Today we spend the hour with readings from “Voices of a People’s History of the United States,” edited by historian Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove. It is the companion volume to Zinn’s legendary “A People’s History of the United States” — which has sold over a million copies.
We will hear dramatic readings of speeches, letters, poems, songs, petitions and manifestos. These are the voices of people throughout U.S. history who struggled against slavery, racism and war, against oppression and exploitation, and who articulated a vision for a better world.
Speakers include Danny Glover, Marisa Tomei, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Sandra Oh and Viggo Mortensen.
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Today, a Democracy Now! special: a dramatic reading of Voices of a People’s History of the United States. It’s edited by legendary historian Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove. It’s the companion volume to Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, which has sold over a million copies. We’ll hear dramatic readings of speeches, letters, poems, songs, petitions and manifestos. These are the voices of people throughout U.S. history who struggled against slavery, racism and war, against oppression and exploitation, and who articulated a vision for a better world. This was recorded in Los Angeles in October of 2005. We begin the broadcast with Howard Zinn himself.
HOWARD ZINN: I want to tell you how this came about. I guess it started with this book, A People’s History of the United States, and we—and it seems that a lot of people who read the book were particularly struck by the fact that there were a lot of quotations in it, a lot of sort of nuggets of statements by people you don’t normally hear from, because I wasn’t quoting presidents and congressmen and industrialists and generals. No, I was quoting Native Americans and factory workers and women who went to work in the Lowell Mills at the age of 12 and died at the age of 25 very often. I was quoting dissenters of all sorts, socialists and anarchists and antiwar people.
And so, well, several of us—by “several of us,” I mean Anthony Arnove and I, and with the help of, prodding of Dan Simon of Seven Stories Press in New York, we decided it would be a good idea to do a whole volume just of these statements, to expand on the things that were in A People’s History of the United States, and to find more such words and to—and so, we ended up with a sort of 700-page book of about 200 of these readings. And, you know, they are not the kind of readings that you get in traditional textbooks, not the kind of documents you get if you—I remember going to graduate school and getting, you know, documents of American history, and they’re all—well, what are they? They were speeches of presidents and laws passed by Congress and decisions of the Supreme Court. No, that’s not the kind of documents we have in this book, Voices of a People’s History.
We chose those statements that we thought had the most meaning for today. And all from the—starting with, you know, de Las Casas, who blew the whistle on Columbus, going all the way up—down to the present day, down to the protesters against the war in Iraq. And so, our heroes in this book, the people we quote, are not Andrew Jackson, but the Indians that he ordered removed from the Southeastern states of the United States. No, our heroes are not the war makers. Our heroes are not Theodore Roosevelt, but Mark Twain; not Woodrow Wilson, but Helen Keller, you know? And so, yeah, we put all of this together. What you’re going to hear tonight is just a sampling of this book, just a sampling of those readings.
And I guess the fundamental theme that runs through all these readings is the idea that there are people all through American history, from way back down to the present day, there are people all the way through who have resisted oppression, resisted injustice, fought back, who have disobeyed authority, you see. And, you know, our premise is that when the authorities act against the interests of the people, when the government sends young people to war, when it takes the wealth of the country and wastes it on war and gives it to the rich, then disobedience is the answer, you see. And when people refuse to obey, then democracy comes alive. That’s our premise.
So, I want to introduce this remarkable group of actors that have agreed to come here tonight and read for you, for all of us, and starting with Viggo Mortensen, Marisa Tomei, Sandra Oh, Christina Kirk, Josh Brolin, Vanessa Martinez, Leslie Silva, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Kerry Washington and—and you’ll notice an empty chair there. That’s for Danny Glover, who is flying at this moment from somewhere, from Florida to Los Angeles, and we’re hoping that he will arrive at some point in the evening. So, we wanted to add a little suspense to the occasion. And then, there at the end, or the beginning, is Anthony Arnove. And he and I are going to take turns introducing the readings.
ANTHONY ARNOVE: In recent years, historians have begun to challenge the idealized, romanticized picture of Christopher Columbus. The evidence for this revised view comes mainly from Bartolomé de Las Casas, who witnessed the consequences of Columbus’s conquest, which he describes in the following passages, first published in 1542.
BARTOLOMÉ DE LAS CASAS: [read by Viggo Mortensen] The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. Forty-nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land, the first being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola, perhaps the most densely populated place in the world.
There must be close to two hundred leagues of land on this island, and all the land so far discovered is a beehive of people; it is as though God had crowded into these lands the great majority of mankind.
And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. And because they are so weak and complaisant, they are less able to endure heavy labor and soon die of no matter what malady.
Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days—killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three millions), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.
Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies. And also, those lands are so rich and felicitous, the native peoples so meek and patient, so easy to subject, that our Spaniards have no more consideration for them than beasts—no, for thanks be to God, they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares.
The Indians began to seek ways to throw the Christians out of their lands. They took up arms, but their weapons were very weak and of little service in offense and still less in defense. The Christians, with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them. They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house.
They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.
When tied to the stake, the cacique Hatuey—a very important noble—was told by a Franciscan friar about the God of the Christians and of the articles of Faith. And he was told what he could do in the brief time that remained to him, in order to be saved and go to heaven.
The cacique—who had never heard any of this before, and was told he would go to Inferno where, if he did not adopt the Christian Faith, he would suffer eternal torment—asked the Franciscan friar if Christians all went to Heaven.
When told that they did, he said he would prefer to go to Hell.
HOWARD ZINN: In the year 1833, when the anti-slavery movement was just beginning in the United States, an African-American woman, Maria Stewart, gave this speech.
MARIA STEWART: [read by Kerry Washington] Most of our color have been taught to stand in fear of the white man, from their earliest infancy, to work as soon as they could walk, and call “master,” before they scarce could lisp the name of mother. Continual fear and laborious servitude have in some degree lessened in us that natural force and energy which belong to man; or else, in defiance of opposition, our men, before this, would have nobly and boldly contended for their rights.
Give the man of color an equal opportunity with the white from the cradle to manhood, and from manhood to the grave, and you would discover the dignified statesman, the man of science, and the philosopher.
But there is no such opportunity for the sons of Africa, and I fear that our powerful ones are fully determined that there never shall be. O ye sons of Africa, when will your voices be heard in our legislative halls, in defiance of your enemies, contending for equal rights and liberty?
Is it possible that for the want of knowledge, we have labored for hundreds of years to support others, and been content to receive what they chose to give us in return?
Cast your eyes about, look as far as you can see; all, all is owned by the lordly white, except here and there a lowly dwelling which the man of color, midst deprivations, fraud and opposition, has been scarce able to procure. Like King Solomon, who put neither nail nor hammer to the temple, yet received the praise; so also have the white Americans gained themselves a name, like the names of the great men that are in the earth, while in reality we have been their principal foundation and support.
We have pursued the shadow, they have obtained the substance; we have performed the labor, they have received the profits; we have planted the vines, they have eaten the fruits of them.
ANTHONY ARNOVE: The lands of the Nez Percé Indians stretched from Oregon to Idaho, but after the Gold Rush, in the 1860s, the federal government seized millions of acres, crowding them into a small part of their former territories. Chief Joseph led the resistance to the colonization of Nez Percé lands, but his people came under fierce attack, and in 1877 he and his followers were defeated. Joseph was sent to the Indian Territories in Oklahoma, where he continued to speak out against the crimes of the U.S. government, as he did during a visit to Washington, D.C., in 1879, as he recalls in this speech.
CHIEF JOSEPH: [read by Floyd Red Crow Westerman] At last I was granted permission to come to Washington and bring my friend Yellow Bull and our interpreter with me. I am glad I came. I have shaken hands with a good many friends, but there are some things I want to know which no one seems able to explain.
I cannot understand how the Government sends a man out to fight us, as it did General Miles, and then breaks his word. Such a government has something wrong about it. I cannot understand why so many chiefs are allowed to talk so many different ways, and promise so many different things.
I have seen the Great Father Chief and many other law chiefs, and they all say they are my friends, and that I shall have justice, but while all their mouths talk right I do not understand why nothing is done for my people. I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done.
Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country now overrun by white men. They do not protect my father’s grave. They do not pay for my horses and cattle. Good words do not give me back my children. Good words will not make good the promise of your war chief, General Miles. Good words will not give my people good health and stop them from dying. Good words will not give my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves.
I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.
If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them the same laws. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers.
HOWARD ZINN:* In the early part of the nineteenth century, Boston capitalists began building textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, and they recruited young women from rural New England as their labor force. And they assumed these young women would be docile and easily managed. But instead, these young women in the Lowell mills formed reading circles. They organized to demand their rights as laborers and as women. They agitated for better workplace conditions. Here, Harriet Hanson Robinson, who started work in the mills when she was only ten, recounts a strike of the Lowell women.
HARRIET HANSON ROBINSON: [read by Marisa Tomei] At the time the Lowell cotton-mills were started, the factory girl was the lowest among women. In England, and in France particularly, great injustice had been done to her real character; she was represented as subjected to influences that could not fail to destroy her purity and self-respect. In the eyes of her overseer she was but a brute, slave, to be beaten, pinched, and pushed about.
One of the first strikes of the cotton-factory operatives that ever took place in this country was that in Lowell, in October, 1836. When it was announced that wages were to be cut down, great indignation was felt, and it was decided to strike, en masse. This was done. The mills were shut down, and the girls went in procession from their several corporations to the “grove” on Chapel Hill, and listened to “incendiary” speeches from early labor reformers.
One of the girls stood on a pump, and gave vent to the feelings of her companions in a neat speech, declaring that it was their duty to resist all attempts at cutting down the wages. This was the first time a woman had spoken in public in Lowell, and the event caused surprise and consternation among her audience.
Cutting down the wages was not their only grievance, nor the only cause of this strike. Hitherto the corporations had paid twenty-five cents a week towards the board of each operative, and now it was their purpose to have the girls pay the sum; and this, in addition to the cut in wages, would make a difference of at least one dollar a week. It was estimated that as many as twelve or fifteen hundred girls turned out, and walked in procession through the streets. …
My own recollection of this first strike (or “turn out” as it was called) is very vivid. I worked in a lower room, where I had heard the proposed strike fully, if not vehemently, discussed; I had been an ardent listener to what was said against this attempt at “oppression” on the part of the corporation, and naturally I took sides with the strikers.
When the day came on which the girls were to turn out, those in the upper rooms started first, and so many of them left that our mill was at once shut down. Then, when the girls in my room stood irresolute, uncertain what to do, asking each other, “Would you?” or “Shall we turn out?” and not one of them having the courage to lead off, I, who began to think they would not go out, after all their talk, became impatient, and started on ahead, saying, with childish bravado, “I don’t care what you do, I am going to turn out, whether any one else does or not;” and I marched out, and was followed by the others.
As I looked back at the long line that followed me, I was more proud than I have ever been at any success I may have achieved.
AMY GOODMAN: Excerpts of Voices of a People’s History of the United States. More in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. … We turn back now to this dramatic reading of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, again, with legendary historian Howard Zinn.
HOWARD ZINN: Welcome, Danny. Emma Goldman, a fierce anarchist and feminist orator, agitator, organizer, opponent of war, and when the World War broke out in Europe in 1914 and before the United States entered the war, she gave this speech in San Francisco.
EMMA GOLDMAN: [read by Sandra Oh] What is patriotism? Is it love of one’s birthplace, the place of childhood’s recollections and hopes, dreams and aspirations?
“Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels,” said Dr. Johnson. Leo Tolstoy, the greatest anti-patriot of our times, defines patriotism as the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers; a trade that requires better equipment for the exercise of man-killing than the making of such necessities of life as shoes, clothing, and houses; a trade that guarantees better returns and greater glory than that of the average workingman. …
Indeed, conceit, arrogance, and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.
The inhabitants of the other spots reason in like manner, of course, with the result that, from early infancy, the mind of the child is poisoned with blood-curdling stories about the Germans, the French, the Italians, Russians, etc.
When the child has reached manhood, he is thoroughly saturated with the belief that he is chosen by the Lord himself to defend his country against the attack or invasion of any foreigner. It is for that purpose that we are clamoring for a greater army and navy, more battleships and ammunition.
We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon helpless citizens. Our hearts swell with pride at the thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and that it will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other nations. Such is the logic of patriotism.
ANTHONY ARNOVE: Here, the black abolitionist Sojourner Truth, who was herself freed from slavery in 1827, speaks to a gathering of feminists in Akron, Ohio, in 1851.
SOJOURNER TRUTH: [read by Kerry Washington] Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?
Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? … Intellect… That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
ANTHONY ARNOVE: The Japanese-American civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, who was born in San Pedro, California, was a member of a family that was among the 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast who were rounded up in a wave of anti-Japanese hysteria that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Here she recalls her experiences in the detention camps.
YURI KOCHIYAMA: [read by Sandra Oh] I was red, white and blue when I was growing up. I taught Sunday school, and was very, very American. But I was also very provincial. We were just kids rooting for our high school.
I was nineteen at the time of the evacuation. I had just finished junior college. I was looking for a job, and didn’t realize how different the school world was from the work world. In the school world, I never felt racism. But when you got into the work world, it was very difficult. This was 1941, just before the war. I finally did get a job at a department store. But for us back then, it was a big thing, because I don’t think they had ever hired an Asian in a department store before. I tried, because I saw a Mexican friend who got a job there. …
Everything changed for me on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. On that very day—December 7, the FBI came and they took my father. He had just come home from the hospital the day before. For several days we didn’t know where they had taken him. Then we found out that he was taken to the federal prison at Terminal Island. Overnight, things changed for us. …
Most Japanese Americans had to give up their jobs, whatever they did, and were told they had to leave. The edict for 9066—President Roosevelt’s edict for evacuation—was in February 1942. We were moved to a detention center that April. …
We were sent to an assembly center in Arcadia, California, in April. It was the largest assembly center on the West Coast having nearly twenty thousand people. There were some smaller centers with about six hundred people. All along the West Coast—Washington, Oregon, California—there were many, many assembly centers, but ours was the largest. Most of the assembly centers were either fairgrounds, or race tracks. So many of us lived in stables and they said you could take what you could carry. …
I was so red, white and blue, I couldn’t believe this was happening to us. America would never do a thing like this to us. This is the greatest country in the world. So I thought this is only going to be for a short while, maybe a few weeks or something, and they will let us go back. At the beginning no one realized how long this would go on. I didn’t feel the anger that much because I thought maybe this was the way we could show our love for our country, and we should not make too much fuss or noise, we should abide by what they asked of us. I’m a totally different person now than I was back then. I was naive about so many things. The more I think about, the more I realize how little you learn about American history. It’s just what they want you to know. …
We always called the camps “relocation centers” while we were there. Now we feel it is apropos to call them concentration camps. It is not the same as the concentration camps of Europe; those we feel were death camps. Concentration camps were a concentration of people placed in an area, and disempowered and disenfranchised. So it is apropos to call what I was in a concentration camp. …
Historically, Americans have always been putting people behind walls. First there were the American Indians who were put on reservations, Africans in slavery, their lives on the plantations, Chicanos doing migratory work, and the kinds of camps they lived in, and even too, the Chinese when they worked on the railroad camps where they were almost isolated, dispossessed people—disempowered. And I feel those are the things we should fight against so they won’t happen again. …
This whole period of what the Japanese went through is important. If we can see the connections of how often this happens in history, we can stem the tide of these things happening again by speaking out against them.
HOWARD ZINN: In August of 1963, there was the great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Two hundred thousand people were there, and everybody remembers Martin Luther King’s “I Have Dream” speech. But the most militant speech of the day was delivered by John Lewis, a student leader from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from Alabama. But he was pressured by established civil rights leaders to tone down his speech. But here is the part of the original speech that he had hoped to deliver that day.
JOHN LEWIS: [read by Danny Glover] We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of. For hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here. They have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages … or no wages, at all.
In good conscience, we cannot support the administration’s civil rights bill, for it is too little, and too late.
The voting section of this bill will not help thousands of black citizens who want to vote. It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama, and Georgia, who are qualified to vote, but lack a 6th Grade education.
We are now involved in … revolution. This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who build their careers on immoral compromise and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation. What political leader here can stand up and say, “My party is the party of principles”? The party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland. The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater. Where is our party?
The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery. The non-violent revolution is saying, “We will not wait for the courts to act, for we have been waiting for hundreds of years. We will not wait for the President, the Justice Department, nor Congress, but we will take matters into our own hands and create a source of power, outside any national structure that could and would assure us a victory.”
To those who have said, “Be Patient and Wait,” we must say that “Patience is a dirty and nasty word.” We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually, we want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence.
We all recognize the fact that if any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about.
Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the street and put in the courts. Listen, Mr. Kennedy, Listen, Mr. Congressman, listen, fellow citizens, the black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won’t be a “cooling-off” period.
We won’t stop now. All the forces of Eastland, Barnett, Wallace, and Thurmond won’t stop this revolution. The time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. We will march through the South, through the Heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own “scorched earth” policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground—non-violently. We shall fragment the South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of democracy. We will make the action of the past few months look petty. And I say to you, wake up America!
ANTHONY ARNOVE: In McComb, Mississippi, in July 1965, civil rights activists in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party circulated one of the first petitions against the war in Vietnam.
MISSISSIPPI FREEDOM DEMOCRATIC PARTY PETITION: [read by Leslie Silva] Here are five reasons why Negroes should not be in any war fighting for America:
1. No Mississippi Negroes should be fighting in Vietnam for the White Man’s freedom, until all the Negro People are free in Mississippi.
2. Negro Boys should not honor the draft here in Mississippi. Mothers should encourage their sons not to go.
3. We will gain respect and dignity as a race only by forcing the U.S. Government and the Mississippi Government to come with guns, dogs and trucks to take our sons away to fight and be killed protecting Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana.
4. No one has a right to ask us to risk our lives and kill other Colored People in Santo Domingo and Vietnam, so that the White American can get richer. We will be looked upon as traitors by all the Colored People of the world if the Negro people continue to fight and die without a cause.
5. Last week a white soldier from New Jersey was discharged from the Army because he refused to fight in Vietnam; he went on a hunger strike. Negro boys can do the same thing. We can write and ask our sons if they know what they are fighting for. If he answers Freedom, tell him that’s what we are fighting for here in Mississippi. And if he says Democracy, tell him the truth—we don’t know anything about Communism, Socialism, and all that, but we do know that Negroes have caught hell right here under this American Democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Excerpts of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, edited by Anthony Arnove and legendary historian Howard Zinn. Our website is democracynow.org. We’ll return with this dramatic reading in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with this dramatic reading of Voices of a People’s History of the United States by historian Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove. This is Anthony Arnove.
ANTHONY ARNOVE: Two of the first people to speak out against the use of September 11th as a pretext for war were Orlando and Phyllis Rodriguez. Their son, Gregory, then only 31 years old, was killed that day while working on the 103rd floor of One World Trade Center. The Rodriguezes sent this open letter to The New York Times and other newspapers four days after September 11th.
ORLANDO AND PHYLLIS RODRIGUEZ: [read by Vanessa Martinez] Our son Greg is among the many missing from the World Trade Center attack. Since we first heard the news, we have shared moments of grief, comfort, hope, despair, fond memories with his wife, the two families, our friends and neighbors, his loving colleagues at Cantor Fitzgerald/ESpeed, and all the grieving families that daily meet at the Pierre Hotel.
We see our hurt and anger reflected among everybody we meet. We cannot pay attention to the daily flow of news about this disaster. But we read enough of the news to sense that our government is heading in the direction of violent revenge, with the prospect of sons, daughters, parents, friends in distant lands dying, suffering, and nursing further grievances against us. It is not the way to go. It will not avenge our son’s death. Not in our son’s name.
Our son died a victim of an inhuman ideology. Our actions should not serve the same purpose. Let us grieve. Let us reflect and pray. Let us think about a rational response that brings real peace and justice to our world. But let us not as a nation add to the inhumanity of our times.
HOWARD ZINN: We end with something that’s not in our book, because this is too recent. This is a speech by Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in action in Iraq on April 4th, 2004. And she delivered this speech in August at the Veterans for Peace convention in Dallas, Texas. This is before she was heading down to camp outside of Bush’s vacation home in Crawford. President Bush refused to meet with her, but Sheehan helped galvanize sentiment against the occupation of Iraq.
CINDY SHEEHAN: [read by Marisa Tomei] I said to my son not to go. I said, “You know it’s wrong. You know you’re going over there. You know your unit might have to kill innocent people. You know you might die.” And he says, “My buddies are going. If I don’t go, my buddies will be in danger.”
Thirty of our bravest men have already died this month, and it’s only the 5th of August. And the tragedy of the marines in Ohio is awful.
But do you think George Bush will interrupt his vacation and go visit the families of the 20 marines that have died in Ohio this week? No, because he doesn’t care, he doesn’t have a heart. That’s not enough to stop his little “playing cowboy” game in Crawford for five weeks.
So, as you can imagine, every day, the grieving parents that have lost—lost, I don’t like to use that word—the parents whose child was murdered—it’s extremely difficult, you can’t even get a small scab on our wound, because every day it’s ripped open.
So anyway, when that filth-spewer and warmonger George Bush was speaking after the tragedy of the marines in Ohio, he said a couple things that outraged me—seriously outraged me.
George Bush was talking, and he never mentioned the terrible incident of those marines, but he did say that the families of the ones who have been killed can rest assured that their loved ones died for a “noble cause.”
He also said—he says this often, and this really drives me crazy—he said that we have to stay in Iraq and complete the mission, to honor the sacrifices of the ones who have fallen.
And I say, why should I want one more mother to go through what I’ve gone through? Because my son is dead. You know what? The only way he can honor my son’s sacrifice is to bring the rest of our troops home, to make my son’s death count for peace and love, not war and hatred like Bush stands for.
I don’t want him using my son’s death or my family’s sacrifice to continue the killing. I don’t want him to exploit the honor of my son and others to continue the killing.
And I just had this brainstorm: I’m going to Crawford. I don’t know where Crawford is. But I don’t care, I’m going. And I’m going to go, and I’m going to tell them, “You get that evil maniac out here, because a Gold Star Mother, somebody whose son’s blood is on his hands, has questions for him.”
And I’m going to say, “OK, listen here, George. Number one: I demand, every time you get up and spew the filth that you’re continuing the killing in Iraq to honor my son’s sacrifice, honoring the fallen heroes, by continuing the mission; you say, 'except Casey Sheehan.'”
You don’t have my permission to use my son’s name.
And I’m going to say, “And you tell me, what the noble cause is that my son died for.” And if he even starts to say “freedom and democracy,” I’m going to say, “bull [bleep].”
You tell me the truth. You tell me that my son died for oil. You tell me that my son died to make your friends rich. You tell me my son died so you can spread the cancer of Pax Americana, imperialism in the Middle East.
You get America out of Iraq, you get Israel out of Palestine, and you’ll stop the terrorism.
And if you think I won’t say “bull [bleep]” to the president, then you’re wrong, because I’ll say what’s on my mind.
So anyway, I’m going to go to Crawford tomorrow, and I’m going to say, “Get George here.” And if they say, “No, he’s not coming out,” then I’m going to say, “OK, I’m going to put up my tent here, and I’m staying until he comes and talks to me.”
Another thing that I’m doing is—my son was killed in 2004, so I’m not paying my taxes for 2004. And I tell everybody that. If I get a letter from the IRS, I’m going to say, “You killed my son for this. I don’t owe you anything.”
I live in Vacaville, California. If you can find me there, come and get me and put me on trial.
It’s up to us, as moral people, to break immoral laws, and resist. As soon as the leaders of a country lie to you, they have no authority over you. These maniacs have no authority over us. And they might be able to put our bodies in prison, but they can’t put our spirits in prison.
When I was growing up, it was “communists.” Now it’s “terrorists.” So you always have to have somebody that’s our enemy to be afraid of, so the war machine can build more bombs, and guns, and bullets, and everything.
But I do see hope. I see hope in this country. Fifty-eight percent of the American public are with us. We’re preaching to the choir, but not everybody in the choir is singing. If all of the 58 percent started singing, this war would end.
AMY GOODMAN: Marisa Tomei reading Cindy Sheehan, excerpts of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, edited by historian Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove.