Howard Zinn: “War must be abolished”
It’s time has come, the idea that war must be abolished. … When [Albert] Einstein said that in 1932, he was attending a conference in Geneva which was called a disarmament conference. Any time you see the words “disarmament conference,” be suspicious. When the governments of the world use the word ‘disarmament,’ they don’t mean it. Einstein attended this disarmament conference, and he, like so many people, was disillusioned by the horror of World War I, and what did he hear at this disarmament conference? He heard nations of the world talking about, “These weapons will be banned, and these weapons will be okay.” And he did something no one expected him to do; he called a press conference. Einstein doesn’t do things like that. But he did, and he said, “War cannot be humanized; war can only be abolished.” And that’s the theme of this campaign that we want to initiate. You’re part of the initiation. We expect you to spread the word. We expect you, not to just stop the war in Iraq, but we expect you to begin talking to everyone you can about the abolition of war itself.
Governments are not going to do it. Governments can never be depended on to advance the cause of peace, justice, or human rights. In the course of human history, governments have never been dependable in taking care of the needs of people. And, after all, governments are not set up for that purpose. Governments are set up to serve certain interests, and those are not the interests of the people. There’s a very important thing for people to grasp. People have some naive conceptions that we very often grow up with in this country that the government is our friend. No, the government is not our friend. Occasionally, it can get friendly. . . when there’s a great people’s movement that compels it to be friendly. So it is really up to us, it is up to the people of the world to abolish war because governments won’t do it.
Very often you hear it said that people aren’t going to do it because war is a part of human nature. How many times have you heard that? . . . If wars were a part of human nature, governments would not have to go to such enormous lengths to persuade people to go to war. People would rush spontaneously. Governments have to work at it. They have to work very hard at it. The natural instincts of people are not for war. The natural instincts of people are for compassion and comradeship and brotherhood and sisterhood. Those are the natural instincts of people. But governments work, work very hard. They work by seduction, they work by propaganda, and they work by coercion to get people to go to war.
Our job is to reach back to the essential feelings of people and to break through these fogs of propaganda and cries for war. These false slogans that are raised that talk about going to war for democracy, going to war for freedom. We now have a history which shows that all these so-called wars for freedom and democracy have not brought freedom and democracy to any of the people that we have waged war against. And they certainly haven’t brought freedom and democracy to this country. . . .
Memorial Day is coming up, come to think of it. Memorial Day is coming up, and you’ll have a lot of flag waving, you’ll have a lot of trumpet blowing, and a lot of speeches made honoring the dead of wars. And, of course, yes, the people who died in wars should be honored but war should not be honored, and the makers of war should not be honored. You’ll hear the speech makers say, “They gave their lives for their country.” How many times have you heard that? “They gave their lives for their country.” There’s a double lie in that. One, they did not give their lives; their lives were taken away from them. And second, they didn’t die for their country, they died for their government. The country did not profit from their deaths. There were people, there were interests, that profit from their deaths. In the present case, the young people who are dying in Iraq… the young people who are dying in Iraq, they are not dying for the country. It’s a terrible thing to say, the country is not benefiting from their deaths. They’re dying for Bush and Cheney. They’re dying for Halliburton and the corporations that make money out of war. Wise men throughout history have recognized this. Plutarch recognized this. The poor go to war for the benefit of the rich.
Immanuel Presbyterian Church • Los Angeles • May 12, 2006