Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn, RIP

Some sad news broke yesterday that historian, author, and longtime social activist Howard Zinn had passed away at 87 of a heart attack.  Zinn, whose firsthand experience as a veteran of the second World War informed much of his worldview, was an early opponent and critic of not only our recent adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, but even going as far back as Vietnam. 

My discovery of the author occurred in a somewhat sideways manner when I picked up his signature work, A People's History of the United States, arguably one of the most important political tracts of the last half century, after hearing it name-checked by the leads in 1998's Good Will Hunting.  That was no accident, it turns out, as writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were longtime friends and fans of the author, and clearly his political bent rubbed off on them a little bit. 

Later on, I saw Zinn interviewed on, of all things, a documentary featured on the Rambo DVD set, weighing the cultural impact that Sylvester Stallone's character played on the national mood of the '80s.  Most recently, in a short op-ed published by The Nation, Zinn offered his (final) impressions of the Obama presidency after its first year:
"I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president - which means, in our time, a dangerous president - unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction."
While I didn't necessary agree with everything Zinn had to say, his contributions to the discourse (which I often linked to on this blog) could always be counted on to be unfailingly erudite and unflinchingly honest.

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