Thursday, January 28, 2010

You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train

Howard Zinn died yesterday. He was a man I had never heard of when I heard him speak at University of Oregon in 1994. His lecture that day was an eye-opener as much as A People's History of the United States was a page-turner for me. I have been flipping through my old copy tonight and recall that I had been pretty moved by this:
Around 1776, certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years. They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.

When we look at the American Revolution this way, it was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have received over the centuries. They created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command.
While I can now say I moved away from some of Zinn's ideas, I will always appreciate the way he made me consider another side starting with Columbus and the native Americans through all the US wars and within the struggles for racial, gender and class justice. His writing made me more critical and empathetic.

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