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.

12 thoughts on “Remembering Howard Zinn and His Antiwar Message Nearly a Decade Later”

  1. Luke, your anecdote about the teacher saying we had been attacked, I’m assuming that was sept.11,2001. May I share my anecdote on a similar topic? It was fall/winter 1991, sophomore team basketball practice at James bridger jr. high (I wasn’t good enough for JV and our team used the courts at the middle school). On the way in riding in my moms Astro minivan the radio was talking about our bombing started on Baghdad. I am realizing that our country is now at war. What does this mean? I can still remember a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was it fear? Concern? Something. I felt this way for days. But then all the adults in my life re assured me, no, everything is okay, nothing to worry aBout, etc. the words “we are finally getting over the funk of Vietnam” I still remember hearing on tv.

    Now we all see what a crock the Iraq war was. Our interventions there led to so many tragedies, but first in my mind is how we destroyed so many eastern Christians. These people lived under Islam for 14centuries and they had a place of security in Saddams Iraq. Same story in Assad’s Syria. Until we go in with our best friends the evil saudis on a regime change bender.

    Thanks for your column. I will check out Howard Zinn

  2. Zinn was America’s historian. He was the first one to acknowledge the experiences of the slaves, Indians, Wobblies, commies, queers, suffragettes, outlaws, wetbacks, smugglers, drag queens, anarchists and malcontents who truly made this country great, and we see him. Like the proud freaks of this country who he dared to celebrate, professor Zinn will not be forgotten.

    1. I must confess my ignorance. While I have heard the name Howard Zinn, I cannot actually remember reading anything by him. I apologize for my ignorance, but I will take some steps to alleviate that.

      1. A lot of Zinn’s critics complain that he’s “biased.” By which they mean that his work is up-front about its biases, while most historians try to hide their own and be falsely accepted as “objective.”

        1. Are you far enough north to get some frost this morning, or will you escape it? It looked like parts of northern Florida could actually see a freeze.

        2. I see you are up at 4:30 AM as usual. For me, it is approaching 3:00 AM, and I haven’t gone to bed.

          I understand your statement about perceived biases, it is my opinion, that everyone is biased to some degree. Certainly it’s better to be up front about it. Do you recommend the book Comrade describes?

          1. It’s been so long since I’ve read any Zinn that I can’t say whether I really recommend it or not. But I did find it interesting.

            One video alternative is Matt Damon’s “The People Speak,” based on Zinn’s work (and director by Zinn). Haven’t watched it, but I’ve heard it was decent.

  3. My 9/11 story isnt very interesting, but at the time of the 9/11 attack, I didn’t see it as a big deal. Bad things happen elsewhere in the world. Why was it shocking for something to happen here?

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