Some Famous, Some Little Known.

In 2004 Zinn published Voices of A People's History of the United States with Anthony Arnove. Voices expands on the concept and provides a large collection of dissident voices in long form. The book is intended as a companion to A People's History and parallels its structure.

Published works


Forewords and introductions

Compact discs

  • A People's History of the United States (1999)
  • Heroes & Martyrs (2000)
  • Stories Hollywood Never Tells (2000)
  • Artists in the Time of War (2002)


  • Note 1: Terrorism and War, p. 52.
  • Note 2: Terrorism and War, pp. 22-5. See also [8] (

External links

Online interviews and video

Links to criticism of Howard Zinn

nl:Howard Zinn sv:Howard Zinn


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