Howard Zinn Blasts War, American Policy In Speech At Cahn

Jennifer Chen

By Jennifer ChenThe Daily Northwestern

Howard Zinn has an idea. It’s not quite Alcoholics Anonymous, but it’s something like it.

“We could have an organization,” said the acclaimed American historian, activist, playwright and author in a speech titled “Imperialists Anonymous” Tuesday night. The leaders of the country would get up on national television and be honest of what they have done in this world.”

The audience laughed and after a few more jokes, the white-haired Zinn adjusted his glasses, assumed all seriousness and continued his talk on current U.S. government actions, and how they’re all wrong.

Zinn spoke in a jam-packed Cahn Auditorium. His talk was sponsored by Peace Project, an umbrella organization of the student groups Northwestern Opposing War And Racism (NOWAR), Students for Economic Justice and The Protest magazine.

A social critic and professor emeritus of political science at Boston University, Zinn is most famous for his national bestseller, “A People’s History of the United States.” The book shows the history the nation through the eyes of its people rather than its institutions.

Zinn also has been a relentless and prominent advocate for social justice, especially in the Civil Rights movement and various anti-war movements through the years.

Raised in a working-class family in Brooklyn, Zinn was a shipyard worker before becoming a bombardier during World War II. He later emerged as a leading critic against the Vietnam War and the concept of war in general.

Back when he was an “enthusiastic bombardier” for the U.S. during WWII, he said, he thought he was in what everyone would call “the good war.”

“But I, like so many people, made a simple psychological error,” Zinn said. “That is, the assumption that if the other side is evil, then your side is good. Our side was not good.”

Zinn said the United States did not enter the war to save the Jews or promote democracy, but rather to advance its political and economic interests.

It was also only after the war that he realized what war did to human beings, he said.

“War poisons everyone engaged in it. No matter what the good cause is, as soon as you go to war, you poison your soul, you commit atrocities,” Zinn said. “Hitler committed atrocities. We committed atrocities.”

War solves no fundamental problems, and he does not want any more anti-war movements to be necessary after the war in Iraq, he said.

“I’m asking a lot, ‘abolish war,'” Zinn said. “But if you spoke in the 1800s about abolishing slavery, they would have laughed. (So) it is possible to change things. It is possible to challenge the power of people with great wealth, all the guns and soldiers on their side. It is possible.”

Zinn also emphasized that what Americans needed was a new history, in which the heroes of the country are not Christopher Columbus, Andrew Jackson or Theodore Roosevelt.

“We need a different kind of history in which the heroes will be the dissenters, the whistleblowers, the people who are without power but need power,” Zinn said. “So instead of Jackson, we will have the Cherokee Indians, who were driven out of their land by him.”

Weinberg sophomore Hannah Morris said she enjoyed hearing Zinn speak.

“He brought up some really good points … to show what’s been going on today and for hundreds of years in (American) history,” Morris said. “If only people could look at that, we could see that this isn’t something so different, and that we could change things.”

Reach Jennifer Chen at [email protected]