This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Howard Zinn, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2007).
1: If History Is to Be Creative. Writing history for Zinn is not “a neutral act. By writing I hope to awaken a great consciousness of racial injustice, sexual bias, class inequality, and national hubris” (11). “History can help our struggles. . . . History can tell how often governments have lied to us” (12). The “basic weakness” of governments is that they depend on public support for their legitimacy (13). “[W]e may be seeing the gradual disintegration of this administration, despite its outward confidence” (15). “Change in public 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 is our “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 the Seattle general strike of 1919 (25). Seattle 1999 protests showed “how fragile” the power of government is in the face of “organized, determined citizens” (25). Comparison with earlier movements (26-27). It was “a turning point in the history of movements of recent decades” because “the union movement was at the center. The issue of class—rich and poor, here and all over the globe—bound everyone together” (28). 4: Big Government. “Big government has been with the world for at least 500 years” (29; 29-33). “So let’s not hesitate to say: We want the government . . . to organize a system that gives free medical care to everyone . . . ‘Big government’ in itself is hardly the issue. The question is: Whom will it serve? Or rather, which class?” (34). 5: The Forbidden Word: Class. The U.S. political establishment is united in its refusal to entertain the concept of class interest, preferring the mystification of “the national interest” (35-36). Review of class in American history (37-40). “Pointing to class divisions in this country has always been dangerous” (41). “Since it imposes silence on these issues, our political system—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. Surprisingly receptive audience when Zinn spoke against war at a Memorial Day celebration at the Smithsonian [oddly enough, Zinn doesn’t give the year; unfortunately, this is true of all the essays in this volume] (43-47). 7: Learning from Hiroshima. The film “The English Patient” removed antiwar dialogue that was in the novel (49). “The bombing of Hiroshima remains sacred to the American Establishment” (49). This is due to the myth of American goodness and the presentation of American violence as defensive (50-51). Dropping the bomb was unnecessary (52-53). Gar Alperovitz, in The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, concluded that it was “a diplomatic weapon against the Soviet Union” (53; 53-54). The real motives for war are economic and imperial (54-55). 8: Unsung Heroes. Zinn defends himself from the charge of debunking needed heroes by citing alternative heroes: William Penn, John Woolman, John Ross, Osceola, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Emma Goldman, Helen Keller, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Joe DiMaggio, Toscanini, Fiorella LaGuardia, Sacco and Vanzetti, Philip Berrigan, Kathy Kelly, Cindy Sheehan, “[a]nd so many more” (61; 57-61). 9: Tennis on the Titanic. Political elections in America are like tennis games on the Titanic (63). “Hidden by the contest of the candidates are real issues of race, class, war, and peace, which the public is not supposed to think about” (63). What the HayesTilden election of 1876, so often referred to in the 2000 election imbroglio, really accomplished (63-65). Both Democrats and Republicans support corporate power, the interests of the rich, the growth of prisons, and militarism (66). 10: Killing People to “Send a Message.” Zinn likens 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. Belligerent response 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 possible because “we are kept ignorant of what the ‘war on terror’ means in human terms” (79; 77-90). 13: Pacifism and War. While not a pacifist in the sense of rejecting all use of violence, Zinn is a pacifist in opposing war per se on the grounds that it is, “by its nature, unfocused, indiscriminate, and, especially in our 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 on a very powerful logic. In war, the means— indiscriminate killing—are immediate and certain; the ends, however desirable, are distant and uncertain” (92). Alternatives to war: international police work, negotiations (92-94). We should address the two main problems: 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). The Pequot Massacre [which Zinn misdates at 1636; it took place on May 26, 1637] (98-99). American Indian massacres (99). Massacres of African Americans (10001). Massacres of workers (100-01). The Ludlow
Massacre of 1914 (101). The Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 (102). U.S. massacres committed overseas (102-03). The Attica Prison massacre (103). Police massacres (103). “When our government, our media, and our institutions of higher learning select certain events for remembering and ignore others, we have the responsibility to supply the missing information” (104). 15: Respecting the Holocaust. Rejecting the “uniqueness” argument, Zinn argues that “If the Holocaust is to have any meaning, we must transfer our anger to today’s brutalities. We must respect the memory of the Jewish Holocaust by refusing to allow atrocities to take place now. When Jews turn inward to concentrate on their own history and look away from the ordeal of others, they are, with terrible irony, doing exactly what the rest of the world did in allowing the genocide to happen” (107). To take a wider perspective is “not to diminish the experience of the Jewish Holocaust, but to enlarge upon it” (109). Not to do so would confer a sort of moral victory upon the Nazis (109). 16: Patriotism. “Patriotism in a democratic society cannot possibly be unquestioning support of the government, 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 Iraq and Afghanistan are not dying for their country; they are dying for their government. They are dying for Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld. And yes, they are dying for the greed of the oil cartels, for the expansion of American empire” (114-15). “It is the country that is primary—the people, the ideals of the sanctity of human life, and the promotion of liberty” (115). The contrary attitude was derided by Mark Twain as “monarchical patriotism” (115). The history of blacks, working people, American Indians, and women makes this clear (116-18). We should “expand the prevailing definition of patriotism” (119). 17: Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau’s opposition to the Mexican War (121-25). His “great” essay, “The Rights and Duties of the Individual in Relation to Government” (1847), which eventually came to be titled “Civil Disobedience” in 1866, four years after his death (125). Governments are “artificial creations” (126). Civil disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act in the 1850s (126-30). Thoreau understood that governments and media are often in collusion with injustice, as they are today (130-32). Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. read Thoreau, and Tolstoy (13336). Civil disobedience in the Vietnam War (136-37). Thoreau’s essay on violence and John Brown is “an expression of sympathy and admiration” (138-39). Brown is criticized for accepting killing, but governments are not (139-40). But Thoreau had a confidence that right would prevail (141). 18: Nationalism. While potentially benign in some cases, Zinn asks whether it is not “one of the great evils of our time, along with racism and religious hatred” (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, imperial and economic (146-50). 9/11 “intensified nationalist
superpatriotism,” which is being used in a similar way (150; 150-53). “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. We need to assert our allegiance to humanity as whole, to all living things, not to any one nation. We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history” (154). 19: Land Mines. Inspired by Dr. Gino Strada’s Green Parrots: A War Surgeon’s Diary (2005), an argument in favor of the campaign against land mines as a part of the abolition of war itself (157-61). 20: The Supreme Court. On Chief Justice John Roberts (163-64). “There is enormous hypocrisy surrounding the pious veneration of the Constitution and the ‘rule of law,’” because, as history shows, the Constitution is “infinitely flexible” (164; 164-66). While courts are important, “we cannot become dependent on the courts or on our political leadership. . . . They deflect 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 First Amendment has always been infringed upon in wartime in the U.S. (169-72). 22: Soldiers in Revolt. Review of the history of resistance within the military [mentions Suzanne Swift but not Ehren Watada!] (173-77). 23: The Coming End of the Iraq War. Argument, apparently written in the summer of 2006, that the Iraq war and occupation has already “begun” to end (17987). “I have no doubt that the reason so many Americans still support the war is that they remain largely ignorant of U.S. history” (183). 24: The Enemy Is War. War is not a natural or inevitable institution (189-90). It is maintained by propaganda and ideology (190-91). Reminiscences of WWII as a bombardier and hearing from a fellow airman that the war was imperialistic in nature (19194). “The abolition of war has become not only desirable but necessary,” but realization of this will only be effected by the people, not governments” (197; 195-97). 25: Governments Lie. A review of U.S. government lying, inspired by Colin Powell’s February 2006 U.N. presentation (199-205). 26: The Long War. The “Long War” is a mystification to protect an economic system that serves class and imperial interests representing “an economic system that is inherently corrupt” (211; 207-11). 27: Break-in for Peace. The Camden 28; Zinn was a defense witness at their trial, which led to their acquittal, and also a participant in a reunion of the principals in 2002 for a documentary film by Anthony Giacchino (213-19). 28: Philip Berrigan: Holy Outlaw. On Philip Berrigan, who died in 2002, as a defiant, unsung “hero” of our time (221-25). 29: Mississippi Freedom Summer. An introduction to Kathryn Emery’s People Make Movements: Lessons from Freedom Summer (2006), holding out the promise
of a future social movement and urging that education should encourage this (227-30). 30. Eugene V. Debs. Praise for the leader of the Socialist Party and charismatic antiwar figure (233-35). “The point of recalling all this is to remind us of the powerful appeal of the socialist idea to people alienated from the political system—as so many are today—and to increase awareness of the growing disparities in income and wealth” (235). What is important is not the word but “determination to hold up . . . ideas that are both bold and inviting” before the public (236). 31: Protest Literature. Protest literature informs readers (237-38), makes what is known more real (23839), breaks through barriers of rational thought by “creating bizarre and unreal situations” (240), and makes people aware their values are shared (241). 32: Film and History. “Saving Private Ryan” legitimates war (243-45). Reflections on documentary films (246-48). 33: Immigration Nation. Review of the history of anti-immigrant sentiment (249-54). “The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 gave the attorney general the power to detain any foreign-born person he declares a suspected terrorist. He doesn’t need to show proof; he merely needs to say the word. The act established that any such detained persons may be held indefinitely, with no burden of proof on the government and no hearing required. The act was passed with both Democratic and Republican support; only Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) voted against it” (254). Attacks on and widespread arrests of immigrants after 9/11 (254-56). 34: Sacco and Vanzetti. The case of Sacco and Vanzetti reveals the hypocrisy of the notions of the “rule of law” and equality before the law (257-66). “Yes, it was their anarchism, their love for humanity, which doomed them” (266).
35: The Optimism of Uncertainty. To avoid activist burn-out, take comfort in a pattern in history: “its utter unpredictability” (267; 267-69). And inspirational acts of individuals “give me hope” (269). “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 quietly become a power no government can suppress, a power that can transform the world” (270). And there is “fun and fulfillment” in the struggle (270). [Zinn’s memoir, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, closes with the identical sentences.] Credits and Permissions. (Six pieces were previously published as introductions or afterwords to other volumes.) Bibliography. 42 titles, mostly literary. Index. 19 pp. About the Author. Howard Zinn was born on Aug. 24, 1922, and grew up “in the immigrant slums of Brooklyn” (295). In 1943-1945 he flew combat missions in Europe for the U.S. Army Air Corps. He received his B.A. in 1951 from New York University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1952 and 1958, respectively. He taught for seven years at Spelman College (1956-1963; Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman were among his students) and for twenty-four years at Boston University (1964-1988). He has written about two dozen books. The first was La Guardia in Congress (1959), which won an Albert Beveridge Prize, and the most recent A People’s History of American Empire (2008), the best known A People’s History of the United States (1980; most recent revise edition 2003). Zinn has written three plays, Daughter of Venus (1985), Marx in Soho (1999), and Emma (2002). He lives in Newton, MA, near Boston, with his artist wife Roslyn, near their two children, Myla and Jeff, and five grandchildren.]