In Chapter 15 “Dying for the government,” Zinn challenges the conventional notion of patriotism. Too often, patriotism is interpreted as nationalism, or an unquestioning allegiance to our government. However, Zinn cites our Declaration of Independence, which states that the powers of government comes from the consent of the governed and explicitly bestows on the people the right to alter or abolish the government, when it fails its basic responsibilities. Loyalty to country and its basic principles (human rights and freedom for all) is the patriotism Zinn upholds.
In Chapter 18 “The Logic of Withdrawal,” Zinn points out that the cost of war and other military pursuits imposes an enormous burden on society. He asserts that this trade off would be more visible if our understanding of national security were broadened to include health-care availability, job security, freedom from excessive pollution, and the like. Zinn also calls for diverting some of our military spending to international humanitarian aid.
In Chapter 23 “Changing minds, one at a time,” Zinn urges us to persist in the task of educating the public. He cites the decline in support for the Vietnam War as evidence that getting information to people does, over time, change public opinion. He also warns that there will always be people whose minds are closed to new information and advises us to avoid wasting our time on those hard-core cases.
Chapter 27 “Are we politicians or citizens?” reminds me of the phrase “I am your leader, I am following you” used by the late Senator Paul Simon to describe many of our elected officials. Zinn argues that while politicians tend to be timid and worry about what is possible in the current political circumstances, we citizens must keep our focus on what is right and continue to work to transform our society accordingly.
In Chapter 29, Election madness, Zinn comments that voting is the easy part of citizenship. Just as Bread for the World is urging us to quickly share with President Obama our vision for his second term, Zinn urges his readers to work to influence elected officials. “Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.” (p. 208)
Review of The Historic Unfulfilled Promise, writings by Howard Zinn, (2012). BY MARY JOHNSON—Chair, Holland Bread Team.