Essays and Speeches

Put Away the Flags

Published in The Progressive • July 2, 2006
On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

Read More...

America’s Blinders

Published in The Progressive • April 10, 2006
Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have begun to register indignation), we might ask: How come so many people were so easily fooled?

The question is important because it might help us understand why Americans—members of the media as well as the ordinary citizen—rushed to declare their support as the President was sending troops halfway around the world to Iraq.

Read More...

Lessons of Iraq War Start with U.S. History

Published in The Progressive • March 6, 2006
On the third anniversary of President Bush’s Iraq debacle, it’s important to consider why the administration so easily fooled so many people into supporting the war.

I believe there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture.

One is an absence of historical perspective. The other is an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism.

If we don’t know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives. But if we know some history, if we know how many times presidents have lied to us, we will not be fooled again.

Read More...

After the War

Published in The Progressive • January 27, 2006
The war against Iraq, the assault on its people, the occupation of its cities, will come to an end, sooner or later. The process has already begun. The first signs of mutiny are appearing in Congress. The first editorials calling for withdrawal from Iraq are beginning to appear in the press. The anti-war movement has been growing, slowly but persistently, all over the country.

Public opinion polls now show the country decisively against the war and the Bush Administration. The harsh realities have become visible. The troops will have to come home.

Read More...
Chief Justice John Roberts signing document • Photo by Eric Draper • WikiCommons

Don’t Despair About the Supreme Court

Published in The Progressive • November 8, 2005
John Roberts sailed through his confirmation hearings as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with enthusiastic Republican support, and a few weak mutterings of opposition by the Democrats. Then, after the far right deemed Harriet Miers insufficiently doctrinaire, Bush nominated arch conservative Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor. This has caused a certain consternation among people we affectionately term “the left.”

I can understand that sinking feeling. Even listening to pieces of Roberts’s confirmation hearings was enough to induce despair: the joking with the candidate, the obvious signs that, whether Democrats or Republicans, these are all members of the same exclusive club.

Read More...

The Scourge of Nationalism

Published in The Progressive • June 1, 2005
I cannot get out of my mind the recent news photos of ordinary Americans sitting on chairs, guns on laps, standing unofficial guard on the Arizona border, to make sure no Mexicans cross over into the United States. There was something horrifying in the realization that, in this twenty-first century of what we call “civilization,” we have carved up what we claim is one world into 200 artificially created entities we call “nations” and armed to apprehend or kill anyone who crosses a boundary.

Is not nationalism–that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder–one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking–cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on–have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

Read More...

Against Discouragement

In 1963, Howard Zinn was fired from Spelman College, where he was chair of the History Department, because of his civil rights activities. In 2005, he was invited back by President Beverly Daniel Tatum to give the commencement… Read More

Changing Minds, One at a Time

Published in The Progressive • March 2, 2005
As I write this, the day after the inauguration, the banner headline in The New York Times reads: “BUSH, AT 2ND INAUGURAL, SAYS SPREAD OF LIBERTY IS THE ‘CALLING OF OUR TIME.’ ”

Two days earlier, on an inside page of the Times, was a photo of a little girl, crouching, covered with blood, weeping. The caption read: “An Iraqi girl screamed yesterday after her parents were killed when American soldiers fired on their car when it failed to stop, despite warning shots, in Tal Afar, Iraq. The military is investigating the incident.”

Read More...

Harness That Anger

Published in The Progressive • January 1, 2005
In the days after the election, it seemed that all my friends were either depressed or angry, frustrated or indignant, or simply disgusted. Neighbors who had never said more than hi to me stopped me on the street and delivered passionate little speeches that made me think they had just listened to a re-broadcast of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, in which powerful creatures arrive on Earth to take it over.

But then I reconsidered: They had not been listening to H. G. Wells. There really were strange and powerful creatures that had just occupied the United States and now wanted to take over the rest of the world. Yes, Bush was reelected President, and whether there was fraud in the voting process or not, John Kerry quickly threw in the towel. The minnow called for reconciliation with the crocodile.

Read More...

Our War on Terrorism

Published in The Progressive • November 1, 2004
I’m calling it “our” war on terrorism because I want to distinguish it from Bush’s war on terrorism, and from Sharon’s, and from Putin’s. What their wars have in common is that they are based on an enormous deception: persuading the people of their countries that you can deal with terrorism by war. These rulers say you can end our fear of terrorism–of sudden, deadly, vicious attacks, a fear new to Americans–by drawing an enormous circle around an area of the world where terrorists come from (Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya) or can be claimed to be connected with (Iraq), and by sending in tanks and planes to bomb and terrorize whoever lives within that circle.

Since war is itself the most extreme form of terrorism, a war on terrorism is profoundly self-contradictory. Is it strange, or normal, that no major political figure has pointed this out?

Read More...

The Optimism of Uncertainty

Published by 
ZCommunications • September 30, 2004; The Nation • September 20, 2004
In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy?

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played.

The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

Read More...

Kerry Needs the Courage to Walk Away from Iraq

Published in the Miami Herald • September 16, 2004
If John Kerry wants to win, he must recognize that our military intervention in Iraq is a disaster — for Americans, for Iraqis, for the world. He must stop boasting about his courage in Vietnam and instead start talking about his moral courage in opposing that war. He needs to stop saying, as he did recently in the Midwest, that he defended this country when he was fighting in Vietnam. That is not an honest statement. If it were true, then he would not have turned against the war.

He was not defending this country when he fought in Vietnam. He was defending this country when he said that we were wrong to be in Vietnam and we should get out.

Read More...

Dissent at the War Memorial

Published in The Progressive • August 8, 2004
As I write this, the sounds of the World War II Memorial celebration in Washington, D.C., are still in my head. I was invited by the Smithsonian Institution to be on one of the panels, and the person who called to invite me said that the theme would be “War Stories.” I told him that I would come, but not to tell “war stories,” rather to talk about World War II and its meaning for us today. Fine, he said.

I made my way into a scene that looked like a movie set for a Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza—huge tents pitched here and there, hawkers with souvenirs, thousands of visitors, many of them clearly World War II veterans, some in old uniforms, sporting military caps, wearing their medals. In the tent designated for my panel, I joined my fellow panelist, an African American woman who had served with the WACS (Women’s Army Corps) in World War II, and who would speak about her personal experiences in a racially segregated army.

Read More...

What Do We Do Now?

Published in The Progressive • June 8, 2004
It seems very hard for some people–especially those in high places, but also those striving for high places–to grasp a simple truth: The United States does not belong in Iraq. It is not our country. Our presence is causing death, suffering, destruction, and so large sections of the population are rising against us. Our military is then reacting with indiscriminate force, bombing and shooting and rounding up people simply on “suspicion.”

…any discussion of “What do we do now?” must start with the understanding that the present U.S. military occupation is morally unacceptable.

Read More...

Dying for the Government

Published in The Progressive • June 1, 2004
Our government has declared a military victory in Iraq. As a patriot, I will not celebrate. I will mourn the dead–the American GIs, and also the Iraqi dead, of whom there have been many, many more.

I will mourn the Iraqi children, not just those who are dead, but those who have been blinded, crippled, disfigured, or traumatized. We have not been given in the American media (we would need to read the foreign press) a full picture of the human suffering caused by our bombing.…

As a patriot, contemplating the dead GIs, I could comfort myself (as, understandably, their families do) with the thought: “They died for their country.” But I would be lying to myself.

Read More...

Opposing the War Party

Published in The Progressive • May 2, 2004
The Progressive has been a thorn in the side of the establishment for almost a hundred years. Its life span covers two world wars and six smaller wars. It saw the fake prosperity of the Twenties and the tumult of the Thirties. Its voice remained alive through the Cold War and the hysteria over communism.

Through all that, down to the present day, and the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, this intrepid magazine has been part of the long struggle for peace, for a boundary-less world. It may be useful to recall some of the heroes–some famous, some obscure–of that historic resistance to war.

Read More...

Check the Facts Before Rushing to War

Published by News Day • April 13, 2004
After a year of fighting in Iraq and an occupation fraught with violence, surely it is not rash to suggest, given the debacle over missing “weapons of mass destruction,” that it is a good general rule to treat any official rationale for war with skepticism. This conduct would be a healthy departure from the tendency of both Congress and the major media to assume, as was clearly done on the eve of this war in Iraq, that the government is telling the truth. And such skepticism would certainly be a prudent approach to any supposed candor coming from presidential press conferences, such as last night’s, during an election campaign.

Read More...

Of Paradise and Power

Published by

 ZCommunications • February 9, 2004
I suppose it is part of the corruption of contemporary language that an analysis of American foreign policy by a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace should argue for the right of the United States to use military force, regardless of international law, and international opinion, whenever it unilaterally decides its “national interest” requires it. Robert Kagan’s book Of Paradise and Power is important, not because it’s logic is unassailable, or his values admirable, but because it serves as intellectual justification for the foreign policy of the United States, and therefore (as the New York Times reviewer put it) demands “serious attention”. That attention it has received, with the major media rushing to review it, mostly with admiration.

Read More...

The Logic of Withdrawal

Published in The Progressive • January 1, 2004
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.

Read More...

An Occupied Country

Published in The Progressive • October 8, 2003
We became familiar with the term “occupied country” during World War II. We talked of German-occupied France, German-occupied Europe. And after the war we spoke of Soviet-occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Eastern Europe. It was the Nazis, the Soviets, who occupied other countries.

Now we are the occupiers.

Read More...