Howard Zinn and Social Justice, American Style
an article by Joe
"You canít be neutral on a moving train," proclaims Howard Zinn in a brand new movie about his life and work.
As an historian, teacher, playwright, and activist, Zinn has been at the center of some of the greatest struggles in American democracy. The story of his political life covers almost 70 years. He attended his first demonstration in Times Square during the Great Depression, and was clubbed in the head when the police decided to attack the crowd. He left his job as a shipyard worker to fight fascism during World War II. After the war, he taught at Spellman College in Georgia and became involved in the Civil Rights battles of the sixties. He was a leader of the movement to end the war in Vietnam and traveled there to receive the first POWs from the North Vietnamese government. Even today, he is a revered father figure of the movements for global peace and social justice.
I recently saw the movie about Zinn's life at Real Art Ways Cinema in Hartford, CT. It is a professional documentary, with great archival footage and well-chosen excerpts from his many books. What struck me the most, though, was the story of how Zinn became a peace activist. In the last days of World War II he was sent out with his bombing crew to destroy a small town in France. Everyone knew that the war was over, and that the German troops garrisoned there were just waiting to go home. Yet, his plane was loaded with a new experimental weapon - napalm - and they firebombed Germans, civilians, animals and everything in sight. The senseless brutality of killing people just for the sake of finding better ways to kill people led Zinn to embrace the values of non-violent protest.
Watching the story of Dr. Zinn's life, I had the distinct feeling that I was witnessing something larger taking shape - the unfolding of a truly American culture of peace. It made me wonder, although they do not call it by name, how many people have been involved in this epic struggle to remake our society so that it embraces the values of a culture of peace? How many more people are working to carry the torch, to bring this culture into being today?
"The future is an infinite succession of presents," writes Zinn, "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." This movie is an eloquent testament to the everyday victories of one man and the impact they can have on our collective lives.
"Howard Zinn: You Canít Be Neutral on a Moving Train" is playing January 21-27 at Real Art Ways Cinema in Hartford, CT [http://www.realartways.org/]
Question(s) related to this article:
Can peace be guaranteed through nonviolent means?,
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Latest reader comment:
We have the advantage of an independent evaluation of the Nonviolent Peaceforce initiative in the Philippines conducted by Swisspeace. †The evaluation is very favorable, although in the end, as one reads through it, gets the impression that such initiatives can help but cannot bring peace by themselves.
Here is the executive summary:
Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Philippines can look back at more than two years of unique, relevant contributions and constructive engagement in one of the most difficult, political and volatile, contexts to work in: Being the only international non-governmental organization working with and living in close proximity to the most conflict-affected population in Mindanao, NP in the Philippines was able to support and enhance local structures of cease-fire monitoring, early warning, cross-community dialogues, human rights protection, to offer civilian protection and help to reduce the high levels of community violence.
The accepted offer to NP in the Philippines in late 2009 by the conflict parties GRP and the MILF to join the International Monitoring Team1 (IMT) and its Civilian Protection Component is a direct expression and result of its successful contributions to non-violence and violence reduction of the last two years.
To keep up the important work of NPís project in the Philippines in the years to come, it is essential to ensure that the activities and objectives of NPP are based on a strategically and conceptually sound footing. This seems even more important given that NPP is going through a remarkable consolidation and expansion phase at the time of report-writing.
The re-focus on its key mandate, strengths and strategic advantages in Mindanao gives NP the opportunity to further enhance its unique work in the area of nonviolence, †peacekeeping and peacebuilding.