March 26, 2003

Howard Zinn Speaks at Siena College

"All war is about the children." - Zinn

Howard Zinn, Professor Emeritus of History at Boston College, spoke today at Siena College. A gentle, honest and unassuming man, Zinn possesses a charming sense of humour that is disarming. His insights into the historical context of what is presently happening in our world were thought-provoking.

The place was packed. There were quite a lot of high schools groups from all over the region - much youthful energy.

Zinn said a number of interesting things about 'Patriotism' - which was the topic that he was assigned to talk about when this event was conceived quite some time ago. He was always careful, in what he said, to distinguish clearly between feelings that one might have for the government, and feelings that one has for the country and its people - and how disagreement with the government does not necessarily reflect an absence of patriotism. In certain circumstance such disagreement might indeed constitute an act of patriotism, he said, citing relevant passages from the Declaration of Indepedence.

He also spoke of the need to broaden the SCOPE of the feelings on which positive patriotism is founded - feelings of solidarity with others, and compassion towards them - to include the peoples of other countries.

Interestingly, his discussion of patriotism led him to talk quite frankly about imperfections in the consitution, how it reflected classist and racist assumptions - and he quoted comments to this effect that were made by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on the occasion of the bicentennial.

He also talked about how our wars have always been fought by the working classes, and cited a long history (starting with the Revolutionary War) of broken promises that the government has made to its veterans of war. Sadly, he is probably right in his belief that helping the veterans of this war will most likely fall to those of who opposed the war, after all is said and done.

Zinn also spoke about children in a way that seemed to dovetail well with what what we, the Buddhist Peace Group, have been trying to do. All war, he said, was about the children. If we could just actually see the Iraqi children, meet them, we'd soon recognize that they are like our children - we'd realize that they have the same desires and needs as our children - and we would have no war.

In the question and answer period after his talk he was asked for his thoughts about how an individual might participate in the anti-war movement in such a way as to not create further polarization. His answer was simple, but profound: Talk about the war to everyone you know, everyone you bump into. Listen, with empathy, especially to those who disagree with you. Find the truth in what they say, and acknowledge it. In a genuine attempt to find or create common ground, offer them whatever information or insights that you may have which could bridge the gap between you and them.