A Power Governments Cannot Suppress ~ by Howard Zinn

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,”  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,  want to feel hugely patriotic about making America great again.

It was the America First people who pushed Wilson to go to war.  We should have just left Iran to its own devices? – (This is also pre-ISIS,  a product of the wars in Afghanistan and Iran.)

Still,  his 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 that which is not regularly reported by 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?

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2 Responses to A Power Governments Cannot Suppress ~ by Howard Zinn

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    I’d never heard of Zinn, so this is interesting to me, but more than that I hear your heartfelt plea in the last paragraph. I’m not American, so I don’t get to vote, but we in Australia like the rest of the world have him in our lives now anyway.
    Two things really scare me about Trump. The obvious one is that his belligerence will start a nuclear war. Less obvious is that he will make the lives of ordinary Americans so much worse with his stupid economic policies and his divisiveness, that there will be a form of civil war within the country, fed by the undercurrents of unfairness like those in Europe in places like Greece post GFC No amount of wandering about in pink hats is going to stop armed uprisings of people who feel that their democracy has failed them.
    I don’t understand enough about the American political system to know how it works. But I can see that when it elects a man like Trump, that it needs urgent reform, and it needs massive numbers of people to demand that.


  2. I just hope that the American people will come to their collective senses and vote in some new Representatives in 2018 – then a new president in 2020. Our electoral college which selects the president votes by state – if the Democrats win in California then their 55 electoral college votes go to the Democrat. If Republicans win North Dakota then their 3 electoral college votes got to the Republican candidate. Sometimes it’s split so that a percentage of the electoral college votes go to each candidate. (This is up to the states.) If we did’t have it this way I think the candidates would only campaign in about 15 big cities and the whole rural areas would be out of luck. But many people say get rid of it.

    There’s a book called “A People’s History Of Australia Since 1788” by Verity Burgmann – it’s based on Howard Zinn. Published in 1988 but the original Zinn book was published in 1980 – republished ever since. 🙂


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