‘The Human Reality of War Changed My Life’
Confessions made to Cubans, by one of the most prestigious American historians, playwright and activist against imperialist wars.
Interview by Pedro de la Hoz • Translated by Ana Portela
Howard Zinn has a scar in his soul as a veteran of the Second World War. Enlisted by the Air Force as a bombardier, his mission was to drop heavy and deadly bombs over German cities. Upon his return to the United States he thought he was a hero until he learned of the atrocities of the nuclear explosions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and he looked out on the real world.
“We had defeated German Nazism” – he comments – “Italian Fascism and Japanese Militarism, but we soon learned that fascism continues to exist. We defeated Hitler’s racism but in other parts of the world and in my own country, it existed. Later is the fact that, from the air you don’t see or feel anything, the enemy is an abstract idea. When I learned of the human reality of war, my life changed.”
This 82-year-old man who moves with youthful energy across the United States, calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq, shared these thoughts with an incorruptible intellectual honesty. Three decades before he did the same during the war in Vietnam and last year he signed the Call to the Conscience of the World in defense of Cuba. His activism is an assurance of the great prestige of his historical and academic work. His book, The People’s History of the United States (1980) has been sold for over 20 years in almost forty editions and over 800,000 copies. He has also done high-ranking analytical journalism in the alternative press.
His lightening quick 48 hour presence in Cuba is in response to an invitation of the Cuban Book Institute and the National Council of Theater Arts since the Cuban Social Sciences publishers will soon issue one of his most renowned works and the actor, Michalis Cué will perform his successful monologue, Marx in Soho, now a classic of contemporary US theater.
Zinn lives intensely his Havana hours talking with intellectuals, visiting historical places and having contacts in Havana University with a promise to return soon.
HISTORY OF A PEOPLE WHO HAVE NO HISTORY
When did you feel the need to rewrite the history of your country?
“When I had the certainty that the official history, that in the texts books, inculcated in us a mythical dimension of our nation. And that lies had been added upon more lies on certain events. I want to tell it from the point of view of the victims, the soldiers sent to war, the workers who were exploited for the purpose of swelling an enormous wealth. Do you want a greater lie than insisting that, by the end of the 19th century, the United States helped the Cubans to win their independence?
How has your book been received? Have you been accused of not being objective?
“Let’s answer the first part. The book has had a better circulation than I expected. But if you look at things carefully, you get an idea at how capitalism works. The publishing house is part of the Rupert Murdoch conglomerate, a brutal example of the right. But when people began to find out that the book offered a different view of history, the editorial house did not hesitate to promote more sales. Profits are profits and that is the first law of the system. As to the objectivity of history, I think that, in this matter, it is not also desirable. Those who call themselves objective lie because they pick events and cover up their taking of sides. I do not hide to say: this is my point of view, it is not the only one, face it and make your own conclusions.
THE IRAQ BLIND ALLEY
How do you think the people of the United State feel about the current situation in Iraq?
I think that increasingly more people are tired of this war and understand that it is an operation of occupation and not a liberation, as proclaimed by the official propaganda. The dead beginning to arrive are a heavy burden and the effect of a resistance grows and has converted the occupation into an impasse. Unfortunately, many of those who oppose the war do not do so for ethical reasons; rather secondarily.
Will you talk of what you have seen in Cuba?
It is very necessary. If the average person of the United States learns, first hand, the daily life in the island, the advantages the Revolution has promoted, they would stop to think in clichés.
Published at La Habana • May 7, 2004
Republished by La Jiribilla