Munich American Peace Committee (MAPC)
Radio Lora, 12. Mai 2008
Wie man Hindernisse überwinden kann
Prof. Howard Zinn ist einer der führenden radikalen amerikanischen Historiker. Er wurde 1922 in Brooklyn geboren. Weil er im 2. Weltkrieg Bomberpilot war, durfte der Sohn armer Immigranten nach dem Krieg an der Columbia Universität studieren. Er engagierte sich in der Bürgerrechtsbewegung und gegen den Vietnamkrieg. Seine “Geschichte des amerikanischen Volkes“ wurde auf der ganzem Welt zum Bestseller. Seine neuesten Werke sind „Original Zinn“ und „A Power Governments Cannot Suppress“Eigentlich könnte ich es mir und Ihnen ja ersparen, unsere traurige Lage zu beschreiben. Sie alle wissen doch, welche skrupellosen Fremdlinge von unserem Land Besitz ergriffen haben, und die sich nicht um die Menschen kümmern, die auf der Suche nach einem besseren Leben aus Mexiko zu uns über die Grenze gekommen sind. Wir haben hohe Mauern errichtet, um mexikanische Familien von den Gebieten fernzuhalten, die wir ihrem Land 1846-48 gestohlen haben.
Was hindert uns daran, diese Situation zu verändern? Zum einen ist es der Mythos von Neutralität und Objektivität, der es uns angeblich verbietet, Stellung zu beziehen. Aber wie können wir neutral bleiben, wenn die Leute in Washington Kinder verhungern lassen und Kriege anzetteln? Es heißt, dass der Künstler unpolitisch sein muss, der Professor den Hörsaal nicht zu einer Politikplattform umfunktionieren darf und der Journalist objektiv und neutral berichten muss. Das ist Humbug. Niemand kann neutral sein. Auch der angeblich objektive Historiker wählt die Fakten aus, die ihm persönlich wichtig erscheinen. Neutral zu sein, ist nicht nur unmöglich, es ist auch nicht erstrebenswert; denn wir brauchen die subjektive Einmischung eines jeden Einzelnen.
Auch die Annahme, dass wir in einer Demokratie leben, in der auf Dauer nichts Unrechtes geschehen kann, hindert uns daran, etwas zu verändern. Kleine Schönheitsfehler dieser Demokratie, wie die Sklaverei, werden ja nach kaum 200 Jahren behoben.
Während der Nürnberger Prozesse interviewte der Psychologe Gustav Gilbert die angeklagten Nazigrößen. In seinem Buch "Nuremberg Diary berichtet er, was Hermann Göring auf die Frage antwortete, wie es möglich war, die Deutschen in diesen schrecklichen Krieg zu führen, der so viele Opfer forderte, der verloren ging und Deutschland die Verachtung der ganzen Welt einbrachte. Göring erwiderte, dass "das kleine Bäuerlein auf dem Land natürlich keinen Krieg wollte, aber die Politiker brauchten ihm nur zu sagen, dass seine Heimat angegriffen würde und dass die Pazifisten gefährliche Vaterlandsverräter seien. und dass dies so in jedem anderen Land genauso funktioniert hätte." Also in Demokratien wie unserer genauso wie in Nazi-Deutschland oder in jedem beliebigen faschistischen Land. Was also unterscheidet unsere Demokratie bezüglich der Fragen von Leben und Tod und Krieg und Frieden von Nazideutschland?
Damit will ich nicht sagen, dass wir wie die Nazis sind. Wir sind anders, aber nicht so anders, wie wir gerne glauben möchten. Menschen können betrogen werden, so wie die Amerikaner zu Beginn des Irakkrieges oder dem Beginn des Krieges gegen den Terror nach dem 11. September. Aber schon Abraham Lincoln wusste: "man kann einige Menschen immer betrügen and alle Menschen für eine gewisse Zeit, aber man kann nicht alle Menschen immer betrügen."
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Warum ist es so einfach, die Menschen zu belügen? Können sie sich denn nicht darüber informieren, was wirklich passiert und was ihnen die Regierung vorenthält? Wo bleibt die Presse? Wo bleiben die Medien? In einer Demokratie ist es die Aufgabe der Medien Informationen zu sammeln und aufzuspüren und zuverlässig und kritisch darüber, was im Land vorgeht, aufzuklären. Aber unsere Medien sind nicht demokratisch. Sie befinden sich in den Händen von einigen wenigen mächtigen Bush-freundlichen Konzernen, die alle Kanäle beherrschen. Hätten die Medien das getan, was ihre Pflicht ist, dann hätten sie uns an die Nürnberger Prozesse erinnert, daran, dass der Überfall auf den Irak eine Verletzung der UN Charta darstellt und ein Kriegsverbrechen ist, also das Verbrechen, dessen die Nazi- Befehlshaber angeklagt waren. Sie wurden aufgehängt, weil sie Angriffskrieg geführt haben. Auch die Bush Regierung führt einen Angriffskrieg.
Ich bin gegen die Todesstrafe und ich möchte die Bush Leute auch nicht l hinter Gittern sehen. Mir genügte es, wenn sie ihrer Ämter enthoben und zu Sozialarbeit verurteilt würden. Nach einem Jahr Sozialarbeit in einer Obdachlosenunterkunft würde es vielleicht auch George Bush und Dick Cheney klar, dass nicht alle Amerikaner auf einer schönen Ranch leben.
Als Colin Powell vor den Vereinten Nationen seine Lügengeschichten über Saddam Husseins Massenvernichtungswaffen ausbreitete, fragte die amerikanische Presse nicht woher er seine Informationen bezog, sondern bejubelte und bewunderte seine unwiderlegbaren "Beweise." Das ist nicht das Verhalten, das man von der Presse eines demokratischen Landes erwartet.
Natürlich sind wir kein totalitäres Land und darum es ist möglich, sich mit Hilfe von alternativen Zeitungen und unabhängigen Radiostationen wie Democracy Now! zu informieren. Eigentlich sollte es in einem demokratischen Land auch eine Oppositionspartei geben. Was wir haben, ist eine ein bisschen oppositionelle Partei, die sich gelegentlich ganz leise vernehmen lässt, aber es fehlt eine echte Opposition. Als im Senat über einen 500 Milliarden Dollar Zuschuss für das Militär - dem höchsten in der Geschichte der Vereinigten Staaten - entschieden wurde, ging die Abstimmung 100 zu 0 aus! So viel zu unserer Opposition. Die wenigen mutigen Einzelstimmen, wie die von Barbara Lee gegen den Krieg im Irak, gehen da fast völlig unter.
Ohne kritische Presse und ohne Opposition sind wir auf uns selbst gestellt. Deshalb müssen wir uns unsere Geschichte und historische Zusammenhänge klar machen, damit sich nicht jeder X-beliebige vor ein Mikrophon stellen und behaupten kann, dass wir dieses oder jenes Land im Namen von Freiheit und Demokratie besetzen müssen. Ich meine nicht die uns heilige Geschichte der Gründerväter, sondern das, was man uns über unsere 21 Präsidenten erzählt. Da wird aus dem Sklavenbesitzer, Rassisten und Indianermörder Andrew Jackson ein Held. Theodore Roosevelt ist der Held, der in den spanisch-amerikanischen Krieg zog und später einem General zu einem Massaker auf den Philippinen gratulierte. Weil die Mexikaner ein paar betrunkene US Marinesoldaten festgenommen hatten, ließ der angeblich große Idealist Woodrow Wilson die mexikanische Küste von amerikanischen Kriegsschiffen bombardieren. Er schickte auch eine Besatzungsarmee nach Haiti, von der sich die Haitianer erst zwanzig Jahre später nach dem Tod von Tausenden von Widerstandkämpfern befreien konnten, das hinderte Wilson nicht daran, anschließend auch die Dominikanische Republik zu besetzen.
Mit der Geschichte des Vietnamkrieges sieht es kaum anders aus. Als ich 100 Geschichtsstudenten nach dem Massaker von My Lai fragte, erhob sich keine einzige Hand. So also steht es um das Geschichtsstudium in unserem Land.
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Es gibt noch ein weiteres Hindernis auf unserem Weg zu Veränderungen. Und das ist die Vorstellung, wir sind die Größten und die Besten, die guten Pfadfinder, die anderen Ländern über die Straße helfen. Schon unsere Kleinkinder schwören auf die Fahne und singen God Bless America. Warum sollte Gott nur uns und nur unsere Baseballmannschaft segnen?
Unsere Politiker haben schon immer behauptet, dass wir das von Gott auserwählte Volk sind und er sie lenke. Bush hat das dann nur noch auf die Spitze getrieben. Laut Ha'aretz habe er einem palästinensischen Politiker erklärt, dass Gott ihm befohlen habe, al Quaida anzugreifen, den Irak zu überfallen und den Mittleren Osten neu zu gestalten.
Schon in seiner Antrittsrede im Januar 2005 bezeichnete Bush die weltweite Verbreitung der Freiheit als die Herausforderung unserer Zeit. Die New York Times bejubelt das als einen idealistischen Aufbruch. Noch einen Tag zuvor zeigte die Titelseite eben dieser Zeitung das Bild eines kleinen blutverschmierten irakischen Mädchens gezeigt, dessen Eltern von US Soldaten mit ihrem Auto in die Luft gejagt worden waren.
Wir müssen endlich lernen, dass wir nicht anders sind als die Anderen, dass wir keine Weltmacht light sind, sondern eine Weltmacht, die die Holländer, Engländer, Franzosen und Russen noch in den Schatten stellt
Noch ein weiteres Hindernis auf dem Weg zu Veränderungen ist der Irrglaube, dass wir eine große Familie sind weil die Verfassung der Vereinigten Staaten vom Volk und nicht von 55 weißen, reichen Männern in Philadelphia verfasst wurde. So konnte die Regierung von Anfang an gegen die Interessen des Volkes handeln. Deshalb klingen die Phrasen von gemeinsamer Kultur, von nationalem Interesse, von nationaler Sicherheit und nationaler Verteidigung so hohl. Sicher, die Verfassung bedeutete einen Fortschritt gegenüber der Monarchie, aber das Wahlrecht blieb Sklavenbesitzern und Kaufleuten vorbehalten. Auch die Gesetzgebung stand schon immer auf der Seite der Oberklasse. Lediglich die Zeit des New Deals in den 30er Jahren und die Einführung der Krankenversicherungen Medicare und Medicaid durch Johnson in den 60ern bildeten rühmliche Ausnahmen. Wir müssen uns deshalb immer und immer wieder vor Augen halten, dass unsere Interessen nicht die Interessen der Regierenden sind.
Kritik an der Regierung wird als "unpatriotisch" diffamiert. Dabei heißt es schon in der Unabhängigkeitserklärung, dass es das Recht des Volkes ist, jede Regierung abzusetzen, die sich nicht um gleiches Recht auf Leben, Freiheit und das Recht auf Glück für Alle einsetzt. Ist die Unabhängigkeitserklärung etwa kein patriotisches Dokument?
Über den Krieg gegen den Terror möchte ich nicht sprechen. Krieg erzeugt Terror. Krieg ist Terror. Der Terror, den Regierungen ausüben können, hat weiter reichende Folgen als der Terror von IRA, al Qaida und den palästinensischen Selbstmordattentätern. Und er ist genauso unmoralisch und genauso fanatisch.
Zum Irak möchte ich sagen, dass wir dort raus müssen, so oder so. Es wird Heulen und Zähneknirschen geben, aber man will uns nicht, wir gehören dort nicht hin. Und ich hoffe, dass wir nicht stattdessen mal eben in Iran, Syrien oder Grenada einen neuen Krieg anfangen. Es darf überhaupt keine Kriege mehr geben. Kriege lösen keine Probleme. Als ehemaliger Bomberpilot weiß ich, dass auch der "gute" Krieg gegen die Faschisten ein böser Krieg war. Wir bombardierten Hiroschima, Nagasaki und Dresden, wir töten mehrere Hunderttausend Zivilisten.
Statt Friedensdemonstration organisieren zu müssen, sollten wir unsere Kräfte weltweit bündeln, über alle Grenzen hinweg. Nicht das Kapital, die Menschen müssen sich frei bewegen können und arbeiten dürfen, wo sie Arbeit finden. Hören wir nicht auf jene, die uns einreden wollen, dass wir zu schwach sind und nichts bewirken können. Sie mussten sich aus Vietnam zurückziehen und trotz George Wallaces rassistischen Getöses wurde die Rassentrennung im Süden aufgehoben, weil wir ihnen den Gehorsam verweigerten. Ford, General Motors und die mächtigen Obstanbauer in Kalifornien sie alle mussten nachgeben, als die Arbeiter anfingen, Streiks und Boykotte zu organisieren. Wenn die Verbraucher aufhören, ihre Produkte zu kaufen, sind die Konzerne machtlos, wenn die Soldaten - wie in Vietnam - aufhören zu kämpfen und desertieren, müssen die Machthaber ihre Kriege beenden.
Das zeigt, wie wichtig jeder noch so kleine Ungehorsam ist.. Wir müssen nichts Heroisches vollbringen, aber viele Millionen kleiner Schritte können die Welt verändern.
University of Colorado at Boulder 30 November 2006
Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, is perhaps this country's premier radical historian. He was born in Brooklyn in 1922. His parents were poor immigrants. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. After the war, he went to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He was an active figure in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. Today, he speaks all over the country before large and enthusiastic audiences. His masterpiece, "A People's History of the U.S." continues to sell in huge numbers. His latest books are "Original Zinn" with David Barsamian, and "A Power Governments Cannot Suppress."
I'd like to talk about the situation we face today and what are the obstacles to doing something about it. In a certain sense I don't have to tell you what our situation is. Why beleaguer you with those suicidal bits of news, the things that depress your friends and drive them to distraction? We all know the country has been taken over by a group of aliens. They are ruthless. They don't care about human rights, they don't care about freedom of expression. And, yes, I wake up in the morning and I feel I live in an occupied country. Iraq is occupied, we're occupied. These people-you know who I mean, I don't really have to name names- are alien to me.
The human beings who come across the border from Mexico into Arizona and California, those people are not aliens to me. They're human beings who are doing what people have always done all through history-people moving from one part of the globe to another part of the globe to seek a better life. It's ironic that we're building a wall along the southern frontier of California and Arizona to keep Mexican families out of the land that we stole from Mexico in the Mexican War of 1846-48. I haven't heard any congressman or senator point that out. What do they read? But I guess it's asking too much of the members of Congress to learn history.
So that's the situation. Our problem is what to do about it. Our problem is that we have a huge number of people in this country who in some way recognize that that's the situation but have not yet created a force necessary to change it.
I want to talk about some of the ideological obstacles in our culture that stand in the way of changing this. I say the obstacles in our culture. The obstacles are not in human nature, they are not in human beings. Human beings naturally don't want war. Human beings naturally don't want people to be treated as subhumans. Human beings don't naturally want to erect walls all over the globe and separate people from one another. These are cultural things; these are things we learn. So I want to talk about some of the things we learn which stand in the way of understanding, which stand in the way of coming together, which stand in the way of bringing about change.
One of the obstacles is the idea of neutrality or objectivity or "I'm this, I'm that. I'm a businessman, I'm a lawyer, I'm a professor, I'm an engineer, I'm a this, I'm a that, and I don't have to take a stand or I shouldn't take a stand on the things that are going on in the world today." If everybody who has a different profession or job doesn't take a stand on the things that are happening, then that leaves it to the people who do take a stand, the people in Washington. My argument is there is no point even trying to be neutral, because you can't. When I say you can't be neutral on a moving train, it means the world is already moving in certain directions. Children are going hungry, wars are taking place. In a situation like that, to be neutral or to try to be neutral, to stand aside, not to take a stand, not to participate is to collaborate with whatever is going on, to allow that to happen. I never wanted to be a collaborator, and I wanted always to intercede into this moving world and see if I could deflect it by even the slightest of degrees.
We all face that problem. We all go into professions where you're supposed to be professional. And to be professional means that you don't step outside of your profession. If you're an artist, you don't take a stand on political issues. If you're a professor, you don't give your opinions in the classroom. If you're a newspaperman, you pretend to be objective in presenting the news. But, of course, it's all false. You cannot be neutral. If you're a historian and you've been brought up to believe that you're objective as a historian, you're not taking a stand, you're just presenting the facts as they are, you're deceiving yourself, because all the history that's presented in books or in lectures and so on is a history that's selected out of an enormous mass of data. When you make that selection, you've decided what you think is important. That comes out of your point of view. So, one, it's impossible to be so-called objective and neutral. Two, it's not desirable, because we need everybody's energy, we need everybody's intervention in whatever's going on.
There is another obstacle I find to understanding and to action, and it has to do with the notion that we live in a democracy. That could deceive you. Because if you believe we live in a democracy, it gives you a certain confidence that what is going on can't be too bad. A democratic country can't do terrible things. If it does terrible things, it may be just temporary. We're a democratic country, but we may have our little faults, like slavery. But basically this confidence that we're a democratic country allows us to do all sorts of things that are very far from democratic but to rest on this confidence, Well, we're a democratic country, so it's okay, or, What's wrong is only a mistake which has been made and which will be corrected very quickly, just like slavery was corrected, after 200 years or so.
I came across a book written by a man who was at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. He was a psychologist. Remember that the Nazi leaders who were put on trial at the end of World War II in Nuremberg. And they were in their jail cells while the trial was going on, and this man was given the job of interviewing these Nazi leaders while they were awaiting trial. He took notes on all of these interviews and then wrote a book about it shortly after the war called Nuremberg Diary. If you want to look it up, his name was Gustav Gilbert.
He interviewed Hermann Göring. Hermann Göring was second in command to Hitler, head of the Luftwaffe. And I don't know whether he interviewed him in German or English, because actually Göring spoke very good English. A lot of those Nazi leaders were well-educated in the sense that No Child Left Behind calls for education; that is, they got high scores on tests. So, yes, they were highly educated, and Göring was. The psychologist asked Göring, How come the German people were led into this disastrous war for Germany, a war which killed so many Germans and which led to its defeat, a war which made Germany contemptible before the whole world. How were you able to get the German people to go along with this? These are his notes from what Göring said. "Of course the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war? But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
It was that last sentence that interested me. "It works the same way in any country." You mean it works the same way in a democratic country as in a totalitarian country? You mean when it comes to preparing the citizens for war, it works the same way in a country like ours as in a country like Germany or any kind of fascist country? Then what happens to the notion of democracy being so different or the notion of our being a democracy? It makes you ask the question, can we really consider ourselves a democracy if on that very existential level of life and death and war and peace we resemble the Nazis? That's a sobering, sobering, thought.
No, it doesn't lead you to think we are just like the Nazis. No, we are different. But we're not that different, to put it another way. It isn't simply that you're either a democratic country or a totalitarian country. There is a range, there is a spectrum. And we are not at the democratic end of the spectrum. We're somewhere in between. We ought to recognize that. We have a ways to go before we can consider ourselves a democracy. So I think it's important to have that kind of self-examination, that awareness of yourself, that awareness of your limitations, so you won't get too arrogant about who you are and what you're able to do.
So, yes, people can be fooled, just as the American people were fooled at the onset of this war, just as they were fooled at the onset of the so-called war on terrorism right after 9/11. People can be fooled at least for some of the time. You remember Lincoln: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." That's always a comforting thought. Just wait a little, have patience, work a little.
Why are the people so easily fooled? Don't they have sources of information that can enable them to know really what's going on, enable them to challenge the government, to check up on the government, on what the government is doing? What about the press? What about the media? In a democratic country, in a country that's well informed, the media play the role of gadfly, the media play the role of representing the public. Since they're professionals, it's their professional job to gather information, then we have to depend on them to give us the news and the information and the insight and the background and the criticism that will enable us in the public to be able to challenge what is happening. That's the way it would work in a democracy, in a country where we had a democratic media. But we don't. We have a media which is controlled by a very small number of very powerful corporations, and basically the same story is given out on the major networks every night. You've all had that experience. You see a story, you turn to the next network, the same story, the next network, same story. Turn it on. There is Bush on television. You quickly turn to another channel. There he is again. You quickly turn to another channel. There he is again. You turn off the TV. He's still there.
After all, the media have not done their job. If they had done their job, they might have brought to the public the memory of Nuremberg. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, the media might have reminded the public that it is a violation of the U.N. Charter to attack another country when that country hasn't attacked you. It's a violation of international law, a violation of that basic charter that was drawn up after World War II. In fact, it is a war crime. That's what the Nazi leaders were accused of: they were accused of war crimes. They were accused of the crime of aggressive war because Italy had waged an aggressive war in Ethiopia, the Germans had waged an aggressive war on virtually every country in Europe. At Nuremberg the leaders were accused of this. The leaders were hanged for waging aggressive war. The Bush administration has waged aggressive war.
(From the audience) Hang them.
No. I don't believe in capital punishment. And I wouldn't even ask jail terms for Bush administration officials. I would just ask that they be removed from power and then maybe assigned community service. Maybe we'll give George Bush a year working in a homeless shelter so he can find out that not everybody in America lives on a ranch. And then we can assign Dick Cheney to be in the same shelter so he can tell Bush what to do. But at least that way we would recognize that they have committed war crimes. But the press didn't point that out.
You may remember that just before the invasion of Iraq Colin Powell appeared before the U.N. to lay out before the world all the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein possessed. And he did. Wow, that was so impressive. How many gallons of this, how many gallons of this. And when he finished, the newspapers the next day were so admiring. Of course, it was all lies. It was probably the greatest single set of falsehoods uttered in one speech before the United Nations in its history. But the American press, which might have asked questions like, "Where did you get that information? Who are your intelligence sources?" no, they didn't ask those questions. Instead, The New York Times just was absolutely overcome with admiration for Colin Powell. The Washington Post editorial was entitled "Irrefutable," and said, "After Powell's talk, it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction." That's the press we have. It's very important to understand that. We don't have a press that operates the way a press should operate in a democratic country.
Of course, we're not a totalitarian country, so we have resources: we have alternative newspapers, we have alternative radio stations. We have Democracy Now! We have David Barsamian here in Boulder, Alternative Radio. Boulder is one of the world centers of alternative information, really. And I only say this because I'm in Boulder. If I were in Hoboken, I'd say Hoboken. So you can't depend on the press. That's a fundamental problem that we have in knowing what is going on.
And there is no opposition besides the press. That is, you would think in a democratic country you would have an opposition party. We don't have an opposition party. We have a slightly opposition party, we have a whispering opposition party, but we don't have a real opposition party. Congress passed recently a military appropriations bill of $500 billion, the largest military appropriations bill in history. The vote in the senate was 100 to zero. That's how much opposition we have. There are some Democrats who have taken courageous positions. Barbara Lee of California, a lone voice speaking out against the war. We've had some intrepid people in Congress and the Senate occasionally speaking up, but we don't have a real opposition party.
So if we don't have a press that informs us, we don't have an opposition party to help us, we are left on our own, which actually is a good thing to know. It's a good thing to know we're on our own. It's a good thing to know that you can't depend on people who are not dependable. But if you're on your own, it means you must learn some history, because without history you are lost. Without history, anybody in authority can get up before the microphone and say, "We've got to go into this country for that reason and this reason, for liberty, for democracy, the threat." Anybody can get up before a microphone and tell you anything. And if you have no history, you have no way of checking up on that.
If you have some history-when I say some history, I don't mean the history we get in traditional history. I don't mean the history of the Founding Fathers. I'm sorry, I know the Founding Fathers are holy and they're our fathers, and you mustn't say anything. But look at all the books published about the Founding Fathers and compare that to the books published about the dissenters in American history. Look at the books published, the biographies of presidents: 21 volumes on John Adams, his writings, and so on and so forth; and the history in which Andrew Jackson is a hero-Andrew Jackson, the slave owner, the racist, the Indian killer; in which Theodore Roosevelt is a hero. You look on any list of presidents. They're always drawing up lists. "Who are the greatest presidents?" Who cares? It's interesting, the list itself is a sign of a lack of objectivity, the very fact that you would concentrate a list of presidents.
On this list of great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt is always near the top. Why? What did he do? He loved nature. He passed a few pieces of legislation in his tenure, like the Meat Inspection Act. You notice how good our meat is these days? He was a hero of the Spanish-American War, rode up San Juan Hill. He's our hero. Theodore Roosevelt was a war lover. Theodore Roosevelt congratulated an American general for committing a massacre in the Philippines in the early part of the 20th century. Woodrow Wilson, the idealist, sent warships to bombard the Mexican coast in 1914. Why? Because the Mexicans had arrested some American sailors, charged them with drunkenness, which is hard to believe. So we bombard the Mexican coast, under Wilson. Then Wilson sends an occupying army into Haiti in 1915, an occupying army which is going to stay in Haiti until 1934. Haitians resist, they rebel. Thousands of Haitians are killed in the resistance. The following year Wilson sends an occupying army into the Dominican Republic, and they stay there for years and years. So here he is, Wilson the idealist. That's the kind of history we get.
Not very much on the Vietnam War. Interesting. I've discovered this. Maybe you have had a different experience. But in just going around, I find that amazingly little is talked about with regard to the Vietnam War. I was in an honors history class. There were 100 students there in the room. I said, "How many students here have heard of the Ludlow massacre-of the My Lai massacre? If I had asked about the Ludlow massacre, forget it. But the My Lai massacre, which is more recent, a Vietnam War event. Not a single hand was raised. No, not that kind of history.
A history of lies. Lies around World War I. And, of course, we know, more recently, lies around the Vietnam War, the Gulf of Tonkin. Lies about Panama. "Oh, we're going in to stop the drug trade in Panama." We really have stopped the drug trade in Panama, yes. "We're going into Grenada because Grenada poses a threat to the United States." It's amazing what people believe if they have no history of governmental lies told in the past. Those lies, of course, continue up to the present day.
Here's another obstacle to our learning, understanding, acting, something that our culture is full of from the time we go to kindergarten. That is the idea that we are the greatest, we are number one, we are the best. In the language of the social scientists, it's called American exceptionalism. We are an exception to all the things that plague other countries. We are the good guys of the world. We are the Boy Scouts of the world. We help other countries across the street. That's what we do. It starts very early. It starts with the pledge of allegiance to the flag and "with liberty and justice for all" and singing "The Star Spangled Banner." Kids, before they even know what those words mean, are uttering and pledging and singing those words and singing "The Star Spangled Banner" or singing "God Bless America." I wondered about that. When you go to a ballgame, "God Bless America." Why us? Why is God just blessing us? Why is God singling us out for blessing? Why isn't he blessing everybody? Do they sing "God Bless the Yankees"? No. God is not a baseball fan. He treats all baseball teams equally. But he doesn't treat all countries equally, because he only blesses America. But this idea of American exceptionalism starts right from the beginning, from t hePuritansofNewEngland.WearetheCityon a Hill," etc., etc.
You can see it in the statements of our leaders again and again, where a lot of it has to do with God choosing us. In the middle of the 19th century, when we were going into Mexico, there was this idea of manifest destiny, that it was the destiny of the U.S., given to us by providence, that is, really by God, to move across the continent and take possession of the entire continent. Again and again presidents have invoked God. God intended the United States to do this and intended the United States to do that.
Of course, Bush brought this to its peak. With Bush, almost anything he does is approved by God or suggested by God. No, really. This was a report in Ha'aretz, an Israeli newspaper, after a Palestinian leader had met with Bush. The Palestinian leader reported that Bush said to him, "God told me to strike al-Qaeda, and I did. And God told me to go into Iraq, and so I did. And now God is asking me to transform the Middle East." Like God is a Mideast expert, you see. Again and again in the speeches of our leaders of the past there is the idea, we represent civilization, we are the best. When Bush gave his inaugural address in January of 2005, he said, "Spreading liberty around the world is the calling of our time." "Spreading liberty around the world is the calling of our time." The next day, The New York Times, that bastion of liberalism, called the speech "striking for its idealism." The Times had not read its own newspaper. The day before, on the front page of The New York Times, there was a photo of a small Iraqi girl who was crouching, bloody. Her parents had been killed in a car which had been blown up by American soldiers just the day before. And now Bush talks about "spreading liberty around the world," and the Times congratulates him for it.
This is a very important thing for Americans to understand. We are not different. This empire is not different. There are some American intellectuals, who said, Yes, this is an American empire, but this is different. They say, This is empire lite, like a beer. Empire lite. No. We're empire heavy. In fact, we're taking the notion of empire and carrying it beyond what the English and the Dutch and the French and the Russians and the others were doing. We're bringing empire to its farthest reaches, every part of the world.
I believe that the part of the American population that is less vulnerable to this claim of "We're the greatest" and "We're the best" is the African Americans. I think black people are very often in the best position to be skeptical about all the claims of democracy and liberty and spreading liberty around the world.
The great African American poet Langston Hughes. Some of you may know his work during the Harlem Renaissance, the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s. Langston Hughes, in the 1930s, even before the U.S. had expanded in the way it has expanded now-by the 1930s, the U.S. had already expanded into the Caribbean, into the Pacific, sent marines into Central America on 20 different occasions-wrote this poem called "Columbia," Columbia representing the U.S.
My dear girl,
You really haven't been a virgin so long
It's ludicrous to keep up the pretext.
You're terribly involved in world assignations
And everybody knows it.
You've slept with all the big powers
In military uniforms,
And you've taken the sweet life
Of all the little brown fellows
In loin cloths and cotton trousers.
. . .
Being one of the world's big vampires,
Why don't you come out and say so,
Like Japan, and England, and France
And all the other nymphomaniacs of power
Another obstacle to understanding and activism: the idea, also deeply embedded in our culture, that we Americans have a common interest and we have a common history. We all fought in the Revolution against England, we all etc., etc. The Founding Fathers represent all of us. The Constitution starts off with the words "We the people of the United States," pretending that it was we the people who established the Constitution of the United States and not 55 rich white men who got together in Philadelphia to establish the Constitution of the United States. The idea is we're one family, we have the same interests.
This is a very important concept, because if we're one family and we have the same interests, it means the government of the U.S. has our interests at heart. It may make a mistake from time to time, but if it makes a mistake, it's sort of an honest mistake because they really care about us. That's where history comes in, because if you know some history, you will see from the beginning that there was no common interest in this country. The leaders of the country never did have a common interest with the people of the country. This goes back to before the American Revolution, where there was class conflict all through the colonial period before the Revolution: tenants against landlords, slaves against slave owners, riots in cities of poor people for bread, and understanding that the authorities were not on their side, that their interests were different.
This is a very important thing to understand. Otherwise you will accept these phrases that are thrown out in our culture to bind us together-national interest, national security, national defense-as if we all have the same notion of national security and national defense.
All through American history there has been this conflict, this difference of interest, represented in the Constitution. Who did the Constitution represent? Sure, I know the Constitution was an advance in many ways over monarchy. Yes, we had three branches of government and, yes, people voted. The voting was very limited, as you know, at that time. They didn't have popular election of the president or of the Senate, and not everybody could vote for the House of Representatives because there were property qualifications in almost every state, and so on. But, still, it was certainly more democratic than the autocracies of Europe and tyrannies in other parts of the world. But it was not really a democratic document designed to help everybody, because it was a document designed to please the slave owners and the merchants.
If you look at the history of legislation in this country, from that point to now, it's class legislation. It's legislation generally that has benefited the upper classes, tax legislation benefiting the upper classes, subsidies and franchises given to big business, huge amounts of free land given to the railroads, subsidies to merchant marine and corporations, armies sent out to stop break up strikes, the government doing the job of the upper classes all through American history.
There are a few breaks in that. The breaks in that come in the 1930s and the 1960s, when you have popular movements, labor struggles, strikes, general strikes. You finally get some legislation under the New Deal. You get Social Security, unemployment insurance, and under Lyndon Johnson you get Medicare and Medicaid. Finally you got some legislation. But aside from those exceptions, you can see it today in the legislation passed by Congress, you can see it in the results of the tax system that we have, where the wealth flows up and up, into the richest 1% of the population. So it's very important for people to understand that our interests and the interests of the government are not the same. If you don't understand that, you will be innocent. You will not be prepared.
There are so many things I want to talk about. Next year, maybe. Patriotism. When you start criticizing, when you start talking the way I have been talking, criticizing what the government does and being skeptical, you are accused of being unpatriotic. This is another obstacle in the way of being a sharp and bold and unabashed critic. Oh, is this unpatriotic? Nonsense. Patriotism does not mean supporting the government. Patriotism means supporting the principles for which the government is supposed to stand. Read the Declaration of Independence. That tells you governments are artificial creations. They're set up by the people to ensure certain things, an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And, according to the Declaration, when governments become destructive of those ends-these are its words-"it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish" the government. The Declaration of Independence is a patriotic document.
Do I want to talk about terrorism? No. You all know about terrorism. You know it's a scam. How can you have a war on terrorism? War is terrorism. And war increases terrorism. It should be so clear. 9/11 takes place. Al-Qaeda is somewhere in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden is somewhere in Afghanistan. We don't know where he is. We'll bomb Afghanistan. It really makes a lot of sense. It's an absolute scam. And remember that governments are capable of terrorism on a much larger scale than the IRA, al-Qaeda, the Palestinian suicide bombers. Governments have enormous resources of military weaponry at their command, and the terrorism that governments engage in far outstrips the terrorism of bands of people. Both are immoral, both are fanatical, but the scale of it is so much greater when governments engage in it.
I want to say something about war. We're going to get out of Iraq one way or the other. We have to. We don't belong there. It's not our country. We're not wanted there. There will be complaining and-I started to use a military phrase, pissing and moaning, but we'll get out. We have to. But the question is, what about beyond Iraq? Are we going to learn from that? Are we going to hold on to that history? Or are we then going to go into another war? Okay, Iraq is put to the side, like Afghanistan was put to the side. Now we'll go into Iraq. We didn't make out in Iraq? We'll make out in Iran, or Syria, or-who knows? Maybe Grenada again. We'll find a place.
This is my hope. Is it possible that we can abolish war? Not just this war or that war. We don't want to have another antiwar movement. We don't want to have an antiwar movement and another antiwar movement. No. We want to abolish war. Is it possible that the people of the world, people of the U.S. are, despite war after war, getting sick of war, and coming to the conclusion that war solves nothing? Coming to the conclusion that I came to when I left the air force after being a bombardier, after dropping bombs on cities in Europe, and then thinking about what I had done and looking around at the world? And this was the best of wars, right? The war against fascism and so on. I was giving war the ultimate test: taking the best of wars and finding it wanting, finding it morally much more complicated than it looked at the beginning, when I s aid,We'rethegoodguys,they'rethebadguys.Webecame the bad guys, too. They were committing atrocities, and we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Dresden and killed 600,000 civilians in Japan, 100,000 of them in one night of firebombing in Tokyo. War poisons everybody, corrupts everybody. I came to the conclusion that, no, war cannot be accepted as a way of solving any problem in the world.
So we have to think now about what we're going to do about our resources. I think we have to think globally, that is, not globalization in the sense of capital going across, but a global society, a world society of no borders and no passports and no visas. It's sort of ridiculous when you think of it. In this age, in this century, after all we've gone through, to have the world divided up by all these frontiers and regulations and immigration quotas? It's ridiculous. People should be able to move across the earth. People should be taken care of wherever they go. People whose jobs are displaced should be taken care of. Nobody should suffer as a result of this. But we need to think about the fact that while we don't have a common interest with our governments, we have a common interest with people in other parts of the world.
There were several beautiful months during the Paris Commune of 1871 when democracy ruled. But they needed the support of the peasantry out in the countryside, because they were most of the population. They had just invented the balloon, so they sent a balloon up over the countryside and they dropped messages, leaflets to the peasants around France. The leaflets had one simple statement: "Our interests are the same." That's the idea that we need to spread all over the world, to people in other countries and people of other races and people in Africa and Asia. Our interests are not the same as the interests of our political leaders. Our interests are the same, and we are going to act that way.
It's important not to become persuaded that you don't have any power. This is one of the great obstacles to people acting, a sense of futility: They have it all. They're in charge. What can we do? Who are we? What do we have?" It's important to understand. That's when history comes in handy, too. Because you find that these concentrations of power, at certain points they fall apart. Suddenly, surprisingly. And you find that ultimately they're very fragile. And you find that governments that have said, "We will never do this" end up doing it. "We will never cut and run." They said this in Vietnam. We cut and ran in Vietnam. In the South, George Wallace, the racist governor of Alabama, spoke to a huge crowd in Alabama, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Enormous applause. Two years later, blacks in Alabama had in the meantime begun to vote and Wallace was going around trying to get black people to vote for him. The South said never, and things changed.
And the reason these very apparently invincible constellations of power at the top fall is that ultimately they depend on the obedience of everybody in the population. When people withdraw their obedience, they have no power. Ford Motor Company said, "We will never let anybody organize Ford." General Motors said, "We will never let anybody organize the workers at General Motors." When the workers went out on strike and factories shut down, Ford capitulated and General Motors capitulated. The fruit growers out in California, they're powerful. And there are these farm workers with nothing. But the farm workers organized a boycott-many of you remember that-a boycott of grapes, and the boycott caught on around the country. The corporations depend on consumers to buy their products. When these consumers stop buying their products, they're helpless, and then they have to give in. When governments face soldiers who don't want to fight anymore, when they face mutinies in the ranks, when they face desertions, as happened in Vietnam-a huge number of desertions from the war in Vietnam, and veterans coming back and turning against the war, protesting against the war, at a certain point-and I really believe this was decisive for the U.S. getting out of Vietnam-the U.S. decided, we cannot carry on this war with this total loss of morale in the military.
So, yes, they depend on our obedience. When we withdraw it, their power disappears. It's important to know that. It's important to know that every little thing we do helps. We don't all have to do heroic things. All we have to do is little things. And at certain points in history, millions of little things come together and change takes place.
I want to end with a poem by Marge Piercy called "The Low Road." It's from her book The Moon Is Always Female.
"What can they do to you?
Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can bust you, they can break your fingers,
they can burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs until you can't walk, can't remember,
they can take your child, wall up your lover.
They can do anything
you can't stop them from doing it.
How can you stop them?
Alone, you can fight, you can refuse,
you can take what revenge you can, but they are all over you.
But two people can keep each other sane,
can give support, conviction, love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation, a committee, a wedge.
With four you can play bridge and start an organization.
With six you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no seconds and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.
It goes on, one at a time,
it starts when you care to act,
it starts when you do it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We and know who you mean,
and each day you mean one more.
Other AR Howard Zinn programs -
1492-1992: The Legacy of Columbus
The Use & Abuse of History
A People's History of the United States
The Case of Sacco & Vanzetti
U.S. Imperialism & the War with Spain
Stories Hollywood Never Tells
War and Democracy
Artists in a Time of War
Emma Goldman, Anarchism & War Resistance
War on Iraq: A Dissenting View
Confronting Government Lies
Resistance & the Role of Artists
A World Without Borders
Voices of a People's History
Debates William F. Buckley: Reform or Revolution
In Conversation with Arundhati Roy
Copies of the book "Original Zinn" are available from AR
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or transcripts of this or other programs:
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