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The same old new ideas

A Power Governments Cannot Suppress Howard Zinn City Lights: 294 pp., $16.95 paper

January 21, 2007|Marc Cooper | Marc Cooper, a contributing editor to the Nation and a columnist for L.A. Weekly, is a visiting professor of journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

This simplistic notion fails on two counts. Though Chileans and Vietnamese have undoubtedly suffered as a result of U.S. decisions, there's no instance of these or other foreign-policy victims ever mounting payback terrorist operations aimed at killing thousands of U.S. civilians. Second, in Zinn's view only the U.S. government has any real agency in the world. He offers not a single sentence to plumb the motivations of Al Qaeda or similar groups, other than their supposed indignation over our errant policies. That the middle-class, college-educated Saudi Arabian 9/11 hijackers might also be motivated by a Judeophobic, suicide-cultish interpretation of the Koran somehow doesn't compute.

Zinn's recipe for dealing with Al Qaeda is to have treated 9/11 as "horrific criminal acts" requiring not a military response but only intensive police work using "every device of intelligence and investigation." This will strike many astute readers as a rhetorical cop-out, carefully constructed to avoid even the possibility that military force against a fanatic and murderous enemy might be justified.

We need "new ways of thinking," Zinn writes. Indeed. But Zinn's way of thinking about our current circumstances are unsatisfying, if not just plain obsolete. He offers no substantial explanation of how we wound up in a face-off with rising Islam and even less of an idea of how we are to get out of it. The antiwar schema of the Vietnam era transposed onto the world of 2007 makes for a poor fit.

Zinn's insistent reminders that the United States has been much more of a sinner than the mainstream accounts indicate should be required reading for students of history. But his suggestion that we're not only the devil in this world, but also perhaps the only devil, is better suited to classes in metaphysics or mythology. *


From A Power Governments Cannot Suppress

INCREASED militarization ... has not given us security. Land mines and a "missile defense shield" will not give us security. We need to stop sending weapons to countries that oppress other people or their own people. We need to decide against war, no matter what reasons are conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate -- always a war against innocents, a war against children. War is terrorism, magnified hundreds of times.

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