I can't believe that my friend and mentor Howard Zinn is gone.
He was 87, born in August 24, 1922 in New York City. We all have to go at some time, but Howard's joie de vive seemed to place him in another category. His critical work was never done, and will never be done.
How fitting it was to his progressive perspective that Howard left us in Santa Monica, California. He was, per usual, on yet another speaking engagement. It was in Southern California where I called home for 8 years that I saw Howard on a number of occasions. One of our Orange County adventures in 2002 ended up in my book, Information War, and our last in-person exchange in November 2006 inspired my essay for Common Dreams that Howard Zinn should be the official People's Ambassador of the United States.
The figure skater Michelle Kwan had just been named public diplomacy ambassador representing sports and American values to the world. My response was the following:
I nominate someone who provides a face of the United States in the world that is decidedly politically incorrect. He may not have been the first person Dr. Rice or Karen Hughes thought of to help improve our image in the world. Actually, I'm sure he wasn't even on their Top 10 list. I'd like to think he is equally competent to Ms. Kwan to handle the ambassadorial duties. He holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University, is a WWII veteran, and his resume includes countless random and purposive acts of representing the oft-touted U.S. values of free speech, free press, and social justice. He's neither left nor right, but a radical (getting at the roots) truth-teller about why our national image remains checkered. Howard Zinn, author of the million-seller A People's History of the United States and You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, spoke in Orange County to an overflow crowd at Chapman University in Orange, California. I hadn't seen him since the last time he was in The OC. His speech led to several standing ovations, and I know he'd be a big hit overseas. He wouldn't teach figure skating, maybe citizen activism and dissent.
No surprise, I heard nothing back from Condoleezza Rice.
Howard wrote a very nice blurb for my book, The Arrogance of American Power, a critique of the Bush Administration's War on Terror and concomitant rise in anti-Americanism. The subtitle of the book, "What US Leaders are Doing Wrong and Why It's Our Duty to Dissent," was a direct tribute to Howard.
Just last month I spoke with Howard at his home in Auburndale, Massachusetts. The magazine editor of Guernica in New York City had contacted me about doing a piece on politics and propaganda, consent and dissent in the age of Obama.
There was no one else I wanted for my partner-in-crime on such a venture than my dear Howard. Howard agreed to do an interview with me and said that as soon as his promotional work for "The People Speak" ended, we'd start working on it.
I've known Howard since I first introduced myself to him at a speaking engagement at Worcester University in Massachusetts more than ten years ago. I told him about my forthcoming book, Propaganda, Inc., which was a critical take on my experience working for America's propaganda agency, the US Information Agency.
Howard was one of the sweetest and gentlest souls. He had a sparkle in his eyes, and to watch him talk to young people -- this octogenarian -- made me hope that my life at such an advanced age would still be so engaging.
He was also one of the funniest people I know. Right smack dab in the middle of some sharp criticism of the War on Terror, Howard would get that twinkle and say something so wry and clever that you couldn't help but be on his side.
I was always on Howard's side. And I'll never, ever stay neutral.