War

Zinn on Growing Up, Objectivity, Bombing, Media, Genocide, and Propaganda

Interview by David Barsamian • Published by ZCommunications • November 1, 2002
I want to know something about your roots, growing up in the projects on the lower east side.

I grew up in the slums of Brooklyn, a working class family. My parents were European immigrants, factory workers in New York. They met as factory workers. They were Jewish immigrants. My father came from Austria, my mother from Asiatic Russia, Siberia. I remember moving all the time. We were always one step ahead of the landlord. And changing schools all the time. My father struggled, went from job to job, he was unemployed and under WPA. I wanted to get out of the house all the time. Where we lived was never a nice place to be. So I was in the streets a lot. I understand what it’s like for kids to live in and prefer the streets. That’s how I grew up.

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Saying “No” to War

From Boston to Washington, D.C. to Madison, Wisconsin, We Hear From Howard Zinn, Medea Benjamin and Others ZINN: To go to war means that you do not consider the lives of other people as important as the live… Read More

Interview with Howard Zinn

Interview by Amir Butler • Published at A True Word • October 28, 2002
Amir Butler talks to Professor Zinn about imperialism and the “War on Terror.”

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What War Looks Like

Published in The Progressive • October 10, 2002
In all the solemn statements by self-important politicians and newspaper columnists about a coming war against Iraq, and even in the troubled comments by some who are opposed to the war, there is something missing. The talk is about strategy and tactics, geopolitics and personalities. It is about air war and ground war, weapons of mass destruction, arms inspections, alliances, oil, and “regime change.”

What is missing is what an American war on Iraq will do to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of ordinary human beings who are not concerned with geopolitics and military strategy, and who just want their children to live, to grow up. They are not concerned with “national security” but with personal security, with food and shelter and medical care and peace.

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The Case Against War on Iraq

Published in 

the Boston Globe • August 19, 2002
The Bush administration’s plan for preemptive war against Iraq so flagrantly violates both international law and common morality that we need a real national debate.

The discussion should begin with the recognition that an attack on Iraq would constitute an attack on the Charter of the United Nations, since the United States would then be in violation of several provisions…

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The Toll of War

Published in The Progressive • August 8, 2002
Democracy flies out the window as soon as war comes along. So when officials in Washington talk about democracy, either here or abroad, as they take this country to war, they don’t mean it. They don’t want democracy; they want to run things themselves. They want to decide whether we go to war. They want to decide the lives and deaths of people in this country, and they certainly want to decide the lives and deaths of people in Iraq and all over the Middle East.

Faced with this attitude, our job is just a simple one: to stop them.

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A Break-in for Peace

Published in The Progressive • July 2, 2002
In the film Ocean’s 11, eleven skillful crooks embark on an ingenious plan, meticulously worked out, to break into an impossibly secure vault and make off with more than $100 million in Las Vegas casino loot. Hardly a crime of passion, despite the faint electrical charge surrounding Julia Roberts and George Clooney. No, money was the motive, with as little moral fervor attending the crime as went into the making of the movie, which had the same motive.

I was reminded of this recently when I sat in a courtroom in Camden, New Jersey, and participated in the recollection of another break-in, carried out by the Camden 28, where the motive was to protest the war in Vietnam.

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The People’s Historian: Howard Zinn

Democracy Now! • June 21, 2002
More recently, he has been an outspoken critic of the so-called war on terrorism. This spring he published Terrorism and War, a book exploring the loss of civil liberties during war and the history of American resistance to wars from World War I to the war in Afghanistan.

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Operation Enduring War

Published in The Progressive • March 10, 2002
We are “winning the war on terror.” I learn this from George Bush’s State of the Union Address. “Our progress,” he said, “is a tribute to the might of the United States military.” My hometown newspaper, The Boston Globe, is congratulatory: “On the war front, the Administration has much to take pride in.”

But the President also tells us that “tens of thousands of trained terrorists are still at large.” That hardly suggests we are “winning the war.” Furthermore, he says, there is a “grave and growing danger.”

Bush singled out Iran, Iraq, and North Korea because they may be building “weapons of mass destruction.” And that’s not all: “Terror training camps still exist in at least a dozen countries,” he says.

The prospect is for a war without end.

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‘Where Are We Heading: Terrorism, Global Security, and the Peace Movement’

The United States ambassador for war crimes said yesterday that the Geneva Conventions are outdated and need to be rewritten to deal with the threat of international terrorism. During a time of seemingly endless war, there are few… Read More

The Others

Published in The Nation • February 2, 2002
Every day for several months, the New York Times did what should always be done when a tragedy is summed up in a statistic: It gave us miniature portraits of the human beings who died on September 11—their names, photos, glimmers of their personalities, their idiosyncrasies, how friends and loved ones remember them.

As the director of the New York Historical Society said: “The peculiar genius of it was to put a human face on numbers that are unimaginable to most of us…. It’s so obvious that every one of them was a person who deserved to live a full and successful and happy life. You see what was lost.”

I was deeply moved, reading those intimate sketches—”A Poet of Bensonhurst…A Friend, A Sister…Someone to Lean On…Laughter, Win or Lose…” I thought: Those who celebrated the grisly deaths of the people in the twin towers and the Pentagon as a blow to symbols of American dominance in the world—what if, instead of symbols, they could see, up close, the faces of those who lost their lives? I wonder if they would have second thoughts, second feelings.

Then it occurred to me: What if all those Americans who declare their support for Bush’s “war on terrorism” could see, instead of those elusive symbols—Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda—the real human beings who have died under our bombs? I do believe they would have second thoughts.

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Afghanistan, U.S. Wars Gone By, and the Prospects for a Humane U.S. Foreign Policy

This weekend marked the start of the ground war in Afghanistan. More than 200 U.S. commandos and light infantry Rangers landed and fought with Taliban forces near the regime’s spiritual stronghold of Kandahar, and a military airport 60… Read More

Violence Doesn’t Work

Published in The Progressive • September 14, 2001
The images on television have been heartbreaking. People on fire leaping to their deaths from a hundred stories up. People in panic and fear racing from the scene in clouds of dust and smoke.

We knew that there must be thousands of human beings buried alive, but soon dead under a mountain of debris. We can only imagine the terror among the passengers of the hijacked planes as they contemplated the crash, the fire, the end. Those scenes horrified and sickened me.

Then our political leaders came on television, and I was horrified and sickened again. They spoke of retaliation, of vengeance, of punishment.

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Manning Marable, Howard Zinn and Grace Paley Speak Out Against the March to War

Democracy Now! • September 13, 2001
“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.”

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The Greatest Generation?

Published in The Progressive • August 1, 2001
They tell me I am a member of the greatest generation. That’s because I saw combat duty as a bombardier in World War II, and we (I almost said “I”) won the war against fascism. I am told this by Tom Brokaw, who wrote a book called The Greatest Generation, which is all about us. He is an anchorman for a big television network, meaning that he is anchored to orthodoxy, and there is no greater orthodoxy than to ascribe greatness to military valor.

That idea is perpetuated by an artillery barrage of books and films about World War II: Pearl Harbor, Saving Private Ryan, and the HBO multi-episode story of the 101st Airborne, Band of Brothers, based on Stephen Ambrose’s book of the same name. And Ambrose has just published an exciting history of the valiant “men and boys” who flew B-24s.

The crews who flew those planes died in great numbers. We who flew the more graceful-looking B-17s sardonically called those other planes Bdash2crash4. I wrote from my air base in England to my friend Joe Perry, who was flying B-24s out of Italy, kidding him about his big clunk of a plane, but the humor was extinguished when my last letter to him came back with the notation “Deceased.”

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Downfall

Published by ZCommunications • August 18, 2000
I am surprised that my friend Hans Koning, a stalwart protester against the war in Vietnam, seems to have been taken in by the argument of Richard Frank, in his review of Frank’s Downfall. Yes, we must all be willing to reconsider our most hardened judgements in the light of new evidence. But there is nothing in Frank’s argument — however assiduous his research — to make those of us who see the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an unspeakable atrocity change our minds.

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A Larger Consciousness

Published by ZCommunications • December 22, 1999
Some years ago, when I was teaching at Boston University, I was asked by a Jewish group to give a talk on the Holocaust. I spoke that evening, but not about the Holocaust of World War II, not about the genocide of six million Jews. It was the mid-Eighties, and the United States government was supporting death squad governments in Central America, so I spoke of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of peasants in Guatemala and El Salvador, victims of American policy. My point was that the memory of the Jewish Holocaust should not be encircled by barbed wire, morally ghettoized, kept isolated from other genocides in history. It seemed to me that to remember what happened to Jews served no important purpose unless it aroused indignation, anger, action against all atrocities, anywhere in the world.

A few days later, in the campus newspaper, there was a letter from a faculty member who had heard me speak — a Jewish refugee who had left Europe for Argentina, and then the United States. He objected strenuously to my extending the moral issue from Jews in Europe in the 1940s to people in other parts of the world, in our time.

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Their Atrocities—and Ours

Published in The Progressive • July 2, 1999
Official terrorism, whether used abroad or at home, by jet bombers or by the police, always receives an opportunity to explain itself in the press, as ordinary terrorism does not.

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Whose Atrocity is Bigger?

Published by ZCommunications • May 25, 1999
I get e-mail messages from Yugoslav opponents of Milosovic, who demonstrated against him in the streets of Belgrade (before the air strikes began), who tell me their children cannot sleep at night, terrified by the incessant bombing. They tell of the loss of light, of water, of the destruction of the basic sources of life for ordinary people.

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A Diplomatic Solution

Published in The Progressive • May 2, 1999
A friend wrote to ask my opinion on Kosovo. He said many people were turning to him for answers, and he didn’t know what to say, so he was turning to me (knowing, I guess, that I always have something to say, right or wrong).

Several things seem clear to me, and they don’t fit easily together in a way that points to a clean solution.

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