excerpts from the book
Terrorism And War
by Howard Zinn
Seven Stories Press, 2002
The continued expenditure of more than $300 billion for the military
every year has absolutely no effect on the danger of terrorism.
If we want real security, we will have to change our posture in
the world - to stop being an intervening military power and to
stop dominating the economies of other countries. According to
a 1997 Defense Science Board report, "Historical data show
a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international
situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United
You go to war because you want to do something fast. You use violence
because you don't want to wait. You don't want to work conflicts
out. You don't want to use your mind, your intelligence, your
In bombing Afghanistan, we are doing great harm. Some people have
said that we're not killing that many people. The Pentagon says
it doesn't know how many people we're killing. The truth is, they
don't care. In fact, you can't believe the government.
It's not right to respond to terrorism by terrorizing other people.
I don't think it's hard to figure out why the United States is
so concerned with the Middle East. You can answer that question
with one word: oil. At the time of World War II, the U.S. government
made the decision that it was going to be the major power controlling
the oil resources of the Middle East.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (before the Gulf War
The United States has not sent troops to the Saudi desert
to preserve democratic principles. The Saudi monarchy is a feudal
regime that does not even allow women to drive cars. Surely it
is not American policy to make the world safe for feudalism. This
is about money, about protecting governments loyal to America
and punishing those that are not and about who will set the price
of oil.... Oil is the single most important commodity in the industrial
world, and its assured supply at reasonable prices is considered
essential for economic growth-not just in the United States but
also in Western Europe, Japan and the world at large.
To try to explain and understand terrorism is not to justify terrorism.
But if you don't try to explain anything, you will never learn
There is a reservoir of possible terrorists among all those people
in the world who have suffered as a result of U.S. foreign policy.
We have our troops everywhere in the world. We have major military
bases all over the world. We have naval vessels in every sea in
Imagine what that $350 billion that we spend every year on being
a military superpower could do to help people, to combat AIDS,
to feed people, to immunize people. We could use the great wealth
that would be freed up by no longer being a military power to
pay for free health care for all, affordable housing for all,
and helping people in other parts of the world.
A recent report by the World Health Organization calculated that
for $101 billion a year in basic medical research and treatment,
8 million lives could be saved annually in the poorer countries
of the world. Spending money on basic health would help in making
us more secure. Bombing is not making us more secure.
The infant mortality rate in the United States is one of the worst
among advanced industrial countries.
War is inherently unjust, and the great challenge of our time
is to how to deal with evil, tyranny, and oppression without killing
huge numbers of people.
There is a precise division between who we bomb and who we don't
bomb. The division has nothing to do with which countries may
be harboring terrorists. The division has only to do with which
countries we don't control yet. The countries that we control,
like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, can harbor as many terrorists as
they want. We will look elsewhere.
The advantage of [the] strategy of expanding the war and winning
the "war on terrorism" is that it gives the government
a perpetual war and a perpetual atmosphere of repression. And
it generates perpetual profits for corporations. But it's going
to make the world a far more unstable and dangerous place.
People need to ask, "Do we want our children and our grandchildren
to be living in a state of perpetual warfare, with more and more
of the world becoming hostile to us, and with the United States
responsible for more and more human casualties in the world?"
The Bush administration is using the war as a cover for worsening
the income gap in this country, while paying no attention to the
problems of most of the American people, while enriching corporations.
I think concentrating on the class issue, concentrating on the
benefits being given to corporations, is critical.
The left is in a position of continually opposing war after war
after war, without getting at the root of the problem-which is
the economic system under which we live, which needs war and makes
Pastor Niemoller's famous statement about the Nazis because
it's so applicable to the present situation:
First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist-so
I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I
was not a Social Democrat-so I did nothing. Then came the trade
unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came
for the Jews, but T was not a Jew-so I did little. Then when they
came for me, there was no one left who could stand up for me.
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor after visiting "ground
zero" in New York
"We're likely to experience more restrictions on our
personal freedom than has ever been the case in our country."
According to Nancy Chang, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional
Rights, the Bush administration's actions since September 11 "portend
a wholesale suspension of civil liberties that will reach far
beyond those who are involved in terrorist activities."
She says that a possible outcome of the USA PATRIOT Act is
"the criminalization of legitimate political dissent"
and warns that it "grants the executive branch unprecedented,
and largely unchecked, surveillance powers, including the enhanced
ability to track email and Internet usage, conduct sneak-and-peak
searches, obtain sensitive personal records, [and] monitor financial
The Financial Times recently noted that the U.S. government spends
only 0.1 percent of its national income on foreign aid. And not
all of that foreign aid is humanitarian.
From a long term point of view the security of the people of the
United States depends on the health and well-being of the rest
of the world.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has said about people who oppose
his repressive policies - Senate Judiciary Committee on December
"[T]o those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms
of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists,
for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They
give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends."
[That's almost straight out of the constitutional definition
of treason, which is punishable by death.]
The Internal Security Act of 1950 authorized the actual setting
up of concentration camps that would be used to incarcerate people
who were threats to national security. Recall that Martin Luther
King Jr. was seen as a threat to national security by the FBI
and put on their "Reserve Index" of people who were
"likely to furnish financial and other material aid to subversive
associations and ideology."
Terrorism has replaced Communism as the rationale for the militarization
of the country, for military adventures abroad, and for the suppression
of civil liberties at home. It serves the same purpose, serving
to create hysteria.
The United States has been involved in wars and military actions
for a very long time. You can't tell the Native Americans we were
a peaceful nation as we moved across the continent and engaged
in hundreds of wars against the Indians. The United States engaged
in at least twenty military interventions in the Caribbean in
the first twenty years of the last century. And then from World
War II through today, we've had an endless succession of wars
and military interventions.
Just five years after the end of the most disastrous war in
world history, after World War II, we are at war in Korea. And
then almost immediately we are helping the French in Indochina,
supplying 80 percent of their military equipment, and soon we
are involved in Southeast Asia. We are bombing not only Vietnam
but Cambodia and Laos.
In the 1950s, we are also involved in covert operations, overthrowing
the governments of Iran and Guatemala. And almost as soon as we
get involved in Vietnam, we are sending military troops into the
Dominican Republic. In that period, we are also giving enormous
amounts of aid to the government of Indonesia, helping the dictator
Suharto carry on an internal war against the opposition, in the
course of which several hundred thousand people are killed. Then
the U.S. government, starting in 1975, provides critical support
to Indonesia's brutal campaign to subdue the people of East Timor,
in which hundreds of thousands of people are killed.
In the 1980s, when Reagan comes into office, we begin a covert
war throughout Central America, in E1 Salvador, Honduras, Costa
Rica, and especially in Nicaragua, creating the counterrevolutionary
force, the Contras, whom Reagan called "freedom fighters."
In 1978, even before the Russians were in Afghanistan, we
are covertly sending arms to the rebel forces in Afghanistan,
the mujahedeen. Some of these people turned out later to be the
Taliban, the people who suddenly are our enemy. The national security
adviser to Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, boasted that he knew U.S.
aid would "induce a Soviet military intervention" in
Afghanistan. In fact, this happened, provoking a war that lasted
ten years. The war was devastating to the people of Afghanistan
and left the country in ruins. The moment it was over, the United
States immediately moved out. The people that we supported, the
fundamentalists, took power in Afghanistan and established their
Almost as soon as George Bush Sr. came into office, in 1989,
he launched a war against Panama, which left perhaps several thousand
dead. Two years later, we were at war in the Gulf, using the invasion
of Kuwait as an excuse to intensify our military presence in that
area and to station troops in Saudi Arabia, which then became
one of the major offenses for Osama bin Laden and other Saudi
Arabian nationalists. Then in the Clinton administration we were
bombing Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia, and Iraq again.
... since World War II, there has not been a more warlike nation
in the world than the United States.
If you forget history you will believe anything.
If people knew some history, if teachers gave them history, if
the media gave people history, if anyone with power over communications
networks gave them some history, they might recognize in this
rush to war the same subservience as we have seen in the past.
When Bush went to Congress after September 11, everyone there
acted as if there were no need to think and to ask questions about
what we should do. They voted unanimously in the Senate and almost
unanimously in the House of Representatives. There was only one
dissenting vote. When I heard that, I thought that dissenting
vote must have been Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont,
but it wasn't. It was Barbara Lee from California.
So, history can be useful. It can tell you something about
government, about lies and deception. If people knew that history,
they wouldn't just sit and listen to Bush and be impressed that
he knows how to read.
If we don't know that history, we won't understand how much
animosity we have engendered elsewhere in the world-not just in
the Middle East but all over the world. (In its foreign policy,
the United States has consigned several million people to their
deaths and supported terrorist | governments in various parts
of the world, especially in `< Latin America and the Middle
If we don't have any history, we'll live our lives believing
what we're taught in school, that America is a beacon I for democracy
and freedom in the world. We'll think that we've been the Boy
Scouts of the world, helping countries across the street.
The government says it is determined to close terrorist camps,
yet here in the United States the School of the Americas has trained
people who have engaged in terrorism, trained people who then
became organizers of death squads in Central America.
The Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega went to the School of the
Americas and then became an employee of the CIA; but then suddenly
he becomes an enemy and a terrorist, so we go to war to capture
him. But we probably won't go to war to get Kissinger anytime
soon. The United States has consistently opposed the, creation
of an international war crimes tribunal because it could be used
against people in the U.S. government and military. They are very
explicit about it. In effect, the government is saying, "Yes,
we have people who could be accused of having committed war crimes."
The United States wants to find other people who have committed
war crimes, but an American by definition cannot commit a war
[Henry] Kissinger wrote ... that the proposal to create an international
court is a bad idea. Well, naturally it's a bad idea, because
he would be one of the first people who would be up there on the
witness stand trying to explain his support for death squads and
repressive governments in Latin America, war crimes in Southeast
Asia, and the apartheid South African government.
It would be good to have an international war crimes trial
that would be truly evenhanded in bringing up for prosecution
people in all countries of the world who have engaged in and supported,
or conspired to support, terrorism. But the U.S. government is
clearly not interested in that.
Phrases such as the one Bush used after September 11 - "Either
you are with us or you are with the terrorists"- are rather
terrifying. It means that if you're not supporting the government,
you're an enemy of the government. All of this produces a kind
of hysteria, which leads to what I think can only be described
as a lynch spirit...
This idea that "you mustn't criticize your government
and you must fall in line behind the president" is really
a great danger to the very democracy that Bush claims we are defending
by going to war.
Dan Rather, the CBS news anchor, on the Late Show with David Letterman
"George Bush is the president, he makes the decisions,
and, you know, as just one American, he wants me to line up, just
tell me where." This is the language you might hear in a
totalitarian state, not in a democracy.
Democracy isn't [about] falling in line behind the president.
Democracy is for people to think independently, be skeptical of
government, look around and try to find out what's going on. And
if they find out that government is deceiving them, to speak out
as loudly as they can. That's democracy.
The attack on the World Trade Center was an immoral act of terrorism,
the killing of civilians in Afghanistan and the driving of hundreds
of thousands of people from their homes in Afghanistan is an immoral
While the press focuses on the anger of people who don't want
to hear antiwar speeches, there is all this antiwar sentiment
that is not reported.
When people set an agenda and say, "We can only talk about
this and we can't talk about that," they are very seriously
limiting our freedom of speech. They are also creating a dangerous
situation in which democracy no longer exists and there is no
longer a free marketplace of opinion.
The one thing that enables the authorities to deceive the public
is to keep the public in a state of amnesia, to keep the public
from thinking back to the history of war, the history of violence,
the history of government deception, the history of media complicity
If more people knew something about the history of government
deception, of the lies that were told getting us into the Mexican
War, the lies that were told getting us into the Spanish-American
War, the lies that were told getting us into the war in the Philippines,
the lies that were told getting us into World War I, the lies
that were told again and again in Vietnam, the lies on the eve
of the Gulf War, they would have questions about what they are
hearing from the government and the media to justify this war.
Journalist John Reed, who wrote about the Russian Revolution in
Ten Days That Shook the World and who organized against World
War I, wrote an essay in 1917 that seems like it could have been
written today, if you just replace the phrase "European melee"
with the word "Afghanistan." He wrote, "War means
an ugly mob madness, crucifying the truth tellers, choking the
artists, sidetracking reforms, revolutions and the working of
social forces. Already in America those citizens who oppose the
entrance of their country into the European melee are called 'traitors,'
and those who protest against the curtailing of the meager rights
of free speech are spoken of as 'dangerous lunatics."'
We have a long tradition in this country of stifling dissent
exactly at those moments when dissent is badly needed. Exactly
when you need free speech-when the lives of the young people in
the armed forces, the lives of people overseas who may be the
victims of our armed actions, are at stake-that's when they say
you should shut up. Exactly when you need debate and free expression
most. So you have free speech for trivial issues, and not for
life-and-death issues, and that's called democracy. No, we can't
When the United States went into war [WWI], Congress passed the
Espionage Act and the Sedition Act. The Espionage Act had very
little to do with espionage., Instead it made it a crime, punishable
by up to twenty years in prison, to say or print anything that
would "willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service
of the United States."
The Sedition Act, which was an amendment to the Espionage
Act, made it even a little more drastic. In fact, two thousand
people were prosecuted under those acts and about a thousand went
to prison. One of the people sent to jail for opposing World War
I was the great socialist activist and speaker Eugene Debs. The
magazine The Masses was put out of business, and an immense propaganda
effort was undertaken to encourage Americans to look for subversives
and traitors in their midst.
The First Amendment of the Constitution says that "Congress
shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to
petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Did
this stop the Supreme Court from jailing Debs and antiwar leaders?
No, they decided that maybe there are times when you can't allow
freedom of speech because there is a "clear and present danger."
What was the clear and present danger that the Supreme Court was
facing when they made that decision? People distributing leaflets
on the streets of New York opposing the draft.
Bush does not want the American people to know how their government
works. Kids go to junior high school and they get textbooks with
diagrams illustrating the structure of the U.S. government, with
its "checks and balances." But that's not the real story,
and if Bush has his way, we're not going to learn how governments
In his book Century of War, Gabriel Kolko writes, "Warfare
after 1937 has increasingly eliminated the distinction between
combatants and others...traumatizing more and more civilians and
entire nations. "
According to an article in the Boston Review, "up to 35 million
people-90 percent civilians-have been killed in 170 wars since
the end of World War II.
During the Vietnam War, far more civilians died than military
personnel. The same was true in the Korean War. Most Americans
have no idea what we did in Korea, but Korea was really a preview
of Vietnam, particularly in the use of napalm and the bombing
of villages, which contributed to more than 2 million people dying,
most of them civilians.
War is now largely a war against people who are not combatants.
General Curtis LeMay about the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam
"We're going to bomb them back into the stone Ages."
The claim that smart bombs and technology now enable pinpoint
bombing is very much a fraud. They discovered after the Gulf War
that 93 percent of the bombs turned out not to be so-called smart
bombs and the "smart" bombs often missed their targets.
Overall, 70 percent of our bombs missed their targets.
The concealment of what we're doing to the population in Afghanistan
is essential. Most people ... make a kind of common sense calculation,
a moral calculation. And if they knew that we were killing large
numbers of people, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people
from their homes, they would not take such a benign view of the
Afghan war. | They would not simply go along with their government.
So, it becomes very important for the government to conceal the
human effects of our bombing. And if you conceal that from the
American population, then it's possible to understand why people
would think we are not doing much harm.
Victoria Clarke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said, "We take extraordinary
care on the targeting process. Our targets are military. Our targets
are al - Qaeda. That's what we are going after. There is unintended
damage. There is collateral damage. Thus far, it has been extremely
limited from what we have seen.
General Colin Powell Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff during
the Gulf War, when asked about the number of Iraqis killed
"It's really not a number I'm terribly interested in."
If civilians in fact become victims again and again, and it's
predictable that they will, can that be called an accident? If
the deaths of civilians are inevitable in bombing, it is not an
accident. The people prosecuting this war are committing murder.
They are engaging in terrorism.
There is always a right side and a wrong side in war, and it is
your side that is the right side. And once you have decided that
you are on the right side, then anything goes. It does not matter
what happens to anybody else.
[Harry] Truman announced the bombing [of Hiroshima]
"The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped
on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this
first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians."
Lieutenant Colonel Dave Lapan at the Pentagon, who was asked about
civilians killed in Afghanistan.
"Were civilians killed? Possibly. If they were killed,
it was because they were in the vicinity of a military target."
Eugene Debs wrote in a letter to the New York Sun in 1915
"If...the United States were to prove in good faith that
it is opposed to the barbarism and butchery of war by issuing
a proclamation of peace, and itself setting the example of disarmament
to the nations of the world, its preparedness would be, not only
in accordance with its vaunted ideals, but a thousand-fold greater
guarantee to the respect of its neighbors and to its own security
and peace than if it were loaded down with all the implements
of death and destruction on earth.'
The history of arms technology is that whenever you have a development
in defensive technology, you soon have another development in
offensive technology to overcome that.
Missile defense is fundamentally a program to make profits for
the corporations that are going to get the billions of dollars
in contracts to build the system. This is an enormous theft from
the American people. Remember the quote from Eisenhower. He said,
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket
fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger
and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world
in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat
of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its
Corporations that produce weapons make huge profits from these
weapons of war and therefore are happy both to prepare for war
and to engage in war. You prepare for war, you have all these
government contracts, and make all this money, and then you engage
in war and you use up all these products and you have to replace
Mark Twain wrote an essay called "The War Prayer":
"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody
shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields
with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the
thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing
in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane
of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows
with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with
their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their
desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst."
About six thousand Americans went to jail for refusing to fight
in World War II.
In Vietnam, the war lasted long enough for the American people
to see behind the deceptions of the government and begin to learn
about the atrocities being committed against the Vietnamese people.
In 1966 about two-thirds of the American people supported the
war, by 1969 about two-thirds opposed the war.
With the Vietnam War we saw the first antiwar movement that became
broad enough and strong enough to have an effect on governmental
policy. And apparently the government learned something from that
war. It learned that if it's going to conduct a war, it must finish
it quickly, before an antiwar movement develops.
There are thousands of things that are going on all the time that
aren't reported in the mainstream press and aren't reported in
the major media. There's evidence of an enormous amount of energy
in towns and cities all over the country-energy of people who
are doing things that are noble and helpful to other people. There
are thousands of organizations in this country working on issues
like racial equality, women's rights, environmental protection,
antimilitarism. But the work they do doesn't appear on television.
Whatever the Constitution says and whatever the statutes say,
whoever holds the power in any given situation is going to determine
whether the rights you have on paper are rights you have in fact.
This is a very common situation in our society. People struggled
to get their legal rights, they achieved their legal rights on
paper. Then the reality of power and wealth comes into play, and
those legal rights don't mean very much. You have to struggle
to make them real.
EXCERPTS OF THE GENEVA PROTOCOLS
"Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12
August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International
Armed Conflicts (Protocol 1)," June 8, 1977. From Chapter
II, "Civilians and Civilian Population," Article 51,
"Protection of the Civilian Population":
1. The civilian population and individual civilians shall
enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military
operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules,
which are additional to other applicable rules of international
law, shall be observed in all circumstances.
2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual
civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats
of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among
the civilian population are prohibited.
3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Section,
unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.
4. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks
(a) Those which are not directed at a specific military objective;
(b) Those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot
be directed at a specific military objective; or
(c) Those which employ a method or means of combat the effects
of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently,
in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives
and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
5. Among others, the following types of attacks are to be
considered as indiscriminate:
(a) An attack by bombardment by any methods or means which
treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated
and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village
or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians
or civilian objects; and
(b) An attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss
of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects,
or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation
to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.