Howard Zinn (1922 -2010) is best known for his book, A People’s History of the United States first published in 1980. In 2017 some congressman in the state of Arkansas proposed that all of Zinn’s books be banned from the public schools. The effort “fizzled.”
Meanwhile, in support of Zinn, the All-nonfiction reading group decided to read something by Zinn and since most of us had read A People’s History of the United States we chose “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress” (2006)
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
by Howard Zinn
2006/ 293 pages
Rating – 8.75 – / nonfiction politics and history
This is a collection of essays about different aspects of US history related to the then current war in Iraq and prior wars in Iran and Afghanistan, as well as other wars, war in general, freedoms and capitalism/socialism. The premise is that some book should write optimistically about the heroes of the fight for peace and freedom.
I write in order to illustrate the creative power of people struggling for a better world. People, when organized, have enormous power, more than any government. Our history runs deep with the stories of people who stand up, speak out, dig in, organize, connect, form networks of resistance, and alter the course of history.
I’m not a complete pacifist because I can’t imagine not fighting Hitler or the Civil War. I’d love to be a real socialist, but I fail to see where really large scale central planning of production and distribution has worked terribly well anywhere. That said, food, clothing, shelter, medical and educational needs should be provided for all the people in some way. And anarchism is simply pie-in-the-sky idealism, imo.
So for me, although Howard Zinn has a lot of really good and important things to say, I don’t agree with everything.
He points out the oft stated problems with going to war but offers no alternatives. He doesn’t approach either the Civil War or Hitler in terms of what we should have done instead. (I rather agree with him about WWI.)
We live in a post-Trump age. The glorious “people” of the United States, many without jobs or influence at all, stood up and proudly voted for Trump. I suppose we could also say that they stood up for him on the basis of his lies, but that’s not the whole story. These people truly are against immigration, scared of Muslims, and sincerely want to feel patriotic about making America great again – like it was in the 1950s – after WWII and before Civil Rights – when unions were strong because we had big factories, when women kept house and raised babies and ethnic groups knew their place.
It was the America First people who pushed Wilson to go to war in WWI. By the same token we should have just left Iran to its own devices? – (This is also pre-ISIS, a product of the wars in Afghanistan and Iran.)
Zinn’s goal (above) is worthy and he does address that even if he gets waylaid by more general issues. There are some chapters which are definitely well worth reading – Chapter 4 – “Big Government” is mainly history and fairly interesting although Zinn does cherry-pick the facts- but so does everyone and he’s bringing out information which is not regularly reported in school history books.
Chapter 8 deals with the original premise – “Unsung Heroes” – Chapter 17 deals with Henry David Thoreau and civil disobedience, 20, “The Supreme Court” and 21 “Civil Liberties During Wartime” are excellent.
Overall I feel like I’ve read it all before and come to believe that it’s irrelevant in a time when money is scarce and capitalism reigns and the populists have spoken. I know there is another side to my argument – that now is the time to stand up and do brave things because the majority do not go along with what is happening to schools and medical care and so on but – again, and he doesn’t really cover this – how?