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Historian and Activist Howard Zinn Speaks on the U.S. War Against Afghanistan, U.S. Wars Gone By, and the Prospects for a Humane U.S. Foreign Policy

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U.S. jets pounded Taliban positions this morning near frontlines outside the Afghan capital and a key northern city. The attack came as Secretary of State General Colin Powell said he wanted to see the Afghan capital captured within the next few weeks, before the onset of winter.

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 miles to the southeast.

Meanwhile, protests against the U.S. and British attacks against Afghanistan continued around the world, from Belgium to Greece to London, Spain, Thailand and Indonesia. In Burlington, Vermont, this Sunday, historian and activist Howard Zinn spoke to more than 1,000 people about the current U.S. War on Afghanistan in the context of previous interventions and the prospects for peace and a humane foreign policy.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: American aircraft pounded Taliban lines north of Kabul for the first time yesterday. The attack came as Secretary of State General Colin Powell said he wanted to see the Afghan capital captured within the next few weeks, before winter. Meanwhile, the ground war began over the weekend. Pentagon sources said a 200-strong company of U.S. Army Rangers had been sent on a raid against Taliban forces at their stronghold at Kandahar Airport. The sources said the Rangers had parachuted onto the airfield and were lifted out by helicopter hours later.

And protests against the U.S.-British attacks on Afghanistan continued around the world, from Belgium to Spain to Thailand, Greece, London and Indonesia.

Here in the United States, at the University of Vermont at Burlington on Sunday, more than 1,000 people gathered to hear historian Howard Zinn, professor emeritus of history at Boston University and author of, among many other books, A People’s History of the United States. Today, we will spend the hour listening to that speech. This is Howard Zinn.

HOWARD ZINN: Talk about — first, about the necessity to speak out, to speak your mind, whatever your mind is, whatever you think, but the necessity to speak out, because in a time like this, in a time of war — it becomes a time of war as soon as the president says it’s a time of war, and as soon as the media says it’s a time of war, even if Congress has not declared war as the Constitution requires. But, you know, the Constitution has been ignored for so long, you know, it doesn’t matter anymore.

Law does not — I used to teach a course called “Law and Justice in America,” taught it for many years. And the theme of the course was it doesn’t matter what the law says; it matters who has the power, really. So, yeah, the Constitution can say Congress must declare — it doesn’t matter. Ever since the end of World War II, we have been in war after war after war; without Congress declaring war, it’s OK. As they say, we are a nation of laws. Yeah.

Yeah, I’m concerned with our taking initiative to speak out, even though a certain blanket of intimidation has been spread across the country. I mean, am I exaggerating? Isn’t it intimidating when everybody, everybody in high political circles, and the people in the higher reaches of the media, when they all cry for unity and supporting the president? And where, you know, editors of The New Republic say, well, if you — you know, the people on the left who oppose the war may be considered as a fifth column.

Do you know what a fifth column is? Goes back to the Spanish Civil War. The fifth column was a column of traitors, people working from inside to overthrow, you see. That was the fifth column. And so, people may be considered traitors for speaking out.

And so, the word is “unity” and “support the president,” and the major television commentators all talk in that way. And the television programs are festooned with flags. Now, I know flags can mean something nice and gentle and good. They can. But there are times when flags have a kind of unmistakable aura that bespeaks drums and bugles and war, and support for war. And there’s something intimidating about that omnipresent symbol.

And then you have — yeah, you have Dan Rather, anchor man. What is he anchored to? He’s anchored to the establishment. That’s what an anchor man is. And he says on national television, “Bush is my president. When he says, 'Get in line,' I ask, 'Where?'” Well, this is strange. Here he is, independent journalism. And the idea of journalism is to be an independent voice, an independent critic, not a handmaiden of government, but, yes, somebody who represents the public and who inspects the government and does not immediately say, “Yeah, we’re together. And when the president says, 'Get in line,' I get in line, too.” No, that’s what happens in a totalitarian state, not in a democracy, you see. A kind of spurious unity.

And Gore — do you remember Gore? Gore said, “Bush is my commander-in-chief.” Really. He hasn’t read the Constitution lately. The Constitution says the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He’s not the commander-in-chief of us, you see? No, really. You know. And it seems to me it’s the essence of democracy for people not to get in line if they don’t want to get in line, not to listen to the president as if he’s our commander-in-chief, and to think independently and do independently what we want. That’s what democracy is. And that democracy is being attacked on all sides by this great atmosphere of intimidation that’s created.

I mean, I spoke about two weeks ago at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to a crowd not quite as big as this, because nothing is as big as this, you see? But, you know, it was a big crowd, but, you know, Baltimore is not Burlington. And this had been — my talk there had been planned for weeks — months before, actually, been planned months before, part of a series of talks with different speakers. The speaker just preceding me was Oliver North. And the theme of this series of lectures was — because it was supposedly about multiculturalism, I think — was “a nation divided.” That was the theme, “a nation divided.” Multicultural — Oliver North speaking about multiculturalism? Well, I didn’t ask, you know. But a nation divided. But by the time I got there, they had gone over every printed program and crossed out the word — “a nation divided” was the program. They crossed out the word “divided” and put in the word “united.” Yes, they say, in times of war, the nation must be united — which, of course, begs the question: Yeah, but why should we be at war?

And yet we have a long tradition in this country of stifling dissent exactly at those moments when dissent is badly needed — that is, when it’s a matter of life and death. I mean, there’s been — you know, Congress passes the Sedition Act in 1798, and then, in, again, World War I, passes the Sedition Act and Espionage Act, Sedition Act 1917, 1918. They send a thousand people to jail, and all of that. I mean, yes, historically, that’s what happens.

And not only does Congress pass such laws, but the Supreme Court affirms them, which is very odd, because the job of the Supreme Court — at least I learned this in junior high school. You learn in junior high school what democracy is. Democracy is what we have. Democracy is the three branches of government. Democracy is checks and balances. In fact, they put democracy up on the blackboard, make a diagram — legislative, executive, judicial. Then they draw the lines to show you the checks and balances. And then you’re sitting there as a junior high school student feeling really good and proud that we have checks and balances, because it means, then, you know, if something — one branch of government does something bad, it will be checked by the other branch, and that way, nothing bad can happen. Well, you know, there is what they put on the board in junior high school, and then there is historical reality.

The historical reality is that although it’s the job of the Supreme Court to see if in fact Congress has violated the First Amendment of the Constitution, which says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech — if it’s the job of the Supreme Court to see if Congress has violated the First Amendment, well, the Supreme Court has failed in its job again and again. They failed in 1798. And they failed in 1917, ’18, when they put Eugene Debs and a thousand other people in jail for speaking out against the war.

And they — you know, they amended the First Amendment, said, “Well, yes, the First Amendment says this, but…” There’s no buts in the First Amendment. Congress shall make no law creating — abridging the freedom of speech. No buts, you see. Well, a but was, well, if there’s a clear and present danger. Well, actually, it sort of makes sense. If there’s a clear and present danger, well, maybe there are times, you know, when you can’t allow full freedom of speech because of a clear and present danger. Well, what was the clear and present danger the Supreme Court was dealing with at that moment when they were making this decision? The clear and present danger was a guy distributing leaflets on the streets of New York opposing the draft. He was a clear and present danger to the nation. Now, after the war, more people began to think, no, Woodrow Wilson was a clear and present danger to the nation, you see.

And there’s this irony that it’s exactly when you need free speech, exactly when the lives of young people who might be in the armed forces are at stake, the lives of people overseas who may be the victims of our armed action, their lives are at stake, exactly when it’s a matter of life and death, that’s when you should shut up — exactly when you need it most. So you have free speech for trivial issues, and you have no free speech for life-and-death issues. And that’s called democracy. No, we can’t accept that, see.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to historian Howard Zinn, speaking on Sunday at the University of Vermont, Burlington, before a crowd of more than 1,000 people. We’re spending the hour bringing you this antiwar speech. Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to The War and Peace Report, broadcasting just blocks from ground zero. I’m Amy Goodman. In Oakland, California, on Sunday, more than 3,000 people, including actor Danny Glover and writer Alice Walker, rallied behind Congressmember Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to oppose a resolution granting President Bush authority to use force — basically, a declaration of war.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, Howard Zinn, professor emeritus of history at Boston University, spoke out against war. He’s author of A People’s History of the United States. This is his speech.

HOWARD ZINN: So we have a responsibility to speak out, to speak our minds, especially now. And no matter what they say, and no matter how they cry for unity and supporting the president and getting in line, we have a democratic responsibility as citizens to speak out and say what we want to say.

And one of the things we need to do is to take a look at history — and, yes, take a look at history, because history might be useful in helping us understand what is going on. And we have to take a look at history because no one else is taking a look at history. The president isn’t giving us history, and the media aren’t giving us history. They never do. I mean, here we have this incredibly complex, technologically developed media, but you don’t get the history that you need to understand, you know, what is going on today.

Well, there’s the kind of history they will give you, because history can not only be used for good purposes, history can be abused. And so history is abused, you know, when you you create an analogy, you know, which will immediately put people on your side without thinking about it. You say, “Pearl Harbor. It’s like Pearl Harbor.” Well, since we went to war, Pearl Harbor, it’s very — you know, now it’s like Pearl Harbor, therefore we’ve got to go to war. Please. You know, how many — really? Is this like Pearl Harbor? Is this the situation? Is there an identifiable nation out there, you know, which has attacked us, you see, and which, therefore, if attacked back, will stop attacking us? Is there a nation out there which is expanding its power in Asia, and Hitler expanding his power in Europe? You know, the World War II analogy is always brought up. That’s not this situation. This is different. It’s funny. They keep telling us, “This is a very different situation,” but they’re not willing to recognize this is a different situation than World War II. This is a very specific and a very unique situation, and it has to be discussed in its specificity, you see.

But that doesn’t mean to say that there are not things we can learn from history which might throw some light on this, just throw light on it. I mean, history can’t give you definitive, positive answers to the issues that come up today. History can’t do that. But it can suggest things. It can suggest skepticism about certain things. It can suggest probabilities and possibilities, leaving it to you, then. Once you have arranged the probabilities and the possibilities, it can leave it to you then to see what applies to this particular situation, what historical experience can throw light on what has happened. So, yeah, I would suggest some — there are some things you can learn from historical experience.

One thing you can learn is that there’s a history of deception of the public by the government in times of war, or just before war, or to get us into war. A long history of that, going back to the Mexican War, when Polk lied to the nation about what was happening on the border, you know, between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande River, and boom, boom, they fired on — you know, shed blood on — you know, really, Polk wanted California. That was it. Before there was on any clash on the border, he wanted California, wrote in his — he wanted a war with Mexico. He coveted Mexican territory. And, in fact, we fought a war with Mexico and took half of Mexico. OK.

Again and again, lies told on the eve of war, you know, lies told before World War I, lies told before the Spanish-American War — “The battleship Maine, they’ve sunk it, you know, in Havana Harbor. The Spaniards did it.” Boom, we go to war. Well, nobody knew who sunk the battleship Maine. And then, many years later, there’s a Navy investigating team under Admiral Rickover, and they find out that the battleship Maine was sunk by an engine defect. Right. But it’s too late to take back. The truth is, we weren’t really interested in the battleship Maine. We were interested in Cuba. Not liberating Cuba from Spain — well, no, I should — yeah, there’s a half-truth to that. Yes, we wanted to liberate Cuba from Spain, but not from us, you see. Get Spain out, get us in.

And then there’s another lie told shortly after that when we go to war in the Philippines. In the history books, you have a little bit of — you have a lot of space on the Spanish-American War, because Theodore Roosevelt is involved, and Theodore Roosevelt is one of our heroes. And he rode up San Juan Hill, and there were the Rough Riders. I mean, you know, this is what you learn in the history books. The Spanish-American War, great, great victory, takes up a lot of space. Philippine War takes up a little bit of space. Spanish-American War lasts three months, quick, short war. The Philippine War last years and years, full of bloody atrocities committed by the American armed forces in the Philippines — not the splendid little war that the secretary of war described in Cuba. No, this is an ugly, bloody war, precursor of Vietnam and the massacres that took place.

At the very end of the Philippine War — and lies are told about how the Philippine War started. Of course, there are American troops in the Philippines. You might ask: What are American troops doing in the Philippines? Well, don’t ask questions like that. American troops belong anywhere where we want them to be. You know. But what are they there for? They’re there so we can take the Philippines. But the Filipinos want to take the Philippines. Sorry, they’re not Christians. They’re heathens. They’re — you know, they’re — they’re ignorant people. You know, we’re — we deserve to have the Philippines. So, if they want to fight us, they’ll have to fight us for years and years and endure maybe 800,000, a million dead in the Philippines. Really? Have you heard that in your history books? But war is war. Lies, lies.

You know, at the end of the — near the end, yeah, near the very end of the Philippine War, in 1906, Army troops — a regiment of the U.S. Army massacres 600 Moros, Muslim people, on the southern island in the Philippines, massacres men, women and children. I mean, these people are living in the Stone Age. They have no modern weapons. They’re mowed down, 600 of them, every last one of them, man, woman and child. And Theodore Roosevelt sends a message to the commanding general congratulating him on his military victory, whereupon Mark Twain, not believing in national unity at a time like this, and not believing that he must go along, Mark Twain denounces Theodore Roosevelt for this. But, see, there Theodore Roosevelt is, up on Mount Rushmore. What can we do about that? It’s hard. He’s a hero. Of such stuff are our heroes made.

But lies told about World War I, lies told again and again. I mean, just to rush, more recently, remember, Vietnam War starts with a lie about the Gulf of Tonkin, statements made to the American people immediately. You know, our destroyers have been attacked by North Vietnamese PT boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. And zoom, Congress rushes to pass — just as they did now, right?

I mean, Congress has always been a bunch of absolute sheep when it comes to matters of war. We cannot depend — talk about the — talk about the three branches of government and checks and balances, and Congress acting as a check on the president. Forget it. The president wants war, we go to war, and the congressmen all line up like the Supreme Soviet. And I always think of Congress as the Supreme Soviet when I see the president making the State of the Union address, and they get up every three minutes and cheer, all of them, Democrats and Republicans. I think, “My god, is this a democracy?” No, that’s not it.

But there, after the Gulf of Tonkin, immediately after, the president says, “Oh, this is what they did to us,” which then turns out to be full of lies, really. After that, immediately Congress passes, almost unanimously — unanimously in the House, two dissenting votes in the Senate — giving the president full authority to do what he wants in the Gulf of Tonkin. And soon we are at war for nine years, with the 58,000 American dead and 2 million Vietnamese dead.

And so, we just saw that same spectacle reenacted, where this terrible thing happens. This — yes, this terrorist act happens in New York and Washington, and Bush goes before Congress, and there’s no need to think and no need to ask questions about what we should do. They vote — right? — unanimously in the Senate, almost unanimously in the House. Oh, I saw there was one dissenting vote. And I thought, “Oh, that must be Bernie Sanders.” No, it wasn’t. It wasn’t. It was Barbara Lee. You know, so, yeah, deception. So, that the history of deception by government has been going on for a long time.

Some of you may have heard of the journalist I.F. Stone. He was a great — one of the great journalists of the 20th century. He worked for mainstream newspapers and then decided, no, they couldn’t print what he wanted, couldn’t write what he wanted. So he set up his own little newsletter, and he would gather all sorts of information from all sorts of places that nobody else was printing, and he put them out in his newsletter. And soon people understood if you want to get stuff that the major newspapers don’t give you and that the government doesn’t give you, go to I.F. Stone’s newsletter. So he became a famous journalist of our time. And he would go and speak to journalism classes, speak to young people who were going to be reporters, and he would say, “Look, I’m going to tell you a number of things about being a reporter. But of all the things I’m going to tell you, just remember two words: Governments lie.” It’s a good starting point.

Yeah. I’m not saying governments always lie. No, they don’t always lie. But it’s a good idea to start off with the assumption that governments lie, and that, therefore, whatever they say, especially when it comes to matters of war and foreign policy, because when it’s a matter of domestic policy, there are things you might be able to check up on, because it’s here in this country, but when something’s happening very far, it’s very — you know, people don’t know very much about foreign policy. We depend on them, because they’re supposed to know, and they have the experts, where we learned during Vietnam about what it means to depend on them in the White House and their experts and their Phi Beta Kappas advising the president, the Harvard, Yale and Princeton people all around the president. I mean, how could you get more intelligent than that? You see. And so, yeah, so, yes, so you look, you examine closely.

One of the things I examine, you know, closely is when the government says, “We’re only bombing military targets,” you see. That’s an old story, real old story. “We’re only bombing military targets.” There’s a half-truth to that. Does — you may aim at military targets, but it’s in the nature of bombing that if you aim at military targets, that a good part of the time your bombs will fall on places near military targets, where people live, but sometimes even far away from military targets, where people live, maybe a mile away from military targets. And this is with the smartest of bombs. No such thing as a smart bomb. Remember they were telling us about smart bombs in the Gulf War? It turned out that 85% of them were dumb. There’s no such thing as a smart bomb.

And it’s a military — you know, in the Vietnam War, they kept saying again and again, “Oh, we’re bombing military targets.” You know, it was just blatant lies. I mean, that was even going beyond when you’re aiming at military targets and you’re hitting at other things, but they were actually aiming at things which were not military targets, because when you’re dealing with a Third World country that has really very few military targets, you run out of military targets, and you start bombing everything else. And so, in Vietnam, we bombed schools. We bombed hospitals. We bombed everything we could possibly see, you see. And this happened more recently in the Gulf War, you know, with this military targets. Well, water supply. You know, people who don’t have water die. I mean, infrastructure, right? Because you run out of specifically military targets.

And then there are times when the government says something is a military target, and it really isn’t. I don’t know if any of you remember this, but there was this one point in the Gulf War in the middle of February 1991, when the government — when the United States dropped a bomb on an air raid shelter in Baghdad. Now, they could have said, “It’s an accident. We didn’t mean to hit the air raid shelter.” There were 500 or 600 people inside the air raid shelter huddled there, because you go to air raid shelters to escape bombs. Now, of course, if you understood that these bombs were smart and they would only hit military targets, you wouldn’t have to go to an air raid shelter.
But people go to air raid shelters, or they go run away, or they do something, because they somehow have the notion that the bombs are not only going to hit military targets. So they huddle in this air raid shelter, and a bomb is dropped on this air raid shelter, and 500 or 600 people are killed. And the United States does not say this is an accident. The United States says, “We bombed that because it was a communications site.” What does that mean? Reporters going into the air raid shelter almost immediately after, from Reuters, Agence France-Presse, newspapers, went in. No sign of any possible thing that could possibly be military, see. So you have to be very careful of them saying, “We’re bombing military targets. We’re” — etc., etc.

I emphasize this because we have to understand what we are doing in Afghanistan to end terrorism, because we need to end terrorism. We absolutely need to end terrorism. We have to, yes. And we have to begin to think about what we need to do to end terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Historian Howard Zinn, speaking yesterday at the University of Vermont. We’re going to continue with his speech after our break. By the way, if you’d like to get a videotape of Howard Zinn’s major antiwar address, you can call 845-679-7535. That’s 845-679-7535. You’re listening to Democracy Now! in Exile’s War and Peace Report. Back with Zinn in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to The War and Peace Report. This is Resistance Radio. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with historian Howard Zinn. Zinn is the author of many books, including A People’s History of the United States. He gave this address before a thousand people yesterday at the University of Vermont. Howard Zinn.

HOWARD ZINN: And because — how much thinking went into this? Really, how much thinking went into this? You think there are all these minds. It doesn’t matter how many minds you have. It’s the quality of mind that counts. And it’s also, you know, the morality of these minds, and the understanding of these minds that there may be people in other countries who deserve to live as much as those people in the Twin Towers deserve to live. You know, that’s — you know.

So, well, people say, “Yeah, but you must do something.” I agree. You know, they say, “You can’t do nothing.” I agree. You must do something. I like the logic: You must do something, therefore bomb. I don’t get it. I mean, that’s the only possible thing you can do, if you must do something?

The medical students, you know, are confronted with — you know, somebody has a leg infection. They don’t know what to do about it. Amputate it. The medical students take the Oath of Hippocrates. You don’t know what to do. Something is bad, really bad. You must do something. But the first rule is: Do no harm. Let’s — you have to start off with that: Do no harm. We are doing great harm. Great harm, you see?

And if you think we’re not, try to imagine — they say, “Oh, well, you know, we’re not killing that many people. We’re not killing that many people.” We don’t know how many people we’re killing, first of all, because you can’t believe the government. I’m not saying you can believe the Taliban. No, all governments lie. Right? But it’s just a matter of common sense and knowing the history of bombing that we know, and since there are little reports that come through, even through the filter of control and so on.

You know, there were reporters in villages in Afghanistan reporting. There they were, right on the spot, and there were these houses destroyed, and there were these freshly dug graves, and there was a man who lost his wife and four kids in a bombing. And there — and there’s some things are admitted. Yes, a Red Cross compound was hit — right? — on the same day that Bush is asking people to contribute to the Red Cross. Well, if you’re going to — we’re going to contribute to the Red Cross, first assure us that you’re not going to bomb the Red Cross, you see.

And, no, people — you know, if you think what we’re doing in Afghanistan is not very much, you know, consider that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan who are fleeing the cities and towns in which they live. Have you seen the pictures of Afghan refugees? It started as soon as Bush promised to bomb, because there are certain American promises they can count on, you see, and that’s one of them. And the refugees immediately began moving. And so you see the pictures of these families with all their possessions, or as many of their possessions they carry on the backs and their wagons, and their kids, and hundreds of thousands of them. So this isn’t a small thing. This isn’t just, “Oh, we’re killing a few people, and that’s a price we’re willing to pay.” We are terrorizing Afghanistan. I’m not exaggerating.

The people who are — the people who are in Kabul — the people who are in Kabul — the people who are in Kabul and people in other places in Afghanistan have to live with the fear of these bombs. Have you lived under bombs? Do you know what it’s — can you imagine what it’s like? And you’re in a very backward, technologically — right? — undeveloped country, and there are these monster machines coming over with this ferocious noise and the lights and the flashing and the explosions. And it’s — yes, we’re terrorizing people in Afghanistan. And it’s not — it’s not right to respond to the fact that we have been terrorized, as we have, not right to respond to that by terrorizing other people. Absolutely wrong, you see. You know.

And furthermore, it’s not going to help. And you could say, “Well, maybe it may be worth doing, because this will end terrorism.” I mean, how much common sense does it take to know that you cannot end terrorism by indiscriminately just throwing bombs on Afghanistan. And then, of course, you get reports: “We have now destroyed three of their camps. We’ve destroyed four” — who are you kidding? How many hours does it take to set up a training camp? How easy it is to move from one place to another?

I mean, the history of bombing is mostly a history of futility. Yes, really. You know, there’s a book that came out recently called A History of Bombing. A History of Bombing. I was a bombardier. And, sure, the technology has improved, although it was claimed — even then, it was claimed our bombs are smart, because we’re using this special bombsight, this Norden bombsight. People really believed that. Even we believed that, we who were using the bombsight, because we would bomb at 11,000 feet or 4,000 feet, and we got pretty close to the target. But then, when we flew on missions, we were bombing at 30,000 feet, and the bombs went all over the place and killed an awful lot of people, all sorts of people. You know, didn’t matter.

I say it didn’t matter, because these people were ciphers. Who were these people? I didn’t even see them. You bomb, you bomb another country, you don’t see these people. You’re bombing from high altitudes. You know, our planes are bombing at high altitudes because they want to escape anti-aircraft fire, right? No, you don’t see anything on the ground. You see flashes, and you see explosions and may take pictures, but you don’t — you don’t hear screams. You don’t see blood. You don’t see severed limbs. You don’t see any of that.

We saw that in New York. We saw those scenes in New York. They horrified us. We saw people in panic, running, running from that — those explosions, that enormous pile of debris, you know, and we were horrified. These were real people to us. But then, if we bomb other countries, those people are not real to us. One of the things I thought of after I got over my initial horror at what happened in New York, I thought, “Hey, that’s what it must have been like when I was bombing in Europe.”

AMY GOODMAN: Historian Howard Zinn.

HOWARD ZINN: That’s what it must have been like, and I didn’t even know it, because these people were ciphers to me, you see. And then I thought, “Maybe to these terrorists, that’s what it is for them.” Oh, 6,000 human beings. You know, no, they have a mission. They have a goal. No. They’re not — they’re not human beings to terrorists. And people in other parts of the world have not been human beings to us.

If there’s anything we might get out of this experience, it’s that we might take that horror that we have felt looking at those scenes in New York, and compassion that we have felt for the people who endured this and their families, and extend this to people in other parts of the world who have been enduring this — enduring this for a very long time. And that does mean — that does mean examining the United States and our policies.

You know, if you — because, you know, when you do that, when you suggest that, say, “You know what? I think maybe we ought to look at ourselves and our policies,” people say, “Oh, you’re justifying what happened.” No, no, absolutely not. To explain is not to justify. But if you don’t want to explain anything, you will never learn anything. So you have to — you have to understand, you have to explain, without justifying.

And you have to look — yes, you have to dig down and see if you can figure out what is at the root of this terrorism, because there is something at the root besides, you know, irrational, murderous feeling. And, yes, this was murderous, fanatical feeling. But these were not simply madmen, who just — you know, there are people, like, who just go berserk and kill everybody in sight, right? We know that, because we’ve seen that in our country, when somebody just — you know, something goes haywire in them, and they just go wild. And they — no, it’s not that. Terrorism is not that sort of thing. There’s something underneath that, you know, that fanaticism, which may have a core of truth to it. That is, there’s something in the core of belief of these terrorists which may also be at the core of belief of millions of other people in the world who are not terrorists, who are angry at American policy but who are not fanatic enough to go and kill Americans because they’re angry at our policy, but who are capable of doing that if they are even more aroused, and even if we begin even doing more things to anger them. There’s an — you might say there’s a reservoir of possible terrorists among all those people in the world who have suffered as a result of U.S, foreign policy.

Now, I don’t know if you think I’m exaggerating when I say there are millions of people in the world who have suffered as a result of U.S. foreign policy. But, yes, there are. And Bush, at a recent press conference, said something like, “I don’t understand why these people hate us.” No, I don’t — you know, said, “We are good.” That’s what he said. “We are good.” You know, look at me. I’m good. You know. Well, sometimes the United States is good. Yes, there are a lot of good things about the United States. And yes, there are times when the United States is good. And then there are times, unfortunately many times, too many times, when the United States has been bad, evil really, and has carried out policies that have resulted in the deaths of, yes, millions of people, you know.

And, I mean, you could look at our whole history since World War II, you know, and all the wars we have fought, wars which were not threats to the national security of the United States, but which, in some way, suggested to the leaders of our country that there was some geopolitical reason for going into this war. I know they gave other reasons. They say, “Well, so this country has invaded this country, and we are always on the side of countries that have been invaded.” Really? Not so.

You know, North Korea invades South Korea, OK, bad. What do we do, immediately? Go to war. That’s — you know, we’re accustomed to that. That’s a quick — well, it wasn’t a really quick solution, three years. Three years, and then no solution. Three years, and at the end of three years, it’s the way it was before the three years of war in Korea. That is, you have a dictatorship in the North, you have a dictatorship in the South. Only, 2 million people are dead, you see. A war that we carried out in Korea, with napalm, with atrocities. You know, of course, it was communism. We were going to stop communism. That was the slogan. Under that slogan, we did a lot of mayhem in the world. Soviet Union was doing mayhem. They were invading Eastern Europe. They were — you know, yes. But using that, we then invaded other countries in the world and spread our military power in other countries in the world and propped up military dictatorships all over the world. And in Central America, we’re responsible for setting up — not only propping up, but setting up — ruthless dictatorships, which in Guatemala killed — Guatemala killed perhaps 200,000 people, in Chile killed a huge number of people, in El Salvador killed 100,000 or 200,000 people. You know, and then, of course, Vietnam and Cambodia.

AMY GOODMAN: Radical historian Howard Zinn, speaking yesterday at the University of Vermont, Burlington. We’re going to continue this speech in the second hour of our War and Peace Report. But for those of you who won’t get to hear it, or if you’d just like a videotape copy yourself, you can call this number to order a copy: 845-679-7535. If it’s busy, please be patient. 845-679-7535. And that does it for today’s program. You can also email us at That’s Democracy Now! in Exile’s War and Peace Report is produced by Kris Abrams, Brad Simpson and Miranda Kennedy. Special thanks to Jesse Lloyd. Anthony Sloan is our music maestro. Technical director Errol Maitland is at the helm at, where you can hear the program live. You can also hear us at Thanks to Amy Pomerleau at KPFA, Free Speech Radio News producer Aaron Glantz and everyone at Pacifica station KPFA and affiliate KFCF in Fresno, to all the Pacifica affiliates. We are Pacifica. Special thanks to our tech team and to our hosts at Downtown Community Television. We’re heard on WFMU 91.1 FM in Manhattan and on Manhattan Neighborhood Network channels 34 and 56, as well as on Free Speech TV. That’s channel 9415 of DISH TV. In exile from the embattled studios of WBAI, the studios of the banned and the fired, the studios of our listeners, I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening.

[end of Hour 1]

AMY GOODMAN: From Ground Zero Radio, This is Democracy Now! in Exile.

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: The U.S. media, particularly The New York Times, Washington Post, tends to frame the whole crisis within the picture of Islam fundamentalism religion. And this completely ignores the crucial issue — I would say the fundamental issue — which is actually a nationalistic issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, a roundtable discussion about Central Asia as the U.S. begins the ground war in Afghanistan. Among others, we’ll be speaking with the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq. And Part 2 of the antiwar speech of Howard Zinn. All that and more coming up.
Welcome to The War and Peace Report, broadcasting close to the first ground zero, the second being Afghanistan. I’m Amy Goodman.

According to The Washington Post, FBI officials say they’re considering resorting to harsher interrogation techniques, including torture, after facing a wall of silence from and noncooperation from some of the more than 800 people they have jailed since September 11th. More than 150 remain in custody, with four men particularly the focus of intense scrutiny. Investigators have found the usual methods have failed to persuade any of them to talk. Options being weighed include truth drugs, pressure tactics and extraditing the men to countries whose security services use torture and other methods outlawed by the U.S. during interrogations.

U.S. jets pounded Taliban positions this morning near frontlines outside the Afghan capital in a key northern city. The attack came as Secretary of State General Colin Powell said he wants to see the Afghan capital captured within the next few weeks, before the onset of winter. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to announce the deployment of British ground troops in Afghanistan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to continue political and military support for the opposition Northern Alliance and said the Taliban should be excluded from Afghanistan’s future government.

This weekend marked the start of the ground war in Afghanistan. More than 200 U.S. commandos and rangers landed and fought with Taliban forces near the regime’s stronghold of Kandahar and a military airport 60 miles to the southeast. Some 20 Taliban soldiers were reportedly killed before helicopters lifted the U.S. troops out of the area. The opening of the ground war also saw the first U.S. operational casualties, when two U.S. paratroopers died when their helicopter crashed near the Pakistani-Afghan border. The Taliban, meanwhile, are denying a report from the BBC quoting a doctor that said that the U.S.-led airstrikes had killed the 10-year-old son of Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.

World Trade Organization Director-General Michael Moore said today that trade ministers would hold their meeting on schedule next month in Qatar despite security concerns following U.S. attacks on Afghanistan. The Gulf emirate has no free speech laws and has banned both protesters and protest from the duration of the scheduled meeting.

This news from Milan, Italy: Senior Italian officials have questioned a U.S. claim that the Islamic Cultural Institute there is the main European station house for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. The officials called the allegation an exaggerated conclusion drawn from circumstantial links between the center and terrorists who have passed through Milan. A document issued recently by the U.S. Treasury Department charges the institute is used to facilitate the movement of weapons, men and money across the world. It said U.S. court proceedings had shown the institute to be directly connected to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. But Italian officials who have been monitoring the institute for 10 years said during the last six years there’s been no evidence of any activities alleged by the United States.

And this news from Hyderabad, India: An outlawed guerrilla group protesting U.S. strikes against Afghanistan attacked a Coca-Cola plant in southern India, blasting dynamite and causing significant damage to the facility.

And here in the United States, in Oakland, California, more than 3,000 people yesterday, including actor Danny Glover and author Alice Walker, rallied behind Congressmember Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to oppose a resolution granting President Bush authority to use force against Afghanistan. The Democrat’s decision has won both admiration and derision from California’s 9th District, which includes the historically dovish cities of Oakland and Berkeley. It also prompted more than 50,000 letters and emails from around the nation, similarly divided reaction. Since Barbara Lee’s vote, she has had to have police and security around her. This is what the congressmember had to say yesterday at the rally for her in Oakland.

REP. BARBARA LEE: My brothers and sisters, let me just say today to you that although I was not scheduled to be here, I just wanted to stop by for one reason. And that is just to say thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

CROWD: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

REP. BARBARA LEE: I also want to say thank you for providing me the support and the freedom and the opportunity to really say, to say to the world, that as we bring the perpetrators of the September 11th unspeakable horror to justice, let us make sure that as we respond, no more innocent lives are lost. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say that. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Oakland Congressmember Barbara Lee, speaking yesterday at the rally for her in California.


AMY GOODMAN: “Higher Ground,” Stevie Wonder, here on Resistance Radio. This is Democracy Now! in Exile’s War and Peace Report, broadcasting just blocks from where the towers of the World Trade Center once stood and the fire still burns. I’m Amy Goodman.

American aircraft pounded Taliban lines north of Kabul for the first time yesterday. The attack came as Secretary of State General Colin Powell said he wants to see the Afghan capital captured within the next few weeks, before the onset of winter. Meanwhile, the ground war began over the weekend. Pentagon sources said a 200-strong company of U.S. Army Rangers has been sent on a raid against Taliban forces at their stronghold at Kandahar Airport. The sources said the Rangers had parachuted onto the airfield and were lifted out by helicopter hours later. And protests against the U.S.-British attacks on Afghanistan continued around the world this weekend, from Belgium to Spain to Thailand, Greece, London and Indonesia.

At the University of Vermont in Burlington on Sunday, more than 1,000 people gathered to hear historian Howard Zinn give a major antiwar address. He’s the author of A People’s History of the United States and You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. This is the last part of the speech he gave on Sunday.

HOWARD ZINN: We then invaded other countries in the world and spread our military power in other countries in the world and propped up military dictatorships all over the world. And in Central America, we’re responsible for setting up — not only propping up, but setting up — ruthless dictatorships, which in Guatemala killed — Guatemala killed perhaps 200,000 people, in Chile killed a huge number of people, in El Salvador killed 100,000 or 200,000 people. You know, and then, of course, Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos. I mean, that’s a — those are bad things, and you can’t ignore that.

And then, in the Middle East — and that’s the immediate — that’s the immediate issue when it comes to terrorism. In the Middle East, what have we done? You know, did we go to war in the Gulf because Iraq invaded Kuwait? Did we go to war because Bush, Bush the elder — because Bush was heartbroken at the invasion of Kuwait? That’s not why we go to war, no. I don’t like to say this, but we go to war for oil. You know, really, we go to war for oil. We go to war for the control of oil and the control of oil prices. And then we use all sorts of other reasons. You know, “Oh, well, you know, we’re opposed to dictatorship, and we’re opposed to evil men. And so, we — and Saddam Hussein is, you know, Hitler.”

Hitler has come in very handy in recent — you know, in all of our wars. Everybody we fight against is Hitler, right? Everybody on our side is Churchill. You know, I remember, you know, I think it was Lyndon — was it? No, it wasn’t. Somebody on our side called Diem, the dictator of South Vietnam, our boy, our man in South Vietnam — called Diem at the beginning of the Vietnam War the Winston Churchill of Southeast Asia. You know, please, you know.

But Saddam Hussein — we’re against dictators, and Saddam Hussein. We were focusing on Saddam Hussein then the way we’re focusing on Osama bin Laden now. Gotta have somebody to focus on. You remember when we focused on Noriega in Panama? “If we can only get Noriega, the drug trade. We get Noriega, he’s the one.” So we get Noriega. The drug trade has multiplied since we got Noriega. You know, but there’s this — you know, they think the American people are fools. And sometimes, yes, it’s true. You only hope that Abraham Lincoln is right, you know, that you can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, not all of the people all of the time, and that after a while people will catch on.

So, we need to think about this, this way of combating terrorism. Yes, terrorism has to be combated. But we have to get at the roots of it. And we have to be honest and be willing to look at ourselves and our policies self-critically; otherwise, we will never learn anything, and we will never get out of this. And if we don’t do that, then the Twin Towers will be only the beginning of a succession of blows which we will face, because we will never diminish the amount of hostility there is in the world, and by going to war and bombing people, we’ll be increasing the amount of hostility in the world, you see.

So, yes, sure, you know, and people say, “Yes, but what shall we do?” Well, OK, if we can find Osama bin Laden and put him on trial before an international court, that’s what you do with criminals. I mean, if he’s indeed a criminal, if he is — I know, we don’t have to try him. Bush says, “Look, I know he’s guilty.” You know, maybe he is. Maybe the probability is that he is. But even so, you know, you don’t decide, “Well, the president decided he’s guilty, so he’s guilty.” So, we — no. But let’s say you find him, put him up on trial, have an international tribunal, so it’s — you know, it’s not just Republicans and Democrats who are deciding what happens. Find Osama bin Laden. Find 12 other people around Osama bin Laden. What if you do? What if you put them all in jail? OK, maybe you execute them, put them in jail. Who knows? Oh, that ends terrorism? Really? Will that do it?

But, of course, we’re not even doing that. We’re not focusing on — we’re not having an international police effort the way you would have if you were looking for a murderer in the United States. There would be an intensive police effort, intelligence work and secret work and trying to find the murderer. We wouldn’t, if we suspected that a murderer was hiding out in a neighborhood in the South Bronx, bomb the South Bronx, you see. We wouldn’t do that, you know, because these are our people who live in the South Bronx. Well, they’re almost our people, because, you know, some of them are immigrants and, you know, and so on.

So, but, yeah — so, yes, I mean, sure, OK, we’ll try to carry on a police — not a war, you know.
And yes, we can beef up security as much as we can in, you know, airports and airplanes and this. But you know that ultimately that’s — that will not really safeguard us against terrorism. But, you see, we want short-term solutions. We want quick fixes. That’s what war is about. You go to war because you want to do something fast. That’s what violence is about, in general. Use violence because you don’t want to wait, because you don’t want to work things out. You don’t want to use your mind, your intelligence, your wit. You don’t want to use those things that a human being is supposed to be especially endowed with, you see. No, you want to, you know, quickly fix something, boom, go to war, the usual consequences of which are bad, you know.

So, yeah, so then, yes, you have to think about our policies. And you have to ask: What should we do to change our policies so that we can change the image of the United States in the Middle Eastern world? Because the image of the United States is not that of a peaceful nation. We have not been a peaceful nation. And, I mean, we have our troops everywhere in the world. We have military bases — 19 major military bases all over the world. We have naval vessels on every sea in the world, you see. No, we are not a peaceful nation. And so we have to think about what we can do to reshape the image of the United States, not just for the purposes of having a different image, because this is — you know, this is PR and advertising: “Let’s change our image, but not the reality.” No, we have to change the reality of our policy.

But when you bring that up, it’s very — you’re treading on very delicate ground, because you’re asking us to reverse the policies of 50 years, maybe more than 50 years, maybe 200 years, maybe 500 years, maybe going back to Columbus. I’m serious. I mean, you know, reverse the policies of the marauding white man moving into other parts of the world, you see. That’s a very big order. And people don’t want to deal with big orders, so they’d rather go to war. But, no, we have to start dealing with a big order. And even if you can’t accomplish it immediately, you have to have that in mind as a goal. And I propose something as a goal, OK, and it’s something that you might, yes, start working on right away. And the goal is to change America’s role in the world from being a military superpower to being a moral superpower, you see? Let’s get those troops out of Saudi Arabia.

AMY GOODMAN: Radical historian Howard Zinn, speaking Sunday at the University of Vermont before more than a thousand people. We’re going to go back to the conclusion of his speech in just a minute, just as stations identify themselves here on Democracy Now! in Exile.


AMY GOODMAN: “War,” Edwin Starr, here on The War and Peace Report. This is Resistance Radio, as we break the sound barrier with Howard Zinn, historian, author of A People’s History of the United States, as we conclude his speech yesterday at the University of Vermont, Burlington.

HOWARD ZINN: Think of our country as being a more modest country. You know, Sweden is not worried about terrorists. And, you know, and Denmark and Holland and New Zealand and — there are a lot of places in the world not worried about terrorists. They don’t have their troops everywhere. They don’t have their naval vessels everywhere. They’re not bothering other people. They’re not intervening. They don’t have a record of massive military destruction and intervention. Yeah, let’s be a more modest nation, you see.

And if we decide on that, well, then there are all sorts of possibilities that open up, you know, because there are those $350 billion which we’ve been using to be a military superpower. And can you imagine what we can do with that to help people? To help people in this country? You know, to help people in this country to help people, yes, to do something about AIDS? You know, to compare the amount of money the United States gives to solve the AIDS problem compared to the amount of money that small, much poorer countries than us give, it’s pitiful, you know. No, you know, the measure, our humanitarian efforts, you know, is, “Oh, well, we’re dropping food on Afghanistan.” Oh, it’s — you know, how ridiculous can you be? You know, the food agencies that have been delivering huge amounts of food to Afghanistan by trucks say, “We can’t do that anymore, because of the bombs are dropping.” You know, so, yeah, we could use the great wealth that would be made free by our no longer being a super military power, to really creating a situation in this country of a good society, of free healthcare for all, of affordable housing for all, you know, yeah, yes, and helping in other parts of the world rather than hurting them.

So, and then we’ll be secure. Bombing is not making us more secure. Do you feel more secure since we started bombing? No. After we started bombing, I saw the congressman scurrying down the steps of the cattle — of the Capitol to get away from — like cattle — scurrying down the steps of the Capitol to get away from anthrax. It was a strange front page of The New York Times. There, the congressmen going down the steps, quickly down the steps of the Capitol. You know, that was a picture on the top of the front page. Below that on the front page was a picture of Afghan refugees fleeing our bombs. I thought about the irony of all of that.

Anyway, all I’m suggesting is we need to think for ourselves, investigate for ourselves, use history in a sensible way, appeal to people’s good sense, because I think the American people have good sense. I don’t believe the 90% figures, except as, you know, something that will last five minutes until people are apprised of three facts and asked two questions, really, because I’ve seen that happen already, you know, and I’ve seen people’s minds of support for the government change over a period of time, as it did during the Vietnam War, as people learned more about what was really going on.

So we have a lot to do. We’re all teachers. We’re all communicators. We all have contacts. We all have neighbors. We all work someplace. We can all write letters to the editor. We can all talk on talk show programs. We can, you know, organize rallies. And yeah, we can do what was done at other times in American history when it was necessary, particularly during the Vietnam War, when it was necessary, yeah, to build a national movement to say to the government, “No, you don’t speak for us. You’re not doing this for us.”

AMY GOODMAN: Radical historian Howard Zinn, speaking Sunday at the University of Vermont, Burlington, before a thousand people. He’s author of A People’s History of the United States, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, playwright, wrote Marx in Soho and many other books. And if you’d like to get a video copy of the full address that he gave, you can call us at 845-679-7535. That is 845-679-7535 to order a video cassette copy.

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How the U.S. Baited the Soviet Union into Invading Afghanistan; or, “What Is More Important? … Some Agitated Muslims or … the End of the Cold War?”

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