Remembering Howard Zinn 1922–2010
Howard Zinn has died. He was 87. A hero to all he was best known for being an anti-war activist and an historian, author of A Peoples’ History of the United States.
‘’In this celebrated work he dissected for all, the common traits of prominent people that the nation has learned to honor when they should have been respectful of those who were known but who did not fit into the star-spangled myths that we all were taught in school. Like Helen Keller. We learned what it means to overcome a physical disabilty, like blindness, but we were ignorant of her Socialist propensities because that was something that should be left unsaid in this great land where capitalism is
Howard Zinn had been a bombardier in World War Two and as a result knew at first hand what it meant to annhilate the enemy’s war making machine. But he also knew that each bomb killed innocent civilians, many of them children. As a result he became a staunch anti-war activist and traveled to Hanoi with Dan Berrigan to bring home the first released prisoners of that terrible travesty, the Vietnam War!
Howard was a leader and an inspiration to all who know the political evils that war thrives on. Such a time is now! Frank Blair
Watch brief videos of Howard Zinn in one of his last interviews talking about what he wanted to be remembered for and his personal philosophy.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. Using dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries and speeches of everyday Americans, THE PEOPLE SPEAK gives voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout U.S. history, forging a nation from the bottom up with their insistence on equality and justice. Narrated by Howard Zinn and based on his best-selling books.
Howard Zinn is one of this country’s most celebrated historians. His classic work “A People’s History of the United States” changed the way we look at history in America. First published a quarter of a century ago, the book has sold over a million copies and is a phenomenon in the world of publishing - selling more copies each successive year.
After serving as a bombardier in World War II, Howard Zinn went on to become a lifelong dissident and peace activist. He was active in the civil rights movement and many of the struggles for social justice over the past 40 years.
He taught at Spelman College, the historically black college for women, and was fired for insubordination for standing up for the students. He was recently invited back to give the commencement address.
Howard Zinn has written numerous books and is professor emeritus at Boston University. He recently spoke in Madison, Wisconsin where he was receiving the Haven Center’s Award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship. We bring you his lecture, “The Uses of History and the War on Terrorism.”
The Uses of History and the War on Terrorism
By Howard Zinn
Madison is a very special place. I always have a
special feeling when I come here. I have a feeling I am in a different
country. And I’m glad, you know. Some people get disgusted of the
American policy, and they go to live in some other country. No. Go to
So, now I’m supposed to say something. I am glad you’re there,
whoever you are, and this light is shining in my eyes to wake me up.
Well, do you get the feeling sometime that you’re living in an
occupied country? Very often that’s a feeling I get when I wake up in
the morning. I think, “I’m living in an occupied country. A small group
of aliens have taken over the country and are trying to do with it what
they will, you know, and really are.” I mean, they are alien to me. I
mean, those people who are coming across the border from Mexico, they
are not alien to me, you see. You know, Muslims who come to this country
to live, they are not alien to me, you see. These demonstrations, these
wonderful demonstrations that we have seen very recently on behalf of
immigrant rights, say, and you’ve seen those signs saying, you know, “No
human being is alien.” And I think that’s true. Except for the people in
Washington, you see.
They’ve taken over the country. They’ve taken over the policy.
They’ve driven us into two disastrous wars, disastrous for our country
and even more disastrous for people in the Middle East. And they have
sucked up the wealth of this country and given it to the rich, and given
it to the multinationals, given it to Halliburton, given it to the
makers of weapons. They’re ruining the environment. And they’re holding
on to 10,000 nuclear weapons, while they want us to worry about the fact
that Iran may, in ten years, get one nuclear weapon. You see, really,
how mad can you be?
And the question is, how has this been allowed to happen? How have
they gotten away with it? They’re not following the will of the people.
I mean, they manufactured a will of the people for a very short time
right after the war started, as governments are able to do right after
the beginning of an armed conflict, in order to able to create an
atmosphere of war hysteria. And so for a short time, they captivated the
minds of the American people. That’s not true anymore. The American
people have begun to understand what is going on and have turned against
the policies in Washington, but of course they are still there. They are
still in power. The question is, you know, how did they get away with that?
So, in trying to answer the question, I looked a little at the
history of Nazi Germany. No, it’s not that we are Nazi Germany, but you
can learn lessons from everybody and from anybody’s history. In this
case, I was interested in the ideas of Hermann Göring, who, you may
know, was second in command to Hitler, head of the Luftwaffe. And at the
end of World War II, when the Nazi leaders were put on trial in
Nuremberg, Hermann Göring was in prison along with other of the leaders
of the Nazi regime. And he was visited in prison by a psychologist who
was given the job of interviewing the defendants at Nuremberg.
And this psychologist took notes and, in fact, a couple of years
after the war, wrote a book called Nuremberg Diary, in which he recorded
- put his notes in that book, and he recorded his conversation with
Hermann Göring. And he asked Göring, how come that Hitler, the Nazis
were able to get the German people to go along with such absurd and
ruinous policies of war and aggression?” And I happen to have those
notes with me. We always say, “We happen to have these things just, you
know, by chance.”
And Göring said, “Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why
would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war? But,
after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy.
The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you
have to do is tell them they’re being attacked and denounce the
pacifists for lack of patriotism. It works the same way in any country.”
I was interested in that last line: “It works the same way in any
country.” I mean, here, these are the Nazis. That’s the fascist regime.
We are a democracy. But it works the same way in any country, whatever
you call yourself. Whether you call yourself a totalitarian state or you
call yourself a democracy, it works the same way, and that is, the
leaders of the country are able to cajole or coerce and entice the
people into war by scaring them, telling them they’re in danger, and
threatening them and coercing them, that if they don’t go along, they
will be considered unpatriotic. And this is what really happened in this
country right after 9/11. And this is happened right after Bush raised
the specter of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and got for a while
the American people to go along with this.
But the question is, how did they get away with it? What about the
press? What about the media? Isn’t it the job of the press, isn’t it the
job of the media, isn’t it the job of journalism to expose what
governments do? Don’t journalists learn from I.F. Stone, who said, “Just
remember two words,” he said to young people who were studying
journalism, he said, “Just remember two words: governments lie”? Well,
but the media have not picked up on that. The media have gone along, and
they embraced the idea of weapons of mass destruction. You remember when
Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations just before the onset of
the Iraq war and laid out to the UN this litany of weaponry that Iraq
possessed, according to him, and gave great details in how many
canisters of this and how many tons of this, and so on and so forth. And
the next day, the press was just aglow with praise. They didn’t do their
job of questioning. They didn’t do their job of asking, “Where? What is
your evidence? Where did you get this intelligence? Who did you talk to?
What are your sources?”
Isn’t this what you learn as a freshman in college? “Hey, what are
your sources? Where are your footnotes?” No, no. They were just - the
Washington Post said, “It is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that
Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” And the New York Times, you
know, it was just beside themselves with admiration for Colin Powell. Of
course, it all turned out to be untrue, all turned out to be lies. But
the press did not do its job, and as a result, the American people,
watching television, reading the newspapers, had no alternative source
of information, no alternative opinion, no alternative critical analysis
of what was going on.
And the question is, why still did the people believe what they read
in the press, and why did they believe what they saw on television? And
I would argue that it has something to do with a loss of history, has
something to do with, well, what Studs Terkel called “national amnesia,”
either the forgetting of history or the learning of bad history, the
learning of the kind of history that you do get, of Columbus was a hero,
and Teddy Roosevelt is a hero, and Andrew Jackson is a hero, and all
these guys who were presidents and generals and industrialists, and so
on. They are the great - they are the people who made America great, and
America has always done good things in the world. And we have had our
little problems, of course - like slavery, for instance, you know - but
we overcome them, you know, and, you know. No, not that kind of history.
If the American people really knew history, if they learned history,
if the educational institutions did their job, if the press did its job
in giving people historical perspective, then a people would understand.
When the President gets up before the microphone, says we must go to war
for this or for that, for liberty or for democracy, or because we’re in
danger, and so on, if people had some history behind them, they would
know how many times presidents have announced to the nation, we must go
to war for this reason or that reason. They would know that President
Polk said, “Oh, we must go to war against Mexico, because, well, there
was an incident that took place on the border there, and our honor
demands that we go to war.”
They would know, if they knew some history, how President McKinley
took the nation into war against Spain and Cuba, saying, “Oh, we’re
going in to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control.” And in fact,
there was a little bit of truth to that: we did go in, we fought against
Spain, we got Spain out of Cuba, we liberated them from Spain, but not
from ourselves. And so, Spain was out, and United Fruit was in, and then
the American banks and the American corporations were in.
And if people knew their history, they would know, you know, that
President McKinley said, when - as the American army was already in the
Philippines and the American navy was already in the Philippines, and
Theodore Roosevelt, one of our great presidential heroes, was lusting
for war, then people would know that McKinley, who did not know where
the Philippines were, but very often now presidents need to be briefed
and told where something is. You know, George Bush, “This is Iraq is,”
you know. Lyndon Johnson, “This is where the Gulf of Tonkin is.” You
know, they need it.
And president - they would know, if they knew history, that
President McKinley said, “We’re going into the Philippines to civilize
and Christianize the Filipinos.” And if they knew their history, if the
history books spent some time on the war in the Philippines in the early
part of the 20th century, instead of, as history books do - they spend a
lot of time on the Spanish-American War, which just lasted three months
- they spend virtually no time on the war on the Philippines, a bloody
war which lasted, oh, seven years, and which involved massacres and the
extermination of populations. That history doesn’t appear. You know, we
had civilized and Christianized the Filipinos and established our control.
They would know, if they heard the President say, “We are going to
bring democracy to the Middle East,” they would know how many times we
brought democracy to other countries that we invaded. They would know if
we brought democracy to Chile, when we overthrew a democratically
elected government in Chile in 1973. They would know how we brought
democracy to Guatemala when we overthrew, again, a democratically
elected - oh, we love democratic elections, we love free elections,
except when they go the wrong way. And then we send either our army in
or the CIA in or secret agents in to overthrow the government.
If people knew that history, they would never for a moment believe
President Bush, when he says, oh, we’re going into Iraq, you know,
because of this reason and that reason and liberty and democracy, and
they’re a threat, you know. I mean, it takes - yeah, it takes some
historical understanding to be skeptical of the things that authorities
When you know history, you know that governments lie, as I.F. Stone
said. Governments lie all the time. Well, not just the American
government. It’s just in the nature of governments. Well, they have to
lie. I mean, governments in general do not represent the people of the
societies that they govern. And since they don’t represent the people
and since they act against the interest of the people, the only way they
can hold power is if they lie to the people. If they told people the
truth, they wouldn’t last very long. So history can help in
understanding deception and being skeptical and not rushing to embrace
whatever the government tells you.
And if you know some history, you would understand something which
is even more basic, perhaps, than the question of lying about this war
or lying about this invasion, lying about this intervention, something
more basic, if you knew some history: you would understand a sort of
fundamental fact about society, and including our society, that the
interests of the government and the interests of the people are not the
It’s very important to know this, because the culture tries very
hard to persuade us that we all have a common interest. If they use the
language “national interest” - there’s no national interest. There’s
their interest and our interest. National security - now, whose
security? National defense, whose defense? All these words and phrases
are used to try to encircle us all into a nice big bond, so that we will
assume that the people who are the leaders of our country have our
interests at heart. Very important to understand: no, they do not have
our interests at heart.
You will hear a young fellow who is going off to Iraq. I remember
hearing the same thing when a young fellow went off to Vietnam. And a
reporter goes up to the young fellow and says, “You know, young man,
you’re going off, and what are your thoughts and why are you doing
this?” And the young man says, “I’m doing this for my country.” No, he’s
not doing it for his country. And now, she’s not doing it for her
country. The people who go off to war are not doing fighting for their
country. No, they’re not doing their country any good. They’re not doing
their families any good. They’re certainly not doing the people over
there any good. But they’re not doing it for their country. They’re
doing it for their government. They’re doing it for Bush. That would be
a more accurate thing to say: “I’m going off to fight for George Bush.
I’m going off to fight for Cheney. I’m going off to fight for Rumsfeld.
I’m going off to fight for Halliburton.” Yeah, that would be telling the
And, in fact, you know, to know the history of this country is to
know that we have had conflict of interest in this country from the very
beginning between the people in authority and the ordinary people. We
were not one big happy family that fought the American Revolution
against England. I remember, you know, in school, that’s how it seemed,
you know: they’re the patriots, and there’s all of us, working, fighting
together at Valley Forge and Bunker Hill, and so on, against the
Redcoats and the British, and so on. It wasn’t that way at all. It
wasn’t a united country.
Washington had to send generals down south to use violence against
young people to force them into military service. Soldiers in the
revolutionary army mutinied against Washington, against officers,
because there was class conflict in the army, just as there had been
class conflict all through the colonies before the Revolutionary War.
Well, anybody who knows the military, anybody who’s been in the
military, knows that the military is a class society. There are the
privates, and there are the officers. And in the Revolutionary War, the
privates were not getting shoes, and they were not getting clothes and
not getting food, and they were not getting paid. And the officers were
living high in resplendence. And so, they mutinied, thousands of them.
I don’t remember ever learning about that when I studied history in
school, because the myth comes down: oh, we’re all one big happy family.
You mean, including the black slaves? You mean, including the Native
Americans, whose land we were taking from them, mile by mile by mile by
mile? We’re all one big happy family? The women, who were left out of
all of this, were - no, very important to understand that fundamental
fact: those people who run the country and we, our interests are not the
So, yes, history is useful for that, for understanding -
understanding that we are a nation like other nations, for understanding
that we are not, as again we are taught from early on, we are the
greatest, we are number one, we are the best. And what - it’s called
American exceptionalism in the social sciences. The United States is an
exception to the rule of nations. That is, the general rule of nations
is they’re pretty bad. But the United States, our country, we are good.
We do good in the world.
Not long ago, I was on a radio program, interviewed by - this was
sort of a regular commercial station. I like to be interviewed on
regular commercial stations, where the guy really doesn’t know who he’s
invited, you see. And he says, “Professor Zinn, don’t you think America
has, in general, been a force for good in the world?” “No, no, no.” Why
not ask me, “Do you think the British Empire was a force for good in
Africa, or the Belgians were a force for good in the Congo, or the
French were a force for good in Indochina? You think the United States
was a force for good when they sent the Marines into Central America
again and again and” - no.
But there’s this notion of, you know, we are different. We are the
great - I mean, sure, there are very great things about America, but
that’s not what we did to other countries, not what we did to black
people, not what we did to Native Americans, not what we did to working
people in this country who suffered twelve-hour days until they
organized and rebelled and rose up. No, we have to be honest with
This is a very hard thing to do: be honest about ourselves. I mean,
but, you know, you’re brought up and you say, “I pledge allegiance,” you
know, etc., etc., “liberty and justice for all,” “God bless America.”
Why us? Why does God blessing us? I mean, why is He singling us out for
blessing? You know. Why not, “God bless everybody”? If indeed, you know
- but, you know, we’re brought up - if we were brought up to understand
our history, we would know, no, we’re like other nations, only more so,
because we are bigger and have more guns and more bombs, and therefore
are capable of more violence. We can do what other empires were not able
to do to such an extent. You know, we are rich. Well, not all of us.
Some of us are, you see? But, no, we have to be honest.
Don’t people join Alcoholics Anonymous so that they can stand up and
be honest about themselves? Maybe we ought to have an organization
called Imperialists Anonymous, you know, and have the leaders of the
country get up there on national television and say, “Well, it’s time,
you know - time to tell the truth.” It would be - I don’t expect it to
happen, but it would be refreshing.
And then, if we knew this history, we would understand how often
fear has been used as a way of getting people to act against their own
interests to work up hysteria and to get people to do terrible things to
other people, because they’ve been made afraid. Wasn’t it fear and
hysteria that motivated lynch mobs in the South? Wasn’t there created
fear of black people, hysteria about black people, that led white people
to do some of the most atrocious things that have been done in our
history? And isn’t it today - isn’t it fear, fear of Muslims, not just
terrorists, in general? Of course, fear of terrorists, especially fear
of Muslims, you see? A very ugly kind of sentiment to inculcate on the
American people, and creating a kind of hysteria, which then enables
them to control the population and enable them to send us into war after
war and to threaten, you know, still another war.
And if we knew some history, we would know about the hysteria that
accompanied the Cold War, the hysteria about communism. It’s not that
communism didn’t exist, just as terrorism does exist, yes. It’s not that
communism - communism existed, and there was a Soviet Union, and it was
repressive to its own people, and it did control Eastern Europe, but
there was an enormous exaggeration of the Soviet threat to the point
where - oh, it’s not just that they’re in Eastern Europe. It’s, they’re
going to invade Western Europe.
By the way, no evidence of that. CIA analysts who were specialists
in the Soviet Union in recent years came forth and said there was never
any evidence that the Soviet Union were going to invade Western Europe.
But against that, NATO was created. Against that, the United States
built up an enormous nuclear arsenal.
The Soviets were always behind the United States. They built up the
Soviets as a threat, but after all, who had the atom bomb first? And who
had more atom bombs than anybody? And who was the only country that
actually dropped atomic bombs on ordinary people in two cities in Japan?
And so, we who use the atomic bomb, we who accumulate the atomic bomb,
we create a hysteria about countries that are desperately trying to
catch up. Of course, Iran will never catch up, and North Korea will
never catch up. The Soviet Union tried to catch up. But in creating this
monster threat, we took trillions of dollars of the wealth of this
country and expended it on military budgets.
And the hysteria about communism reached the point where - and I’m
not just talking about school kids hiding under their desks, you know,
because the Soviets were going to drop an atomic bomb. There was no
evidence the Soviets were going to drop an atomic bomb. By the way,
there is evidence that the joint chiefs of staff, the people high up in
the American government, at various, various times proposed preventive
war, dropping nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union. But we created a
threat so ominous, so omnipresent, that kids were, yeah, hiding under
their desks, and also so that anything that happened anywhere in the
world that was not to the liking of the United States became part of the
world communist threat.
And so, to deal with that, we could go into any country in Latin
America that we wanted. And because it was a communist threat, we would
send an army over to Vietnam, and several million people would die,
because Vietnam became the symbol of the communist threat in the world.
When you think about how absurd it was to worry that Vietnam, already
divided into a communist north and anti-communist south, to worry that,
oh, now half of this tiny country is going to become communist, and just
to the north a billion people had turned to communism. And there’s
something a little bizarre.
But, you know, bizarre thinking is possible when you create fear and
hysteria. And we’re facing, of course, that situation today with this
whole business of terrorism. And if you added up all the times in
speeches of George Bush and his Cabinet and all the times they used the
word “terrorism” and “terror,” it’s a mantra they have created to
frighten the American people.
I think it’s wearing off. You know, when you - I think there’s
beginning to be some recognition, and that accounts for the fact that
public opinion has turned against the war. People no longer believe that
we’re fighting in Iraq in order to get rid of terrorism, you know,
because the evidence has become so overwhelming that even the mainstream
media has reported it - you know, the National Intelligence Estimate.
And this is the government’s own intelligence agencies saying that the
war in Iraq has caused a growth of terrorist groups, has increased
militancy and radicalism among Islamic groups in the Middle East.
But terrorism has supplanted communism as an attempt to get people
to do things against their own interests, to do things that will send
their own young people to war, to do things that will cause the
depletion of the country’s wealth for the purposes of war and for the
enrichment of the super-rich. It doesn’t take much thought about
terrorism to realize that when somebody talks about a war on terrorism,
they’re dealing with a contradiction in terms. How can you make war on
terrorism, if war itself is terrorism? Because - so you respond to
terrorism with terrorism, and you multiply the terrorism in the world.
And, of course, the terrorism that governments are capable of by
going to war is on a far, far greater scale than the terrorism of
al-Qaeda or this group or that group or another group. Governments are
terrorists on an enormously large scale. The United States has been
engaging in terrorism against Afghanistan, against Iraq, and now they’re
threatening to extend their terrorism to other places in the Middle East.
And some history of the use of fear and hysteria and some history of
the Cold War and of the anti-communist hysteria would be very useful in
alerting people to what we are going through today. I mean, with Iran,
for instance, it’s shameful, and the media have played such a part in
this, of the Iran nuclear weapon. They want a nuclear weapon. They don’t
say they have a nuclear weapon. They want a nuclear weapon. So do I.
Yeah, it’s easy to want a nuclear weapon. And small countries that face
enormous military powers and who cannot possibly match the military
power of these enormous countries, they are following what was the
strategy of the United States: the United States said, “We must have a
deterrent.” How many times have you heard, when you ask, “Why do we have
10,000 nuclear weapons?” “We must have a deterrent.” Well, they want a
deterrent: one nuclear weapon. You know.
Not that situation with Iraq. I mean, you know, Condoleezza Rice: “a
mushroom cloud.” We were the only ones who created mushroom clouds, over
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Iraq was in no position to create a mushroom
cloud. All the experts on the Middle East and atomic weapons said, you
know, Iraq was five-ten years away from developing a nuclear weapon, but
we were creating, you know, hysteria about nuclear weapons.
Now we’re doing the same thing with Iran. And the International
Atomic Energy group of the UN flatly contradicts a congressional report
which talks about the danger of Iran’s nuclear weapons, and the
international group, which has conducted many, many inspections in Iran,
says, well, you know, you need to - and they give the American people a
kind of half-education. That is, they say, they use the phrase, “They’re
enriching uranium.” Well, that scares me. You know, they’re enriching
uranium. I don’t really know what it means, you see, but it’s scary. And
then you read the report of the International Atomic Energy group, and
you see, well, yes, they are. They’ve enriched uranium to the point of
3.5%. In order to have one nuclear weapon, they have to enrich it to
90%. They’re very, very far from even developing one nuclear weapon, but
the phrase “enriched uranium” is, you know, repeated again and again,
And so, yes, we need some historical understanding, yeah, just
remembering back to Iraq, just remembering back to the hysteria around
Vietnam. My god, a communist might take over South Vietnam! And then
what? Just a short hop to San Francisco. No, some of you may remember
that when Reagan was supporting the Contras in Nicaragua, he was saying,
“You know, you see where Nicaragua is? It wouldn’t take much for them to
get to Texas.” I wondered about that, you see? And then I wondered, why
would the Nicaraguans want to get to Texas? And this is no slur on
Texas, but - and once they got to Texas, what would they do? Take a
United Airlines flight to Washington. What would they - but really, it’s
very important to know some of that history to see how hysteria
absolutely cripples consciousness about what is going on.
I would suggest something else. I’m getting worried about how much
time I have taken. Well, actually, I’m not getting worried about how
much time I’ve taken. I don’t care. I’m looking at my watch to pretend
that I care. And since I don’t know when I started, I can’t figure out
how long I’ve been talking.
But at some point the war in Iraq will come to an end. At some
point, the United States will do in Iraq what it did in Vietnam, after
saying, “We will never leave. We will never leave. We will win. We will
stay the course. We will not cut and run.” At some point, the United
States is going to have to cut and run from Iraq, you see. And they’re
going to do it because the sentiment is going to grow and grow and grow
in this country and because more and more GIs are going to come back
from Iraq and say, “We’re not going back again,” and because they’re
going to have more and more trouble supplying the armed forces in Iraq,
and because the parents of young people are going to say more and more,
“We are not going to allow our young people to go to war for Bechtel,
you know, and Halliburton. We’re not going to do that.” So at some
point, yes, at some point we are going to do what they say we mustn’t
do: cut and run.
We don’t have to cut and run. Cut and walk. Cut and swim. Cut, but
get out, as fast as you can, because we’re not doing any good there.
We’re not helping the situation. We’re not bringing peace. We’re not
bringing a democracy. We’re not bringing stability. We’re bringing
violence and chaos. We’re provoking all of that, and people are dying
every day. When a Democratic leader says, “Well, I think we ought to
withdraw by May 14th, 2000-and-whatever.” You know, yeah, every day from
now until then more people will die, and more people will lose arms or
legs or become blinded. And so, that is intolerable. And so, we have to
do everything we can.
And in the case of Vietnam, at a certain point the government
realized it could not carry on the war. The GIs were coming back from
Vietnam and turning against the war. They couldn’t bring people to join
the ROTC. Too many people were running to Canada. Too many people were
not signing up for the draft. Finally, it had to do away with the draft.
They were losing the support of the population. They were losing support
of the military. And at a certain point, no.
And something like that is going to happen. And the sooner we help
it happen, of course, the better. The more we go into the high schools -
you know, there’s a very practical thing, very practical thing that
everybody can do, and that is, go to their local high schools and make
sure that all the parents and all the kids in high schools understand
that they don’t have to give their information to the military
recruiters, you see, as, you know. And more and more have teams of
people who will counter the propaganda of the military recruiters.
You know, they are having trouble. They’re getting desperate about
recruiting for the military, going to all sorts of lengths and, or
course, they’re concentrating - they send their military recruiters into
the poorest schools, because they know that the working class kids are
the most vulnerable, the most needy, the ones who, you know - they need
an education, they need a skill, and so. And so, they’re trying to prey
on the working class. Eugene Debs said - if you don’t mind my quoting
Eugene Debs - but Eugene Debs said in a speech during World War I, which
landed him in jail, “The master class has always started the wars. The
working class has always fought the wars.” And, of course, that has been
true all the way. So we will at some point get out of Iraq.
But I want to suggest one thing: we have to think beyond Iraq and
even beyond Iran. We don’t want to have to struggle against this war and
then against that war and then against the next war. We don’t want to
have an endless succession of antiwar movements. It gets tiring. And we
need to think and talk and educate about the abolition of war itself,
I was talking to my barber the other day, because we always discuss
world politics. And he’s totally politically unpredictable, as most
barbers are, you see. He said, “Howard,” he said, “you know, you and I
disagree on many things, but on one thing we agree: war solves nothing.”
And I thought, “Yeah.” It’s not hard for people to grasp that.
And there again, history is useful. We’ve had a history of war after
war after war after war. What have they solved? What have they done?
Even World War II, the “good war,” the war in which I volunteered, the
war in which I dropped bombs, the war after which, you know, I received
a letter from General Marshall, general of generals, a letter addressed
personally to me, and to 16 million others, in which he said, “We’ve won
the war. It will be a new world.” Well, of course, it wasn’t a new
world. It hasn’t been a new world. War after war after war.
There are certain - I came out of that war, the war in which I had
volunteered, the war in which I was an enthusiastic bombardier, I came
out of that war with certain ideas, which just developed gradually at
the end of the war, ideas about war. One, that war corrupts everybody
who engages in it. War poisons everybody who engages in it. You start
off as the good guys, as we did in World War II. They’re the bad guys.
They’re the fascists. What could be worse? So, they’re the bad guys,
we’re the good guys. And as the war goes on, the good guys begin
behaving like the bad guys. You can trace this back to the Peloponnesian
War. You can trace it back to the good guy, the Athenians, and the bad
guys, the Spartans. And after a while, the Athenians become ruthless and
cruel, like the Spartans.
And we did that in World War II. We, after Hitler committed his
atrocities, we committed our atrocities. You know, our killing of
600,000 civilians in Japan, our killing of probably an equal number of
civilians in Germany. These, they weren’t Hitler, they weren’t Tojo.
They weren’t - no, they were just ordinary people, like we are ordinary
people living in a country that is a marauding country, and they were
living in countries that were marauding countries, and they were caught
up in whatever it was and afraid to speak up. And I don’t know, I came
to the conclusion, yes, war poisons everybody.
And war - this is an important thing to keep in mind - that when you
go to war against a tyrant - and this was one of the claims: “Oh, we’re
going to get rid of Saddam Hussein,” which was, of course, nonsense.
They didn’t - did our government care that Saddam Hussein tyrannized his
own people? We helped him tyrannize his people. We helped him gas the
Kurds. We helped him accumulate weapons of mass destruction, really.
And the people you kill in a war are the victims of the tyrant. The
people we killed in Germany were the victims of Hitler. The people we
killed in Japan were the victims of the Japan Imperial Army, you know.
And the people who die in wars are more and more and more people who are
not in the military. You may know this about the different ratio of
civilian-to-military deaths in war, how in World War I, ten military
dead for one civilian dead; in World War II, it was 50–50, half
military, half civilian; in Vietnam, it was 70% civilian and 30%
military; and in the wars since then, it’s 80% and 85% civilian.
I became friends a few years ago with an Italian war surgeon named
Gino Strada. He spent ten years, fifteen years doing surgery on war
victims all over the world. And he wrote a book about it, Green Parrots:
Diary of a War Surgeon. He said in all the patients that he operated on
in Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere, 85% of them were civilians,
one-third of them, children. If you understand, and if people
understand, and if you spread the word of this understanding, that
whatever is told to you about war and how we must go to war, and
whatever the threat is or whatever the goal is - a democracy or liberty
- it will always be a war against children. They’re the ones who will
die in large numbers.
So, war - well, Einstein said this after World War I. He said, “War
cannot be humanized. It can only be abolished.” War has to be abolished,
you know. And it’s - I know it’s a long shot. I understand that, but you
have to - when something’s a long shot, but it has to be done, you have
to start doing it. Just as the ending of slavery in this country in the
1830s was a really long shot, but people stuck at it, and it took 30
years, but slavery was done away with. And we can see this again and
again. So, we have a job to do. We have lots of things to do.
One of the things we can learn from history is that history is not
only a history of things inflicted on us by the powers that be. History
is also a history of resistance. It’s a history of people who endure
tyranny for decades, but who ultimately rise up and overthrow the
dictator. We’ve seen this in country after country, surprise after
surprise. Rulers who seem to have total control, they suddenly wake up
one day, and there are a million people in the streets, and they pack up
and leave. This has happened in the Philippines, in Yemen, all over, in
Nepal. Million people in the streets, and then the ruler has to get out
of the way. So, this is what we’re aiming for in this country.
Everything we do is important. Every little thing we do, every
picket line we walk on, every letter we write, every act of civil
disobedience we engage in, any recruiter that we talk to, any parent
that we talk to, any GI that we talk to, any young person that we talk
to, anything we do in class, outside of class, everything we do in the
direction of a different world is important, even though at the moment
they seem futile, because that’s how change comes about. Change comes
about when millions of people do little things, which at certain points
in history come together, and then something good and something