Zinn, Chomsky, and Heller: Voices of 20th Century Dissent

Eladio Bobadilla


In the wake of America’s victory over fascism in World War II, the U.S. government used the outcome of the war to cement its military superiority and to assert its place as the world’s only benevolent superpower. After the war, criticism of the United States government (in particular the military) and of capitalism came to be seen as un-American. Out of this same World War II generation emerged three men who worked tirelessly to challenge these perceptions: Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Joseph Heller. These men—a historian, a linguist, and a novelist—share a generation, a Jewish background, a dissenting spirit, and most importantly, a common anti-war, anti-capitalist legacy. They have rarely been given the credit they deserve for influencing American history, politics, and literature. Together, these dissidents represent the most important triad of radical thinkers in the 20th century United States. Their writings have challenged the way many Americans perceive war, politics, and the American experience itself. All three authors represent a radical leftist element that is rarely acknowledged, let alone analyzed. Their work and views deserve to be considered, studied, and evaluated. The subversive nature of their ideas has resulted in their work being ignored, condemned, and at times even banned. Yet, their ideas are important to a thorough political conversation and a more complete understanding of American history and policy. Only through an interdisciplinary exploration of Zinn’s historical approach, Chomsky’s political philosophy, and Heller’s literature can we fully understand the true significance of these three men and their work. Though largely ignored in their time, I intend to show that their work should be seen as some of the most significant in modern history, and that Zinn, Chomsky, and Heller embody a movement of agitators that pioneered a different kind of patriotism—one based on dissent rather than obedience to orthodoxy.


dissent; war; capitalism

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