UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper XLVI: April 21, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994; new ed. 2002). Preface 2002. Sept. 11 attacks (vii). Refuses to “justify war” because while its justifications are doubtful, in our time it “inevitably means the indiscriminate killing of large numbers of innocent people” (viii). The public is enticed to support violence through “deceptive words” that disguise the fundamental fact of inequality (ix). Small acts can have large consequences (x). Introduction: The Question Period in Kalamazoo. [Written in the summer of 1993.] This book an answer to the question “What gives you hope?” (4). The human spirit, “our spirit,” “refuses to surrender” (4). “To life-probing questions there seems so often to be a one-word answer: Auschwitz . . . Hungary . . . Attica. Vietnam” (5). “It’s remarkable how much history there is in any small group” (5). “In my teaching I never concealed my political views” (7). Believes in fairness, not objectivity (8). Despite “a general mood of despair” in 1993, Zinn believes in the possibility of “the sudden emergence of a people’s movement” (9). “This is not a fantasy. This is how change has occurred again and again in the past” (10). Review of his own luckiness: parents, work, survival of WWII (unlike his two “closest Air Force friends,” Joe Perry and Ed Plotkin): “And so I have no right to despair. I insist on hope. It is a feeling, yes. But it is not irrational. People respect feelings but still want reasons. . . . I have suggested that there are reasons. I believe there is evidence. But too much to give to the questioner in Kalamazoo. It would take a book. So I decided to write one” (12). PART ONE: THE SOUTH AND THE MOVEMENT Ch. 1: Going South: Spelman College. Grad school, early teaching at Upsala College and Brooklyn College (1516). Offered the chiarmanship of the history department at Spelman College; arrival in Atlanta (17). The community’s toleration of Spelman College (18-20). Students’ early memories of racial prejudice (20). Segregation (21). Successful campaign to desegregate Atlanta’s public libraries (22-24). Dr. Otis Smith’s expulsion from Fort Valley, Georgia (24-25). Ch. 2: “Young Ladies Who Can Picket.” Lunch counter sit-ins (26-30). Effect on family life (30-31). Observations on how people adapt to social change (31-33). “[N]o pitifully small picket line, no poorly attended meeting, no tossing out of an idea to an audience or even to an individual should be scorned as insignificant. The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot easily be measured” (33). E. Franklin Frazier’s visit to Spelman (34-35). Student movement at the lunch counter of Rich’s Department Store (35-36). Ch. 3: “A President Is Like a Gardener.” Fired, despite having tenure, by Spelman’s president, Albert Manley, for being “insubordinate.” (3744). Support from Alice Walker, then a student (44-45). Ch. 4: “My Name Is Freedom”: Albany, Georgia. Involvement with SNCC in the civil rights struggle in Albany, Georgia, 1961-1962; Zinn contests the view that the movement was “defeated” there (46-55). Ch. 5: Selma, Alabama. Zinn a SNCC advisor for Freedom Day (Oct. 7, 1963), a
voter registration drive (56-65). Selmato-Montgomery march in 1965 (65-68). Ch. 6: “I’ll Be Here”: Mississippi. Working with SNCC in Freedom Summer (1963) (68-82). Civil rights movement showed that if enough people devote minds and bodies to a cause, it can overcome and win (82-84). The exhilaration of the struggle, not victory, is the reward of participation (84). PART TWO: WAR Ch. 7: A Veteran against War. Enlistment and training at 20 (87-89). Courtship of Roslyn Shechter; married in 1944 (89-91). Life as a bombardier (9194). Burgeoning political consciousness about war (94-96). Upon further reflection, concludes that “while there are certainly vicious enemies of liberty and human rights in the world, war itself is the most vicious of enemies” (98-99; 96-100). “[I]ntrigued” by the nonviolent direct action he saw in the civil rights movement, Zinn searches for an alternative to war in fighting fascism and other radical evils (100-02). Ch. 8: “Sometimes to Be Silent Is to Lie”: Vietnam. Early and unhesitating opposition to the Vietnam war informed by knowledge of U.S. history (103-07). Active in antiwar movement (108-10). Writes Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967; reissued in 2002) (110-12). Involvement with war resisters (112-14). Ch. 9: The Last Teach-In. Reminiscences of the antiwar movement (115-25). “[E]ducation becomes most rich and alive when it confronts the reality of moral conflict in the world” (120). “No act, therefore, however small, should be dismissed or ignored” (124). Ch. 10: “Our Apologies, Good Friends, for the Fracture of Good Order.” Trip to Hanoi in 1968 with Daniel Berrigan to receive three U.S.
pilots (126-34). Assistance to Berrigan while a fugitive (134-38). PART THREE: SCENES AND CHANGES Ch. 11: In Jail: “The World Is TopsyTurvy.” “An encounter with the police, even one night in jail, is an intense and unique educational experience” (141). 1970 (142-45). 1971 (145-48). Other arrests (148-49). “[T]he hell of the prison system” (149-50). Ch. 12: In Court: “The Heart of the Matter.” “The courtroom is one instance of the fact that while our society may be liberal and democratic in some large and vague sense, its moving parts, its smaller chambers—its classrooms, its workplaces, its corporate boardrooms, its jails, its military barracks—are flagrantly undemocratic, dominated by one commanding person or a tiny elite of power. . . . But the American courtroom is also a place where people, against great odds, may challenge the authority that threatens to imprison them” (151). Milwaukee Fourteen, 1968 (152-54). Camden Twenty-Eight, 1973 (154-56). Pentagon Papers trial, 1973 (156-61). Winooski Forty-Four (VT), 1984 (162). Ch. 13: Growing Up Class-Conscious. Family origins (163). Father, Eddie Zinn, died in 1956 (164-66). Mother, Jenny, grew up in Siberia, lived to 90 (166-68). Early reading (168). Reads New York Post-promoted set of Dickens (169). First interest in politics (170). Beaten at first demonstration, “no longer a liberal . . . I was a radical” (173; 171-73). “My Communist years” began in 1939 (17375). Wins Civil Service job in Brooklyn Navy Yard, builds battleship USS Iowa (175-77). Disenchanted with Communism after encounter with antiimperialist in war and with Koestler’s The Yogi and the Commissar (177-78). Various jobs after the war (178). Started NYU as freshman at age of 27 on GI Bill (179). Worked in Manhattan warehouse
(179-80). “I never stopped being classconscious” (180). But class does not determine consciousness (181-82). Ch. 14: A Yellow Rubber Chicken: Battles at Boston University. Teaches at Boston University beginning in 1964, wins tenure despite antiwar activity (18385). Clashes with BU Pres. John Silber (185-96). Ch. 15: The Possibility of Hope. Finds students in the supposedly placid 1980s open to radical perspectives (197-201). Retires from teaching in 1988 for family, theater (201-03). In retirement, finds groups of people everywhere receptive to his ideas (203-07). “It is this change in consciousness that encourages me” (207). We forget these truths: “Political power, however formidable, is more fragile than we think. . . . Ordinary people . . . sooner or later find a way to challenge the power that oppresses them. People are not naturally violent or cruel or greedy . . . Small acts . . . can transform the world” (208). “The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory” (208).
Acknowledgments. Very short: his editors and publisher, his literary agent, and his wife Roslyn. Index. 4 pp. (Proper names only.) [About the Author. Howard Zinn was born on Aug. 24, 1922, and grew up “in the slums of Brooklyn in the thirties” (164). In 1943-1945 he flew combat missions in Europe for the U.S. Army Air Corps. He received his B.A. in 1951 from New York University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1952 and 1958, respectively. He taught for seven years at Spelman College (19561963; Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman were among his students) and for twenty-four years at Boston University (1964-1988). He has written about two dozen books. The first was La Guardia in Congress (1959), the most recent A People’s History of American Empire (2008), the best known A People’s History of the United States (1980; most recent revise edition 2003). Zinn has written three plays, Daughter of Venus (1985), Marx in Soho (1999), and Emma (2002). He lives in Newton, MA, with his artist wife Roslyn; they have two children, Myla and Jeff, and five grandchildren.]