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Noam Chomsky on Legacy of Radical Historian Staughton Lynd, Who Protested Korea, Vietnam & Iraq Wars

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Noam Chomsky remembers the life and legacy of longtime peace and civil rights activist, lawyer and author Staughton Lynd, who has died at the age of 92. Lynd faced professional blowback after he was a conscientious objector during the Korean War and an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, and later supported U.S. soldiers who refused to fight in Iraq. We feature an extended interview excerpt from when he appeared on Democracy Now! in 2006 to discuss the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, his conscientious objector status and the 1993 Ohio prison uprising in Lucasville.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, and we are broadcasting from downtown Cairo, Egypt, just in front of the Nile.

We look now, though, at the life and legacy of Staughton Lynd, the longtime peace and civil rights activist, lawyer, historian, author, who died at the age of 92 last week. In the early 1960s, Staughton Lynd taught alongside his friend Howard Zinn at Spelman College in Atlanta, and he served as the director of SNCC, the SNCC Freedom Schools of Mississippi.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: He was a leading early critic of the Vietnam War. The State Department stripped him of his passport after he traveled to North Vietnam in 1965. Staughton Lynd was a conscientious objector in the 1950s and later supported U.S. soldiers who refused to fight in Iraq. As the London Review of Books writes, quote, “Along with Roslyn and Howard Zinn, and Carol and Noam Chomsky, Alice and Staughton Lynd belonged to a generation of radical married couples in the United States who took controversial, unpopular public stands — on Civil Rights at home, on Vietnam and subsequent wars abroad — regardless of the consequences, and held fast to lifelong commitments.”

AMY GOODMAN: In a minute, we’ll feature part of his interview on Democracy Now!, with Staughton Lynd back years ago. But first we hear one of his contemporary radical academics. That’s right, Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at University of Arizona, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century. He spoke to Democracy Now! this week about the legacy of Staughton Lynd.

NOAM CHOMSKY: He had quite a remarkable life, very significant intellectual contributions. One of the most important, most important for me, was his book on Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, that came out in the late ’60s.

I already knew a lot about him from his very extensive and courageous work in the early days, the hard days of the civil rights movement, early days of the protests against the Vietnam War, when he was almost alone in the measures that he took in — conscientious measures in opposition to this greatest crime since the Second World War, at a time when very few were engaged.

Later on, through other activities of his, he was treated very shabbily by the academic profession and by the intellectual world, political world. He went on relentlessly. He came — went to law school, with difficulty, then went on to become prominent in many important activities. The most significant, in my view, were the critical role he played in working with working people in communities in the Rust Belt trying to overcome the wreckage of neoliberal globalization by initiating and supporting programs for worker control of industry and services, very significant in itself for the future, quite important for the people trying to reconstruct their lives from the destructive aspects of the neoliberal assault.

Altogether, it’s a truly exemplary life. Very hard to find people like that. Personally, a regret of mine is I never actually knew him personally, only by his life and work.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Noam Chomsky remembering Staughton Lynd, the longtime peace and civil rights activist, lawyer, historian, author, who just recently died at the age of 92.

In 2006, Staughton Lynd appeared on Democracy Now! This is an extended excerpt of our conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of the situation in Iraq right now?

STAUGHTON LYND: Well, I think it’s Vietnam in spades. That is to say, illegitimate and corrupt as every South Vietnamese government was, I don’t think they hold a candle to what we’ve created in Iraq, where before the government of Iraq can blow its nose, it has to seek permission from the United States military. And I think that it’s clear — I’m not saying anything new — that the majority of Iraqis, the great majority of Iraqis, and the majority of United States servicemen at the moment feel the same thing. Whatever problems might are arise from the withdrawal of United States troops, whatever conflicts there may be within Iraq, they are less, they are more manageable, than the conflicts that we create by our presence. So, we should leave immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your reaction to President Bush in talking to ABC News, comparing Iraq to Vietnam, to the Tet Offensive?

STAUGHTON LYND: Well, isn’t it interesting that they’ve finally come around to that, after saying that it wasn’t an insurgency, it wasn’t a civil war? Now they have finally conceded that they were wrong when they forever denied the parallel to Vietnam. It’s the same thing. Anyone who passed through those experiences of the ’60s has to be mortified, just covered with shame and distress by the inability of the people who run this country to learn anything from their experience.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you apply for conscientious objector status?

STAUGHTON LYND: In, I suppose it would have been, 1952. And the particular status I applied for was to be an unarmed medic within the military. I didn’t fancy myself planting pine trees, while someone else my age who didn’t know about the possibility of conscientious objection was getting his behind shot off, so I chose an option where I wouldn’t have to carry a gun or shoot anyone, where the rate of casualties was as high or higher as among infantrymen. And there was a way to do that within Selective Service law at that time, and that’s what I did.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Staughton Lynd, legendary peace activist, longtime social justice advocate, helped direct the Mississippi Freedom Schools, went to Hanoi with Tom Hayden, lost his, well, tenure at Yale and wrote the definitive history of the 1993 Ohio prison uprising in Lucasville. Can you summarize that for people?

STAUGHTON LYND: Well, there were three big prison rebellions between 1970 and 1995: Attica, 1971; Santa Fe, tragic situation where prisoners slaughtered one another; and then, finally, in 1993, Lucasville, Ohio. It lasted 11 days. Nine prisoners and a hostage officer were killed. A surrender was negotiated. And no sooner was the surrender negotiated with various prisoner spokespersons than the state of Ohio turned around and began to build death penalty cases against those very leaders and spokespersons. They didn’t care who had really done things. They wanted to nail the leaders so that no prisoner would ever have this idea again.

And we’re still deep in the process of resisting those executions. Three of the five leaders who were sentenced to death are now in federal court. The person closest to execution is a man named Siddique Abdullah Hasan, who was the imam, the prayer leader of the Muslim prisoners. I’ve just filed a friend of the court brief for the ACLU, pointing out that 14 prisoners have stated under oath that it was not Hasan who was responsible for the death of the officer. And, you know, you hope and pray that if there can be — as with Mumia — if there can be enough concern outside the courtroom, sooner or later the folks inside will get the message.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t this an unusual situation where you had different sectors of the prison together?

STAUGHTON LYND: It was. And I’ll never forget the moment when my wife, who was reading transcripts, came running to me, and she said, “Staughton, read this. Read this.” And it was the testimony of the chief investigator for the state, a man named Sergeant Hudson. And the question was, well, “What did you find when you went into the occupied cellblock after the surrender?” And he said, “Well, there were all kinds of graffiti on the walls and in the gymnasium.” “Well, what did the graffiti say?” The graffiti said, “Black and white together,” “convict unity” and, my favorite, “convict race.” Some people may think we’re Black and white. No, no, we’re all convicts. We are a convict race.

And I was very moved. I hadn’t seen anything quite like that since the South, 30 years before. And the extraordinary thing is that those five men, the five men sentenced to death — three Black, two white, one of the whites a leader of the Aryan Brotherhood — have maintained their solidarity just like this for the last 13 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Staughton Lynd, as we wrap up this conversation, what gives you hope today?

STAUGHTON LYND: Well, it’s funny. I suppose as you get older, people ask you that question: Why are you still plugging away? I guess what gives me hope is the kind of thing that I’ve just described or what we see going on in Latin America today, of which your earlier guest was a spokesperson. I mean, can you imagine people taking factories over in Argentina, a woman who used to be a house servant becoming the minister of justice in Bolivia, the teachers in Oaxaca going on strike and demanding shoes for their children? I mean, how can you not have hope when things like this are happening in the world?

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Staughton Lynd speaking in 2006 on Democracy Now! To see our full interview, you can go to democracynow.org.

Coming up, we speak with the Filipino climate activist Yeb Saño. He was at the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh as a peace activist, a climate peace activist, head of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. But before that, he was chief climate negotiator for the Philippines. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Cuban singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés. He has died at the age of 79.

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