Monday, December 12, 2011

Civil Obedience

A friend shared the above on Saturday. Howard Zinn (1922-2010) was a Boston University academic, an American historian, author, playwright and political activist who was an early opponent of the US entanglement in Vietnam. His involvement in the antiwar movement led to his publishing two books: "Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal" (1967) and "Disobedience and Democracy" (1968).

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. "A People’s History of the United States" (1980), his best-known book, had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers – many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out – but rather the farmers of Shays' Rebellion and union organizers of the 1930s.

As he wrote in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (1994), "From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it."

For those of us who are academics, the last paragraph must also strike a chord. It is something for us to ponder and reflect. And for some of us moved by this truth, we too will do the same.

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