The Logic of Withdrawal
by Howard Zinn
The Progressive magazine,
[A note of explanation: In the spring
of 1967, my book Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal was published
by Beacon Press. It was the first book on the war to call for
immediate withdrawal, no conditions. Many liberals were saying:
"Yes, we should leave Vietnam, but President Johnson can't
just do it; it would be very hard to explain to the American people."
My response, in the last chapter of my book, was to write a speech
for Lyndon Johnson, explaining to the American people why he was
ordering the immediate evacuation of American armed forces from
Vietnam. No, Johnson did not make that speech, and the war went
on. But I am undaunted, and willing to make my second attempt
at speech writing. This time, I am writing a speech for whichever
candidate emerges as Democratic Party nominee for President. My
supposition is that the nation is ready for an all-out challenge
to the Bush Administration, for its war policy and its assault
on the well-being of the American people. And only such a forthright,
courageous approach to the nation can win the election and save
us from another four years of an Administration that is reckless
with American lives and American values.]
My fellow Americans, I ask for your vote
for President because I believe we are at a point in the history
of our country where we have a serious decision to make. That
decision will deeply affect not only our lives, but also the lives
of our children and grandchildren.
At this moment in our nation's history,
we are on a very dangerous course. We can remain on that course,
or we can turn onto a bold new path to fulfill the promise of
the Declaration of Independence, which guarantees everyone an
equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The danger we are in today is that the
war-a war without any foreseeable end-is not only taking the lives
of our young but exhausting the great wealth of our nation. That
wealth could be used to create prosperity for every American but
is now being squandered on military interventions abroad that
have nothing to do with making us more secure.
We should listen carefully to the men
serving in this war.
Tim Predmore is a five-year veteran of
the army. He is just finishing his tour of duty in Iraq. He writes:
"We have all faced death in Iraq without reason or justification.
How many more must die? How many more tears must be shed before
Americans awake and demand the return of the men and women whose
job it is to protect them rather than their leader's interest?"
What is national security? This Administration
defines national security as sending our young men and '> women
around the world to wage war on country after country-none of
them strong enough to threaten us. I define national security
as making sure every American has health care, employment, decent
housing, a clean environment. I define national security as taking
care of our people who are losing jobs, taking care of our senior
citizens, taking care of our children.
Our current military budget is $400 billion
a year, the largest in our history, larger even than when we were
in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. And now we will be spending
an additional $87 billion for the war in Iraq. At the same time,
we are told that the government has cut funds for health care,
education, the environment, and even school lunches for children.
Most shocking of all is the cut, in billions of dollars, for veterans'
If I became President, I would immediately
begin to use the great wealth of our nation to provide those things,
which represent true security.
Immediately on taking office, I would
propose to Congress, and use all my power to ensure that this
legislation passes, that we institute a brand new health care
system, one that builds on the success of our Medicare program,
and that has been used effectively in other countries in the world.
I would call it Health Security, because
it would guarantee to every man, woman, and child free medical
care, including prescription drugs, paid for out of the general
treasury, like the free medical care for members of Congress,
and for members of our armed services. This would save billions
of dollars wasted today in administrative costs, profits for insurance
companies and pharmaceutical firms, huge salaries for CEOs of
private medical plans. There would be no paperwork for the patient,
and no worries about whether any medical condition, any medical
emergency, would be covered. No worry that losing your job would
mean an end to your medical insurance.
I would do something else immediately
on taking office. I would ask Congress for a Full Employment Act,
guaranteeing jobs to anyone who is willing to work. We would give
the private sector all the opportunity to provide work, but where
it fails to do so, the government would become the employer of
last resort. We would use as a model the great social programs
of the New Deal, when millions of people were given jobs after
the private sector had failed to do so.
I would also take steps to reverse the
attacks on our environment by the Bush Administration, which has
been more concerned for the profits of large corporations than
for the air, land, and water we depend on. In December of 2002,
it relaxed its pollution standards for antiquated coal-fired power
plants in the Midwest, and those emissions cause hundreds of premature
deaths each year. It has refused to sign the Kyoto agreement on
global warming, though climate change is an enormous peril to
the coming generations. The Nuclear
Regulatory Agency in January of 2003 refused
to order a nuclear reactor closed though its lid had rusted nearly
all the way through, because, according to an internal commission
report, the agency did not want to impose unnecessary costs on
the owner and was reluctant to give the industry a black eye.
This Administration has done nothing to
stop the emissions from the chemical plants all over the country,
and it has stored chemical weapons in areas where residents have
become sick as a result. In April of 2003, Darline Stephens of
Anniston, Alabama, told a journalist: "I live five or ten
miles from chemical weapons. We're over there searching for weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq, but we have them here in our hometown."
The Bush Presidency has sacrificed the
cause of clean air and clean water because it has ties to the
automobile industry, the oil industry, the chemical industry,
and other great commercial enterprises. I would insist on regulating
those industries in order to save the environment for us, our
children, our grandchildren.
A decision must be made, and I promise
to make it. We cannot have Health Security, or job security, or
a decent environment, unless we decide we will no longer be a
nation that sends its military everywhere in the world against
nations that pose no threat to us.
We have already lost 400 lives in Iraq.
Over 2,000 of our young have been wounded, some of them so seriously
that the word "wounded" does not convey the reality.
Robert Acosta is twenty years old. He
has lost his right hand and part of his forearm.
Twenty-one-year-old Edward Platt has had
his leg amputated above the knee.
The entertainer Cher, visiting the Walter
Reed Hospital in Washington, called in to a television program,
saying, "As I walked into the hospital the first person I
ran into was a boy about nineteen or twenty years old who'd lost
both of his arms.... And when I walked into the hospital and visited
all these boys all day long . . . everyone had lost either one
arm . . . or two limbs.... I just think that if there was no reason
for this war, this was the most heinous thing I'd ever seen....
I go all over the world and I must say that the news we get in
America has nothing to do with the news that you get outside of
The families of those who have died in
this war are asking questions which this Administration cannot
answer. I read recently about the mother of Captain Tristan Aitken,
who was thirty-one years old, and died in combat in Iraq. She
said about her son: "He was doing his job. He had no choice,
and I'm proud of who he was. But it makes me mad that this whole
war was sold to the American public and to the soldiers as something
it wasn't. Our forces have been convinced that Iraqis were responsible
for September 11, and that's not true."
This mother has it right. Americans were
led into war, being told again and again by the highest officials
of government, including the President, that it was absolutely
necessary. But we now know that we were deceived. We were told
that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that were a danger to
us and the world. These weapons, despite enormous efforts by both
an international team and our own government's investigative body,
have not been found.
Virtually every nation in the world, and
public opinion all over the planet, believed we should not go
to war. Countries much closer to Iraq than ours did not feel threatened,
so why should the United States-with its enormous arsenal of nuclear
weapons and with its warships on every sea-have felt threatened?
Common sense should have told us that
Iraq, devastated by two wars (first with Iran, then with our country)
and then ruined by ten years of economic sanctions, could not
be a threat sufficient to justify war. But that common sense did
not exist in Washington, either in the White House, which demanded
war, or in Congress, which rushed to approve war. We now know
that decision was wrong and that the President of the United States
and the people around him were not telling us the truth.
As a result of believing the President,
we went to war in violation of the United Nations Charter, in
defiance of public opinion all over the world, and thus in a single
move placed ourselves outside the family of nations and destroyed
the goodwill that so many people everywhere had toward our country.
On September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack
in New York and Washington took close to 3,000 lives. The Bush
Administration has used that tragic event as an excuse to go to
war, first in Afghanistan and now in Iraq. But neither war has
made us safer from terrorism. The Bush Administration lied to
the American people
about a connection between Iraq and Al
Qaeda, when even the CIA has not been able to find such a connection.
Indeed, by its killing of thousands of
people in both countries, the Bush Administration has inflamed
millions of people in the Middle East against us and increased
the ranks of the terrorists.
The Iraqi people are happy to be rid of
Saddam Hussein, but now they want to be rid of us. They do not
want our military to occupy their country. If we believe in self-determination,
in the freedom of the Iraqis to choose their own way of life,
we should listen to their pleas, leave their country, and allow
them to work out their own affairs.
I would, therefore, as President, call
for an orderly withdrawal of our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
I would remove our troops from elsewhere in the Middle East. Only
the oil interests benefit from that military presence.
I am proposing a fundamental change in
the foreign policy of our country. This Administration believes
that we, as the most powerful nation in the world, should use
that power to establish military bases all over the world, to
control the oil of the Middle East, to determine the destinies
of other countries.
I believe that we should use our great
power not for military purposes but to bring food and medicine
to those areas of the world that have been devastated by war,
by disease, by hunger. If we took a fraction of our military budget
we could combat malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS. We could provide
clean water for the billion people in the world who don't have
it and would save millions of lives. That would be an accomplishment
we could be proud of. But how proud can we be of military victories
over weak nations, in which we overthrow dictators but at the
same time bomb and kill the people who are the victims of these
dictators? And the tyrants we overthrow are very often the ones
we have helped stay in power, like the Taliban in Afghanistan
or Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
We are at a turning point in the history
of our nation. We can go on being a great military power, engaging
in war after war, in which innocent people abroad and our own
men and women die or are crippled for life. Or we can become a
peaceful nation, always ready to defend ourselves, but not sending
our troops and planes all over the world for the benefit of the
oil interests and the other great corporations that profit from
We can choose to use the wealth of our
nation and the talents of our people for war, or we can use that
wealth and talent to better the lives of men, women, and children
in this country. We can continue being the target of anger and
terrorism and indignation by the rest of the world, or we can
be a model of what a good society should be like, peaceful in
the world, prosperous at home.
The choice will come in the ballot box.
I ask you to choose for the peace of the world, and the security
of the American people.
Howard Zinn, the author of " A Peoples
History of the United States," is a columnist for The Progressive.
Howard Zinn page