Manning Marable, Howard Zinn and Grace Paley Speak Out Against the March to War
Interviewed by Amy Goodman • Democracy Now! • September 13, 2001
LISTEN TO AUDIO:
In the midst of the rising tide of congressional and Bush administration calls for a harsh military response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there is a remarkable, hawkish unity in the views being expressed in the mainstream media. [includes rush transcript]
Former government officials such as Henry Kissinger, Richard Helms and Oliver North, themselves deeply involved in terrorist activities while they were in government, are now trotted out by the networks to offer “neutral” commentary on the U.S. government’s response. Voices articulating an alternative perspective in opposition to the drumbeat of war have disappeared from the mainstream media almost entirely. Disappeared everywhere but from Democracy Now!
- Manning Marable, professor of history and political science at Columbia University, author of many books, including Black Liberation in Conservative America (1997), Speaking Truth to Power: Essays on Race, Radicalism and Resistance (1996).
- Howard Zinn, historian and author of A People’s History of the United States and You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, among other works. Zinn is also an activist who has spent much of his life working for social change in the civil rights and antiwar movements.
- Grace Paley, one of America’s most revered short story writers and a longtime peace activist.
AMY GOODMAN: Right now, we are blocks from Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers once stood. We are in the garret of a firehouse, Engine Company 31, in Chinatown. And as we have stayed here through the last few days, concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get back into the building in order to do this broadcast, because all areas that are south of 14th Street are being increasingly cracked down on, it is more and more difficult to get around. The National Guard, the Army, the Marines, the New York Police and others are securing the whole perimeter. People who live inside are lucky if they can get in and out, and people who work, well, it is hit or miss at this point.
The smell of the smoke is becoming increasingly acrid. Now it is coming up in the elevator of this building. And of course, concerns about asbestos and also even depleted uranium, which may have been in the planes that smashed into the World Trade Center. But who knows what toxic chemicals are burning or are in the air from the tremendous catastrophe that has taken place? And, of course, the bodies that are still buried in the World Trade Center towers, unclear how many at this point. The estimates range in the thousands.
Bush administration officials are saying that the stunning loss of life in the attacks, and the sense expressed by President Bush that these were, quote, “acts of war,” have freed the administration to broaden potential retaliation beyond the low-risk, unmanned cruise missile strikes of the past. As one military officer said, “The constraints have been lifted.” Since Tuesday afternoon, General Henry Shelton, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his appointed successor, General Richard Myers, the vice chair, have been consulting with senior field commanders in Asia, Europe and the Middle East to fine-tune military plans that could be carried out in a matter of days. Military officers and civilian officials pointed to Bush’s declaration that America would, quote, “make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” as a mandate to propose broad military options, perhaps carried out over days, weeks or months.
We’re joined on the telephone right now by two people. Howard Zinn is with us, radical historian, from Massachusetts, author of, among many other books, People’s History of the United States. And we’re joined from his home by Manning Marable, just back from the South Africa U.N. World Conference Against Racism. Manning Marable is a professor of history and political science at Columbia University and head of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, which he founded.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Manning Marable, let’s begin with you right here in Manhattan. Your response to what has taken place, and if we could begin to discuss your concerns now?
MANNING MARABLE: Yes. Well, thank you, Amy. And first, we must offer our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the thousands of innocent people who were killed in this tragic and horrific event. For those of us in New York City who watch New York 1 or the local stations on cable, you know, there is this impression, I suppose, throughout the world that people who work in Wall Street area or the tip of Manhattan are the powerful and the affluent. The vast majority of the families I’ve seen, the faces I’ve seen on television, are black and brown, Latinos and blacks and others, who work as clerical workers and custodians, mothers looking for their children, husbands looking for their wives, sons. It’s been truly horrific, and I think that many, many families in New York City will feel this pain for many years to come.
Secondly, I think it’s important for the American progressive movement to recognize and to reject unconditionally any use of terrorism as a political weapon, whether it’s committed by individuals or, more generally, by governments, because it’s alien to the traditions of the democratic left and classical Marxism. You can’t win the social movement through the use of this kind of extreme terroristic violence.
Now, saying those two things, we must also say soberly that the real political impact of this horrific tragedy, these events, may unfortunately push the U.S. political agenda sharply to the right. We have to really consider the global context of the events of the summer and what’s occurred up until just several days ago. At the end of ’99, you had Seattle and the sparking of an anti-globalization movement, struggles against neoliberal, neo-authoritarian state regimes, the political repression of all of these so-called democratic states. You had the South Africa World Conference Against Racism. Even in South Africa, unreported, at least in the United States, with the largest anti-privatization demonstration and a two-day general strike by the South African trade union coalition, COSATU, the largest demonstration since the end of apartheid, that occurred not against the ANC specifically, in terms of the government, but against the dynamics of privatization and neoliberal economic policies. You had the beginning of the possibility of a new Bandung movement—that is, an Afro-Asian-Latino unity, globalization from below. Not only do you have globalization—anti-globalization, that is largely white and largely driven in the northern part of the world, in the Northern hemisphere, but now you find in Asia, in Africa, in the Caribbean and Latin America, new movements for calling for renegotiation between the West versus the rest of us.
And that’s where this terrible, terrible tragedy actually strengthens, or potentially can strengthen, the right. In the context of terror, it creates a feeling of mass vulnerability, and that many people feel that surrendering our civil liberties as a trade-off for ensuring public safety my be the only way to go. It’s not surprising that throughout the United State in the last 48 hours there’s been a rapid increase in the purchasing of firearms. There’s talk today in the New York Times by Clyde Haberman that there ultimately is a trade-off between incidents such as Amadou Diallo and his murder, on the 41 shots, versus the necessity for people to feel safe in the streets.
This opens the door in a very ugly way to a racial subtext that I am very fearful of, not only racism in the sense that it gives a free hand to the use of the state to carry out, in the name of civil safety, public safety, a disregard of civil liberties. And we know, in a racialized state, in the context of that, the people who are going to get hurt the most are Latinos and blacks and other people of color. But what it also does is put forward a kind of ugly anti-Arabism. And you’ve seen examples of that throughout the country already: the mosques being shot at, death threats against Arab Americans, who are as appalled and as shocked and outraged by this act of terror as any other American citizen.
So all of those things are now unfolding. And unless the American progressive movement, the social justice movements have an orientation around these issues that fights for civil liberties and civil rights, that opposes the subtext of racialization, then there will be a dramatic move to the right. And now is the time to speak truth to power about these things.
AMY GOODMAN: Manning Marable, professor at Columbia University, joining us from his home in Manhattan. Again, the site of the attacks, Manhattan, the lower tip, last two days, on Tuesday, where it is believed thousands of people have been killed. We are going to go to a break, and then, when we come back, we’ll be joined, as well, in this dialogue by Howard Zinn, as well as author Grace Paley. We are doing a two-hour special today. Some stations may just be with us for the hour. We’ll also be speaking in this two hours with Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; Simona Sharoni, who is a well-known peace activist from Israel; as well as a number of other people. You are listening to Democracy Now! in Exile. As today the administration beats the drum to war, we are bringing you voices of peace and justice. Stay with us.[break]
AMY GOODMAN: We broadcast from, well, close to Ground Zero, near where the World Trade Center towers once stood. This whole area is an evacuation zone. We are in Chinatown. Last night, walking out on the streets, walking with the walking wounded, whether physically or not, these are the emergency workers who make their way up from the site of what were the World Trade Center towers. They are covered in dust from the cement, from the — who knows? — the asbestos, whatever. The crushed cars are all in evidence. The smell of fire and of smoke is everywhere and increasingly getting stronger.
We were just speaking with Manning Marable, who is continuing to be on the line with us, referring to a backlash right now against Arab Americans and American Muslims, as more and more discussion of Middle East terrorists is dominating the airwaves. In Chicago, a Molotov cocktail was tossed yesterday at an Arab-American community center. In a suburb of Chicago, 300 marchers, some waving American flags and shouting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” tried to march on a mosque in a southwest Chicago suburb. In Huntington, New York, a 75-year-old man tried to run over a Pakistani woman in the parking lot of a shopping mall. The man then followed the woman into a store and threatened to kill her for, quote, “destroying my country.”
And these attacks are not limited to the United States. In Australia, meanwhile, a school bus carrying Muslim children was stoned, and vandals tried to set fire to a Lebanese church in apparent acts of retaliation for the terrorist attacks in the United States.
As we speak, protesters in Washington are deciding what to do about meetings about the World Bank and the IMF—of the World Bank and IMF at the end of the month. And the discussion is a discussion of cancellation. It’s not clear if the World Bank and IMF are canceling their meetings.
But as we speak, most importantly, the search-and-rescue operation is continuing here in New York City, also in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., where a third plane ripped into that building. In New York, very few bodies have been discovered, even fewer people who are found in the rubble who are alive. And New York City has ordered something like 6,000 body bags, as pallets and coffins are being built.
We’re joined on the phone by Manning Marable, who is a professor at Columbia University here in Manhattan, as well as radical historian Howard Zinn, author of, among other books, People’s History of the United States.
Howard Zinn, your thoughts as you watch television and you take in the enormity of this catastrophe?
HOWARD ZINN: Well, you know, it’s of course hard, as it is for all of us, to even express our reaction, as we see these images on television. I mean, we are horrified and we are sickened by what we see. And we see people on fire leaping out of buildings. And we see people running, running from the site of the disaster and in fear, covered with dust. We look at the buildings themselves crashing down and try to imagine the bodies underneath. And it’s—you know, it’s overwhelming and, as I say, horrifying and sickening.
And then, you know, when we sort of begin to recover from that feeling, but never completely recover from that feeling, we listen to our political leaders on television. And what do we hear? We hear them talk of retaliation, punishment, we’re at war. And again, speaking for myself, just as I was horrified and sickened by this terrible, terrible act, set of acts that took place, and the human suffering caused by it, I was also sickened and horrified by the talk of our political leaders, from Bush down, Colin Powell, all the rest, and in fact echoed by television commentators who go along, talk of retaliation, of punishment, of we are at war. And my thought was, yes, this was the old way of thinking. We’re back to the old way of thinking. The old way of thinking is, when you are attacked, when a disaster has struck, you strike back, you retaliate. You go to war.
And what is the result of that? We’ve had a whole century of experience with retaliation and punishment and war. A century of experience. A century in which tens and tens and tens of millions of people have died because of this old way of thinking, because it’s the terrorist way of thinking. This is how terrorists think. Terrorists are retaliating for a grievance that they feel. Terrorists are punishing us for what they think we have done to them. Terrorists are making war on us, because they think that we are the cause of whatever problems they have, whatever grievances they have. And so, with that old way of thinking, we are simply repeating the cycle of violence and human tragedy, perpetuating it, not stopping it, not ending it, perpetuating it.
And so, when I hear our political leaders talk this way, I fear for our country. And then when I hear on television that they’ve taken polls, and 83 percent of the public want military retaliation, I despair, because I think that most of these people, most of these 83 percent, six months from now or a year from now, will rethink their immediate reaction, their immediate anger. And I think that when people have second thoughts and third thoughts about what has happened, they will not let their anger take over, they will not let their desire for punishment take over, but they will think more intelligently than our political leaders think.
What can we do about this? What can we do to prevent this? How can we stop the cycle of violence? Why don’t we take our cue, not from the politicians and the television commentators and the generals who think in the old ways and who really think in terms of meeting violence with violence—why can’t we take our cue from the rescue workers, from the compassion shown by the medical teams, the doctors and nurses and medical students, the firemen and policemen, whose thought—when they are taking care of these people and trying to find people and help them and cure them, their thought is not of retaliation. No, their thought is of human compassion and how to end the suffering. And if we began to think in that way, if we stopped thinking in the old ways of retaliation and punishment and war, we would then try to think of constructive ways in which we can prevent what is happening. It’s not a matter of beefing up our intelligence services, as you hear these pundits say, and again and again. It’s a matter of our own intelligence, our own human intelligence, and using intelligence instead of anger.
And then, when we do that, we will learn something from history. We’ll learn something from the history of this century. We’ll think back to how, oh, Ronald Reagan, reacting to the bombing of a discotheque in West Berlin, an act of terrorism, sent U.S. bombers over Libya to bomb Tripoli. Maybe a hundred people were killed. What did it do? What did it accomplish? There was only more terrorism. And then Clinton sends bombers over Baghdad and kills a number of people. What was that for? To send a message. What message did that send? U.S. embassies are bombed in Kenya and Tanzania, and Clinton responds by bombing what he said was a terrorist camp in Afghanistan and what he said was a nerve gas plant in the Sudan, but what turned out to be a pharmaceutical plant, which was producing medicines that people desperately needed. And we don’t know how many thousands of people died in the Sudan as a result of our bombing. And this is the old way of thinking.
If all these bombings, if all of our military acts all over the world have sent messages to terrorists, then how come this happened in New York? Obviously, sending a message by bombing, by violence, does not work. And so, we have to think in new ways. Obviously, spending $300 billion for a military budget, depriving people in this country of the things that that $300 billion could be used for, that is depriving people of healthcare and daycare centers and a good education and the kinds of things that people need to have a decent life, that $300 billion did not prevent this horrible thing from taking place in New York. All the things that are being planned for us now—Star Wars, missile defense—would that protect us against an act like this? And what if they start to take away our civil liberties, as they’re already beginning to talk about, create more of a police state? Can they ever really totally stop all the loopholes in a very complex society, where just a few individuals who are determined and fanatical can carry out an act of horrible violence? No, that won’t work.
We need to rethink what we have been doing so far, the feelings of anger that we’ve had, which have then been turned into violent acts against other people. We ought to think about the times in the world when we, with our bombs, have caused the kind of scenes in other countries that we are seeing now in New York. I mean, think of it. I mean, I remember when we were bombing Yugoslavia. I remember seeing a scene on television of a child who was a victim of one of our bombs, a child with a leg cut off. And I thought of how many more children there were like that. And I thought of how many children there are in the world who—and there have been now for decades—who have been killed, their legs, arms torn off by land mines, which the United States refuses to get rid of. In other words, we need to think about these scenes in New York and imagine these scenes happening all over the world, some of them caused by terrorists in other places, some of them caused by us, but all of them a result of the psychology of anger, retaliation, violence, “We must show them,” that old way of thinking.
AMY GOODMAN: For those people who are just joining us now, that is historian Howard Zinn, author of People’s History of the United States. Also on the line with us, Professor Manning Marable, and we are coming to author Grace Paley. We’re broadcasting around the country and in New York. In Manhattan, we can be seen on MNN, Manhattan Neighborhood Network, public access channel 34. And I encourage people who are watching this now to call your friends and let them know. Actually, where we are right now, right near where the World Trade Center towers used to be, we have no access to television right now. Increasingly, services are cut off in this very desolate area, where only emergency workers, for the most part, are being allowed in, with buildings that have not fallen at this point having infrastructure damage and very serious issues in the area, as still the thousands of bodies that are believed to be in the World Trade Center rubble have not yet been salvaged.
Grace Paley, as you listen from your home in Vermont, your observations today, as we deal with, first, the attacks, and now, as the government response is developing, a bipartisan resolution vowing U.S. retaliation won unanimous approval in the early hours of today. The House of Representatives passed the nonbinding measure by a vote of 408 to zero about 12 hours after the Senate approved it 100 to zero. And at the beginning of this program, we quoted Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, saying that the message for those behind the attacks is “We’re coming after you. God may have mercy on you, but we won’t.” Grace Paley?
GRACE PALEY: Well, what do you expect to hear from John McCain? Anyway, he’s been famous as this—as this POW, but what he did before that was do considerable amount of bombing in Vietnam. And so, he knows what it’s like, and he knows how safe he is up in the sky. He can just fly around up there and bomb towns, villages. That’s his style, and that’s his history. And it kind of gives a kind of lie to his pathetic situation as a POW.
AMY GOODMAN: But he certainly is not alone in voicing these sentiments.
GRACE PALEY: But he’s not, but I simply picked up—
AMY GOODMAN: Four hundred and eight to zero, a hundred to zero.
GRACE PALEY: Yes. Yeah, I picked up from where you began. I mean, I was—that was where I really was most active, and as I—and just hearing him offer to continue with his great work and bring other people into it, and it’s really what bombing is about. I mean, it’s—except for the way it was done, you know, this week, in destroying our city. I want to say that I’m in Vermont now. New York is my city. And I feel very—I feel very bad not to be there, and very heavy in my heart, which is kind of a different way of talking about all this. But I do feel that sense of how the great city has fallen. So, I talked from—you know, from that very feelingful position.
But this—as Howard says, I mean, this business of retaliation is simply the way it’s always been done. And our smartest people think that they have to use their brains to figure out how best to retaliate or how best to make war. And it brings us to total hopelessness.
I will say one thing, that I’ve learned here, at least, talking to people who said, “We have to go after them.” If I keep saying enough, then we will kill 20,000 innocent people. If you keep saying it enough to them, people begin to listen to you. So I have only the hope that we—not only we progressive people, but people who are thinking at all about this in a serious way—can begin to kind of act as missionaries everywhere, just as all of the—just as all of those people who are going into the rubble of the World Trade Center and the lower part of Manhattan. Just as they go to do those acts of regeneration and mercy, I think we have real obligations through our organizations to talk to people in their own terms.
I agree with everything, absolutely, that Manning Marable said and everything Howard Zinn said. I have no way of adding to it, and their history is more on the ball than mine, really. But I do know that—and I’ve worked in enough actions around U.S. aggression and perversion to know—I do know that we simply can’t do—can’t act the way people—we have acted before. And it’s a feeling I’ve had for a very long time, that we cannot—we cannot live the way we have lived. You know, in the Bible, God says, “Vengeance is mine,” said the Lord. And people have always read that as a kind of an enraged thought of God, you know, talking. But I’ve always read it as a way of saying—of saying, “Vengeance is mine. You guys lay off. I’ll take care of this. Don’t worry. I have another 50,000 years.” And slowly, little by little, maybe I can—maybe He can take care of it. That’s a kind of a, you know, more artistic or religious way of looking at it.
AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, I’m going to get the response of Manning Marable, and specifically about the discussion of where the people who have perpetrated these attacks come from. Again, the information is sketchy at this point. It is not exactly clear. We haven’t been told people’s identities. But what is happening here, a discussion of what is happening in Afghanistan. And we’ll be joined in the next segment of the program, and those that stay with us in the next hour, by a Jesuit priest, Dan Berrigan. We are hoping to go to the West Bank. We’ll also be joined by Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness, Hussein Ibish from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and others. You’re listening to Democracy Now! in Exile, broadcasting from the evacuation zone in downtown Manhattan. Stay with us.[break]
AMY GOODMAN: As we bring you this special on voices of hope and justice, voices of peace, as the rhetoric in Washington and what is being talked about on television increases, the discussion of war and retaliation, Attorney General John Ashcroft said 12 to 24 hijackers commandeered the four planes. A government official said another two dozen or so are believed to have assisted them. About 40 of the men have been accounted for, including those killed in the suicide attacks, but 10 remain at large, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday night on its website, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the investigation. The Times reported at least one of the suspects received advanced flight training in Florida, was a commercial pilot from Saudi Arabia. Some of those involved in the plot left suicide notes, but they’re not believed to have been hijackers, a government source told the Associated Press. It’s unclear whether those who left notes actually killed themselves. At least one hijacker on each of the four planes was trained at a U.S. flight school. Authorities detained at least a half a dozen people in Massachusetts and Florida, on unrelated local warrants and immigration charges, and were questioning them about their possible ties to the hijackers.
It’s very difficult to gather information at this point, so many unnamed sources, so much information comes out. We certainly learned from the bombing of the Oklahoma City building that a lot of the information that we first reported was not accurate. But what we do know is that Congress has passed unanimous resolutions, a non-binding measure, by a vote of 408 to zero in the House and 100 to zero in the Senate of a resolution that won unanimous approval, vowing U.S. retaliation.
In Kabul, Arab nationals were reported to have evacuated the Afghan capital, as other residents began digging trenches in anticipation of possible U.S. retaliation. While it’s not immediately clear how many Arab nationals live in Afghanistan, residents said almost all had left the capital. U.S. officials have said Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, now a, quote, “guest” of the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan, is almost certainly responsible. Bin Laden is said to have denied involvement. The Taliban today denied a report that bin Laden, also blamed for the bombing of the two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, had been placed under house arrest. President Bush won the public support today of two key nations, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, in the U.S. campaign against terror. That is a report out of Reuters called “U.S. Bent on Revenge for Terror Attacks.”
Well, this discussion, Professor Manning Marable of Columbia University, of retaliation, how do you think it is most productive to frame this, and what is your response to it?
MANNING MARABLE: Well, listening to both Howard and Grace reminded me of several quotations, one from Malcolm X. Malcolm said that anger can blind human vision. And Martin, Martin Luther King, Jr., said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. For Malcolm and Martin, peace was not just an option. In fact, for our time, it is the only way out of the dialectics of terror, because the tools of mass terror only breed more terror and retaliation.
The American people are being told by their leaders that this horrific tragedy that humanity has suffered—not just the American people, but humankind has suffered over the last several days, thousands of innocent people who were killed—we can find a way of dealing with that through the use of mass terror on the part of our state against some unnamed enemy. That’s no solution to the crisis that plagues us in this country or throughout the world. Ultimately, what drives the dialectics of terror is the structural inequality that—more than anything else, that exists between the third world and the first world, between the structural inequality both that’s reflected in poverty, in hunger, economic oppression, political regimes that repress democratic rights and self-determination of racialized or nationally oppressed groups. And until we find a new way—Howard is so right in this—it is easy to provide a kind of leadership at a moment of crisis and pain and anger, when disaster strikes. The natural instinct is to fight back. It’s to retaliate. It’s to punish. And that’s really the logic of terrorism.
Another way, a democratic—small-D democratic—a humanistic way is not just to give peace a chance, it’s to realize that in the context of developing societies where terror ceases to exist, that social justice and peace are the only way, because if we do indeed engage and go down the road, as we did in 1983 with the terrorist bombing in Lebanon of the U.S. military—days later, the U.S. invades Grenada and metes out terror in the Caribbean—the dynamic of this, we’ve seen in Vietnam, we’ve seen it in the Caribbean, we’ve seen it all over the world. We have a choice to make as an American people: we can oppose and reject the kind of violence and terror that was meted out unjustly and indefensibly against the people of New York, but at the same moment we must see that the road toward reconciliation and peace cannot be achieved through the use of the same tools of terror that had been used against us.
You know, this whole dynamic leading to the restriction of civil liberties, the anti-Arabism and anti-Islamic hatred and violence that is now being meted out in dozens of places throughout the country, all of these, I think, will undercut civil liberties and make our society institutionally far more violent than it ever was in the days prior to the horrific bombing in New York.
AMY GOODMAN: If I was talking to President Marable right now, I think the world would be a different place. But given the situation—
MANNING MARABLE: I’m not in—I’m not in state power.
AMY GOODMAN: Given the situation as it stands right now, what would you be saying on television?
MANNING MARABLE: I would, first and foremost, give my condolences and prayers to the families who lost their loved ones. And I would condemn, without reservation, the violence that was used against these people in such an indiscriminately and wanton way. But I would also say that the fight against terrorism cannot be achieved through the use of more terror, that in a civil and democratic society, that the strength of the society is in its pursuit of social justice and social fairness that give people access and a democratic voice within their polity.
When Rudy Giuliani says that freedom in a society is defined by obedience and order, that’s the kind—as he said words to that effect in the New York Times, there was a quote today—that leads us down the slippery slope toward a kind of neo-authoritarianism, which will only breed more terror, which will only breed more anger and these kinds of acts of violence that—and we have to get out of the dialectics of fear, of terror, of brutality. There is another way, and it takes courage to provide that leadership. Unfortunately, on Capitol Hill today and certainly in the White House, we don’t see that political morality or political courage. At a moment when so many Americans are grieving and angry, there must be a kind of moral political leadership, another way. And unfortunately, we don’t have that in this country in power.
AMY GOODMAN: And if it was Professor Zinn, very practically, after this massive terrorist attack in the United States, what would you be doing right now?
HOWARD ZINN: Well, I think that—you mean, if I were—if I had a chance to speak to the American people, and if I had a chance to shape American policy, I think that—well, just as Manning Marable said, first I would certainly condemn all forms of terrorism, and I would speak out [inaudible] violence. And what was done to us in New York and Washington was indiscriminate violence for a presumed political purpose, to redress some grievance, some anger. And that must be condemned. It must be condemned when other people do it, and it must be condemned when we do it.
And we certainly should think again about our political leadership. The Congress voting unanimously for an act of retaliation is really, to me, a horrifying thought, because it means that the members of Congress are thinking as politicians. They’re thinking of what will please the public, which has already been exhorted to retaliation by a president and by the secretary of defense and by the media, and so they’re trying to please the public. And so, they vote unanimously for retaliation. And I think back to the unanimous vote for retaliation in the House of Representatives at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 and how that led to a long, long and terrible war costing millions of lives.
And we don’t want to repeat what happened in New York. We don’t want the terrible scenes that happened in New York to be repeated in Afghanistan or Iraq or Iran or anywhere in the world. And therefore, we must end the cycle of violence. We must stop thinking of ourselves as a huge military power using its weapons and using its bombers, which can only spread fear in the world and can only cause more terrorism. I think we have to no longer think of ourselves as a military superpower, and we have to think about how—and I think Manning Marable said this—how we can create a just society at home. And the enormous wealth that we have should not be used to, as it has been used, to send arms to other countries, which are then used to oppress people, who then get angry at us and commit acts of terrorism against us. We should use our enormous wealth to solve the problems that we have here and to help other people in the world help solve the problems of AIDS and tuberculosis and poverty. We should become a healer in the world, instead of a punisher in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to dealing with this in an immediate way, President Bush saying it’s not only going after the terrorists, but those—and he’s talking about countries and states—that harbor them?
HOWARD ZINN: Yes, but when he talks that way, that means that we—we cannot specifically act against the individuals who carried on these actions, because we’re not even sure who they are. And so, what we will do is we will pick a country, like Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden is staying, which is harboring him, and we will bomb some target in Afghanistan, and innocent people will be killed. And this is what we have done all the time. It’s a way of showing that we are doing something. It’s a political act and not an intelligent act. It’s a way of trying to say to the American people, “You see? Your government is reacting, doing something as a result of this tragedy.” But it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us. Howard Zinn, author of, among other books, People’s History of the United States, world-renowned historian. Professor Manning Marable, one of America’s most influential historians, Dr. Marable founded the Institute for Research in African-American Studies and is a political science professor at Columbia University. For stations that are continuing with us, we’ll be going to a music break, and then we’ll be back with a number of other guests, as we focus on voices of peace and justice in this time of the administration clearly building a drumbeat for war.
Democracy Now! • September 13, 2001