Howard Zinn, author of the revisionist tome A People’s History of the United States, died in Santa Monica, California, on Wednesday. He was 87.
The Brooklyn-born writer and teacher – admired by progressives, reviled by reactionaries – had his People’s History mentioned by friend and admirer Matt Damon in the 1997 drama Good Will Hunting, for which Damon and Ben Affleck won Academy Awards for best original screenplay. Among other well-known Zinn admirers are Bruce Springsteen and one of Zinn’s former students, Alice Walker.
The subtitle of Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller’s 2004 documentary Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, narrated by Damon, was taken from one of Zinn’s books. The biographical film was one of the semi-finalists for the 2004 Academy Awards, but failed to get a nomination.
Last week, The Nation published a series of brief essays in which Zinn and a number of other contributors looked back at the first year of the Obama administration.
“As far as disappointments, I wasn’t terribly disappointed because I didn’t expect that much,” Zinn wrote. “I expected him to be a traditional Democratic president. On foreign policy, that’s hardly any different from a Republican – as nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike. … 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.”
Daniel Ellsberg, himself the subject of a documentary that is one of this year’s Oscar semi-finalists – Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith’s The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers – remembers Zinn in a piece posted at antiwar.org.