Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn: Historian, Critic, Activist, Public Intellectual, 1922-2010

Howard Zinn


There is a great deal of loose, self serving, and irresponsible talk about "public intellectuals" in American culture and politics today. Many have been given this distinct and even rare honor but the truth is many if not most of those so anointed don't really deserve the honor. The reason is that being a true public intellectual requires far more than merely acquiring a bunch of college degrees or being lauded, even feted, by academe and the established order. In fact many of the most important, accomplished, and enduring public intellectuals over the past century in the United States either didn't attend college at all or stopped attending altogether before going on to the so-called hallowed halls of graduate school where far too many keen and inquiring minds have been wasted and discarded by the lazy, unexamined dogmas and doctrines of the academy.

Thankfully Howard Zinn was a human being, scholar, historian, critic, and activist who truly embodied and epitomized the very best in the public intellectual tradition despite having three academic degrees. He did so because he was always even more personally committed to the larger transformation of society via a deeply passionate and disciplined engagement with the struggles of the working classes and the poor, the oppressed and exploited, the disenfranchised and discarded. It was this lifelong personal, intellectual, and political involvement that further enhanced and grounded his outstanding scholarly work in social , cultural, and political history and philosophy. In a period where so many are tragically addicted to the shallowness, narcissism, and inanity of 'celebrity culture--a social disease that has even penetrated the formerly immune worlds of historical scholarship, social activism and teaching--it was individuals like Howard Zinn (and generational friends and colleagues like Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Ralph Nader, Amiri Baraka, and Toni Morrison) who have kept the serious, mature, and committed public intellectual tradition alive and thriving amidst all the distracting hype, noise, and nonsense of contemporary American life.

So thank you Mr. Zinn. Your extraordinary work and life will continue to serve as an inspiration and a beacon for those who still love, respect, and honor what is most valuable and useful in our lives as activists, artists, intellectuals, and human beings.


Interview with Howard Zinn at University of California Berkeley (Video)

Howard Zinn, Historian, Is Dead at 87

Published: January 28, 2010
New York Times

Howard Zinn, historian and shipyard worker, civil rights activist and World War II bombardier, and author of “A People’s History of the United States,” a best seller that inspired a generation of high school and college students to rethink American history, died Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 87 and lived in Auburndale, Mass.

The cause was a heart attack he had while swimming, his family said.

Proudly, unabashedly radical, with a mop of white hair and bushy eyebrows and an impish smile, Mr. Zinn, who retired from the history faculty at Boston University two decades ago, delighted in debating ideological foes, not the least his own college president, and in lancing what he considered platitudes, not the least that American history was a heroic march toward democracy.

Almost an oddity at first, with a printing of just 4,000 in 1980, “A People’s History of the United States” has sold nearly two million copies. To describe it as a revisionist account is to risk understatement. A conventional historical account held no allure; he concentrated on what he saw as the genocidal depredations of Christopher Columbus, the blood lust of Theodore Roosevelt and the racial failings of Abraham Lincoln. He also shined an insistent light on the revolutionary struggles of impoverished farmers, feminists, laborers and resisters of slavery and war.

Such stories are more often recounted in textbooks today; they were not at the time.

“Our nation had gone through an awful lot — the Vietnam War, civil rights, Watergate — yet the textbooks offered the same fundamental nationalist glorification of country,” Mr. Zinn recalled in a recent interview with The New York Times. “I got the sense that people were hungry for a different, more honest take.”

In a Times book review, the historian Eric Foner wrote of the book that “historians may well view it as a step toward a coherent new version of American history.” But many historians, even those of liberal bent, took a more skeptical view.

“What Zinn did was bring history writing out of the academy, and he undid much of the frankly biased and prejudiced views that came before it,” said Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton University. “But he’s a popularizer, and his view of history is topsy-turvy, turning old villains into heroes, and after a while the glow gets unreal.”

That criticism barely raised a hair on Mr. Zinn’s neck. “It’s not an unbiased account; so what?” he said in the Times interview. “If you look at history from the perspective of the slaughtered and mutilated, it’s a different story.”

Few historians succeeded in passing so completely through the academic membrane into popular culture. He gained admiring mention in the movie “Good Will Hunting”; Matt Damon appeared in a History Channel documentary about him; and Bruce Springsteen said the starkest of his many albums, “Nebraska,” drew inspiration in part from Mr. Zinn’s writings.

Born Aug. 24, 1922, Howard Zinn grew up in New York City. His parents were Jewish immigrants, and his father ran candy stores during the Depression without much success.

“We moved a lot, one step ahead of the landlord,” Mr. Zinn recalled. “I lived in all of Brooklyn’s best slums.”

He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School and became a pipe fitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he met his future wife, Roslyn Shechter. Raised on Charles Dickens, he later added Karl Marx to his reading, organized labor rallies and got decked by a billy-club-wielding cop.

He joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, eager to fight the fascists, and became a bombardier in a B-17. He watched his bombs rain down and, when he returned to New York, deposited his medals in an envelope and wrote: “Never Again.”

“I would not deny that war had a certain moral core, but that made it easier for Americans to treat all subsequent wars with a kind of glow,” Mr. Zinn said. “Every enemy becomes Hitler.”

He and his wife lived in a rat-infested basement apartment as he dug ditches and worked in a brewery. Later they moved to public housing and he went to college on the G.I. Bill.

He earned a B.A. at New York University and master’s and doctoral degrees at Columbia University. In 1956 he landed a job at Spellman College, a historically black women’s college, as chairman of the history department. Among his students were Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund; Alice Walker, the novelist; and the singer and composer Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Mr. Zinn served on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and marched for civil rights with his students, which angered Spellman’s president.

“I was fired for insubordination,” he recalled. “Which happened to be true.”

Mr. Zinn moved to Boston University in 1964. He traveled with the Rev. Daniel Berrigan to Hanoi to receive prisoners released by the North Vietnamese, and produced the antiwar books “Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal” (1967) and “Disobedience and Democracy” (1968).

He waged a war of attrition with Boston University’s president at the time, John Silber, a political conservative. Mr. Zinn twice organized faculty votes to oust Mr. Silber, and Mr. Silber returned the favor, saying the professor was a sterling example of those who would “poison the well of academe.”

Mr. Zinn’s book “La Guardia in Congress” (1959) won the American Historical Association’s Albert J. Beveridge Award. “A publisher went so far as to publish my quotations, which my wife thought was ridiculous,” Mr. Zinn said. “She said, ‘What are you, the pope or Mao Tse-Tung?’ ”

Mr. Zinn retired in 1988, concluding his last class early so he could join a picket line. He invited his students to join him.

Mr. Zinn wrote three plays: “Daughter of Venus,” “Marx in Soho” and “Emma,” about the life of the anarchist Emma Goldman. All have been produced. His last article was a rather bleak assessment of President Obama for The Nation. “I’ve been searching hard for a highlight,” he wrote.

Rosyln Zinn died in 2008. Mr. Zinn is survived by a daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington, Mass.; a son, Jeff Zinn, of Wellfleet, Mass.; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Zinn spoke recently of more work to come. The title of his memoir, he noted, best described his personal philosophy: “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.”

Howard Zinn
August 24, 1922
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
January 27, 2010 (aged 87)
Santa Monica, California
Professor, Historian, Playwright

Roslyn Zinn (died 2008)

Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010) was an American historian and Professor of Political Science at Boston University from 1964 to 1988.[2] He was the author of more than 20 books, including A People's History of the United States (1980). Zinn was active in the civil rights, civil liberties and anti-war movements in the United States, and wrote extensively on all three subjects.

Life and career

Early life

Zinn was born to a Jewish immigrant family in Brooklyn. His father, Eddie Zinn, born in Austria-Hungary, immigrated to the U.S. with his brother Phil before the outbreak of World War I. Howard's mother Jenny Zinn emigrated from the Eastern Siberian city of Irkutsk.

Both parents were factory workers with limited education when they met and married, and there were no books or magazines in the series of apartments where they raised their children. Zinn's parents introduced him to literature by sending 25 cents plus a coupon to the New York Post for each of the 20 volumes of Charles Dickens' collected works.[3] He also studied creative writing at Thomas Jefferson High School in a special program established by poet Elias Lieberman.[4]

World War II

Zinn eagerly joined the Army Air Force during World War II to fight fascism, and he bombed targets in Berlin, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.[5] Zinn's later anti-war stance was, in part, informed by his own experiences in the military. In April, 1945, he participated in one of the first military uses of napalm, which took place in Royan, France.[6]

The bombings were aimed at German soldiers who were, in Zinn's words, hiding and waiting out the closing days of the war. The attacks killed not only the German soldiers but also French civilians, facts Zinn uncovered nine years after the bombings when he visited Royan to examine documents and interview residents. In his books, The Politics of History and The Zinn Reader, he described how the bombing was ordered at the war's end by decision-makers most probably motivated by the desire for career advancement rather than for legitimate military objectives.

Zinn said his experience as a bombardier, combined with his research into the reasons for and effects of the bombing of Royan, sensitized him to the ethical dilemmas faced by G.I.s during wartime.[7] Zinn questioned the justifications for military operations inflicting civilian casualties in the Allied bombing of cities such as Dresden, Royan, Tokyo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, Hanoi during the U.S. war in Vietnam, and Baghdad during the U.S. war in Iraq. In his pamphlet "Hiroshima: Breaking the Silence", Zinn laid out the case against targeting civilians.[8]


After World War II, Zinn attended New York University on the GI Bill, graduating with a B.A. in 1951 and Columbia University, where he earned an M.A. (1952) and a Ph.D. in history with a minor in political science (1958). His master's thesis examined the Colorado coal strikes of 1914.[9] His doctoral dissertation LaGuardia in Congress was a study of Fiorello LaGuardia's congressional career, and it depicted LaGuardia representing "the conscience of the twenties" as LaGuardia fought for public power, the right to strike, and the redistribution of wealth by taxation.[9] "His specific legislative program," Zinn wrote, "was an astonishingly accurate preview of the New Deal." It was published by the Cornell University Press for the American Historical Association. While at Columbia, his professors included Harry Carman, Henry Steele Commager, and David Donald.[9] La Guardia in Congress won the American Historical Association's Beveridge Prize as the best English-language book on American history.

He was also a post-doctoral Fellow in East Asian Studies at Harvard University from 1960 to 1961.

Academic career

Zinn was Professor of History at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia from 1956 to 1963. Later he was Professor of Political Science, Boston University from 1964 to 1988. He was also Visiting Professor at both the University of Paris and University of Bologna.

Zinn came to believe that the point of view expressed in traditional history books was often limited. He wrote a history textbook, A People's History of the United States, to provide other perspectives on American history. The textbook depicts the struggles of Native Americans against European and U.S. conquest and expansion, slaves against slavery, unionists and other workers against capitalists, women against patriarchy, and African-Americans for civil rights. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1981.[10]

In the years since the first edition of A People's History was published in 1980, it has been used as an alternative to standard textbooks in many high school and college history courses, and it is one of the most widely known examples of critical pedagogy. According to the New York Times Book Review it "routinely sells more than 100,000 copies a year".[11]

In 2004, Zinn published Voices of A People's History of the United States with Anthony Arnove. Voices expands on the concept of ""A People's History and it provides a large collection of dissident voices in long form. It is intended as a companion to A People's History and it parallels its structure.

The People Speak, scheduled for release on DVD in February 2010, is a documentary movie inspired by the lives of ordinary people who fought back against oppressive conditions over the course of the history of the United States. The film includes performances by Zinn, Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Viggo Mortensen, Josh Brolin, Danny Glover, Marisa Tomei, Don Cheadle, and Sandra Oh.[12][13][14]

Civil Rights movement

In 1956, Zinn was appointed chairman of the department of history and social sciences at Spelman College, where he participated in the Civil Rights movement. There he lobbied with historian August Meier[15] "to end the practice of the Southern Historical Association of holding meetings at segregated hotels."[16]

At Spelman, Zinn served as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and in 1964, he wrote the book SNCC: The New Abolitionists. He also collaborated with historian Staughton Lynd and mentored young student activists, among them writer Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund. In a journal article, Edelman discusses Zinn as a major influence in her life and she tells of his accompanying students to a sit-in at the segregated white section of the Georgia state legislature.[17]

Although Zinn was a tenured professor, he was dismissed in June 1963, after siding with students in their desire to challenge Spelman's traditional emphasis on turning out "young ladies" when, as Zinn described in an article in The Nation, Spelman students were likely to be found on the picket line, or in jail for participating in the greater effort to break down segregation in public places in Atlanta. Zinn's years at Spelman are recounted in his autobiography You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times. His seven years at Spelman College, Zinn said, "are probably the most interesting, exciting, most educational years for me. I learned more from my students than my students learned from me."[18]

While at Spelman, Zinn wrote that he observed 30 violations of the First and Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution in Albany, Georgia, including the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and equal protection under the law. In an article on the civil rights movement in Albany, Zinn described the people who participated in the Freedom Rides to end segregation, and the reluctance of President John F. Kennedy to enforce the law.[19] Zinn has also pointed out that the Justice Department under Robert F. Kennedy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, did little or nothing to stop the segregationists from brutalizing civil rights workers.[20]

Zinn wrote frequently about the struggle for civil rights, both as a participant and as a historian[21] His second book, The Southern Mystique[22] was published in the same year as his book on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), 1964. In his book on the SNCC, Zinn describes how the sit-ins against segregation were initiated by students and, in that sense, were independent from the efforts of the older, more established civil rights organizations.

He returned to Spelman in 2005 to give the commencement address.[23][24] His speech "Against Discouragement,"[25] is available online at numerous sources.

Anti-war efforts

Fresh from writing two books about his research, observations, and participation in the Civil Rights movement in the South, Zinn accepted a position in the political science department at Boston University in 1964. His classes in civil liberties were among the most popular offered at BU with as many as 400 students subscribing each semester to the non-required class. He taught at BU for 24 years and retired in 1988. Zinn wrote one of the earliest books calling for the U.S. withdrawal from its war in VietNam. VietNam: The Logic of Withdrawal was published by Beacon Press in 1967 after articles that would later form the basis for the book had appeared in Commonwealth, The Nation, The Register-Leader, and Ramparts.

Zinn was a member of the Advisory Board of the Disarm Education Fund.[26]


Zinn's diplomatic visit to Hanoi with Rev. Daniel Berrigan, during the Tet Offensive in January 1968, resulted in the return of three American airmen, the first American POWs released by the North Vietnamese since the U.S. bombing of that nation had begun. The event was widely reported in the news media and discussed in a variety of books including Who Spoke Up? American Protest Against the War in Vietnam 1963–1975 by Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan.[27] Zinn and the Berrigan brothers, Dan and Philip, remained friends and allies over the years.

Daniel Ellsberg, a former RAND consultant who had secretly copied The Pentagon Papers, which described the internal planning and policy decisions of the United States government during the Vietnam War, gave a copy of them to Howard and Roslyn Zinn.[28] Along with Noam Chomsky, Zinn edited and annotated the copy of The Pentagon Papers that Ellsberg entrusted to him. Zinn's longtime publisher, Beacon Press, published what has come to be known as the Senator Mike Gravel edition of The Pentagon Papers, four volumes plus a fifth volume with analysis by Chomsky and Zinn.

At Ellsberg's criminal trial for theft, conspiracy, and espionage in connection with the publication of the Pentagon Papers by The New York Times, defense attorneys called Zinn as an expert witness to explain to the jury the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from World War II to 1963. Zinn discussed that history for several hours, later reflecting on his time before the jury. "I explained there was nothing in the papers of military significance that could be used to harm the defense of the United States, that the information in them was simply embarrassing to our government because what was revealed, in the government's own interoffice memos, was how it had lied to the American public. The secrets disclosed in the Pentagon Papers might embarrass politicians, might hurt the profits of corporations wanting tin, rubber, oil, in far-off places. But this was not the same as hurting the nation, the people," Zinn wrote in his autobiography. Most of the jurors later said that they voted for acquittal. [p. 161] However, the federal judge dismissed the case on the ground that it had been tainted by President Nixon's administration's burglary of the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist.

Zinn's testimony as to the motivation for government secrecy was confirmed in 1989 by Erwin Griswold, who as U.S. solicitor general during the Nixon administration, prosecuted The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971.[29] Griswold persuaded three Supreme Court justices to vote to stop The New York Times from continuing to publish the Pentagon Papers, an order known as "prior restraint" that has been held to be illegal under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The papers were simultaneously published in The Washington Post, effectively nulling the effect of the prior restraint order. In 1989, Griswold admitted that there was no national security damage resulting from the publication of the papers.[29] In a column in the Washington Post, Griswold wrote: "It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive over classification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another."

Zinn supported the G.I. antiwar movement during the U.S. war in Vietnam. In the 2001 film Unfinished Symphony, Zinn provides a historical context for the 1971 antiwar march by Vietnam Veterans against the War. The marchers traveled from Lexington, Massachusetts, to Bunker Hill, "which retraced Paul Revere's ride of 1775 and ended in the massive arrest of 410 veterans and civilians by the Lexington police." The film depicts "scenes from the 1971,[30] during which former G.I.s testified about atrocities" they either participated in or witnessed in Vietnam.[31]


Zinn opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and wrote several books about it. He asserted that the U.S. would end its war with, and occupation of, Iraq when resistance within the military increased, in the same way resistance within the military contributed to ending the U.S. war in Vietnam. He compared the demand by a growing number of contemporary U.S. military families to end the war in Iraq to the parallel "in the Confederacy in the Civil War, when the wives of soldiers rioted because their husbands were dying and the plantation owners were profiting from the sale of cotton, refusing to grow grains for civilians to eat."[32] Zinn argued that "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable."[33]

Jean-Christophe Agnew, Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University, told the Yale Daily News in May 2007 that Zinn’s historical work is "highly influential and widely used".[34] He observed that it is not unusual for prominent professors such as Zinn to weigh in on current events, citing a resolution opposing the war in Iraq that was recently ratified by the American Historical Association.[35] Agnew added, “In these moments of crisis, when the country is split — so historians are split.”[36]


While traveling, Zinn died of an apparent heart attack while swimming[37] in Santa Monica, California on January 27, 2010. He is survived by his daughter Myla Kabat-Zinn, son Jeff Zinn and five grandchildren.[38]


Zinn received the Thomas Merton Award and the Eugene V. Debs Award. In 1998, he won the Lannan Literary Award[39] for nonfiction and the following year won the Upton Sinclair Award, which honors social activism. In 2003, Zinn was awarded the Prix des Amis du Monde diplomatique[40] for the French version of his seminal work, Une histoire populaire des Etats-Unis.

On October 5, 2006, Zinn received the Haven's Center Award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship in Madison, Wisconsin.[41]

Howard Zinn


Artists in Times of War (2003) ISBN 1-58322-602-8.
The Cold War & the University: Toward an Intellectual History of the Postwar Years (Noam Chomsky (Editor) Authors: Ira Katznelson, R. C. Lewontin, David Montgomery, Laura Nader, Richard Ohmann,[42] Ray Siever, Immanuel Wallerstein, Howard Zinn (1997) ISBN 1-56584-005-4.
Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (1991) ISBN 0-06-092108-0[43]
Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order (1968, re-issued 2002) ISBN 0-89608-675-5.
Emma: A Play in Two Acts About Emma Goldman, American Anarchist (2002) ISBN 0-89608-664-X.
Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian (1993) ISBN 0-89608-676-3.
The Future of History: Interviews With David Barsamian (1999) ISBN 1-56751-157-0.
Hiroshima: Breaking the Silence (pamphlet, 1995) ISBN 1-884519-14-8.
Howard Zinn On Democratic Education Donaldo Macedo, Editor (2004) ISBN 1-59451-054-7.
Howard Zinn on History (2000) ISBN 1-58322-048-8.
Howard Zinn on War (2000) ISBN 1-58322-049-6.
You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times (1994) ISBN 0-8070-7127-7
Justice in Everyday Life: The Way It Really Works (Editor) (1974) ISBN 0-89608-677-1.
Justice? Eyewitness Accounts (1977) ISBN 0-8070-4479-2.
La Otra Historia De Los Estados Unidos (2000) ISBN 1-58322-054-2.
LaGuardia in Congress (1959) ISBN 0-8371-6434-6, ISBN 0-393-00488-0.
Marx in Soho: A Play on History (1999) ISBN 0-89608-593-7.
New Deal Thought (editor) (1965) ISBN 0-87220-685-8.
Original Zinn: Conversations on History and Politics (2006) Howard Zinn and David Barsamian.
Passionate Declarations: Essays on War and Justice (2003) ISBN 0-06-055767-2.
The Pentagon Papers Senator Gravel Edition. Vol. Five. Critical Essays. Boston. Beacon Press, 1972. 341p. plus 72p. of Index to Vol. I-IV of the Papers, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, editors.
A People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom by David Williams, Howard Zinn (Series Editor) (2005) ISBN 1-59558-018-2.
A People's History of the United States: 1492 – Present (1980), revised (1995)(1998)(1999)(2003) ISBN 0-06-052837-0.
A People's History of the United States: Teaching Edition Abridged (2003 updated) ISBN 1-56584-826-8.
A People's History of the United States: The Civil War to the Present Kathy Emery Ellen Reeves Howard Zinn (2003 teaching edition) ISBN 1-56584-725-3.
A People's History of the United States: The Wall Charts by Howard Zinn and George Kirschner (1995) ISBN 1-56584-171-9.
A People's History of American Empire (2008) by Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki and Paul Buhle. ISBN 978-0805087444.
The People Speak: American Voices, Some Famous, Some Little Known (2004) ISBN 0-06-057826-2.
Playbook by Maxine Klein, Lydia Sargent and Howard Zinn (1986) ISBN 0-89608-309-8.
The Politics of History (1970) (2nd edition 1990) ISBN 0-252-06122-5.
Postwar America: 1945 – 1971 (1973) ISBN 0-89608-678-X.
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (2006) ISBN 978-0872864757.
The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace Editor (2002) ISBN 0-8070-1407-9.
SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1964) ISBN 0-89608-679-8.
The Southern Mystique (1962) ISBN 0-89608-680-1.
Terrorism and War (2002) ISBN 1-58322-493-9 (interviews, Anthony Arnove (Ed.)).
The Twentieth Century: A People's History (2003) ISBN 0-06-053034-0.
Three Strikes: Miners, Musicians, Salesgirls, and the Fighting Spirit of Labor's Last Century (Dana Frank, Robin Kelley, and Howard Zinn) (2002) ISBN 0-8070-5013-X.
Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967) ISBN 0-89608-681-X.
Voices of a People’s History of the United States (with Anthony Arnove, 2004) ISBN 1-58322-647-8.
A Young People's History of the United States, adapted from the original text by Rebecca Stefoff; illustrated and updated through 2006, with new introduction and afterword by Howard Zinn; two volumes, Seven Stories Press, New York, 2007.
Vol. 1: Columbus to the Spanish-American War. ISBN 978-1-58322-759-6.
Vol. 2: Class Struggle to the War on Terror. ISBN 978-1-58322-760-2.
The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy (1997) ISBN 1-888363-54-1.


Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945–1970 (2010), Kent State University Press by Carl Mirra ISBN 978-1-60635-051-5
A Gigantic Mistake by Mickey Z, (2004) ISBN 1-930997-97-3.
A People's History of the Supreme Court by Peter H. Irons (2000) ISBN 0-14-029201-2.
A Political Dynasty In North Idaho, 1933-1967 by Randall Doyle (2004) ISBN 0-7618-2843-5.
American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts by Stephen M. Kohn (1994) ISBN 0-275-94415-8.
American Power and the New Mandarins by Noam Chomsky (2002) ISBN 1-56584-775-X.
Broken Promises Of America: At Home And Abroad, Past And Present: An Encyclopedia For Our Times by (Douglas F. Dowd (2004) ISBN 1-56751-313-1.
Deserter From Death: Dispatches From Western Europe 1950-2000 by Daniel Singer (2005) ISBN 1-56025-642-7.
Ecocide of Native America: Environmental Destruction of Indian Lands and Peoples by Donald Grinde, Bruce Johansen (1994) ISBN 0-940666-52-9.
Eugene V. Debs Reader: Socialism and the Class Struggle by William A. Pelz (2000) ISBN 0-9704669-0-0.
From a Native Son: Selected Essays in Indigenism, 1985 – 1995 by Ward Churchill (1996) ISBN 0-89608-553-8.
Green Parrots: A War Surgeon's Diary by Gino Strada, (2005) ISBN 88-8158-420-4.
Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear And The Selling Of American Empire by Sut Jhally editor, Jeremy Earp editor, (2004) ISBN 1-56656-581-2.
If You're Not a Terrorist…Then Stop Asking Questions! by Micah Ian Wright, (2004) ISBN 1-58322-626-5.
Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal by Anthony Arnove, (2006) ISBN 978-1-59558-079-5.
Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney Dennis Loo (Editor), Peter Phillips (Editor) Seven Stories Press: 2006) ISBN 1583227431.
Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader by Alexander Berkman Gene Fellner, editor, (2004) ISBN 1-58322-662-1.
Long Shadows: Veterans' Paths to Peace by David Giffey editor, (2006) ISBN 1-89185-964-9.
Masters of War: Latin America and United States Aggression from the Cuban Revolution Through the Clinton Years by Clara Nieto, Chris Brandt (trans) (2003) ISBN 1-58322-545-5.
Peace Signs: The Anti-War Movement Illustrated by James Mann, editor (2004) ISBN 3-283-00487-0.
Prayer for the Morning Headlines: On the Sanctity of Life and Death by Daniel Berrigan (poetry) and Adrianna Amari (photography), (2007) ISBN 978-1-934074-16-9.
Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-9-11 Anti-terrorism Measures Threaten Our Civil Liberties by Nancy Chang, Center for Constitutional Rights (2002) ISBN 1-58322-494-7.
Soldiers In Revolt: GI Resistance During The Vietnam War by David Cortright, (2005) ISBN 1-931859-27-2.
Sold to the Highest Bidder: The Presidency from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush by Daniel M. Friedenberg (2002) ISBN 1-57392-923-9.
The Autobiography of Abbie Hoffman Intro by Norman Mailer, Afterword by HZ (2000) ISBN 1-56858-197-1.
The Case for Socialism by Alan Maass, (2004) ISBN 1-931859-09-4.
The Forging of the American Empire: From the Revolution to Vietnam, a History of U.S. Imperialism by Sidney Lens (2003) ISBN 0-7453-2101-1.
The Higher Law: Thoreau on Civil Disobedience and Reform by Henry David Thoreau, Wendell Glick, editor, (2004) ISBN 0-691-11876-0.
The Iron Heel by Jack London, (1971) ISBN 0-143-03971-7.
The Sixties Experience: Hard Lessons about Modern America by Edward P. Morgan, (1992) ISBN 1-56639-014-1.
You Back the Attack, We'll Bomb Who We Want by Micah Ian Wright, (2003) ISBN 1-58322-584-6.
A People's History of the American Revolution by Ray Raphael, (2002) ISBN 0-06-000440-1 Howard Zinn Foreword for New Press People's History Series.


A People's History of the United States (1999)
Artists in the Time of War (2002)
Heroes & Martyrs: Emma Goldman, Sacco & Vanzetti, and the Revolutionary Struggle (2000)
Stories Hollywood Never Tells (2000)
You Can't Blow Up A Social Relationship, CD including Zinn lectures and performances by rock band Resident genius (Thick Records, 2005)[44]


Emma (1976)
Daughter of Venus (1985)
Marx in Soho (1999)


Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller, Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (film 2004)[45]
Davis D. Joyce, Howard Zinn: A Radical American Vision (Prometheus Books, 2003), ISBN 1-59102-131-6

Howard Zinn: 1922-2010

Howard Zinn: A Public Intellectual Who Mattered
28 January 2010
by: Henry A. Giroux, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

(Illustration: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)

In 1977 I took my first job in higher education at Boston University. One reason I went there was because Howard Zinn was teaching there at the time. As a high school teacher, Howard's book, "Vietnam: the Logic of Withdrawal," published in 1968, had a profound effect on me. Not only was it infused with a passion and sense of commitment that I admired as a high school teacher and tried to internalize as part of my own pedagogy, but it captured something about the passion, sense of commitment and respect for solidarity that came out of Howard's working-class background. It offered me a language, history and politics that allowed me to engage critically and articulate my opposition to the war that was raging at the time.

I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and rarely met or read any working-class intellectuals. After reading James Baldwin, hearing William Kunstler and Stanley Aronowitz give talks, I caught a glimpse of what it meant to occupy such a fragile, contradictory and often scorned location. But reading Howard gave me the theoretical tools to understand more clearly how the mix of biography, cultural capital and class location could be finely honed into a viable and laudable politics.

Later, as I got to know Howard personally, I was able to fill in the details about his working-class background and his intellectual development. We had grown up in similar neighborhoods, shared a similar cultural capital and we both probably learned more from the streets than we had ever learned in formal schooling. There was something about Howard's fearlessness, his courage, his willingness to risk not just his academic position, but also his life, that marked him as special - untainted by the often corrupting privileges of class entitlement.

Before I arrived in Boston to begin teaching at Boston University, Howard was a mythic figure for me and I was anxious to meet him in real life. How I first encountered him was perfectly suited to the myth. While walking to my first class, as I was nearing the university, filled with the trepidation of teaching a classroom of students, I caught my fist glimpse of Howard. He was standing on a box with a bullhorn in front of the Martin Luther King memorial giving a talk calling for opposition to Silber's attempt to undermine any democratic or progressive function of the university. The image so perfectly matched my own understanding of Howard that I remember thinking to myself, this has to be the perfect introduction to such a heroic figure.

Soon afterwards, I wrote him a note and rather sheepishly asked if we could meet. He got back to me in a day; we went out to lunch soon afterwards, and a friendship developed that lasted over 30 years. While teaching at Boston University, I often accompanied Howard when he went to high schools to talk about his published work or his plays. I sat in on many of his lectures and even taught one of his graduate courses. He loved talking to students and they were equally attracted to him. His pedagogy was dynamic, directive, focused, laced with humor and always open to dialog and interpretation. He was a magnificent teacher, who shredded all notions of the classroom as a place that was as uninteresting as it was often irrelevant to larger social concerns. He urged his students not just to learn from history, but to use it as a resource to sharpen their intellectual prowess and hone their civic responsibilities.

Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard's pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

He offered students a range of options. He wasn't interested in molding students in the manner of Pygmalion, but in giving them the widest possible set of choices and knowledge necessary for them to view what they learned as an act of freedom and empowerment. There is a certain poetry in his pedagogical style and scholarship and it is captured in his belief that one can take a position without standing still. He captured this sentiment well in a comment he made in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train." He wrote:

"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. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."

In fact, Howard was under constant attack by John Silber, then president of Boston University, because of his scholarship and teaching. One expression of that attack took the form of freezing Howard's salary for years.

Howard loved watching independent and Hollywood films and he and I and Roz [Howard's wife] saw many films together while I was in Boston. I remember how we quarreled over "Last Tango in Paris." I loved the film, but he disagreed. But Howard disagreed in a way that was persuasive and instructive. He listened, stood his ground, and, if he was wrong, often said something like, "O.K., you got a point," always accompanied by that broad and wonderful smile.

What was so moving and unmistakable about Howard was his humility, his willingness to listen, his refusal of all orthodoxies and his sense of respect for others. I remember once when he was leading a faculty strike at BU in the late 1970s and I mentioned to him that too few people had shown up. He looked at me and made it very clear that what should be acknowledged is that some people did show up and that was a beginning. He rightly put me in my place that day - a lesson I never forgot.

Howard was no soppy optimist, but someone who believed that human beings, in the face of injustice and with the necessary knowledge, were willing to resist, organize and collectively struggle. Howard led the committee organized to fight my firing by Silber. We lost that battle, but Howard was a source of deep comfort and friendship for me during a time when I had given up hope. I later learned that Silber, the notorious right-wing enemy of Howard and anyone else on the left, had included me on a top-ten list of blacklisted academics at BU. Hearing that I shared that list with Howard was a proud moment for me. But Howard occupied a special place in Silber's list of enemies, and he once falsely accused Howard of arson, a charge he was later forced to retract once the charge was leaked to the press.

Howard was one of the few intellectuals I have met who took education seriously. He embraced it as both necessary for creating an informed citizenry and because he rightly felt it was crucial to the very nature of politics and human dignity. He was a deeply committed scholar and intellectual for whom the line between politics and life, teaching and civic commitment collapsed into each other.

Howard never allowed himself to be seduced either by threats, the seductions of fame or the need to tone down his position for the standard bearers of the new illiteracy that now populates the mainstream media. As an intellectual for the public, he was a model of dignity, engagement and civic commitment. He believed that addressing human suffering and social issues mattered, and he never flinched from that belief. His commitment to justice and the voices of those expunged from the official narratives of power are evident in such works as his monumental and best-known book, "A People's History of the United States," but it was also evident in many of his other works, talks, interviews and the wide scope of public interventions that marked his long and productive life. Howard provided a model of what it meant to be an engaged scholar, who was deeply committed to sustaining public values and a civic life in ways that linked theory, history and politics to the everyday needs and language that informed everyday life. He never hid behind a firewall of jargon, refused to substitute irony for civic courage and disdained the assumption that working-class and oppressed people were incapable of governing themselves.

Unlike so many public relations intellectuals today, I never heard him interview himself while talking to others. Everything he talked about often pointed to larger social issues, and all the while, he completely rejected any vestige of political and moral purity. His lack of rigidity coupled with his warmness and humor often threw people off, especially those on the left and right who seem to pride themselves on their often zombie-like stoicism. But, then again, Howard was not a child of privilege. He had a working-class sensibility, though hardly romanticized, and sympathy for the less privileged in society along with those whose voices had been kept out of the official narratives as well as a deeply felt commitment to solidarity, justice, dialogue and hope. And it was precisely this great sense of dignity and generosity in his politics and life that often moved people who shared his company privately or publicly. A few days before his death, he sent me an email commenting on something I had written for Truthout about zombie politics. (It astonishes me that this will have been the last correspondence. Even at my age, the encouragement and support of this man, this towering figure in my life, meant such a great deal.) His response captures something so enduring and moving about his spirit. He wrote:

"Henry, we are in a situation where mild rebuke, even critiques we consider 'radical' are not sufficient. (Frederick Douglass' speech on the Fourth of July in 1852, thunderously angry, comes close to what is needed). Raising the temperature of our language, our indignation, is what you are doing and what is needed. I recall that Sartre, close to death, was asked: 'What do you regret?' He answered: 'I wasn't radical enough.'"

I suspect that Howard would have said the same thing about himself. And maybe no one can ever be radical enough, but Howard came close to that ideal in his work, life and politics. Howard's death is especially poignant for me because I think the formative culture that produced intellectuals like him is gone. He leaves an enormous gap in the lives of many thousands of people who knew him and were touched by the reality of the embodied and deeply felt politics he offered to all of us. I will miss him, his emails, his work, his smile and his endearing presence. Of course, he would frown on such a sentiment, and with a smile would more than likely say, "do more than mourn, organize." Of course, he would be right, but maybe we can do both.

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department. He has taught at Boston University, Miami University of Ohio, and Penn State University. His most recent books include: The University in Chains: Confronting the military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Paradigm, 2007); Against the Terror of Neoliberalism (Paradigm, 2008); Youth in a Suspect Society (Palgrave 2009).,9171,1963763,00.html

Monday, Feb. 22, 2010
Howard Zinn
By Noam Chomsky

Historian Howard Zinn's remarkable work, including his most famous book, A People's History of the United States, is summarized best in his own words. His primary concern, he once explained, was "the countless small actions of unknown people" that lie at the roots of the great moments of history--a record that would be profoundly misleading, and seriously disempowering, if torn from such roots. Howard, who died Jan. 27 at 87, was devoted to the empowerment of these unknowns.

That was true from the days when, while teaching in the 1950s and '60s at Atlanta's historically black Spelman College, he participated in the early, dangerous days of the civil rights movement--and lost his job as a reward.

Wherever there was a struggle for peace and justice, Howard was on the front lines: inspiring in his integrity, engagement, eloquence and humor, in his dedication to nonviolence and in his sheer decency. He changed the conscience of a generation. It's hard to imagine how many young people's lives were touched by his work and his life. Both leave a permanent stamp on how history is understood and the conception of how a decent and honorable life should be lived.

Chomsky is a professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Nation Critiques President Obama's First Year in Office




Obama at One

This article appeared in the February 1, 2010 edition of The Nation.

Looking back at President Obama's first year in office, what do you think the high point has been? And what has been your sharpest moment of disappointment? On this occasion, that's what The Nation asked members of our community, and beyond. Now we want to know what you think. Share your take on Obama's highest and lowest moments in the form provided here .

President Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009, ignited the hopes of millions of Americans seeking real change. One year later, many progressives are worried that the Obama administration's commitment to change is not as strong as it should be. Some of his stalwart supporters feel anguish at what they see as a betrayal or delay of his campaign's promises, while many of his longtime critics feel vindicated in their initial skepticism. Other progressives, however, take stock of the advances that have been made in Washington and urge the left against making definitive pronouncements on his presidency so soon. Here at The Nation, Obama's politics and policies have been at the center of vigorous, persistent discussion and debate among our writers, editors and contributors. How one views Obama's first year is no doubt guided by one's political beliefs, but also by sensibility and intuition. On this occasion, we canvassed an array of opinions from our community--and beyond. We asked the simple question: Looking back at President Obama's first year in office, what do you think the high point has been? And what has been your sharpest moment of disappointment? The answers appear below... from:

Michael Tomasky
Glenn Greenwald
Chris Bowers
Adolph Reed Jr.
Hendrik Hertzberg
Marcia Angell, MD
Katherine Newman
Andrew Bacevich
Zbigniew Brzezinski
Ariel Dorfman
Antonio Gonzalez
Glenn C. Loury
Deepak Bhargava
Edith Childs
Eduardo Galeano
Krishnan Subrahmanian
Howard Zinn
Ellen Miller
Benjamin Jealous
Robert Caro
Randi Weingarten
Ilyse G. Hogue
James Carr
Gara LaMa


These statements and commentary by a wide array of progressive and Leftist activists, intellectuals, writers, pundits, scholars, and critics in the new issue of The Nation magazine is invaluable and a honest cross section of the impressive range of ideas, opinions, and critical assessments of President Obama, his administration, the government, the economy, domestic and foreign policy, the Courts, and the rest of us at the completion of Year One of the Obama Presidency...


Adolph Reed Jr. Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

In January 1996 I wrote the following about Barack Obama in my Village Voice column: "In Chicago, we've gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program--the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics."

In 2007 Matt Taibbi described him as "an ingeniously crafted human cipher, a man without race, ideology, geographic allegiances, or, indeed, sharp edges of any kind. You can't run against him on the issues because you can't even find him on the ideological spectrum."

In 2006 Ken Silverstein noted Obama's deep financial industry connections. Glen Ford, Paul Street and many others have stressed those and other disturbing connections, including his penchant for supporting more conservative Democratic candidates against more liberal ones.

Obama indicated no later than the summer of 2007 that he intended, if elected, to extend the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan.

The only surprise about his presidency is how many ersatz leftists cling to the fiction that he's anything other than a superficially articulate neoliberal Democrat in the Clinton mold and that his administration would act in any other way.
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Michael Tomasky Editor, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas
In straightforward policy terms, healthcare reform is the best thing Obama has done. Yes, expectations were raised for more, and the process was painful to watch, but the changes in this bill are greater than anything the Clintons tried to do, anything Al Gore ran on, anything John Kerry ran on, anything Howard Dean ran on, etc. It's a big, big, big deal. Assuming it passes.

The civil liberties area has been his worst. This is the one area in which the president's actions don't remotely match the candidate's promises. On everything else, whether you like the policies or not, he's doing pretty much what he said he would do (yes, even in Afghanistan).

In terms of style of governance, Obama has if anything over-learned some lessons of history: it was good that he didn't want to dictate a health bill to Congress, but he ceded too much authority; it was good that he didn't want to mollycoddle Israel, but he alienated even some friendly Kadima and Labour elements, etc. Those who pay too much attention to history are doomed to... well, maybe we'll see.

A difficult but good first year. His fate will be 80 percent dependent on the state of the economy. That's where the effort needs to go.
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Glenn Greenwald Writer, Salon

The overarching attribute of Obama's first year in office was his eagerness to accommodate the various permanent power factions that have long ruled Washington, and one can view both his high and low points through this prism.
His high point came in mid-April, when he announced he would declassify and release four memos from the Bush Office of Legal Counsel that authorized and graphically described torture techniques used by the CIA. He did so in the face of furious opposition from the intelligence community and with the knowledge that he would be accused of endangering our security. Release of those memos revitalized debate over Bush's torture regime and was an all-too-rare instance of courage and commitment to transparency from the new president. American presidents simply do not disseminate to the world memos detailing our national crimes committed in secret, but Obama did exactly that.

Obama's low point was when he got caught in August having secretly negotiated various deals with PhARMA over healthcare reform. Substantively, the deals banned what he long vowed he would institute--bulk price negotiations and drug reimportation. Worse, they were a blatant violation of his pledge to conduct all healthcare negotiations in public (even on C-SPAN), in order to prevent exactly this type of sleazy deal-making with industry interests. Massive giveaways to the most powerful corporations, effectuated in the dark, were what Obama most railed against as a candidate, and what he has repeatedly done as president.
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Chris Bowers Blogger,

The main hope for any administration is that it will take the American people's side in the fight against the antidemocratic corporatists who are picking our pockets. During 2009, Obama chose different sides in that fight at different times, forming the lowlights and highlights of his first year.

The most negative example came in mid-December, when Senate Democrats agreed to a Medicare buy-in for Americans aged 55-64 as the compromise of a compromise in the grand fight over a public health insurance option.

Joe Lieberman, who had proposed the idea himself only three months earlier, flipped and swore a filibuster. Later that same day, the White House pressured the Senate to take sides with Lieberman and the health insurance industry, getting the Medicare buy-in stripped from the bill.

However, in October, Obama's FCC appointees began to draw up regulations to ensure net neutrality after Congress refused to restrain telecoms from controlling speech on the Internet. In addition, in December, Obama's EPA began to draw up regulations to reduce emissions of the six most dangerous greenhouse gases, in the face of Senate inaction. These new regulations will bypass Congress and its corporate lobbyists.

Perhaps these are just glimmers of hope, but at least twice the Obama administration used its authority to circumvent a pro-plutocracy Congress. Those moments were the political highlights of 2009.
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Hendrik Hertzberg
Senior Editor and Staff Writer, The New Yorker

No-Drama Obama--remember him? Remember that admirable temperament, that ability to peer over the horizon, that poker player's cool? That chess player's sense of where the game will be several moves ahead? That matter-of-fact, unsentimental empathy? That serene immunity to the 24/7 cable/talk-radio/Internet hysteria machine? These qualities of mind and character, which I admired in candidate Obama, I still admire in President Obama. Perhaps that's why I don't see his first year in terms of high points and sharp disappointments. There have been some of each, of course, but he's still up on the bridge, holding a steady course in a violent storm, even as many of the rest of us are clutching the railings and puking over the side.

I seldom miss a chance to bitch and moan about the flaws of our wheezing, rusted-out, barely functioning electoral and governmental machinery. So I haven't been terribly surprised at how difficult it has proved for Obama to get his modest, moderately liberal program through Congress, especially the Senate. These difficulties are not his fault. Blaming him--accusing him of cowardice, of not having "balls," of being a corporate shill, etc.--is infantile. To the extent that the left component of the center-left is indulging in that sort of self-destructive, misdirected petulance--well, I guess that's my "sharpest disappointment" of this president's first year.
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Marcia Angell, MD Senior Lecturer, Harvard Medical School

President Obama's greatest success has been to show the rest of the world a new face of understanding and cooperation. Still, count me among those who are disappointed in his first year. He seems to lack the courage to push for the fundamental reforms necessary to deal with the enormous problems we face, and instead appeases the very forces that have gotten us into the mess. By appointing Geithner and Summers, for example, he ensured that Wall Street, but not Main Street, would be rescued. More dismaying, he extended Bush's policy of detaining certain terrorism suspects indefinitely, and he is well on his way to expandingthe self-destructive war in Afghanistan.

As for healthcare, my area of expertise, the reform bill Obama is cobbling together wrongly retains the central role of the private insurance companies and requires millions of people to buy their products at whatever price they charge. True, some of the industry's discriminatory practices would be outlawed, but if that adds to their costs, they can simply raise premiums. The pharmaceutical industry can also continue to charge whatever it likes. If the bill is fully implemented (which I doubt), it may restrain the growth of government health spending, which is all the CBO cares about, but it will surely increase inflation in the rest of the system. Obama knows that a single-payer system is the only way to provide universal care while controlling costs, but he was unwilling to throw his weight behind it. All he seems to want now is the political victory of getting a health bill passed--any bill, no matter how untenable.
My sharpest moment of disappointment came when the administration supported the prohibition against buying lower-priced drugs from Canada and Europe. During his campaign, Obama promised to end this absurd restriction, but now he's siding with the pharmaceutical industry.

It's not enough to understand what needs to be done; the president has to be willing to fight for it and, yes, take political risks.
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Katherine Newman Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University

For progressives who supported John Edwards--before his personal implosion--the first year of Obama's presidency has been, more or less, what we expected. The symbolic victory of our first African-American presidency gave way to disappointment over his centrism, which comes as no great surprise, since Obama never advertised himself as a man of the left. And indeed, he isn't.

Accordingly, we should not be surprised that Obama did not bring to heel the Bush administration's Great Giveaway to the nation's banking sector. This is a travesty of the highest order, a betrayal of millions of taxpayers whose savings have been swallowed by those well-heeled Wall Street tycoons busily doing "the Lord's work." Thousands have seen their savings go up in smoke, their homes fall into foreclosure and their jobs evaporate, only to witness the spectacle of stratospheric year-end bankers' bonuses. Efforts to bring the wildcat financial industry back under strict regulatory control appear to have taken a back seat to the "needs" of the industry to retain the best and the brightest. Why not let them go job hunting on their spectacular record of institutional collapse?

On the plus side of the equation, and with a nod once again to the erstwhile Mr. Edwards, we have to count the deeply flawed but nonetheless historic healthcare bill. It isno panacea and may even drag the Democrats down if its benefits do not kick in before 2014. But the extension of health insurance to millions who were previously left ontheir own is a social policy victory.
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Andrew Bacevich Professor of International Relations, Boston University

As a conservative who voted for Obama, I hoped his election would signal a clear repudiation of his predecessor's reckless and ill-advised approach to national security policy. A clear break from the past just might create the space for a principled debate about the proper direction of US policy after the cold war, after 9/11 and after the passing of the neoconservative moment. Out of that debate might come a more prudent and realistic appreciation of the capabilities and limitations of military power. Washington might wean itself from its infatuation with war--at least so I fancied. This has turned out to be a great illusion. Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan indicates that he will not break with the existing national security consensus. The candidate who promised to "change the way Washington works" has become Washington's captive. Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009, was truly a great day, for all sorts of reasons. But it's been all downhill since then.
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Zbigniew Brzezinski
Former National Security Adviser

I think Obama's greatest moment was his speech rejecting the "war on terror" as an excessive and dangerous way of responding to the kind of terrorism that has been directed at the United States, because it was increasingly pitting the United States against the entire Islamic world. I think that was a wise course of action, I think it was a wise speech, I thought it was a wise redefinition of America's foreign policy. And the disappointment doesn't come with a single moment. I think it comes with the fact that his efforts to get the healthcare plan adopted have consumed so much of his time that he has slowed down his efforts to change American foreign policy.
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Ariel Dorfman
Chilean-American Author

Surely, even if there were no conditions for deep, radical transformations, we could have done better. I am most disappointed, in foreign policy, not by Afghanistan (I expected a surge of sorts, no matter how disastrous) but by the woeful mishandling of the Honduras coup, a botched chance to ensure that such adventures were a thing of the past. The best, internationally: Iran has not been bombed (yet!), the interceptor missiles in Poland were canceled, the radar in the Czech Republic was not deployed. And Obama's speech in Cairo was inspirational. Words still matter!

Nationally, his highest points may be the rejection of the F-22 bomber, his energy initiatives and all the people (not enough, but each of them is important) who are working because of the stimulus. I was distressed by how easily Van Jones was sacrificed, not only because we need wonderful men like him in the White House but because it is symptomatic of a lack of leadership and fighting spirit on far too many issues--healthcare being perhaps the most salient. Finally: I sent an open letter to Obama (through Amnesty International) asking that those who ordered torture in the name of America be brought to justice--and there has been, up till now, no reply. Lack of words also matter!
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Antonio Gonzalez President, William C. Velasquez Institute

Naming the first Latina/o to the Supreme Court was definitely the highlight of Barack Obama's first year in office. Both symbolically and substantively meaningful, Justice Sonia Sotomayor's appointment will reverberate for years to come in the consciousness of Latinas and Latinos, who have long yearned for that all too rare commodity in American society--respect. Furthermore, and perhaps more important, Justice Sotomayor will add a common-sense, ethnically aware perspective to the "out of touch" highest court in the land. An equally obvious choice for lowlight of Obama's
first year is his continued delay of a push for justice for 12 million undocumented "indentured servants" in our midst. Having committed to immigration reform that "included legalization" in Obama's first hundred days, the administration shifted that promise to "first year" and now to the spring of 2010. But to repeat the well-known civil rights-era slogan, "Justice delayed is justice denied."

Even the most loyal of Latino Democratic leaders know that facing Latino voters empty-handed on this priority issue in November is a risky proposition.
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Glenn C. Loury Professor of the Social Sciences, Brown University

From where I sit, the high point of President Obama's young administration was its inauguration. Much seemed possible on that glorious day, but it has been downhill since. Hope, it would appear, is more easily inspired than it is justified. And those eloquent speeches about change during Obama's historic and euphoric campaign look now to have been precisely what the candidate's detractors said they were--just words.

Specifically, my hope had been that elevating a progressive African-American Democrat to the nation's highest office would do two things: help to bring about an effective engagement with America's unresolved problems of racial inequality, and begin to reverse our headlong march toward a Hundred Years' War with radical Islam. I did not expect these things to happen overnight, but I did expect to see movement in this direction. This administration has shown scant inclination to do either, which is disappointment enough. But worse--far worse--is the likelihood that Obama's failure even to attempt such changes will discredit the very idea that these are worthy objectives for any Democrat.

Obama has said little of substance about racial inequality since moving into the Oval Office, and what he has said leaves much to be desired. His speech to the NAACP convention was a rehash of his by now familiar "family values" homily. His comments on the arrest last summer of a black Harvard professor were shockingly inept. Our black president seems eager to address the American public with passion about the race issue when his "friend" has been mistreated by the police, but not if it means stressing policy reforms that might keep tens of thousands of troubled black men out of prison. As for the new American militarism, Obama has not really changed the direction in which we are headed. Indeed, and ironically, his speech in Oslo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize attempted to justify American military hegemony as the necessary precondition of global security and prosperity in the second half of the twentieth century. His conduct of the "war on terror" and, most distressing, his escalation of our involvement in Afghanistan's civil war is eerily reminiscent of the approach of his immediate predecessor. This is not change of any kind, let alone of the kind that we can believe in.
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Deepak Bhargava
Executive Director, Center for Community Change

The healthcare bill is, for all its flaws, a momentous accomplishment. It is the first major expansion of the federal safetynet since the 1960s, and not only extends coverage to more than 30 million Americans but reverses the conservative string of successes in shrinking the role of government. In light of the economic crisis, President Obama had an easy excuse not to pursue a grand healthcare agenda. Indeed, reports are that some of his close advisers told him to play small ball; that he ignored their advice is a credit to his leadership. Though I wish the president had fought harder for key progressive priorities, holding him solely to account for the realities of the Senate (and a closely divided country) is to forget that he is a president, not a magician. Progressives and community organizers can be proud of the role we played. Had we not outmatched the tea-baggers in our advocacy, and pushed hard for the public option, we would have ended up with a thin gruel or perhaps nothing at all.

On the downside, the president has put together an economic team that has delivered for Wall Street but not for hurting communities. Their caution in light of the unfolding unemployment crisis has created the conditions for a right-wing populism that could be the undoing of a progressive agenda for a generation. Unless we force Washington to reverse course and pursue a bold full-employment agenda, the window for big change could close very quickly. The president's odd decision to demobilize his base in 2009 in favor of an insider approach to governance was a colossal mistake, and underlines the critical role for independent movements to create political space.
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Edith Childs
County Councilwoman, Greenwood, South Carolina

My greatest moment of excitement was when Obama was given the oath to be the president, not just the black president but the president. He's not just some people's president but president of all of us, commander-in-chief of all of us.
My low moment has been the stimulus. In South Carolina, the money did not get down as far as it should have gotten. We are thankful for what we did get, but it is not as much as I thought we should have gotten. I was hoping we could have done better job-wise. I still have not, will not, give up on him as president, because I know he came into a lot of challenges from the outset, and it's going to take him a while to correct much of what was there when he became president. I still believe that we're going to get through it. And it's not going to take him alone. It's going to take his staff, and the House and the Senate working with him, as well as people down on the state and local level. As I told President Obama during the campaign, we all be "Fired Up and Ready to Go." We're going to work together and do what we have to do to move forward. And that will be what will get us through this recession.
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Eduardo Galeano

The highest points have been his incarnation of the fight against racism, still alive after the long battle for civil rights and his plan for healthcare reform.
The sharpest disappointments:

§ Guantánamo, a universal disgrace
§ Afghanistan, a poisoned chalice, accepted and celebrated
§ His raising of the war budget, still called, who knows why, the defense budget
§ His nonanswer to the climate and yes-man answer to Wall Street, a contradiction captured perfectly on a poster outside the Copenhagen conference: "If the climate were a bank, it would be saved"
§ His green light to the authors of the military coup
in Honduras, betraying Latin hopes for change after
a century and a half of US-fabricated coups against democracy in the name of democracy
§ His recent speeches praising war, hymns to the ongoing butcheries for oil or the sacred cause of racketeer governments, so utterly divorced from the lively words that put him where he now sitsI don't know. Perhaps Barack Obama is a prisoner. The most powerful prisoner in the world. And perhaps he cannot notice it. So many people are in jail.
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Krishnan Subrahmanian Former Field Staff, Obama for America

As a medical student, I am most thrilled that health insurance reform is closer to being a reality now than at any point in generations. When the House announced that it had passed a bill, it was an emotional moment as I began to think of the many people on the campaign who told horror stories about their experience with health insurance. I thought of the young mother of two who, lacking health insurance, ignored a pestering stomachache until it presented as a ten-inch tumor. The end of discrimination against pre-existing conditions and the insidious process of rescission is nearly at hand. Reform would expand coverage to include 94 percent of Americans.

This reform is not perfect, and I am sure improvements can and will be made. Current proposals lack a public option, and I am skeptical that pilot programs and comparative effectiveness research alone will yield necessary reductions in healthcare expenditures. Despite imperfections, the president and his team have kept the complicated and unglamorous topic of health insurance reform at the forefront of public discussion and made monumental reform a real possibility.

Disappointment struck me most at a moment that should have been joyful: the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama in December, just days after he announced troop escalation in Afghanistan. This paradox highlights the great gulf between the idealism of politics and the reality of government. Just as we had unyielding faith in the campaign, I hope Obama is right on Afghanistan. I hope that 30,000 additional troops can ensure the safety and security of Afghans and Americans. I fear the consequences of his being wrong--for Afghans, for Americans and for our brave men and women in uniform.

I was saddened because the symbol of the peace prize represents for me unambiguous good without the burdens of being politically correct or viable. It is an award of ideals. The presidency is an office of problem solving and pragmatism. Watching great ideals settle into the compromise of legislation and governance is a sobering reminder that Obama is no longer a hopeful symbol for so many of us but someone with an incredibly difficult job before him.
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Howard Zinn Historian

I' ve been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama's rhetoric; I don't see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.
As far as disappointments, I wasn't terribly disappointed because I didn't expect that much. I expected him to be a traditional Democratic president. On foreign policy, that's hardly any different from a Republican--as nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike. So in that sense, there's no expectation and no disappointment. On domestic policy, traditionally Democratic presidents are more reformist, closer to the labor movement, more willing to pass legislation on behalf of ordinary people--and that's been true of Obama. But Democratic reforms have also been limited, cautious. Obama's no exception. On healthcare, for example, he starts out with a compromise, and when you start out with a compromise, you end with a compromise of a compromise, which is where we are now. I thought that in the area of constitutional rights he would be better than he has been. That's the greatest disappointment, because Obama went to Harvard Law School and is presumably dedicated to constitutional rights. But he becomes president, and he's not making any significant step away from Bush policies. Sure, he keeps talking about closing Guantánamo, but he still treats the prisoners there as "suspected terrorists." They have not been tried and have not been found guilty. So when Obama proposes taking people out of Guantánamo and putting them into other prisons, he's not advancing the cause of constitutional rights very far. And then he's gone into court arguing for preventive detention, and he's continued the policy of sending suspects to countries where they very well may be tortured.

I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president--unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.
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Ellen Miller Executive Director, Sunlight Foundation

The president has established a new, very high standard regarding the use of technology for greater government transparency. He set a high-water mark on his second day in office, and now his early pledge has been followed by the Open Government Directive. It represents a fundamental shift in government's role in making information public, reversing decades during which government held its information close and conducted its policy-making almost entirely behind closed doors. The directive orders each cabinet-level agency to create plans and protocols for the release of government data online in tech- and citizen-friendly formats. It also charges the agencies to begin making data sets available to the public within a short period of time. Already the administration has established data clearinghouses such as and and dramatically strengthened lobbyist disclosure of contacts with the executive branch. There are positive harbingers.

But the president hasn't invested himself personally in the fight. And it will take his involvement to truly turn the culture of secrecy around. If this unfolds, it has the potential to dramatically alter the way Americans interact with their government. It can break the chokehold that insiders have on Washington, as information is put directly into the hands of citizens.

The administration clearly understands that "public information" means that it's online. This can mean nothing else in the twenty-first century. Now it's our job to hold the administration to its promises.
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Benjamin Jealous President, NAACP

Barack Obama came to Washington riding a wave of movement activity that had been building for many years. It culminated in his successful insurgent primary battles and presidential campaign. The power of that surge has carried our nation forward on many fronts, including: stemming massive job losses, increasing women's ability to ensure fair treatment in the workplace, rebuilding the Justice Department's ability to protect Americans' basic individual rights and setting the stage for what appears to be the imminent passage of major healthcare reform.

The greatest victory of Obama's first year, in other words, occurred months before it began. It happened when he decided to stitch together the dreams of many stripes of American idealists into one powerful force for change.

The greatest failure of his administration's first year rests in the hands of all of us who are committed to manifesting our nation's dream of liberty and justice for all. In too many instances in the past twelve months we have powered down, left the field for the bleachers and chosen to play armchair pundit rather than continue leading.

Like every great wave, the one that brought change to Washington must be regenerated or it ebbs. More important, our communities' and families' fortunes, which in so many instances were already in perilous condition, will ebb with it. Real change emerges from the collective power of a robust and inspired movement. 2010 must be the year we begin to fight at scale again.
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Robert Caro Author

Instead of a high point or a low point, how about a too-early-to-tell point? This is where I think we are during the first year of a four- or eight-year presidency.
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Randi Weingarten President, American Federation of Teachers

What stands out in the president's first year is his tremendous leadership on the economy. While there is still a long way to go, his actions helped put us on the right track. From the start, he recognized the need to act quickly to save and create jobs. That's why he worked with Congress to enact the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided an infusion of funds into state budgets, thereby helping states avert draconian cuts in education, law enforcement, healthcare and other critical services. Further, by investing ARRA funds in our schools, the president helped protect a generation of young Americans from the harmful effects of disastrous school-budget cuts.

I haven't agreed with every action of the administration this year; no doubt, even among allies there will always be disagreements on aspects of policy. Through it all, though, we'll continue to respect this president because of his stewardship of the economy, his tangible support for public education and the respect he has shown us--even when we disagree.
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Ilyse G. Hogue Campaign Director,

It's hard to separate 2009 from 2008, because MoveOn's staff and members never missed a beat after the election. Despite being exhausted, we--like millions of progressive Americans--recognized that the window for transformational change could be brief and that seizing this moment required redoubling our efforts. What amazes me most is the sense of individual and group claim that people had on this new government. Millions of those who turned 2008 into a referendum on our entire system of governance went on to demand accountability from bank CEOs and insurance industries. From directing outrage at bank CEOs to account for missing TARP funds to insisting that legislators address the grave need for real health reform instead of pandering to the insurance industry, the renewed sense that government must protect its citizens from corporate abuse and greed was visceral. And to a degree, it was successful in cutting through the political gamesmanship.

What disappoints is that all this collective effort simply has not been enough to overcome the unfettered corporate influence that has governed our country for so long, or to move our new president to reject incrementalism in favor of more bold progressive change. The systems that govern Washington politics are too deep-seated to be overturned by a single election or a single president--even one more inclined toward radical reform than this one. Despite the tidal wave of momentum demanding accountability and change, progress proves to be modest and gradual. While this frustrates, I am buoyed by the fact that, having tasted their ability to affect their individual circumstances, people haven't stopped fighting for what they believe is right. Our 5 million members are proof of that.
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James Carr Chief Operating Officer, National Community Reinvestment Coalition

President Barack Obama's election promised a fundamental policy shift away from the interests of America's wealthiest toward the needs of working families and historically disenfranchised communities. In his first year, Obama successfully steered the nation away from a second Great Depression. But the pursuit of fundamental change has not yet lived up to the inspirational pre-election rhetoric. The administration's reluctance to tackle adequately the foreclosure crisis that claimed 2.8 million additional homes in 2009 and will likely claim millions more in 2010 is disappointing.

Worse, however, is the reluctance to address economic challenges directly that are facing the most vulnerable communities and acknowledge the indisputable connection between race, injustice and economic outcomes. African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and other people of color are experiencing foreclosures and unemployment at alarmingly disproportionate rates. Yet people of color will represent more than half of the US population within thirty-five years. Targeting economic resources to communities most in need is not only just and humane; it is critical to the future competitiveness of America. Many argue that expectations for the president are unrealistically high. But candidate Obama set the bar, and those expectations sealed his victory. The question remains, Will he rise to the challenge of this tumultuous economic time for America?
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Gara LaMarche President, The Atlantic Philanthropies

The high points of the past year were not so much a moment as a steady series of them: seeing the country led by a gifted, progressive, eloquent, centered figure moving the ball forward each day on a range of huge, untended-to problems without allowing himself to be distracted too much by a virulent, nihilistic right or by elements of the left who seem not to have the stomach to fight their enemies for too long without turning fire on allies. The stimulus and coming healthcare bill represent massive advances for social welfare--something the right seems to understand better than we do, and we will pay a big price for that if we don't come to our senses and own our victories soon.

The disappointments have also been many. I don't believe many of us anticipated how fragile and fleeting the "transformational" moment might be, or how deeply sown the hostility to government would be, as a result of concentrated right-wing attacks over thirty years. Neither Hurricane Katrina or, it turns out, the financial meltdown, was enough to overcome it. Whatever the state of the "real" economy--which ought to be our primary focus, in human and political terms--the easing of the Wall Street crisis took the air out of the supposed Rooseveltian moment, and the president finds himself almost apologizing for each extension of government into a sick economy. If the president doesn't turn his considerable teaching talents toward making an overarching case for positive, strong, democratic government, and if progressives don't support and elevate that narrative, the next three years will be even tougher than the first.
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Looking back at President Obama's first year in office, what do you think the high point has been? And what has been your sharpest moment of disappointment? On this occasion, that's what The Nation asked members of our community, and beyond. Now we want to know what you think. Share your take on Obama's highest and lowest moments in the form provided.

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