The Boston Globe's James Carroll shares a truly remarkable story rooted in Zinn's anti-Vietnam War efforts:
HOWARD ZINN had just buckled his seat belt when the flight attendant’s voice came over the speakers with the pre-flight routine - the welcome aboard and identification of crew members. At mention of the pilot's name, Zinn’s eyes lifted, and he wondered - could it be the same man? Years before, Zinn, and fellow anti-war activist Father Daniel Berrigan, had traveled to Hanoi for the purpose of accepting the release from North Vietnam of three American prisoners of war - downed US flyers. They were the first prisoners to be released, but the condition was that they be handed over not to American officials, but to representatives of the anti-war movement.
The three prisoners were subdued and skeptical - obviously beaten down by their ordeal. The empathy Zinn felt was rooted in his own having been an Army Air Forces bombardier during World War II. Zinn and Berrigan reassured them, and soon the five men were flown out of Hanoi - freedom! While changing planes in Laos, they were intercepted by the US ambassador, who took custody of the POWs. Zinn wished them luck, and that was the last he had ever seen of them.
But now he had just heard the name of one of the three - the man at the controls of his airliner. Could it be? When the flight was underway, Zinn asked an attendant to tell the pilot his name. Soon, the captain came walking down the aisle. They recognized each other, exchanged a friendly greeting - and that was it. Some moments in life are too multi-layered for words. When Zinn told me this story, he said he was glad to see the man looking well, but that their brief meeting left him feeling sad. Beyond acknowledgment, there was simply no way to reckon with what they had shared. For Zinn's part, he realized that the intense bond he felt with the former POW was unbroken.
Howard Zinn was magical as a teacher. Witty, irreverent, and wise, he loved what he was teaching and clearly wanted his students to love it also. We did. My mother, who earned $17 a week working 12-hour days as a maid, had somehow managed to buy a typewriter for me and I had learned typing in school. I said hardly a word in class (as Howie would later recall), but inspired by his warm and brilliant ability to communicate ideas and conundrums and passions of the characters and complexities of Russian life in the 19th century, I flew back to my room after class and wrote my response to what I was learning about these writers and their stories that I adored. He was proud of my paper, and, in his enthusiastic fashion, waved it about. I learned later there were those among other professors at the school who thought that I could not possibly have written it. His rejoinder: "Why, there's nobody else in Atlanta who could have written it!"
Bob Herbert in the New York Times calls Zinn "a treasure and an inspiration," but questions the use of the term "radical" to describe the man and his work:
I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. (He called himself a radical.) He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?
Last Thursday's Daily Show ended with a Moment of Zinn. Here's the entire interview from 2005 (click here to watch if the embedded clip does not appear below) in which former President George W. Bush comes up short in comparison to Christopher Columbus.
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