School officials are being asked to justify a recent speech given by peace activist Howard Zinn at Newton North High School in which he equated the U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The controversial historian and former Boston University professor stressed that the U.S. bombing raids aimed at toppling the Taliban and hunting down fugitive terror boss Osama bin Laden were killing children and innocent civilians.
``The terrorists of Sept. 11 did a horrible thing to us, so we do terrible things to the people of Afghanistan. That is immoral and puts us on the same level as a terrorist,'' Zinn was quoted as saying in a report in the school newspaper.
Parents questioned exposing young teens to Zinn's opinions.
``It's unbelievable what this guy did,'' said Tom Mountain, a parent of three Newton students who are not yet in high school. ``It's horrifying. He told these things to an entire school audience of kids 13 to 17 who don't know any better.''
Mountain said he has disagreed with Zinn for more than 20 years, dating back to the 1980s when Mountain was a student at Brandeis University rallying in support of Israel. Zinn was out of town and could not be reached for comment, according to his wife.
Jim Marini, Newton's associate superintendent for secondary schools, agreed that Zinn's views are ``radically different'' than those of most Americans and U.S. political leaders. Still, he defended the campus-run speakers program and said he had not received any complaints from parents.
``I think the schools bring in speakers who are not always non-controversial,'' said Marini. ``That's what happens in the schools. That's what happened in this case. That's part of what, I suppose, education is all about.''
Officials at Newton North could not be reached for comment. A message for Newton Mayor David Cohen, who sits on the School Committee, was not returned.
The school paper, Newtonite, said the speech was sponsored by the school's Human Rights Board as the first in a series of forums after Sept. 11.
In a ``packed Lesker Auditorium'' Zinn questioned the effectiveness of the bombing campaign.
``What happens if we do capture Osama bin Laden? Will we be safe then?'' he asked.
``The death of 6,000 New Yorkers is very real to us,'' the paper quoted Zinn. ``The death of thousands of Iraqi children is not. Until the death of children in other countries is as real to us as the death of our children, we will continue to have a real problem.''
Zinn warned the students that war ultimately curbs civil liberties in America.
``In a war situation there is always an attempt to suppress free speech,'' the school paper quoted Zinn. ``People who disagree with the war are looked at as unpatriotic, but in a democracy you must think for yourself about what is right and wrong and speak your mind.''
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