The Biggest Secret
by Howard Zinn, 1975
from the Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press
Secrets are coming out of the Senate committee probing the
FBI and CIA. But the biggest secrets, I suspect will remain untouched.
Yes, we learn that the FBI tapped wires illegally, kept lists
of people to be put in concentration camps, wrote fake letters
to destroy personal lives and used dirty tricks to disrupt organizations
it didn't like. The CIA opened mail illegally, plotted the murder
of foreign leaders and conspired to overthrow a democratically
elected government in Chile.
It is the habit of governments everywhere, including ours, when
caught lying, stealing or murdering, to murmur a few words of
confession, find a scapegoat to punish and go right on doing its
dirty work in more subtle ways.
Recall: Families were burned to death in Vietnam, babies were
shot in their mothers' arms, Cambodia was bombed secretly and
Laos openly, the land and culture of 40 million people in Southeast
Asia were laid waste. And then what? Instead of trying Mr. Nixon
and Kissinger for mass murder by terror bombing, we scolded their
flunkies for breaking and-entering and gave them a little time
in jail. Instead of trying the generals for the massacre at My
Lai, we tried Calley and put him under house arrest.
What will happen now with these revelations on the CIA and
FBI? The usual. A few changes in personnel, a few new laws. But
the same exclusive club of corporate billionaires, with their
teams of lawyers, accountants, politicians and intellectual advisers
hoping to become Secretary of State, will remain in power.
For profound changes to come about in this country, we will
have to start revealing to the American public, and especially
to the school kids of the coming generation, the really big secrets,
which no congressional committee will touch.
First, that there is little difference between Them (the enemy-
Communism) and Us (the West, American, "democracy")
when it comes to a reckless disregard for human lives in pursuit
of something called "national interest." That "national
interest," it usually turns out, is the interest, over there,
of the Kremlin bureaucracy, and here, the interest of the oil
companies, the banks, the military-industrial-political complex.
When we were told in grade school that the difference between
Them and Us is "they believe in any means to gain their ends
and we don't"-we were lied to.
People are beginning to catch on. The Spy Who Came in From
the Cold was the first best-selling novel to boldly make that
point: "Our side" would use ex-Nazis, would sacrifice
the lives of its own people, to score points in a game whose concern
was not humanity but power.
The current movie, Three Days of the Condor, is even more
explicit. The CIA is portrayed as a group of sophisticated men
using dazzling scientific techniques to ruthlessly exterminate
anyone, including their own employees, who stood in the way of
control of oil in the Middle East and Venezuela
Even the fantasies of movie scripts can't match the reality.
There is evidence now that the FBI was involved in the planned
murder of two black leaders in Chicago on December 4, 1969. A
gang of police, armed with shotguns, pistols, rifles and submachine
guns, and a plan of the house furnished by an FBI informant, attacked
an apartment occupied by Black Panthers, at four in the morning,
and executed Fred Hampton as he lay asleep in his bed.
The biggest secret of all is beginning to emerge: That "the
enemy" of this government is anyone, here or abroad, who
won't put up with control of the world by Chase Manhattan, Exxon,
General Motors, I.T. & T. It is chilling but suddenly believable
that a government willing to kill Vietnamese peasants and put
Asian protesters in tiger cages will also assassinate native Americans
and put citizens here in concentration camps.
That's a heavy secret for us to carry in our heads. But we
need to know it, if we are going to figure out how to defend our
lives and our liberties from those who have occupied America.