Essays and Speeches

The Spirit of Rebellion

In New York, a small army of policemen, laid off and angry, have been blocking the Brooklyn Bridge, and garbage workers are letting the refuse pile up in the streets. In Boston, some young people on Mission Hill are illegally occupying an abandoned house to protest the demolition of a neighborhood. And elderly people, on the edge of survival, are fighting Boston Edison’s attempt to raise the price of electricity.

So it looks like a good Fourth of July, with the spirit of rebellion proper to the Declaration of Independence.

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Labor Day Special: Occupied Iraq, the Role of Resistance Movements, Government Lies, and the Media

Howard Zinn, author of the People’s History of the United States, reviews the history of the abolitionists and the Vietnam War to encourage a new generation of resistance against the Iraq occupation and the war at home. Democracy… Read More

The 2010 Ridenhour Courage Prize Awarded to Howard Zinn

On April 14, 2010, The Ridenhour Courage Prize was awarded posthumously to Howard Zinn “for his determination to showcase the hidden heroes of social movements throughout history, his refusal to accept the history of only the powerful and… Read More

Book cover: A Power Goverments Cannot Suppress • City Lights

A Marvelous Victory

In this world of war and injustice, how does a person manage to stay socially engaged, committed to the struggle, and remain healthy without burning out or becoming resigned or cynical?

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

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Revolutionary War Battle • Artist unknown • Georgia Studies

Untold Truths About the American Revolution

Published in The Progressive • July 20, 2009
There are things that happen in the world that are bad, and you want to do something about them. You have a just cause. But our culture is so war prone that we immediately jump from, “This is a good cause” to “This deserves a war.”

You need to be very, very comfortable in making that jump.

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Barack Obama • Photo by Chuck Kennedy • WikiCommons

Changing Obama’s Mindset

Published in The Progressive • May 13, 2009
We are citizens, and Obama is a politician. You might not like that word. But the fact is he’s a politician. He’s other things, too—he’s a very sensitive and intelligent and thoughtful and promising person. But he’s a politician.

If you’re a citizen, you have to know the difference between them and you—the difference between what they have to do and what you have to do. And there are things they don’t have to do, if you make it clear to them they don’t have to do it.

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Three Holy Wars: The Progressive’s 100th Anniversary Conference

Speech give by Howard Zinn in Madison, Wisconsin, May 2, 2009 Transcript Matt Rothschild: For all his fame he’s more humble, or as I told him once, he fakes it better than anyone I know. So, let’s hear… Read More

Sacco and Vanzetti • Photographer unknown • WikiCommons

Sacco and Vanzetti

Published by ZCommunications • March 11, 2009
On that 50th year after the execution, the New York Times reported that: “Plans by Mayor Beame to proclaim next Tuesday “Sacco and Vanzetti Day’ have been canceled in an effort to avoid controversy, a City Hall spokesman said yesterday.”

There must be good reason why a case 50-years-old, now over 75-years-old, arouses such emotion. I suggest that it is because to talk about Sacco and Vanzetti inevitably brings up matters that trouble us today: our system of justice, the relationship between war fever and civil liberties, and most troubling of all, the ideas of anarchism: the obliteration of national boundaries and therefore of war, the elimination of poverty, and the creation of a full democracy.

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Studs Terkel • Photographer unknown • WikiCommons

Howard Zinn Defends Studs Terkel from Red-Baiting in the Times

Published in The Progressive • November 7, 2008
Reading Edward Rothstein’s sour commentary on Studs Terkel in the New York Times on November 2, I was surprised that Rothstein, presumably a sophisticated thinker, seems to believe one can separate one’s political views from a historical narrative, even from oral history.

“It is, in fact, impossible to separate Mr. Terkel’s political vision from the contours of his oral history,” he wrote.

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From Empire to Democracy

Published at The Guardian • Oct. 3, 2008
This current financial crisis is a major way-station on the way to the collapse of the American empire. The first important sign was 9/11, with the most heavily-armed nation in the world shown to be vulnerable to a handful of hijackers.

And now, another sign: both major parties rushing to get an agreement to spend $700bn of taxpayers’ money to pour down the drain of huge financial institutions which are notable for two characteristics: incompetence and greed.

There is a much better solution to the current financial crisis. But it requires discarding what has been conventional “wisdom” for too long: that government intervention in the economy (“big government”) must be avoided like the plague, because the “free market” will guide the economy towards growth and justice.

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Howard Zinn on U.S. Presidential Candidates

Interview by BigThink • 5/8/08
Who do you endorse for President [in the 2008 U.S. election]?
HOWARD ZINN: Between Clinton and Obama, well both of them have promised to end the [Iraq] war, but I must say their proposals for bringing the troops out of Iraq are rather halfhearted and they talk about keeping troops there, or Barack Obama says, “Let’s take troops out of Iraq, send troops to Afghanistan.” Neither of them has shaken what Barack Obama rightly called the mindset that led to the Iraq war. The mindset is a mindset which sees war and military intervention as a solution. Neither of them has shaken that.

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"Work Pays America! Prosperity." • Poster by Vera Bock • Library of Congress

Are Hillary and Obama Afraid of Talking About the New Deal?

Published by ZCommunications • April 2, 2008
We might wonder why no Democratic Party contender for the presidency has invoked the memory of the New Deal and its unprecedented series of laws aimed at helping people in need. The New Deal was tentative, cautious, bold enough to shake the pillars of the system but not to replace them. It created many jobs but left 9 million unemployed. It built public housing but not nearly enough. It helped large commercial farmers but not tenant farmers. Excluded from its programs were the poorest of the poor, especially blacks. As farm laborers, migrants or domestic workers, they didn’t qualify for unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, Social Security or farm subsidies.

Still, in today’s climate of endless war and uncontrolled greed, drawing upon the heritage of the 1930s would be a huge step forward.

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What the Classroom Didn’t Teach Me About the American Empire

Published on TomDispatch.com • April 1, 2008
With an occupying army waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military bases and corporate bullying in every part of the world, there is hardly a question any more of the existence of an American Empire. Indeed, the once fervent denials have turned into a boastful, unashamed embrace of the idea.

However, the very idea that the United States was an empire did not occur to me until after I finished my work as a bombardier with the Eighth Air Force in the Second World War, and came home. Even as I began to have second thoughts about the purity of the “Good War,” even after being horrified by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even after rethinking my own bombing of towns in Europe, I still did not put all that together in the context of an American “Empire.”

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New Jersey Polling Station, 2008 • WikiCommons

Election Madness

Published in The Progressive • March 8, 2008
The very people who should know better, having criticized the hold of the media on the national mind, find themselves transfixed by the press, glued to the television set, as the candidates preen and smile and bring forth a shower of clichés with a solemnity appropriate for epic poetry.There’s a man in Florida who has been writing to me for years (ten pages, handwritten) though I’ve never met him. He tells me the kinds of jobs he has held—security guard, repairman, etc. He has worked all kinds of shifts, night and day, to barely keep his family going. His letters to me have always been angry, railing against our capitalist system for its failure to assure “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness” for working people.

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Antiwar Protest, Sept. 15, 2007 • WikiCommons

A Just Cause, Not a Just War

Published in The Progressive • July 16, 2007
I believe two moral judgments can be made about the present “war”: The September 11 attack constitutes a crime against humanity and cannot be justified, and the bombing of Afghanistan is also a crime, which cannot be justified.

And yet, voices across the political spectrum, including many on the left, have described this as a “just war.” One longtime advocate of peace, Richard Falk, wrote in The Nation that this is “the first truly just war since World War II.” Robert Kuttner, another consistent supporter of social justice, declared in The American Prospect that only people on the extreme left could believe this is not a just war.

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Antiwar Talk at the Boston Commons

Published by ZCommunications • March 27, 2007
If somebody invaded your home, and smashed things up, and terrorized your children, would we give them a timetable? When I look at this latest Democratic proposal for a timetable, you know, maybe 18 months from now, at the same time funding the war for another 140 billion dollars, you know, it’s as if you gave an intruder in your house a timetable for withdraw, and meanwhile, made a nice dinner for him. No, we can’t do that, we have to get out. We don’t belong in Iraq. The people in Iraq do not want us there, the American people expressed themselves clearly that the American people don’t want us there. It seems the only people who want us there are the members of Congress and the Bush administration.

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"Impeach them both" • Citizens Movement to Impeach Bush/Cheney • Portland Newswire Archive

Impeachment by the People

Published in The Progressive • March 7, 2007
The time is right, then, for a national campaign calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Courage is in short supply in Washington, D.C. The realities of the Iraq War cry out for the overthrow of a government that is criminally responsible for death, mutilation, torture, humiliation, chaos. But all we hear in the nation’s capital, which is the source of those catastrophes, is a whimper from the Democratic Party, muttering and nattering about “unity” and “bipartisanship,” in a situation that calls for bold action to immediately reverse the present course.

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The Uses of History and the War on Terrorism

Zinn recently spoke in Madison, Wisconsin where he was receiving the Haven Center’s Award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship. We bring you his lecture, “The Uses of History and the War on Terrorism.” ZINN: Do you get… Read More

The Wartime Failings of American Democracy

BU Today • November 22, 2010
Howard Zinn discusses the wartime failings of American democracy in the first annual Howard Zinn Lecture in 2006.

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War Is Not a Solution for Terrorism

Published by ZCommunications • September 7, 2006
There is something important to be learned from the recent experience of the United States and Israel in the Middle East: that massive military attacks, inevitably indiscriminate, are not only morally reprehensible, but useless in achieving the stated aims of those who carry them out.

The United States, in three years of war, which began with shock-and-awe bombardment and goes on with day-to-day violence and chaos, has been an utter failure in its claimed objective of bringing democracy and stability to Iraq. The Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon has not brought security to Israel; indeed it has increased the number of its enemies, whether in Hezbollah or Hamas or among Arabs who belong to neither of those groups.

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