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A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn

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Can I get a summary of Chapters 17 and 22 of The People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn?

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Chapter 17 provides an overview of the Civil Rights movement, which, as Zinn writes, was a surprise to many but should not have been. African-American writers such as Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes had been documenting the oppression and rage of African Americans for decades. Zinn documents the smaller steps the federal government took to advance civil rights, such as Truman's decision to integrate the armed forces in 1948, before the landmark 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision unleashed the Civil Rights movement. He details the nonviolent movement of Martin Luther King, Bob Moses, and others and the eventual turn to more violent methods of protest and the eventual emphasis on African-American economic empowerment.

Chapter 22 is about the growth of opposition movements, including the anti-nuclear movement, which started in the early 1980s as a grassroots movement and grew to include prominent scientists. Public opinion began to turn against nuclear armament and against government programs under Reagan to support the dictatorial government in El Salvador. On college campuses and outside of campuses across the country, opposition to government policies grew. Though Reagan won re-election by a landslide in 1984, only half the electorate voted, and therefore he did not really represent the will of the people. Governmental programs, such as Reagan's policies of slashing aid to the poor, did not represent the larger political will. Even during the first Gulf War conducted under the first President Bush, there were elements of what Zinn called the "adversarial culture" that felt that the government did not represent their views and positions.

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In chapter 17, entitled "Or Does It Explode?" Zinn basically deals with the civil rights movement, or what he calls the "black revolt" of the mid 20th century. There are many black authors who are mentioned for voicing their opinion at that time. Zinn also adeptly compares the "black revolt" to the communist movement and mentions people by name who dealt with both. By the early 1950s, the United States had nixed segregation. Unfortunately, racism still existed, so blacks dealt with the issue in many peaceful ways. Generally, the white majority responded with violence, even towards these peaceful protests. Riots erupted especially after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Zinn always empowers those who "always fought for justice."

In chapter 18, called "The Impossible Victory: Vietnam," Zinn covers, of course, the Vietnam War and the United States' involvement in it. Beginning from the end of the second world war (with the surrender of Indochina, which is now Vietnam) and escalating to an American show of power, Zinn talks extensively about Johnson's participation in the war effort (leading to the death of many innocent civilians). It is generally accepted that the United States withdrew its troops due to the public outcry in our country (while the supporters still attest that we "lost" the war).

In chapter 19, called "Surprises," Zinn expands the idea of social sciences to include many other movements of the same time period as chapter 18. Feminism, prison reform, and Native American reform are discussed in detail (with the focus being on the former).

In "The Seventies: Under Control?" which is the title of Chapter 20, has a focus on the power shift of the country from the elite to the masses. (The scandal at Watergate is Zinn's biggest example.) As a result of many scandals as well as the joke of the Vietnam war, many people lost trust in the leaders of the United States.

Finally, in chapter 21 that is called "Carter-Reagan-Bush: The Bipartisan Consensus," Zinn tackles the 70s and 80s. Instead of focusing on the dissimilarity of a democrat vs. republican vs. republican administration, Zinn talks about the successful power shift of the people who were able to elect leaders from both parties during these years. Further, Zinn presents Carter as an attempt to reclaim the United States' image but did little to help the distribution of wealth. Meanwhile, the government shifted from liberal to conservative. Corporate wealth and pollution still went generally unchecked.

In chapter 22, "The Unreported Resistance," Zinn discusses culture in the 80s and 90s. Ironically, Zinn chooses these two decades to discuss the peace movement (instead of focusing on that during the 1960s). Of course, at this point in history, "peace" was generally considered the lack for nuclear war or nuclear intervention. Other "unreported resistance" can be seen as the reaction for/against free sexuality and for/against greater rights for workers.

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