I didn't read Howard Zinn's iconic "A People's History of the United States" until appallingly late in life; it was around 2003, the time that the United States invading another country for no particularly good reason both radicalized me and caused me to again search for the deeper meaning of just what the heck was going on in our republic. Zinn didn't have all the answers -- no single book could -- but the bottom line is that he wanted readers to re-think everything you thought you knew, from his epic riff on Christopher Columbus to Watergate (the book was originally published in 1980). It's a book I'd like to see every American read.
Zinn died yesterday at age 87 -- and it would be something of an injustice to remember him as just another writer. He was a fighter -- he fought for his country in the Army Air Force in World War II (where his role in bombing civilian targets shaped some of his later progressive thought) and he fought aggressively for civil rights at sit-ins and other protests in the Deep South. He saw the light on Vietnam and on Iraq before most people, and even before his death he was chiding President Obama to take a more aggressive stance. A lot of the people who comment here at Attytood probably strongly disagree with some of Zinn's underlying philosophy -- but that was the type of argument that Zinn would have relished. He believed that Americans should take to the streets for what they think is right. It is sad to lose him now, but we should be happy that this country had him for so long.