January 28, 2010

Death of a Realist

As America’s eyes fixate on the death of legendary author J.D. Salinger, another legendary figure passed away in the shadows. Howard Zinn, historian and revolutionary, died of a heart attack last night in Santa Monica, California.

J.D. Salinger is an unquestionable giant in American literature and his death inevitably obscured Zinn's passing. Obviously, with Zinn's personal and political history, his death was low-key for more than one reason. Zinn was a triumph of realism, sometimes crossing the bonds of reality in his investigations, but refusing to accept the US political and historical narrative hypnotized in so many young American minds.

Zinn stayed real to his last 87-year old breathe, imploring the American people to wake up while expressing limited hope. Writing in The Nation on Obama at One:
“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.”
It’s tragic that Zinn was lost when he was needed most, right as Obama and his handlers contort US foreign policy back into the Neocon realm. We realists must increase our activity to fill his massive void.


  1. I have been going over some of Professor Zinn's writings today. He warned us many times. His words of wisdom and compassion will be missed. His shoes will be difficult to fill. But yes, all injustices must be exposed.

  2. http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/01/28-7

    This was most telling.

  3. I've read that story and especially enjoy Zinn's theory of redistributing the US defense budget to combat disease, hunger, and poverty. This is a fundamental element of our own counterinsurgency theories in various conflicts, but applied on the global scale.

    Honestly Zinn's death is our opportunity. When a commander like Zinn goes down we all move up a rank - that's what he wants. The realist army must continue to advance gradually but surely.