Interview by Amir Butler
Professor Howard Zinn, 77, is one of the most outspoken critics of American imperialism and war. Zinn was a bombardier in World War II, before becoming a professor at one of Atlanta’s Black universities in the 1950s. An active figure in the anti-Vietnam and civil rights movement, Zinn is one of the most respected figures of America’s political left.
He is most famous for authoring, A People’s History of the United States, a radical re-telling of America’s history from the point of view of the victims. The book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and is today taught at schools and universities across the United States.
Amir Butler talks to Professor Zinn about imperialism and the “War on Terror.”
Amir Butler: At what point in her history do you think America first began developing imperial aspirations and began transforming into an empire of sorts?
Howard Zinn: Imperial aspirations probably can be said to begin with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 which in effect declared the Western Hemisphere a U.S. sphere of influence. The United States government began thinking about Cuba. But imperial expansion into the Caribbean begins in 1898 with the Spanish American War, which enables the U.S. to make of Cuba a protectorate and to take Puerto Rico, then Hawaii, and then (after a bloody war) the Philippines.
AB: There seems to be an acceptance of America’s role as a “global policeman” and a force of profound goodness in world affairs, with Afghanistan being the latest example of that. How can the case best be made against this idea that America has a moral obligation to occupy such a role?
HZ: To call being the world’s policeman a “moral obligation” implies that the policing will be for moral purposes. But in fact, the use of military power abroad, in the history of this country, has not been for moral purposes, but to expand economic, political and military power.
AB: With regards to the changes to civil liberties that have taken place, do you think that these are things that Bush et al wanted to do all along but only recently found the chance, or are these sincere but perhaps misguided responses to the events of 9/11?
HZ: The diminution of civil liberties under the Bush Administration are hardly sincere or misguided. This is not an administration concerned with civil liberties. September 11th gave it an opportunity to do faster and on a broader scale what was basic to its philosophy — surveillance of dissident groups, suspicion of non-citizens, an atmosphere of intimidation.
AB: As a historian, do you see any parallels in history for what is currently taking place with regards to this so-called War on Terror?
HZ: The cold war used “the Communist threat” in the same way that the threat of terrorism is used today. Granted that Communism was real and terrorism is real, both have been used for purposes far beyond communism or terrorism. They have been used as excuses to spread U.S. power farther than ever before.
AB: What do you think are the real objectives behind the War?
HZ: I think the real objectives have to do with the control of Mideast oil, and with the expansion of military bases to even more countries in the world (already we have bases in 130 or so countries), and with the political advantages seen by a “war on terrorism” which is used to rally the public behind the president.
Published at A True Word • October 28, 2002