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154 Inspiring Quotes by Howard Zinn

  • Last updated Jul 27 2021

Welcome to our collection of quotes by Howard Zinn.

Wikipedia Summary for Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010) was an American historian, playwright, philosopher and socialist thinker. He was chair of the history and social sciences department at Spelman College, and a political science professor at Boston University. Zinn wrote over 20 books, including his best-selling and influential A People's History of the United States in 1980. In 2007, he published a version of it for younger readers, A Young People's History of the United States.

Zinn described himself as "something of an anarchist, something of a socialist. Maybe a democratic socialist." He wrote extensively about the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and labor history of the United States. His memoir, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (Beacon Press, 2002), was also the title of a 2004 documentary about Zinn's life and work. Zinn died of a heart attack in 2010, at age 87.


boy and cat in front of moon

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.

--Howard Zinn

Longer Version:

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem.






empty gray floor beside pool

Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.

--Howard Zinn







white sailboat on ocean

There has always been, and there is now, a profound conflict of interest between the people and the government of the United States.

--Howard Zinn

woman on seashore near island under blue sky

King's stress on love and nonviolence was powerfully effective in building a sympathetic following throughout the nation, among whites as well as blacks.

--Howard Zinn


black and white abstract illustration

Capitalism has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail for the middle classes.

--Howard Zinn


None

Being fired has some of the advantages of dying without its supreme disadvantages. People say extra-nice things about you, and you get to hear them.

--Howard Zinn

purple lavender flower

We all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.

--Howard Zinn



silhouette photography of person in gray sailing boat in the middle of body of water

Whatever we poor men may not have, we have free speech, and no one can take it from us.

--Howard Zinn

green leaf

I am an anarchist, and according to anarchist principles nation states become obstacles to a true humanistic globalization.

--Howard Zinn

girl and boy figurines

Surely, we must renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

--Howard Zinn

red moon at night

We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.

--Howard Zinn

time lapse photography of fire

Politics is pointless if it does nothing to enhance the beauty of our lives.

--Howard Zinn


green trees under white sky during daytime

Most wars, after all, present themselves as humanitarian endeavors to help people.

--Howard Zinn

woman carrying baby while walking

When Ralph Waldo Emerson visited Thoreau in jail and asked, 'What are you doing in there?' it was reported that Thoreau replied, 'What are you doing out there?'

--Howard Zinn


body of water during daytime

When people don't understand that the government doesn't have their interests in mind, they're more susceptible to go to war.

--Howard Zinn


jellyfish under water photo

The term 'just war' is an internal contradiction. War is inherently unjust, and the great challenge of our time is how to deal with evil, tyranny and oppression without killing huge numbers of people.

--Howard Zinn







coffee mug on top of tablecloth beside ashtray

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was about democracy, that democracy is not our government, our constitution, our legal structure. Too often they are enemies of democracy.

--Howard Zinn

2 people riding on boat during sunset

What we have is a more sophisticated form of imperialism, which is economic. But lurking in the background, always ready to go, is an armed force.

--Howard Zinn

time lapse photography body of water

I do take the threat of terrorism seriously. You cannot eliminate that threat or diminish that threat by bombing a country.

--Howard Zinn





None

Why do we have to be a military superpower? Why can't we be a humanitarian superpower?

--Howard Zinn



body of water under cloudy sky at night

War is terrorism, magnified a hundred times.

--Howard Zinn

Longer Version:

War is terrorism ... Terrorism is the willingness to kill large numbers of people for some presumably good cause. That's what terrorists are about.



white and blue sky during daytime

I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past's fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.

--Howard Zinn





gray elephant

But I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is to tell the truth.

--Howard Zinn


mixed paints in a plate

We must transfer our anger to the brutalities of our time.

--Howard Zinn



red strawberry fruit on red surface

In the United States today, the Declaration of Independence hangs on schoolroom walls, but foreign policy follows Machiavelli.

--Howard Zinn

calm body of water and mountain

You can't be neutral on a moving train.

--Howard Zinn

man riding on white horse on the hill

But by this time I was acutely conscious of the gap between law and justice. I knew that the letter of the law was not as important as who held the power in any real-life situation.

--Howard Zinn


bird's eye view of desert

The strike, the boycott, the refusal to serve, the ability to paralyze the functioning of a complex social structure-these remain potent weapons against the most fearsome state or corporate power.

--Howard Zinn



white and pink roses on pink wall

It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.

--Howard Zinn

person holding sunflower

The atmosphere of war brutalizes everyone involved, begets a fanaticism in which the original moral factor is buried at the bottom of a heap of atrocities committed by all sides.

--Howard Zinn

forest and body of water

Before God and high heaven, is there a law for one man which is not a law for every other man?

--Howard Zinn

sun

What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but "who is sitting in" -- and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.

--Howard Zinn


white flower graphic wallpaper

All you have to do, gentlemen, for you have the numbers, is to unite on one idea -- that the workingmen shall rule the country. What man makes, belongs to him, and the workingman made this country.

--Howard Zinn




None

Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.

--Howard Zinn

Longer Version:

Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it. It is a corrective to the sluggishness of "the proper channels," a way of breaking through passages blocked by tradition and prejudice. It is disruptive and troublesome, but it is a necessary disruption, a healthy troublesome.


two women making peace sign near the Golden Gate bridge

So long as atrocities remain remote, abstract, they will be tolerated, even by decent people.

--Howard Zinn

forest and body of water

When you fight a war against a tyrant, who do you kill? You kill the victims of the tyrant.

--Howard Zinn

photo of pine trees

If what your country is doing seems to you practically and morally wrong, is dissent the highest form of patriotism?

--Howard Zinn

snow mountains under nightsky

War itself is the enemy of the human race.

--Howard Zinn


black textile on white textile

The challenge remains. On the other side are formidable forces: money, political power, the major media. On our side are the people of the world and a power greater than money or weapons: the truth.

--Howard Zinn

white clouds and blue sky

Terrorism and war have something in common. They both involve the killing of innocent people to achieve what the killers believe is a good end.

--Howard Zinn


body of water under blue sky with stars

I had volunteered for the Air Force and was an enthusiastic bombardier. While dropping bombs on Europe, I generally didn't understand what I was doing.

--Howard Zinn


None

The Roman Empire came to an end, but the Roman people didn't come to an end, so I see the American Empire coming to an end just as other empires have come to an end.

--Howard Zinn


white clouds and blue sky during daytime

And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.

--Howard Zinn





person standing on top of mountain

If the gods had intended for people to vote, they would have given us candidates.

--Howard Zinn


white and blue building under clear sky

We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.

--Howard Zinn

orange and white stone fragment

The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface.

--Howard Zinn


black textile in close up photography

The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don't listen to it, you will never know what justice is.

--Howard Zinn




Arizona landscape

The resources of a university, of a college, should not be wasted in merely academic pursuits.

--Howard Zinn





Arizona landscape

In short, Beard said, the rich must, in their own interest, either control the government directly or control the laws by which government operates.

--Howard Zinn

old cowboy boots

Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.

--Howard Zinn

Longer Version:

Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can quietly become a power no government can suppress, a power than can transform the world.





purple flowers under sunny sky

There is civil disobedience against the military machine, protest against police brutality directed especially at people of color.

--Howard Zinn

red flower in shallow focus lens

It's a strange thing, we think that law brings order. Law doesn't. How do we know that law does not bring order? Look around us. We live under the rule of law. Notice how much order we have?

--Howard Zinn


gray concrete surface

The President of the United States isn't going to solve our problems. The problems are too big.

--Howard Zinn

sunset over hill

The future is an infinite succession of presents.

--Howard Zinn

Longer Version:

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.


silhouette of woman during sunset

When in all the nations of the world the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this.

--Howard Zinn

elephants on green grass field during daytime

How can you have a war on terrorism when war itself is terrorism?

--Howard Zinn

black bare tree under blue sky

If you want to end terrorism, you have to stop being terrorists.

--Howard Zinn



forest trees photograph

And always, as a way of drowning class resentment in a flood of slogans for national unity, there was patriotism.

--Howard Zinn

sunset

One certain effect of war is to diminish freedom of expression.

--Howard Zinn


leafless tree under gray sky

I suggest that if you know history, then you might not be so easily fooled by the government when it tells you you must go to war for this or that reason -that history is a protective armor against being misled.

--Howard Zinn


purple-petaled flowers

George Orwell said, "Whoever controls the past controls the future," by which he meant that history is incredibly important in shaping the world view of the next generation of people.

--Howard Zinn


red moon at night

People who have no respect for human life or for freedom or justice have taken over this beautiful country of ours. It will be up to the American people to take it back.

--Howard Zinn

four handheld gardening tools on rack

If you don't know history, it is as if you were born yesterday.

--Howard Zinn


gray concrete surface

In a two-party system, if both parties ignore public opinion, there is no place voters can turn.

--Howard Zinn




sunset

But remember, this power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power.

--Howard Zinn

clear wine glass with red wine

Historically, the most terrible things -- war, genocide, and slavery -- have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.

--Howard Zinn


snowy mountain

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.

--Howard Zinn

Longer Version:

To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. 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.



couple sitting near trees during golden hour

The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured.

--Howard Zinn

Longer Version:

The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured. Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change.





desert under blue skies

Yes, we're dreamers. We want it all. We want a peaceful world. We want an egalitarian world. We don't want war. We don't want capitalism. We want a decent society.

--Howard Zinn




white sand under white sky

There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.

--Howard Zinn


We wish you a perfect day!