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Howard Zinn - You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train
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117 of 127 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
This is a marvelous film about an amazing man. Depending, of course, on your point of view. Which is Zinn's point. In any case, if you agree with Zinn, you'll love the movie. If you don't, but have an open mind, you might be interested in his ideas. And if you're Bill O'Reilly, don't even bother. Please.

The film follows Zinn from his experiences as a bomber pilot in WWII, through the birth of modern American activism in Atlanta (where he was fired from Spelman College for encouraging students in non-violent activism), through the Vietnam war, and up to his current activities and ideas. It also contains a very nice section about his book "The People's History of the United States," which looks at American history from the point of view of the victims. AND, it is the only mention I have ever seen in film or television of the tragic Ludlow, Colorado massacre of the strikers by those staunch defenders of American democracy: the Pinkertons. That's right, the mine owners brought in their own private army of Pinkertons who burned the strikers' tent city in the middle of a Colorado winter and then shot the survivors.

This film reminds us of what moral indignation is all about and the importance of taking a stand against tyranny in all its forms. Bill O'Reilly will, of course, disagree.
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64 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2005
Format: DVD
As an undergraduate at Boston University in the 1980's I had the advantage to take two of Dr. Howard Zinn's courses. Unfortunately, as a somewhat naive student from a conservative midwestern upbringing I did not take full advantage or fully appreciate the opportunity of studying under Dr. Zinn. Today, I was quite pleased to see a documentary about this amazing, yet contravesial man.

Whether or not you agree with Dr. Zinn's politics, it cannot be denied (especially after watching this documentary) that his motives are genuine. Dr. Zinn is really fighting for a better and truer form of what he defines as justice. It may be easy to disagree with him (I certainly do not agree with all his ideas or actions), this documentary makes it impossible to disagree that he is a man who really cares about what he is fighting for.

The documentary begins with his meager upbringing and discusses that although as a shipbuilder he could have received a deferment from fighting in World War II, he enlisted believing that fighting facism in Europe was the right thing to do. However, some of the things he was called upon to do as a pilot forced him to ponder on what means can and should be used to achieve a just end. The documentary then depicts the start of his activism as a white teacher in a black college in Atlanta during the early days of the racial movement in the South. The documentary covers his life from those early days throughout his career.

Although the documentary is not what you could call balanced in that none of Dr. Zinn's opponents are interviewed, I do not find that as a fault. I do not think the purpose of this documentary was to be a completely balanced protrayal leaving it up to the viewer to make his or her own decision about Dr. Zinn; but instead the documentary is meant to be a heartfelt synopsis of a fascinating man.

From a filmaker's point of view, the documentary ceratainly works as well. It is well edited with loads of great old footage intertwined with the interviews. All-in-all, this is a documentary that works. Love or hate Dr. Zinn's politics, this documentary will still give the viewer new insight into his life and what drives him.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2007
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Sometimes I find the thoughts of Zinn's detractors to be at least as interesting as those of his admirers. Bernard Chapin's negative review was no exception. Chapin holds a world view that our militarists are constantly pushing in an attempt to rationalize their aggression; that is, "foul acts like murder, slavery, and wanton destruction are ubiquitous to humanity, and were committed by people all over the world since the beginning of time" (to quote Chapin's review of Pat Buchanan's "State of Emergency"). There is usually an element of truth to effective propaganda and, no doubt, the Nazis, Genghis Khan, Stalin, child abusers, rapists and others have resorted to similar rationalizations for their own "foul acts." Zinn, on the other hand,

resists the perception management efforts that make war easy. Instead, he's been a tireless advocate for the causes of peace and justice. He's been at the war protests, stood in the picket lines, lectured/written tirelessly, and he's supported groups like "Emergency" that sends doctors into war zones to try to stitch together the bodies torn apart by the "wanton destruction" of Western so-called Civilization.

Zinn himself has directly participated in that destruction. As a World War II bombadeer, he was part of a raid that pioneered the use of napalm. It was an act for which many would have sought some psychologically comforting justification. Zinn instead chose to be honest about the inexcusable barbarity of burning civilians alive, and dedicated himself to resisting the efforts of our warlords. One of his many insights that undercut the narratives of our military establishment is this bit of good news that appears towards the end of the film, Zinn is quoted as saying, "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."

It's this reminder, that wanton kindness is just as much a part of our nature as anything else, that is the most subversive message of Zinn's work. It also is the teaching of the Dalai Lama, our mothers, and other people very much worth listening to.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I first became aware of Howard Zinn when a client left a copy of his "A People's History of the United States" as a reference for a paper I was helping him write: I was astounded and moved. I got my own copy of the history and "The Zinn Papers." I saw that last few minutes of "Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" on the Sundance Network and getting it became paramount. The video made me remember Zinn: this white guy that was part of the Civil Rights and Anti Vietnam War movements. The pieces of the puzzle were placed. Howard Zinn is more important to America than has been acknowledged. His history is essential. To me he equals Franz Fanon in explaining how people really make history, and how badly history has been taught in U.S. schools, and how badly we have been led. Zinn qualifies as a philosopher. Zinn's history will scare many who have bought into white supremacy history. Serious history buffs should have his video and his history. It's a wonderful reference and a truth that must be told.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2005
Format: DVD
When puff pastries like Sean Hannity say to the thoughtless hawk guests who people his infotainment circus: "You're a Great American" he is completely pathetic. Although Sean and his ilk would howl, a true Great American among us is Howard Zinn who devotes his life to speaking the truth no matter what.

This documentary bio is a great starting point for learning about the man and his life. He is a modern day Wise Man who has really been in the trenches and speaks from experience about peace, social justice and the politics of power. The doc makes good use of historical footage and although it is fairly standard in its appproach it is well worth watching.

Zinn makes a strong Prophet-like presence in other films that are all on Amazon like "Rush To War," "Liberty Bound" , the very creative "Axis Of Evil" and my favorite "USA The Movie" in which Zinn's voice, filled with suffering for our sins, sums up the brutality of the act we are about to undertake just as we embark on the war in Iraq. As usual, he says it all.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2005
Format: DVD
Howard Zinn is an amazing figure. In this film, he appears to have inspired two generations of activists against war. Yes, this film is focused mainly on anti-war activism. His activism and writings cannot be separated, of course. I was so moved when he talked about war happening from leaders and profiteers, not from common people's human nature, which is the reason that in history there has been a necessity for propagandas and punishments from the elite to make common people go to war. Because of his own experience as a veteran in the Second World War, his argument about war is deeply insightful and moving.

As a citizen of South Korea which had a terrible war in human history and is still in ongoing tension with its northern counterpart by international Realpolitik, I feel that there should be more readership of Howard Zinn for global peace, instead of many academic elites talking about "freedom" and regime changes. When the latter talk about "freedom", it often seems to mean war. Are we living in an Orwellian world?

If we have ten Howard Zinns instead of many elitist "peace and strategy experts" in each country of the world, who have the same wisdom on human nature and are actively committed to the causes of peace and justice for people, there will be less possbility of another war in the near future.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Known mostly for his bestselling masterpiece, "A People's History of the United States," which recently sold its millionth copy, Howard Zinn is both historian and activist. This dvd captures the legend at his best, connecting with his audience. Having seen him speak live on three occasions, I feared that the film wouldn't capture his charisma, his passion. To the great fortune of all his fans, this dvd delivers!
If you felt empowered when reading Zinn, get the dvd. If you felt alive when you first saw him speak, get two; one for you and one for a lucky friend.

---Michael James D'Amato, author of "The Classroom"
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
For anyone who loves America, please watch this film about an extraordinary historian and activist. I remember when Howard Zinn was at Spellman here in the Atlanta in the 60s. He has always had the courage to speak out -- frequently when no one else did. As America once more goes to war -- this time for oil and George W. Bush's ego -- Dr. Zinn's voice should and must be heard.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2006
Format: DVD
"You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" is like a cross between "Manufacturing Consent" and "Dead Poets Society." It is smart, courageous, and inspiring.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2005
Format: DVD
Howard Zinn was the ideal candidate to write "A People's History of the United States". A brilliant but plainspoken populist, Zinn came from working class roots and has been the same kind of populist intellectual as the late Nobel Prize author John Steinbeck.

In the fascinating documentary "Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" narrated by Matt Damon, the eastern populist's life is chronicled with the focus on his efforts to achieve peace. He was part of a journey to North Vietnam during the peak of fighting and returned with important information that could have aided the peace effort to end the Vietnam War. Zinn and his colleagues sought a meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House. Had his effort not been spurned the opportunity would have been present to explore a peace settlement and save many lives to be lost in future skirmishes.

An important distinction can be drawn between Zinn and his current critics who proposed waging war in Iraq. Whereas Zinn's critics consist of individuals who successfully used influence to avoid military duty in Vietnam, Zinn fought with distinction in World War Two as a fighter pilot. One of the most heart-wrenching segments of this documentary arises when he speaks with sadness about having lost one of his best friends during that conflict.

The most important quote arising from a documentary filled with such gems arises when Zinn confronts the subject of war. He states, "If going to war is so popular then why is it that it's necessary to have a draft?"

Another important battle in which Zinn fought tenaciously was the civil rights movement. Refusing to back down he was dismissed from one university when he continued to support sit in demonstrations. When the cause is worth fighting for Zinn is there in spite of the consequences. His students rallied to his defense when the strident John Silber became president of Boston University and sought to have the popular instructor removed because of his populist and anti-war views. Once again Zinn never backed down and retained his position.

Zinn has currently joined the battle pertaining to outsourcing. He speaks out articulately, making a case for the American worker in the face of continuing efforts on the part of major corporations seeking to enhance their profit margins by relocating to Third World countries.

Some sit on the sidelines and advocate war. Howard Zinn has seen and experienced war's tragedy as a participant and continues valiantly pursuing peace.
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