Remembering Howard Zinn and His Antiwar Message Nearly a Decade Later

Photo Credit: Luke Henderson

It’s been nearly 10 years since the death of Air Force bombardier turned historian and activist Howard Zinn, whose antiwar rhetoric continues to influence the conversation of U.S. interventionism to this day. I was first introduced to Zinn through stumbling upon a copy of A Power Government’s Cannot Suppress, a title which caught my eye due to my already established views of minimal government and the ability of people to take control of their lives. What I ended up reading was not what I expected and opened my eyes to the truly horrifying history of the many wars and interventions committed the US.

Coming from a libertarian background, I was already familiar with Ron Paul’s views on noninterventionist foreign policy, but I never expected to have these cemented by a progressive. Zinn’s ability to reveal the personal and emotional side of history made his book almost uncomfortable to read at times as I felt a great weight in my chest learning of all the innocent casualties of the US bombings in the Middle East.

In the section titled Afghanistan, the author ponders whether the heartfelt reaction that Americans had to those citizens who lost their lives on 9/11 would have the same reaction when faced with the names and faces of innocents bombed by the US military.

"Most Americans are normally compassionate people, whose instincts go against war," he writes "but most who were seduced by early official assurances and who consoled themselves with words like ‘limited’ military action and ‘measured’ response. I think they, too, if confronted with the magnitude of the human suffering caused by US attacks, would have second thoughts."

Zinn proceeds to share snippets from news stories of those who were injured or died from bombings, but were clearly not terrorists. He recounts many children, those not dead were missing limbs and eyes or in comas, who had their houses destroyed after Sunday dinner, or perished sitting on their porches, and the many fathers and mothers who were now widowed or left their children orphans.

"I suggest that the history of bombing […] is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like ‘accident,’ ‘military targets,’ and ‘collateral damage," he concludes reminding of the multiple claims that "limited military action" is but a pipedream with the use of bombs.

Later in the book, he slaps the reader in the face with the bluntly titled Governments Lie which served to explain how so many Americans were fooled into supporting an invasion to find weapons of mass destruction when it was clear the UN that there was no evidence of them. The reason that the US media and population became so drawn into the wartime rhetoric, according to Zinn, was due to lack of "honesty history" in a citizens education.

He claims "[…] if we know some history, if we know how many times presidents have made similar declarations to the country and how they turned out to be lies, we will not be fooled," and then denotes a list of these declarations, from President Polk to President Clinton, that have indeed revealed to be false.

The overall message of A Power That Governments Cannot Suppress is to show the power of the citizenry to resist the lies of war infatuated government and using history as a means of resistance. It is the small actions of many people, as opposed to grand gestures, that make the true heroes of the nation.

I was in elementary school when my mother told me, in that tone that all mother’s have to let you know these words a serious, that the country had been attacked. Being so young, I wasn’t sure what to think, and confusion was my main emotion. The fact that someone could want to hurt people like that was too much to comprehend at that age.

My memory is surely faulty, but I remember our teachers talking a lot about that event and the overall feel was a support for the war to get those who had harmed American citizens. By high school, I was fed up with having troops overseas and just wanted it to end.

Now, it seems like any moment could be another declaration of the US entering a foreign country and I have a feeling that the same type of talk will begin to permeate the culture as when I was young. The time is now to heed the wisdom of Howard Zinn and to realize that the government is never going to war for the sake of freedom and humanity, and that it becomes the duty of each individual to complete any small task to halt it.

"Ultimately, protest literature should move people to think more broadly, to feel more deeply, begin to act, perhaps alone at first, but then with others, on the supposition that social change comes about through the combined and cumulative actions of many people, even if they do not know one another or are not aware of the other’s existence."

Since joining the Libertarian Party in 2016, Luke Henderson has been active in the liberty movement through journalism and political activism. Luke is an educator, composer of fine art and electronic music, and contributes to Being Libertarian, Think Liberty, the Libertarian Coalition and is a contributing author to Being Libertarian’s upcoming book Igniting Liberty: Voices For Freedom From Around The World.