If you follow politics and particularly like reading books about American politics with a historical perspective you’ve probably heard of Howard Zinn. Zinn is a longtime college professor, historian, and political scientist who has been writing books since the late 1950’s. Zinn certainly doesn’t take the traditional route of trying to be impartial in his way of documenting history. This entire book is basically a polemic on how America’s liberal rhetoric such as that espoused within the United States Constitution does not match the actual policies that are carried out by all three branches of our government. Zinn could easily be described by anyone as a pacifist, socialist, and an advocate of direct democracy presumably through initiative. Some would also say he’s a Marxist and an anarchist, but I’ll leave that for others to decide. Having been a teacher in the South during the 1960’s, and having also written a book on the organization SNCC or Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and having also participated in civil rights demonstrations, Zinn feels the need to weigh in on the lack of social harmony at the time during the 1960’s.
Zinn is highly critical of the foreign policy of the Truman-Nixon Administrations and goes on to say that our endeavors within the foreign arena have all been based on the need for power, profit, and all laced with contradiction. Zinn goes on to say that the only reason we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was to make sure the Russians did not get further involved in the war and thus want a piece of the rebuilding of Asia after the war, claiming that all we were concerned about was making money off the reconstruction. Zinn goes on to speculate about the public doubts that were expressed by scientists who developed the bomb like Leo Silzard, and about dropping the bomb on Japan. He also talks about how scientists like Robert Oppenheimer were misinformed by not being given the whole truth by the Truman Administration about the diplomatic situation on the ground.
Zinn then goes on to say that the Marshall Plan was a fraud because all we wanted there was more of an opportunity for foreign investors to be able to dominate the markets of Turkey and Greece. Frankly, I feel much of the evidence is so flimsy within the book that whatever points Zinn does make are nearly null and void. Zinn then goes on to what I believe is a misguide black and white overview of how we as Americans are no better then the dictators we disposed of if we as a country condone the use of force to overthrow governments such as in Guatemala or our intervention in Lebanon during the Eisenhower Administration. Zinn laments about in his judgment the United States government is a bunch of hypocrites for objecting to totalitarian and or communist regimes when they get brutal towards their subjects, but then when we go in and invade a country unprovoked to remove communists sometimes through very bloody means we tend to act like we are the great heroes of the world and the American people continue to go along with this folly every time.
Zinn’s harshest words for the American system in my view are left for our economic system of capitalism which seeks to have a profit motive. Zinn, as stated above is a socialist and his written the foreword to books such as “The Case for Socialism” by Alan Maass. Zinn is also a very big fan of former Socialist Party Presidential candidate Eugene Debs. Even though this is a topic Mr. Zinn is very passionate about as far as economic equality goes, I think the books lacks new and insightful data that you haven’t seen in books of a similar epoch, with this book being written in 1973.
Zinn then leaves no stone unturned as he proceeds to go after the American judicial system for what he views as inconsistency throughout the civil rights era when it comes to allowing peaceful protests or not allowing such demonstration to go on. In cases such as Cox V Louisiana (1965) or Shuttlesworth V. Birmingham (1965) where they ruled that a peaceful protest on a sidewalk should not have to move if they are not causing a ruckus while in Aderley V. Florida (1966) the court ruled that a peaceable assembly near a jail could not be held, yet in the same year in Edwards V. South Carolina the court ruled that children can sing the star spangled banner in protest without being convicted of a crime. Zinn sees these rulings a contradictory and he formulates his views well on this point, but I think he forgets that a good lawyer or in some cases a bad lawyer can make all the difference when arguing a case. Zinn also goes on to say the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were both a watered down document and it is shameful that they both didn’t go further in the need to extend liberty to African Americans. He is highly critical of the lack of speed in which the federal government enforced the famous Brown V. Board of Education (1954) decision which ended racial discrimination in public school and the overturned the previous precendent of the separate, but equal doctorine which was established with the Plessy V. Ferguson decision. Basically he labels all office holders as phonies who simply use African Americans as a pawn to draw votes from and pay occassional lip service to.
Despite the lack of concrete evidence when molding a viewpoint within the text I still recommend Mr. Howard Zinn’s “Postwar America: 1945-1971” If you’re a very fervent patriot who prefers a positive look at history this one will definitely get your bold boiling as Mr. Zinn bashes the American traditions, calling them no more then mindless rhetoric. Or if you like your history with a highly critical critique to it, this is definitely the book for you. Either way be sure to pick to this up at a library or wherever you can get your hands on it.