Books: Non-Fiction

The Bomb

Book — Non-fiction. By Howard Zinn. 2010. 100 pages.
Zinn's personal reflections and political analysis on the WWII bombing of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Royan, and more.
Time Periods: 20th Century, Cold War: 1945 - 1960
Themes: Wars & Related Anti-War Movements

thebombAs an active WWII bombardier returning from the end of the war in Europe and preparing for combat in Japan, Howard Zinn read the headline “Atomic Bomb Dropped on Japan” and was glad — the war would be over. “Like other Americans,” writes Zinn, “I had no idea what was going on at the higher levels, and had no idea what that ‘atomic bomb’ had done to men, women, children in Hiroshima, any more than I ever really understood what the bombs I dropped on European cities were doing to human flesh and blood.”

During the war, Zinn had taken part in the aerial bombing of Royan, France, and in 1966, he went to Hiroshima, where he was invited to a “house of rest” where survivors of the bombing gathered.

In this short and powerful book, the backstory of the making and use of the bomb, Zinn offers his deep personal reflections and political analysis of these events, and the profound influence they had in transforming him from an order-taking combat soldier to one of our greatest anti-authoritarian, anti-war historians. [Publisher’s description.]


What you see over and over again in the news reports is the words “suspected terrorist” or “suspected Al Qaeda” — meaning that “intelligence” is not sure whom we are bombing, that we are willing to justify the killing of a “suspect” in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan, something we would not accept from a police operation in New York or San Francisco. This suggests, to our shame, that the lives of people other than Americans are of lesser importance. In this way, the members of a wedding party in Afghanistan were put to death by an American bombing aimed at “suspected terrorists.”

Immediately after Obama’s election, unmanned “Predator” drone missiles were fired on Pakistan. In the second of these strikes, as Jane Mayer reported in an analysis in the New Yorker of Predator bombing, the house of a pro-government tribal leader was wrongly targeted (by “intelligence”). “The blast killed the tribal leader’s entire family, including three children, one of them five years old.”

In World War II the equipment was not as sophisticated, but the results were the same: innocent people killed. The bombardiers of today are in the same position I was in, following orders without question, oblivious of the human consequences of our bombing.

Not until I was out of uniform did I have an awakening, the shock of understanding. It came from reading John Hersey’s account of his interviews in Hiroshima with survivors of the bombing, who told their stories in the most graphic and horrifying detail: “The eyebrows of some were burned off and skin hung from their faces and hands. Others, because of pain, held their arms up as if carrying something in both hands.”


The late historian and activist Howard Zinn was familiar with bombs — he dropped them on people during World War II, flying as a bombardier in Europe. This is Zinn’s passionate and readable denunciation of bombs — not just the bomb, but all bombs. In the book’s two chapters — one on Hiroshima and one on Royan, France, where Zinn dropped napalm late in World War II — Zinn poses the crucial question: “What can we learn to free us from the thinking that leads us to stand by . . . while atrocities are committed in our name?” The Bomb is the kind of critical, angry, but hopeful history telling for which Howard Zinn is so deservedly well known. — Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Schools

It’s my favorite. . . . He wrote the book to remind himself and to remind us that anybody can throw the wrench in the machinery, and we often should. — Bill Moyers

Part history, part memoir, part sermon, The Bomb is meant to wake up citizens, to rouse them to reject ‘the abstractions of duty and obedience’ and to refuse to heed the call of war. — Jonah Raskin, The Rag Blog

ISBN: 9780872865099 | City Lights Publishers