Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (2004)
In these turbulent times, Howard Zinn is inspiring a new generation. This acclaimed film looks at the amazing life of the renowned historian, activist and author. Following his early days as a shipyard labor organizer and bombardier in World War II, Zinn became an academic rebel and leader of civil disobedience in a time of institutionalized racism and war. His influential writings shine light on and bring voice to factory workers, immigrant laborers, African Americans, Native Americans and the working poor.
Featuring rare archival materials and interviews with Zinn and colleagues such as Noam Chomsky, You Can't Be Neutral captures the essence of this extraordinary man who has been a catalyst for progressive change for more than 60 years.
Narrated by Matt Damon. Featuring music by Pearl Jam, Woody Guthrie & Billy Bragg!
In this galvanizing documentary, professor Howard Zinn recounts his life as a writer, educator, and leader in nonviolent social protest. His story is one of being in "the right place at the right time," from poor beginnings, working in shipyard unions, fighting in WWII as a bomber pilot, and then launching his academic career as one of the first white professors to teach at the historically black Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. He helped spark the civil rights protest there, and soon moved to Boston College where he became a key figure in organizing anti-Vietnam protests. The historical span of the film concludes with Zinn protesting the war on Iraq. Known as the author of the best-selling A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, Zinn is a charismatic, well-spoken man whose devotion to telling the truth about America--and working to set things right--is inspiring. Viewers may come away from this film ready to grab a picket sign and head off to the nearest rally. The documentary captures a year in Zinn's life, including his winning of the 2003 Prix des Amis du Monde diplomatique. Testimonials from the likes of Alice Walker (a student of Zinn's at Spelman) and Noam Chomsky put his contributions to the peace and civil rights movements in a broader perspective. Matt Damon narrates and the score includes songs by Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg, and Eddie Vedder.
Quote: "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... 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."
- Howard Zinn
Quotes on Zinn's work in this film:
Quote: "Sharp, incisive and articulate... An important political film that needs to be seen."
Quote: "In his life and work, in his dedication and courage and searing honesty, Howard Zinn has become a model and inspiration for those who seek justice and peace. His contributions are truly incomparable. It is no exaggeration to say he has changed the consciousness of a generation."
Quote: "He was the best teacher I had, certainly the funniest."
Quote: "Zinn is still a vigorous force of nature to be reckoned with; a model of defiance against the status quo or the past and the present. By telling the truth about our country... Howard frees future generations of Americans from recreating the same grevious errors of the past."
--Paul Lussier, Author, "The Last Refuge of Scoundrels"
review from imdb:
"Traditional American History textbooks describe the American Revolution as a glorious revolt against tyranny, and the resulting government as a beacon of democracy for the rest of the world. In Zinn's A People's History of the United States, he provides evidence that the revolution served the interests of an elite ruling class, and the resulting government was in many ways as tyrannical as the government it replaced.
By telling history from the point of view of the oppressed, Zinn has transformed the way history is taught in American classrooms. In this cinematic exploration of his life, it becomes clear that he has lived his life in accordance with his principles.
The movie makes excellent use of interviews with important leaders -- Alice Walker, Marian Wright Edelman, Tom Hayden, Daniel Berrigan and others -- to tell about Zinn's influence as a leader against Jim Crow laws in Georgia, as a primary leader of the Peace Movement during the Vietnam War, as a union activist at Boston University, and as a leader in the anti-War movement during the Iraqi conflict.
If you're not familiar with Zinn's writings, you will be inspired to read about him after watching this movie.
AVI File Details
Filesize.....: 701 MB (or 718,560 KB or 735,805,440 bytes)
Runtime......: 01:17:29 (139,318 fr)
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RIP, Howard Zinn..who was not only a thoughtful and intelligent man, but more importantly, a compassionate and moral human being who represents everything that is great about America. He demonstrated and taught that dissent is essential to democracy; he was a true revolutionary spirit, with an intelligence that was tempered with the morality and gentle spirit of humanism and compassion; he had lived long enough and seen enough to understand you can't be neutral on a moving train, that there isn't some false neutral, "centrist" position between right and wrong, between those with wealth and power and those without. Howard Zinn had the wisdom and knowledge of history, of political philosophy, political systems and power-structures, and the deep insight into human nature to see through the pervasive ideological doctrines and the "conventional truths" of the day and recognize the same patterns of human behavior, of elite behaviour, of power-structures and of the same repeated, tragic mistakes of history in current times. He understood this fundamental truism, which is of the vicious, predatory nature of every elite, in every epoch, in every society to always put their own interests first, to rationalize their dominance, exploitation and oppression of others, and to grind down the general population, the common man, the weak, the poor and the powerless, to dust, blood and bones in the pursuit of maximizing their own profits and wealth. In short, Zinn had the wisdom and knowledge of history and the deep insight into human nature to cut through the deception, hypocrisy, primal instincts, deep self-delusions, and rationalizations of greed and barbarism by elites and those at the top of the hierarchy that are at the core of current political and economic affairs, and of international affairs, and that have always characterized human affairs ever since we emerged from the unforgiving blood-tooth-and-nail biological mileu. Or to quote from another one of my favourite political writers, Chris Floyd:
Then again, there's nothing uniquely "American" about these criminal policies, and the hypocrisy that attends them. It's how elites have behaved from time immemorial, from the days of the apes: baring their teeth and pounding their chests, ruling through fear and violence, beating, biting, raping, killing--whatever it takes to maintain their perch at the top of the tree. They disguise their savagery--even from themselves--with masks of pomp and piety, with earnest protestations of their "good hearts," their nobility, their enlightenment, their altruism. But what moves them is the spirit of the beast, the blind gut-lust for dominance, the ape-remnants that live on in our brains. They're too weak, too stupefied with corruption to rise above this inherent bestiality.
Howard Zinn made us understand that history is written by the conquerers, not the conquered, by the dominant racial and economic class, not the ordinary, working people and common man on whose broken backs and battered bodies a society is built. To quote Karl Marx:
"in every epoch, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class."
This is true regardless of the prevalent ideological doctrines or of the current social, political and economic order, i.e., monarchy and feudalism in the pre-Enlightenment era, and in today's age, capitalism and representative "democracy". The same logic and truism of power applies not only within a society, country or state, but also in the international arena, where the countries, states and empires at the top of the hierarchy of world affairs control the levers of power (military, economic, political and media), and thus able to shape narratives and shape reality, and are able to rig the economic and political systems to serve their interests and maximize their wealth.
But despite the great injustices of this world and of the tragedy of the human condition that was, is, and always will be the oppression, domination and exploitation of the weak, the poor and the powerless by the strong, the wealthy and the powerful, Howard Zinn reminded us of "ultimate power", as he referred to it as, which was of the belief in the "moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, and patience" of people to eventually achieve justice without massive violence, and in the "courage and energy of the young, once their adventurous spirit is turned towards the ending of war rather than the waging of war, creation rather than destruction, and world friendlship rather than hatred of those on the other side of the national boundaries". To those who might scoff at these words and thoughts as being "naive", simplistic and idealistic nonsense, I would recommend you read Howard Zinn's book "Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology", from which I have picked the two quotes above, and which contains Howards Zinn's very well-thought out, highly informed, sophisticated and ultimately, yes, actually fairly realistic arguments in defense of his supposedly "idealistic" beliefs and values, and which every left leaning person should read so that you are able to argue for and defend your leftist or even liberal beliefs against conservative ones using the sophisticated, insightful, precise and well-informed arguments grounded in political philosophy and history (ideology of the American state, violence and human nature, Machiavellian realism and US foreign policy, law and justice, economic justice and the American class system, limitations and flaws with representative government, etc) that Howard Zinn presents in that book with clear language and unpretentious prose. I will close, appropriately, with some choice Howard Zinn quotes from the final chapter, "The Ultimate Power", of his book "Declarations of Independence":
To confront the fact of unpredictability leads to two important conclusions:
The first is that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned on the ground that it is hopeless, because of the apparent overwhelming power of those in the world who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to their power. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, and patience-whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa; peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vietnam; or workers and intellectuals in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. No cold calculation of the balance of power should deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.
The second is that in the face of the obvious unpredictability of social phenomena all of history's excuses for war and preparation for war- self-defense, national security, freedom, justice, and stopping aggression-can no longer be accepted. Massive violence, whether in war or internal upheaval, cannot be justified by any end, however noble, because no outcome is sure. Any humane and reasonable person must conclude that if the ends, however desirable, are uncertain, and the means are horrible and certain, those means must not be employed.
It is sad to see how, in so many countries, citizens have been led to war by the argument that it is necessary because there are tyrannies abroad, evil rulers, murderous juntas. But to make war is not to destroy the tyrants; it is to kill their subjects, their pawns, their conscripted soldiers, their subjugated civilians.
War is a class phenomenon. This has been an unbroken truth from ancient times to our own, when the victims of the Vietnam War turned out to be working-class Americans and Asian peasants. Preparations for war maintains swollen military bureaucracies, gives profits to corporations (and enough jobs to ordinary citizens to bring them along). And they give politicians special power, because fear of "the enemy" becomes the basis for entrusting policy to a handful of leaders, who feel bound (as we have seen so often) by no constitutional limits, no constraints of decency or commitment to truth.
Those of us who call for the repudiation of massive violence to solve human problems must sound utopian, romantic. So did those who demanded the end of slavery. But utopian ideas do become realistic at certain points in history, when the moral power of an idea mobilizes large numbers of people in its support. This may then be joined to the realization, by at least some of those in authority, that it would be realistic for them to change their policy, even perhaps share power with those they have long controlled.
Jan 28 2010, 12:57 UTC