By Matthew Rothschild on January 28, 2010

Thank You, Howard Zinn, for being there during the civil rights movement, for teaching at Spelman, for walking the picket lines, and for inspiring such students as Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being there during the Vietnam War, for writing “The Logic of Withdrawal,” and for going to Hanoi.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for always being there.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a man who supported the women’s liberation movement, early on.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a straight who supported the gay and lesbian rights movement, early on.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a Jew who dared to criticize Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, early on.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a great man who didn’t believe in the “Great Man Theory of History.”

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Thank you, Howard Zinn, for taking the time to write your landmark work, “A People’s History of the United States,” and for educating two generations now in the radical history of this country, a history, as you stressed, of class conflict.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for grasping the importance of transforming this book into “The People Speak,” the History Channel special that ran in December and that should be used by secondary, high school and college classes for as long as U.S. history is taught.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for opposing war, all wars, including our own “good wars,” our own “holy wars,” as you called them—and for pointing out that a “just cause” does not lead to a “just war.”

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for pointing out that soldiers don’t die for their country, but that they die for their political leaders who dupe them or conscript them into wars. And that they die for the corporations that profit from war.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for urging us to “renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed. We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.”

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for stressing that change comes from below, and that it comes at surprising times, even when things seem bleakest, if we organize to make it happen.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for stressing the value of engaging in action to make this world a better place, even if we don’t get there.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for this amazing, inspiring paragraph, which I’ve had on my wall for years now:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for recognizing the beauty and power of culture, and for exalting the poet, the singer, the actor, the artist.

Thank you, Howard, for being kind enough to write your columns this last decade for a relatively obscure magazine called The Progressive, and for doing so with the utmost intelligence and grace.

Thank you, Howard, for calling me your editor.

Thank you, Howard, for your wry and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Thank you, Howard, for your kindness.

Thank you, Howard, for your friendship.

Thank you, Howard.

Thank you.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine. To subscribe for just $14.97 a year, just click here.

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Comments

Howard Zinn was like a hero and source of inspiration to me!, He was courageous, peerless, honorable, a supporter of just causes and an advocate for social justice!

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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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