Thank You Howard Zinn
Lots of obits and tributes can be found on Zinn's site.
I attended some great schools over the years (Archbishop Molloy High School, St. John's University, Central Michigan University, Wayne State University), and was lucky to learn from some fabulous teachers, yet I never remember Zinn's name coming up even once; not even in history classes.
My serious introduction to Zinn came around 1990. On a road trip back to Oshkosh from Brooklyn, I decided to stop in Erie, PA to visit good friends Tim and Dee Thompson. Leaving their place, I put public radio on. The station was playing a talk called "Second Thoughts on the First Amendment" by someone named Howard Zinn. I was so impressed by the talk that as the station signal began to fade I pulled into some fast food parking lot just to be able to continue listening.
When I returned to Oshkosh I went to UWO's Polk Library and scooped up everything by Zinn that I could find. Eventually I would make Zinn's A Peoples' History of the United States required reading in my History of American Public Address course.
One experience I will never forget was Zinn's visit to Oshkosh a few years ago. I had the chance to interview him for the "Commentary" television show, introduce him to the audience for his Reeve Union talk, and talk to him privately for a bit. He was a "gentleman" in the best sense: interested in others, radiant smile, brilliant without making others feel lesser than; I remember thinking "I wish I could have taken a class from this guy."
Because Zinn took pacifist views on issues of war and peace, it was easy to forget that he was a World War II fighter pilot. One of my favorite Zinn writings is his "Dissent at the War Memorial." Excerpt:
"I'm here to honor the two guys who were my closest buddies in the Air Corps--Joe Perry and Ed Plotkin, both of whom were killed in the last weeks of the war. And to honor all the others who died in that war. But I'm not here to honor war itself. I'm not here to honor the men in Washington who send the young to war. I'm certainly not here to honor those in authority who are now waging an immoral war in Iraq."
I went on: "World War II is not simply and purely a 'good war.' It was accompanied by too many atrocities on our side--too many bombings of civilian populations. There were too many betrayals of the principles for which the war was supposed to have been fought.
"Yes, World War II had a strong moral aspect to it--the defeat of fascism. But I deeply resent the way the so-called good war has been used to cast its glow over all the immoral wars we have fought in the past fifty years: in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan. I certainly don't want our government to use the triumphal excitement surrounding World War II to cover up the horrors now taking place in Iraq.
"I don't want to honor military heroism--that conceals too much death and suffering. I want to honor those who all these years have opposed the horror of war."