The Uses of History and the War
a talk by Howard Zinn in Madison
Democracy Now, www.zmag.org/,
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 Madison.
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,
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 tell you.
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
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 same.
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
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
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 ourselves.
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
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
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, you know.
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
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, you see.
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,
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
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 important
Howard Zinn page