Unsung Heroes—Zinn Education Project
pointed to the terrible crimes against the indige-nous people of Hispaniola committed by Colum-bus and his fellow explorers. Afterward, the otherman on the platform, who was chairman of theNew Jersey Columbus Day celebration, said tome: “You don’t understand—we Italian Ameri-cans need our heroes.” Yes, I understood thedesire for heroes, I said, but why choose a mur-derer and kidnapper for such an honor? Why notchoose Joe DiMaggio, or Toscanini, or FiorelloLaGuardia, or Sacco and Vanzetti? (The man wasnot persuaded.)The same misguided values that have madeslaveholders, Indian-killers, and militarists theheroes of our history booksstill operate today. We haveheard Sen. John McCain,Republican of Arizona, repeat-edly referred to as a war hero.Yes, we must sympathize withMcCain’s ordeal as a war pris-oner in Vietnam, where heendured cruelties. But mustwe call someone a hero whoparticipated in the invasion of a far-off country and droppedbombs on men, women, andchildren?I have come across only one voice in the mainstream press daring to dissentfrom the general admiration for McCain—that of the poet, novelist, and
columnistJames Carroll. Carroll contrasted the heroism of McCain, the warrior, to that of Philip Berrigan,who has gone to prison dozens of times for pro-testing the war in Vietnam and the dangerousnuclear arsenal maintained by the U.S. govern-ment. Carroll wrote: “Berrigan, in jail, is the truly free man, while McCain remains imprisoned in anunexamined sense of martial honor.”Our country is full of heroic people who arenot presidents or military leaders or Wall Streetwizards, but who are doing something to keepalive the spirit of resistance to injustice and war.I think of Kathy Kelly and all those other peo-ple from Voices in the Wilderness who, in defianceof federal law, traveled to Iraq more than a dozentimes to bring food and medicine to people suffer-ing under the U.S.-imposed sanctions.I think also of the thousands of students onmore than 100 college campuses across the coun-try who are protesting their universities’ connec-tion with sweatshop-produced apparel.I think of the four McDonald sisters inMinneapolis, all nuns, who have gone to jailrepeatedly for protesting against the Alliant Cor-poration’s production of land mines.I think, too, of the thousands of people whohave traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., to demand theclosing of the murderous School of the Americas.I think of the West Coast longshoremenwho participated in an eight-hour work stoppage to protestthe death sentence levied againstMumia Abu-Jamal.And so many more.We all know individuals—most of them unsung, unrecog-nized—who have, often in themost modest ways, spoken out oracted on their beliefs for a moreegalitarian, more just, peace-lov-ing society.To ward off alienation andgloom, it is only necessary toremember the unrememberedheroes of the past, and to look around us for theunnoticed heroes of the present.
is author of
A People’s History of the United States
Reprinted by permission from
,409 E Main St, Madison, WI 53703. www.progressive.org
Should we not bring forward as a national hero Emma Goldman,one of those Wilsonsent to prison, or Helen Keller, who fearlessly spoke out against the war?