Friday, March 29, 2013

The Howard Zinn Reader

The Zinn Reader

Howard Zinn

Book Review

Richard Edward Noble

Howard Zinn has been around for a long, long time. But I was exposed to him just a few years back. I picked up a copy of his big seller "A People's History of the United States."

Despite rumors to the contrary every historian puts his own personal slant on his interpretations of historical events. Some add more personality than others. Howard Zinn puts his heart and soul into everything he writes. He makes very involved and intimate reading.

After reading his "A People's History," I wanted to know more about the man, Howard Zinn.
This Book, "The Howard Zinn Reader" was perfect.

Howard Zinn hails from the tenement slums and blue collar shipyards of Brooklyn as do many other famous radicals.

Howard, though serving as a bombardier during World War II, evolved into the quintessential war resister.

I am very surprised that more veterans do not turn into war resisters. I should think they all would. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

Howard, besides being an historian, is also a moral philosopher, I would say. Not everyone has a moral conscience but Howard has a big one. His guilt over what he did personally during World War II, as a bombardier, has been the curse of his life. He has given his all to compensate for those actions ever since.

The Zinn Reader approaches 700 pages and contains a variety of essays on most everything he has written throughout his career.

Howard denounces all wars past and future. He is what I would call a secular pacifist. In other words, he does not invoke religion or God in his analysis of why war should never, ever be engaged in.

He does not support the notion of a just war. All wars are atrocities. They are atrocities on the part of all the participating entities. In one essay, he uses World War II as his example and makes a case against both the allies and the axis.

The first 120 pages of the book outline his participation in the Civil Rights movement of the 50's and 60's. Reading it is an education. I thought that I was already overexposed to the Civil Rights Movement since I lived through it and have since read about it. But, after reading Howard Zinn's, close up and personal experiences in Alabama, Mississippi, Boston and elsewhere, I realize I have just scratched the surface. Unfortunately, it was even worse than I had been aware.

Howard brings the reader into the heart of it all. Into the kitchens and crowded floor spaces of the various participants. In this section the reader is exposed to the heroism of, not only the big names, but common folk not mentioned in other history books.

I thought I was beyond shock but the brutal actions of many of my white countrymen are frightening. I could only wish that I was reading about another country and not my own. On the other hand, all of this makes what is happening today, with president Obama and other domestic legislation much clearer. We may have come a long way but we have a long way to go. Unfortunately, we have many who are now attempting to turn the country around and drive us back into our past. This is sad but reading the essays of Professor Zinn in this area make it all too clear why we all should not want to return to that era. Our present, as bad as it may be, is a world ahead of what we once were.

A few of the essays get a little academic and intellectual but the greater portion are very simple and deal directly with the events as they happened. His explanations always deal with the moral rationale. My interest in philosophy is not wasted with Mr. Zinn.

He is an extremely well read man. I have even highlighted books in his suggested reading at the end of the book.

All through the book he quotes from and cites other books and authors.

When one considers all the books this man has read, he must also wonder how this man did anything but read. But his life has been jam packed with personal adventures and experiences all dealing with social justice and things and events of moral consequence. He is a true activist, agitator and radical. The world has too few of his kind and type.

Howard has very little faith in governments. All governments will eventually be corrupted by the rich and powerful no matter how well intentioned they may begin, he proclaims. But he does not look upon this as reason to despair. He puts his faith, as many radicals do, in the dominant spirit of the good in all of us - or, at least, the good among all of us.

He has seen and met many of those good, brave hearts and he introduces us to them all.

This is his goal. To show to us, those like us who have risen to the occasion and have been frightened but stood their ground.

If you are like me and you want to know who this Zinn guy was, what he stood for, the kind of man he was, what he believed and how he acted on those beliefs, this is your book.

The Hobo Philosopher - Richard Edward Noble - is a writer and author of "America On Strike." A survey of Labor strikes from the colonial period to the Traffic Controllers.

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