Howard Zinn and writing

Howard Zinn died last week, having the media misfortune of passing away the same day as J.D. Salinger. Though I doubt Zinn’s death would have garnered much more notice had he died without being overshadowed by someone else’s passing. As the New York Times’ Bob Herbet put it in a column a couple of days ago: “His death this week at the age of 87 was a loss that should have drawn much more attention from a press corps that spends an inordinate amount of its time obsessing idiotically over the likes of Tiger Woods and John Edwards.”

Maybe it was that Zinn felt comfortable presenting himself as a radical, whereas I never thought of, say, my own personal favorites Studs Terkel or Nelson Algren that way. Maybe it’s because, from what I remember from my very cursory knowledge of him, Zinn was about as subtle as a sledgehammer, and that approach worked for him.

Bob Herbert asks: “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?”

Nothing at all. Should championing such causes require subtly? Depending on your audience, maybe, maybe not. It’s one of the reasons why I have such mixed feelings about someone like James Howard Kunstler, a man whose ideas I generally agree with more often than not, if not the fuck-you-I’m-right-you’re-wrong approach that he often takes with such seeming relish. So there’s that question of subtly again. Is it important?

Mrs. Icepick asked me if I had a copy of A People’s History of the United States. It’s been on a shelf, in one place or another, sitting largely un-read, even after I bought it as a used copy for a class in college. When she’s done browsing it, I’ll need to take another look.


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