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The death of historian Howard Zinn

February 2, 2010 - Jim Anderson
Here are a few paragraphs from Howard Zinn’s essay, “A just cause, not a just war,” published in The Progressive in December 2001:

“Instead of using two planes a day to drop food on Afghanistan and 100 planes to drop bombs ... use 102 planes to bring food.

“Take the money allocated for our huge military machine and use it to combat starvation and disease around the world. One-third of our military budget would annually provide clean water and sanitation facilities for the billion people in the world who have none.

“... In short, let us pull back from being a military superpower, and become a humanitarian superpower.

“Let us be a more modest nation. We will then be more secure. The modest nations of the world don't face the threat of terrorism.”

Zinn, who died last week at age 87, was best known as the author of “A People’s History of the United States.”

The paragraphs quoted above offer a glimpse into his politics. He described himself as a radical and his most famous book, by his own admission, is “a biased account.”

Critics call him a fact-challenged Stalinist. Fans, like Matt Damon’s troubled character in “Good Will Hunting,” — and history teachers of a liberal bend — consider the book essential.

Zinn served as a bombardier in a B-17 in World War II.

“I would not deny that war had a certain moral core, but that made it easier for Americans to treat all subsequent wars with a kind of glow,” he would say later. “Every enemy becomes Hitler.”

Had we known, in December 2001, that the cost of the war in Afghanistan would approach $300 billion by 2010 (about $10,000 for every person there — and climbing), would Zinn’s idea of bombing the nation with food be looked upon differently? The economic output per person in Afghanistan, by the way, is estimated at just $425 a year.

My point is not to eulogize Zinn. I know too little about him.

Right-wing writer and activist David Horowitz holds no such reservations.

When NPR’s “All Things Considered” noted Zinn’s passing, there were some tributes. Then Horowitz was called upon to offer this:

“There is absolutely nothing in Howard Zinn’s intellectual output that is worthy of any kind of respect.”

It’s a crazy America.

If the notion of a humanitarian superpower were offered by, say, the Pope, how would Horowitz respond?

Just asking.


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