excerpts from an interview with
by David Barsamian
International Socialist Review,
Historian and author of A People's
History of the United States, HOWARD ZINN, spoke to Alternative
Radio's DAVID BARSAMIAN on July 21, 2004, at Harvard University
in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
(source: Critical Thinking, David
Barsamian interviews Howard Zinn, International Socialist Review,
... it's a sad commentary on the capitalist
system that the capitalist system could only solve unemployment
through war (WWII). But, in fact, it's sort of a basic fact about
this system that it is only driven to give people jobs when those
jobs contribute to war and militarism.
... war is a class phenomenon. It is the
poor who go to war, who get wounded and die in war.
... [war] gives the government a reason
for existence. It gives the government a rationale for all it
does. It gives the government more security from the possible
rebelliousness of its own population when they face difficult
conditions. Because war gives the government, the state ... an
opportunity to unite the country around a foreign enemy and therefore
to put into the shadows the grievances that people have against
their own system.
... in the colonies just before and just
after the American Revolution ... 1 percent of the population
owned 33 percent of the wealth. You could take that figure all
through American history, and it will only deviate maybe five
or six or seven percentage points one way or the other. Today,
the figure is not 1 percent owning 33 percent, but 1 percent owning
40 or 41 percent.
The market system in the ! Soviet Union
has been disastrous. It has resulted in the flow of enormous wealth
to a handful of people while at the bottom there is great difficulty
for people in surviving.
"If fascism ever came to the United States, it would be wrapped
in an American flag."
... if fascism did come to the United
States, it would come as a result of the silence and the pitiful
weakness of the American media, who would, as they have done again
and again, go along with whatever the president says so long as
he says he is doing it for national security.
... democracy is meaningless if the public
cannot get accurate information. If information is withheld from
the public by government secrecy, the public is misled by government
lies, if the media do not report these lies, and if the media
do not investigate what the government is doing and watch very
carefully what the government is doing, then we do not have a
... many thousands of people who have
been hired by private corporations to be security people, really
a paramilitary function in Iraq. The press has repeatedly referred
to them as contractors, implying that they're just there for business
reasons. The more accurate term would be mercenaries. They are
being paid to work with the American military. They are armed;
they're just not wearing uniforms. This is the privatization of
an ugly war.
There is a kind of belief that if you
elected the government, then everything is democratic and you
can trust the government.
You're also brought up to believe that
your interests and the government's are the same. You're not brought
up to look at history and find that very often the interests of
the government are not the same as the same as the interests of
the people ...
Congress is presumably there to check
the excesses of the executive branch. That's what they mean when
they talk about checks and balances and separation of powers.
That's what Congress is supposed to do. But Congress doesn't do
that in matters of foreign policy. Congress goes along with absolute
obsequiousness to whatever the president does. So if Congress
does that, and then the newspapers go along and the TV networks
go along, then the public has no independent source of information
from which to criticize or to suspect that something is being
put L over on them.
The university traditionally is supposed
to be a place for independent thought and a place that teaches
critical thinking... But when it comes to really critical matters
of life and death, of war and peace, you do not find that the
educational system prepares young people to be critical of American
foreign policy... in general, the education that young people
get mostly does not prepare them to be critical thinkers about
Howard Zinn page