No sacred cows for historian Howard Zinn

Rick Carroll
Title: A Power Governments Cannot SuppressAuthor: Howard ZinnPublisher: City Lights BooksPrice: $16.95 (soft cover)

Author Howard Zinn was a combat veteran of World War II, which is probably why he can wield his literary sword so freely against war without caveats or loopholes.War is bad and unjustifiable in most every circumstance, Zinn argues, because it is “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.”Zinn, author of the landmark “A People’s History of the United States,” has never been known to follow the footsteps of conventional history, and he doesn’t in his most recent offering, “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.”A collection of 35 essays, Zinn’s book takes aim not only at the Bush administration, but also at the sacred cows in our history books – from John F. Kennedy to Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, none of America’s elite figures get a pass.

Whoever the president, their entrance into war was simply a strategy to keep them in office. Zinn writes: “Yet we can see in history a pattern of presidential behavior that placed personal ambition high above human life. The tapes of John F. Kennedy reveal him weighing withdrawal from Vietnam against the upcoming election.”Zinn believes that without a potent knowledge of history, Americans are vulnerable. Americans have become too comfortable with their schoolbook knowledge of history, Zinn argues, and his book will take any American reader out of that comfort zone.Zinn, a professor of history and political science, makes no apologies about his positions. As much as he goes against the grain of mainstream history, he challenges readers to ponder their past and not to passively accept what they have been taught.”A Power Governments Cannot Suppress” is an easy read and shines light on whom Zinn considers the real American heroes, including Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau and Cindy Sheehan. Those three alone were revolutionaries in their own right, but one needn’t be as loud as they were to make a difference, Zinn writes. “Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand heroic actions to participate in the process of change,” Zinn writes. “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can quietly become a power no government can suppress, a power that can transform the world.”

Zinn’s views of America’s future are dim, but they are tempered with a sense of hope that small steps of activism can go a long way toward shifting the nation’s course. Once finished, the reader may feel a little more depressed about our country’s future, but probably more enlightened as well.