By Anonymous on January 27, 2010

I am deeply saddened by the news of the death of Howard Zinn. He was a longtime columnist for The Progressive, and his most recent piece, “The Nobel’s Feeble Gesture,” expressed his dismay about President Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize.

Here’s an excerpt:

“I think some progressives have forgotten the history of the Democratic Party, to which people have turned again and again in desperate search for saviors, later to be disappointed. Our political history shows us that only great popular movements, carrying out bold actions that awakened the nation and threatened the Establishment, as in the Thirties and the Sixties, have been able to shake that pyramid of corporate and military power and at least temporarily changed course.”

It was a “classic” Zinn piece—piercing but playful, saying in no uncertain terms what needed to be said. It’s not surprising he was a favorite columnist for many of our subscribers. He was my favorite, too.

On matters of war and peace, he was absolute. In our July 2009 issue, he wrote, “We’ve got to rethink this question of war and come to the conclusion that war cannot be accepted, no matter what. No matter what the reasons given, or the excuse: liberty, democracy; this, that. War is by definition the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers of people for ends that are uncertain. Think about means and ends, and apply it to war. The means are horrible, certainly. The ends, uncertain. That alone should make you hesitate. . . . We are smart in so many ways. Surely, we should be able to understand that in between war and passivity, there are a thousand possibilities.”

What I loved most about Zinn was his sense of humor, which didn’t always translate onto the page. I didn’t know how funny he was until I heard him speak at our 95th anniversary party six years ago. He was gracious enough to attend our recent 100th birthday bash, too.

When I was a just becoming politicized, I read A People’s History of the United States and it blew my mind away. Reading Zinn’s book was a rite of passage in my activist circles, and I hope it still is.

It’s been nearly twenty years since I’ve read A People’s History, and it is no small thrill to be at a magazine that regularly publishes the work of a peace mongering historian, a World War II soldier who flew bombing missions over Europe but later staunchly advocated for peace. That was thing about Zinn—when he spoke of war, he knew what he was talking about.

Back in 2003 when George W. Bush was gunning for Saddam Hussein, Zinn wrote a cover story for The Progressive called “A Chorus Against War.”

This is how it ends:

“If Bush starts a war, he will be responsible for the lives lost, the children crippled, the terrorizing of millions of ordinary people, the American GIs not returning to their families. And all of use will be responsible for bringing that to a halt.

Men who have no respect for human life or for freedom or justice have taken over this beautiful country of ours. It will be up to the American people to take it back.”

I would have loved to read what Zinn thought about the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing even more money into our political system. Or what he would have written after hearing Obama’s first State of the Union Address. The President’s speech hasn’t even started yet tonight, but this much I do know: Zinn would have reminded us, as he did over and over, that we need to organize our neighborhoods and workplaces and schools in order to create change, and not leave it up to the politicians.

“Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war,” Zinn wrote in a piece called, “Election Madness” back in March 2008. “Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.”

Howard Zinn in The Progressive

Elizabeth DiNovella is Culture Editor of The Progressive. To subscribe for just $14.97 a year, just click here.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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