In his 2002 autobiography You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Howard Zinn wrote:
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
There was nothing naive or sentimental about Zinn’s positions. He had seen firsthand the worst that humanity was capable of, and simply chose to confront it as a challenge rather than accept it as our final destiny.
In this excerpt from the 2004 documentary also called Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Zinn describes his experiences as an Air Force bombadier in World War II, which helped inspire his life’s work. The “great question of our time,” he later wrote, is “how to achieve justice with struggle, but without war.”
Howard Zinn’s legacy is the millions of people he has educated–and will continue to educate–through his personal example, his writings, and myriad projects based on his work. Here’s one of my recent favorites, an illustrated video on American empire.