In Chapter 22 of PHUS, “The Unreported Resistance,” Zinn expands on the continuous theme of a United States history driven by collective social action rather than simply by governmental, political, and military action. Specifically, this chapter details the “permanent adversarial culture” that arose in the decades following the Vietnam War. Throughout the presidencies of Carter, Reagan, and Bush, a largely unrecognized movement of resistance spurred the nation into social action bringing awareness to abandoned issues such as deteriorating social services, the AIDS crisis, racial injustice, and the plights of Indigenous communities native to North America.
Each of these social movements, largely intertwined with the latter portion of the Cold War and the duration of the Gulf War, brought attention to the government’s abandonment of domestic issues in favor of a focus on militarism. I found it very jarring that much military action throughout this time was initiated without proper public support; Reagan increased military spending at the expense of the domestic budget despite public cries for a Nuclear Freeze, and the federal government later took action in the Gulf War without overwhelming public approval. Despite the United States’ long history of honoring the military, the late 20th century was characterized by public questioning of the government’s prioritization of national defense. Military opposition from social justice advocates, such as Chicano communities denouncing the imperialism of American militarism, began to reveal the sociopolitical divide that had emerged in many US military conflicts, prioritizing the political and economic interests of the government and the elite class over the needs of disadvantaged communities within US borders.
In light of Zinn’s criticism of the government for evading its domestic responsibilities through military conflict, I’d like to draw a parallel to social justice activists’ ongoing calls for police reform/abolition. As activists of the late twentieth century called for defunding of the military in favor of social services, the activists of today are calling for a movement to defund the police to reallocate funds to ensure proper education and health services that would play a more proactive role in reducing crime. Much like the federal government has drawn its focus to foreign conflicts in abandonment of domestic social concerns, it’s also had a recent history of maintaining the norm of strict (and often violent) reactionary responses to crime at the expense of assisting communities in reform to ensure maintainable civil peace. As we reflect on the governments’ past prioritization failures, we need to remain critical of its current priorities in order to pursue meaningful social reform.