A Chorus Against War
by Howard Zinn
The Progressive magazine,
As I write this, it looks like war. This,
in spite of the obvious lack of enthusiasm in the country for
war. The polls that register "approve" or "disapprove"
can only count numbers; they cannot test the depth of feeling.
And there are many signs that the support for war is shallow and
shaky and ambivalent.
This Administration will not likely be
stopped, though it knows its support is thin. In fact, that is
undoubtedly why it is in such a hurry; it wants to go to war before
the support gets any thinner.
The assumption is that once the soldiers
are in combat, the American people will unite behind the war.
The television screens will show "smart bombs" exploding,
and the Secretary of Defense will assure the American people that
civilian casualties are being kept to a minimum. (We're in the
age of megadeaths, and any number of casualties less than a million
is no cause for concern.)
This is the way it has been. Unity behind
the President in time of war. But it may not be that way again.
The anti-war movement will not likely
surrender to the martial atmosphere. The hundreds of thousands
who marched in Washington and San Francisco and New York and Boston-and
in villages, towns, and cities all over the country from Georgia
to Montana-will not meekly withdraw. Unlike the shallow support
for the war, the opposition to the war is deep and cannot be easily
dislodged or frightened into silence.
Indeed, the anti-war feelings are bound
to become more intense.
To the demand "Support Our GIs,"
the movement will be able to reply: "Yes, we support our
GIs, we want them to live, we want them to be brought home. The
government is not supporting them. It is sending them to die,
or to be wounded, or to be poisoned by our own depleted uranium
No, our casualties may not be numerous,
but every single one will be a waste of an important human life.
We will insist that this government be held responsible for every
death, every dismemberment, every case of sickness, every case
of psychic trauma caused by the shock of war.
And though the media will be blocked from
access to the dead and wounded of Iraq, though the human tragedy
unfolding in Iraq will be told in numbers, in abstractions, and
not in the stories of real human beings, real children, real mothers
and fathers, the movement will find a way to tell that story.
And when it does, the American people-who can be cold to death
on "the other side," but who also wake up when "the
other side" is suddenly seen as a man, a woman, a child,
just like us-will respond.
This is not a fantasy, not a vain hope.
It happened in the Vietnam years. For a long time, what was being
done to the peasants of Vietnam was concealed by statistics, the
"body count," without bodies being shown, without faces
being shown, without pain, fear, anguish shown. But then the stories
began to come through: the story of the My Lai massacre, the stories
told by returning GIs of atrocities they had participate in.
And the pictures appeared: the little
girl struck by napalm running down the road, her skin shredding,
the mothers holding their babies to them in the trenches as GIs
poured rounds of bullets from automatic rifles into their bodies.
When those stories began to come out,
when the photos were seen, the American people could not fail
to be moved. The war "against Communism" was seen as
a war against poor peasants in a tiny country half the world away.
At some point in this coming war, and
no one can say when, the lies of the Administration-"the
death of this family was an accident," "we apologize
for the dismemberment of this child," "this was an intelligence
mistake," "a radar malfunction"-will begin to come
How soon that will happen depends not
only on the millions now-whether actively or silently-in the anti-war
movement, but also on the emergence of whistle-blowers inside
the Establishment who begin to talk, of journalists who become
tired of being manipulated by the government and begin to write
the truth. And of dissident soldiers sick of a war that is not
a war but a massacre: How else to describe the mayhem caused by
the most powerful military machine on Earth raining thousands
of bombs on a fifth-rate military power already reduced to poverty
by two wars and ten years of economic sanctions?
The anti-war movement has the responsibility
of encouraging defections from the war machine. It does this simply
by its existence, by its example, by its persistence, by its voices
reaching out over the walls of government control and speaking
to the consciences of people.
Those voices have already become a chorus,
joined by Americans in all walks of life, of all ages, in every
part of the country.
There is a basic weakness in governments-however
massive their armies, however wealthy their treasuries, however
they control the information given to the public-because their
power depends on the obedience of citizens, of soldiers, of civil
servants, of journalists and writers and teachers and artists.
When these people begin to suspect they have been deceived, and
when they withdraw their support, the government loses its legitimacy,
and its power.
We have seen this happen in recent decades,
all around the globe. Leaders who were apparently all-powerful,
surrounded by their generals, suddenly faced the anger of an aroused
people, the hundreds of thousands in the streets and the reluctance
of the soldiers to fire, and those leaders soon rushed to the
airport, carrying their suitcases of money with them.
The process of undermining the legitimacy
of our own government has begun. There has been a worm eating
at the innards of its complacency all along- the knowledge of
the American public, buried, but in a very shallow grave, easy
to disinter, that this government came to power by a political
coup, not by popular will.
The movement should not let this be forgotten.
The first steps to delegitimize this government
are being taken, in small but significant ways.
The wife of the President calls off a
gathering of poets in the White House because the poets have rebelled,
seeing the march to war as a violation of the most sacred values
of poets through the ages.
The generals who led the Gulf War of 1991
speak out against this impending war as foolish, unnecessary,
The CIA contradicts the President by saying
Saddam Hussein is not likely to use his weapons unless he is attacked.
All across the country-not just the great
metropolitan centers, like Chicago, but places like Boseman, Montana;
Des Moines, Iowa; San Luis Obispo, California; Nederland, Colorado;
York, Pennsylvania; Gary, Indiana; Carrboro, North Carolina-fifty-seven
cities and counties have passed resolutions against the war, responding
to their citizens.
The actions will multiply, once the war
has begun. The stakes will be higher. People will be dying every
day. The responsibility of the peace movement will be huge-to
speak to what people may feel but are hesitant to say. To say
that this is a war for oil, for business. Bring back the Vietnam-era
poster: "War Is Good for Business-Invest Your Son."
(In this morning's Boston Globe, a headline: "Extra $15 Billion
for Military Would Profit New England Firms.")
Yes, by all means, no blood for oil, no
blood for Bush, no blood for Rumsfeld or Cheney or Powell. No
blood for political ambition, for grandiose designs of empire.
No action should be seen as too small,
no nonviolent action should be seen as too large. The calls now
for the impeachment of George Bush should multiply. The constitutional
requirement "high crimes and misdemeanors" certainly
applies to sending our young halfway around the world to kill
and be killed in a war of aggression against a people who have
not attacked us.
Those poets troubled Laura Bush because
by bringing the war into her ceremony they were doing something
"inappropriate." That should be the key: People will
continue to do "inappropriate" things, because that
brings attention-the rejection of propriety, the refusal to be
"professional" (which usually means not breaking out
of the box your business or your profession insists you stay in).
The absurdity of this war is so starkly
clear that people who have never been involved in an anti-war
demonstration have been showing up in huge numbers at recent rallies.
If you've been to one of them, you can testify to the numbers
of young people and older people doing this for the first time.
Arguments for the war are paper thin and
fall apart at first touch. Weapons of mass destruction? Iraq may
develop one nuclear bomb (though the U.N. inspectors find no sign
of development), but Israel has 200
nuclear weapons and the U.S. has 10,000,
and six other countries have undisclosed numbers. Saddam Hussein
a tyrant? Undoubtedly, like many others in the world. A threat
to the world? Then how come the rest of the world, much closer
to Iraq, does not want war? Defending ourselves? The most incredible
statement of all. Fighting terrorism? No connection found between
September 11 and Iraq.
I believe it is the obvious emptiness
of the Administration position that is responsible for the swift
growth of the anti-war movement. And for the emergence of new
voices, unheard before, speaking "inappropriately" outside
their professional boundaries: 1,500 historians have signed an
anti-war petition; businessmen, clergy, have put full-page ads
in newspapers. All are refusing to stick to their "profession"
and instead are professing that they are human beings first.
I think of Sean Penn traveling to Baghdad,
in spite of mutterings about patriotism. Or Jessica Lange and
Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen speaking at antiwar rallies in
Washington and New York. Renee Zellweger spoke to a reporter for
the Boston Globe about "how public opinion is manipulated
by what we're told. You see it all the time, especially now! The
goodwill of the American people is being manipulated. It gives
me the chills. I'm going to go to jail this year!"
Rap artists have been speaking out on
war, on injustice. Mr. Lif says: "I think people have been
on vacation and it's time to wake up. We need to look at our economic,
social, and foreign policies and not be duped into believing the
spin that comes from the government and the media."
In the cartoon "The Boondocks,"
which reaches twenty million readers every day, the cartoonist
Aaron McGruder has his character, a black youngster named Huey
Freedman, say the following: "In this time of war against
Osama bin Laden and the oppressive Taliban regime, we are thankful
that OUR leader isn't the spoiled son of a powerful politician
from a wealthy oil family who is supported by religious fundamentalists,
operates through clandestine organizations, has no respect for
the democratic electoral process, bombs innocents, and uses war
to deny people their civil liberties. Amen."
The voices will multiply. The actions,
from silent vigils to acts of civil disobedience (three nuns are
facing long jail terms for pouring their blood on missile silos
in Colorado), will multiply.
If Bush starts a war, he will be responsible
for the lives lost, the children crippled, the terrorizing of
millions of ordinary people, the American GIs not returning to
their families. And all of us will be responsible for bringing
that to a halt.
Men who have no respect for human life
or for freedom or justice have taken over this beautiful country
of ours. It will be up to the American people to take it back.
Howard Zinn, author of " A Peoples
History of the United States, " is a columnist for The Progressive.
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