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Howard Zinn - A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (2007) - Synopsis

Howard Zinn - A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (2007) - Synopsis

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Published by Mark K. Jensen
A synopsis of Howard Zinn, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2007).
Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on April 28, 2008.
A synopsis of Howard Zinn, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2007).
Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on April 28, 2008.

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Published by: Mark K. Jensen on May 21, 2009
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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper XLVIApril 28, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Howard Zinn,
 A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
(San Francisco: CityLights Books, 2007).
1: If History Is to Be Creative.
Writing history forZinn is not “a neutral act. By writing I hope to awakena great consciousness of racial injustice, sexual bias,class inequality, and national hubris” (11). “Historycan help our struggles. . . . History can tell how oftengovernments have lied to us” (12). The “basicweakness” of governments is that they depend onpublic support for their legitimacy (13). “[W]e may beseeing the gradual disintegration of this administration,despite its outward confidence” (15). “Change inpublic consciousness starts with low-level discontent”(15). “Truth has a power of its own. Art has a power of its own” (16).
2: The Ultimate Betrayal.
The “seriously wounded”in the Iraq war (17-18). Not only the soldiers, but“[t]he people of the United States have been betrayed”(19). The rebellion of veterans in history (20-21). It isour “civic responsibility” to persuade other Americans“to measure Bush’s grandiose rhetoric about the‘spread of liberty’ against the historical record of American expansion” (22-23). Dalton Trumbo’s
 Johnny Got His Gun
(1938) (24).
3: Seattle: A Flash of the Possible.
Evokes theSeattle general strike of 1919 (25). Seattle 1999protests showed “how fragile” the power of government is in the face of “organized, determinedcitizens” (25). Comparison with earlier movements(26-27). It was “a turning point in the history of movements of recent decades” because “the unionmovement was at the center. The issue of class—richand poor, here and all over the globe—bound everyonetogether” (28).
4: Big Government.
“Big government has been withthe world for at least 500 years” (29; 29-33). “So let’snot hesitate to say: We want the government . . . toorganize a system that gives free medical care toeveryone . . . ‘Big government’ in itself is hardly theissue. The question is: Whom will it serve? Or rather,which class?” (34).
5: The Forbidden Word: Class.
The U.S. politicalestablishment is united in its refusal to entertain theconcept of class interest, preferring the mystification of “the national interest” (35-36). Review of class inAmerican history (37-40). “Pointing to class divisionsin this country has always been dangerous” (41).“Since it imposes silence on these issues, our politicalsystem—bipartisan in its coldness to human rights—cannot be respected. It can only be protested against,challenged, or . . . ‘altered or abolished.’” (42).
6: World War II: The Good War.
Surprisinglyreceptive audience when Zinn spoke against war at aMemorial Day celebration at the Smithsonian [oddlyenough, Zinn doesn’t give the year; unfortunately, thisis true of all the essays in this volume] (43-47).
7: Learning from Hiroshima.
The film “The EnglishPatient” removed antiwar dialogue that was in thenovel (49). “The bombing of Hiroshima remains sacredto the American Establishment” (49). This is due to themyth of American goodness and the presentation of American violence as defensive (50-51). Dropping thebomb was unnecessary (52-53). Gar Alperovitz, in
TheDecision to Use the Atomic Bomb
, concluded that itwas “a diplomatic weapon against the Soviet Union”(53; 53-54). The real motives for war are economicand imperial (54-55).
8: Unsung Heroes.
Zinn defends himself from thecharge of debunking needed heroes by citingalternative heroes: William Penn, John Woolman, JohnRoss, Osceola, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, EmmaGoldman, Helen Keller, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Joe DiMaggio, Toscanini, Fiorella LaGuardia, Sacco andVanzetti, Philip Berrigan, Kathy Kelly, Cindy Sheehan,“[a]nd so many more” (61; 57-61).
9: Tennis on the
Political elections inAmerica are like tennis games on the
(63).“Hidden by the contest of the candidates are realissues of race, class, war, and peace, which the publicis not supposed to think about” (63). What the Hayes- Tilden election of 1876, so often referred to in the 2000election imbroglio, really accomplished (63-65). BothDemocrats and Republicans support corporate power,the interests of the rich, the growth of prisons, andmilitarism (66).
10: Killing People to “Send a Message.”
Zinnlikens the U.S. Government to Timothy McVeigh, in that“both believe in killing people to ‘send a message’ (67;67-71).
11: The Double Horror of 9/11.
Belligerentresponse to 9/11 reflects “the old way of thinking”;“We need new ways of thinking” (73-75).
12: Afghanistan.
Rails against the bombing of Afghanistan and the killing of civilians, made possiblebecause “we are kept ignorant of what the ‘war onterror’ means in human terms” (79; 77-90).
13: Pacifism and War.
While not a pacifist in thesense of rejecting all use of violence, Zinn is a pacifistin opposing war
 per se
on the grounds that it is, “by itsnature, unfocused, indiscriminate, and, especially inour time when the technology is so murderous,inevitably involves the deaths of large numbers of people and the suffering of even more” (91).“Pacifism, which I define as a rejection of war, rests ona very powerful logic. In war, the means—indiscriminate killing—are immediate and certain; theends, however desirable, are distant and uncertain”(92). Alternatives to war: international police work,negotiations (92-94). We should address the two mainproblems: widespread misery in an age of vast wealth,and U.S. hegemony (94-95).
14: The Boston Massacre.
Boston Massacre, 1770(97-98). Columbus’s “Taino Massacre” (98). ThePequot Massacre [which Zinn misdates at 1636; it tookplace on May 26, 1637] (98-99). American Indianmassacres (99). Massacres of African Americans (100-01). Massacres of workers (100-01). The Ludlow
Massacre of 1914 (101). The Memorial Day Massacreof 1937 (102). U.S. massacres committed overseas(102-03). The Attica Prison massacre (103). Policemassacres (103). “When our government, our media,and our institutions of higher learning select certainevents for remembering and ignore others, we havethe responsibility to supply the missing information”(104).
15: Respecting the Holocaust.
Rejecting the“uniqueness” argument, Zinn argues that “If theHolocaust is to have any meaning, we must transferour anger to today’s brutalities. We must respect thememory of the Jewish Holocaust by refusing to allowatrocities to take place now. When Jews turn inward toconcentrate on their own history and look away fromthe ordeal of others, they are, with terrible irony, doingexactly what the rest of the world did in allowing thegenocide to happen” (107). To take a widerperspective is “not to diminish the experience of the Jewish Holocaust, but to enlarge upon it” (109). Not todo so would confer a sort of moral victory upon theNazis (109).
16: Patriotism.
“Patriotism in a democratic societycannot possibly be unquestioning support of thegovernment, not if we take seriously the principles of democracy as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, our founding document” (112).Identifying patriotism with obedience to government“has been disastrous for the American people” (114).“Today, the U.S. soldiers who are being killed in Iraqand Afghanistan are not dying for their country; theyare dying for their government. They are dying forCheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld. And yes, they are dyingfor the greed of the oil cartels, for the expansion of American empire” (114-15). “It is the country that isprimary—the people, the ideals of the sanctity of human life, and the promotion of liberty” (115). Thecontrary attitude was derided by Mark Twain as“monarchical patriotism” (115). The history of blacks,working people, American Indians, and women makesthis clear (116-18). We should “expand the prevailingdefinition of patriotism” (119).
17: Henry David Thoreau.
Thoreau’s opposition tothe Mexican War (121-25). His “great” essay, “TheRights and Duties of the Individual in Relation toGovernment” (1847), which eventually came to betitled “Civil Disobedience” in 1866, four years after hisdeath (125). Governments are “artificial creations”(126). Civil disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act inthe 1850s (126-30). Thoreau understood thatgovernments and media are often in collusion withinjustice, as they are today (130-32). Gandhi andMartin Luther King Jr. read Thoreau, and Tolstoy (133-36). Civil disobedience in the Vietnam War (136-37). Thoreau’s essay on violence and John Brown is “anexpression of sympathy and admiration” (138-39).Brown is criticized for accepting killing, butgovernments are not (139-40). But Thoreau had aconfidence that right would prevail (141).
18: Nationalism.
While potentially benign in somecases, Zinn asks whether it is not “one of the greatevils of our time, along with racism and religioushatred” (143). It is especially virulent when, as in U.S.history, it is “blessed by Providence” (144; 144-45). The “nation” is used to cover other interests, imperialand economic (146-50). 9/11 “intensified nationalistsuperpatriotism,” which is being used in a similar way(150; 150-53). “Surely, we must renounce nationalismand all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance,its anthems, its insistence in song that God must singleout America to be blessed. We need to assert ourallegiance to humanity as whole, to all living things,not to any one nation. We need to refute the idea thatour nation is different from, morally superior to, theother imperial powers of world history” (154).
19: Land Mines.
Inspired by Dr. Gino Strada’s
GreenParrots: A War Surgeon’s Diary 
(2005), an argument infavor of the campaign against land mines as a part of the abolition of war itself (157-61).
20: The Supreme Court.
On Chief Justice JohnRoberts (163-64). “There is enormous hypocrisysurrounding the pious veneration of the Constitutionand the ‘rule of law,’” because, as history shows, theConstitution is “infinitely flexible” (164; 164-66). Whilecourts are important, “we cannot become dependenton the courts or on our political leadership. . . . Theydeflect us from the most important job citizens have,which is to energize democracy by organizing,protesting, sharing information, and engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system” (167-68).
21: Civil Liberties in Wartime.
The FirstAmendment has always been infringed upon inwartime in the U.S. (169-72).
22: Soldiers in Revolt.
Review of the history of resistance within the military [mentions Suzanne Swiftbut not Ehren Watada!] (173-77).
23: The Coming End of the Iraq War.
Argument,apparently written in the summer of 2006, that the Iraqwar and occupation has already “begun” to end (179-87). “I have no doubt that the reason so manyAmericans still support the war is that they remainlargely ignorant of U.S. history” (183).
24: The Enemy Is War.
War is not a natural orinevitable institution (189-90). It is maintained bypropaganda and ideology (190-91). Reminiscences of WWII as a bombardier and hearing from a fellowairman that the war was imperialistic in nature (191-94). “The abolition of war has become not onlydesirable but necessary,” but realization of this willonly be effected by the people, not governments”(197; 195-97).
25: Governments Lie.
A review of U.S. governmentlying, inspired by Colin Powell’s February 2006 U.N.presentation (199-205).
26: The Long War.
The “Long War” is a mystificationto protect an economic system that serves class andimperial interests representing “an economic systemthat is inherently corrupt” (211; 207-11).
27: Break-in for Peace.
The Camden 28; Zinn was adefense witness at their trial, which led to theiracquittal, and also a participant in a reunion of theprincipals in 2002 for a documentary film by AnthonyGiacchino (213-19).
28: Philip Berrigan: Holy Outlaw.
On PhilipBerrigan, who died in 2002, as a defiant, unsung “hero”of our time (221-25).
29: Mississippi Freedom Summer.
An introductionto Kathryn Emery’s
People Make Movements: Lessonsfrom Freedom Summer 
(2006), holding out the promise

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