Radio Lora, 8. März 2010 und Alternative Radio
Prof. Howard Zinn, einer der ersten der so genannten “radikalen” amerikanischen Historiker, wurde 1922 als Kind armer Einwanderer in Brooklyn geboren. Nach dem Besuch der High School arbeitete er in der Brooklyn Navy Werft. Erst seine Teilnahme am 2. Weltkrieg ermöglichte ihm nach Kriegsende ein Studium an der renommierten Columbia University. Er engagierte sich bald in der Bürgerrechtsbewegung und kritisierte als einer der Ersten den Krieg in Indonesien. Sein Buch “Vietnam – The Logic of Withdrawal” wurde zum Klassiker. Der Gegner von Imperialismus und Militarismus war ein glühender Befürworter des gewaltlosen zivilen Ungehorsams. Man sah und hörte Howard Zinn auf zahlreichen Demonstrationen gegen die Kriege in Afghanistan und im Irak. Er war stets bereit zu helfen und lebte die Solidarität, die er in seinen Büchern und Vorlesungen einforderte. Sein Meisterwerk, “Eine Geschichte des amerikanischen Volkes” wurde ein weltweiter Erfolg. Zuletzt schrieb er “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress” und “Original Zinn”. Noch kurz vor seinem Tod beendete er die Dokumentation “The People Speak”.
Am 27. Januar 2010 starb dieser geistreiche, gebildete und großzügige Mensch, der auf der ganzen Welt geliebte und verehrte Freund und Lehrer im Alter von 88 Jahren in Santa Monica.
Sie hören nun die deutsche Zusammenfassung eines Vortrags, den Howard Zinn am 11. November 2009 an der Boston University gehalten hat.
Keine Sorge, ich werde nicht über Religionskriege sprechen, sondern über die drei sakrosankten Kriege der amerikanischen Geschichte. Den Unabhängigkeitskrieg (1775-1783), den Bürgerkrieg (1861-1865) und den 2.Weltkrieg .Ohne Zweifel haben diese Kriege Positives bewirkt: die Unabhängigkeit von England, das Ende der Sklaverei und den Sieg über den Faschismus in Europa. Und dennoch wage ich es, sie zu kritisieren. Denn jeder so genannte heilige Krieg erlaubt es, böse und schreckliche Kriege wie Vietnam, Irak, Afghanistan, Panama und Grenada ebenfalls als heilig zu bezeichnen. So werden Saddam Hussein einfach zu Adolf Hitler und ein Nichtangriffspakt, eine diplomatische Konfliktlösung, zum Münchner Abkommen erklärt.
Sie werden fragen, was um alles in der Welt am Unabhängigkeitskrieg zu kritisieren sei?
Wussten Sie, dass 25 000 Menschen mit ihrem Leben dafür bezahlten? Eine geringe Zahl verglichen mit den 58 000 amerikanischen Opfern des Vietnamkrieges, aber gemessen an der Einwohnerzahl entspräche das heute 2,5 Millionen Toten. 2,5 Millionen Tote für die Unabhängigkeit von England! Kaum ein Bauer, Arbeiter oder Handwerker profitierte von dieser Unabhängigkeit, von der versprochenen Freiheit und Gleichheit. Reiche konnten sich aus dem Wehrdienst herauskaufen, es starben die Armen, denen man ein Stückchen Land versprochen hatte, wie später den GIs den Zugang zur Universität. Die Offiziere bekamen schöne Uniformen, Sold und gutes Essen, die einfachen Soldaten froren und hungerten. Das waren nicht die eine große, glückliche Familie, sondern knallharte Klassenunterschiede.
Haben Sie je in einem Schulbuch etwas über die vielen Tausend Meuterer gelesen und von denen, die George Washington durch ihre Kameraden hinrichten ließ? Einige Soldaten erhielten tatsächlich das versprochene Stück Land, doch die Steuern waren so hoch, dass sie es schnell wieder an die reichen Grundbesitzer verloren. Heute nennt man das Foreclosures, Zwangsübertragung an die Bank.
Als die Bauern 1876 gegen diese Zwangsversteigerungen rebellierten, wurde ihr Protest von der Armee unserer Gründerväter niedergeschlagen. Um sich vor den Forderungen der Armen, der Sklaven und der Indianer zu schützen, benützte man diese Rebellion, Shays Rebellion, als Vorwand für die Etablierung einer starken Zentralregierung. So wurde die Verfassung zu einem Schutzbrief für die Reichen, die Sklavenbesitzer und die Großgrundbesitzer.
Profitierten die Schwarzen von der Unabhängigkeit?
Nein. Denn die Revolution änderte nichts an der Sklaverei. George Washington duldete sogar keine Schwarzen in seiner Armee.
Profitierten die Indianer, die Menschen, die vor uns hier waren und denen dieses Land gehörte?
Nein. Die Engländer hatten eine Grenzlinie gezogen, die von den Kolonisten nicht überschritten werden durfte. Doch dann waren di Engländer weg und mit ihnen diese Grenzlinie. Und so raubte man das Land der Ureinwohner und schlachtete die Besitzer ab. Unabhängigkeit ist eine gute Sache, doch zu welchem Preis haben wir sie erlangt? Hätten wir sie vielleicht, wie die Kanadier, auch ohne einen blutigen Krieg erlangen können? Möglicherweise hätte es länger gedauert, aber wir hätten wahrscheinlich ein kanadisches Gesundheitssystem statt eines amerikanischen.
Den Bürgerkrieg zu kritisieren ist noch schwieriger, denn Sklaverei ist etwas Schlechtes, und nach dem Bürgerkrieg gab es keine Sklaverei mehr. Doch der Preis dafür waren 600 000 Tote und unzählige Verwundete, Verkrüppelte und Blinde in einem Land mit 30 Millionen Einwohnern. Der Bürgerkrieg war der blutigste, abscheulichste und brutalste in unserer Geschichte. Heute entspräche das zwischen 5 und 6 Millionen Opfern. Zwar waren die Sklaven frei, doch das Stückchen Land und das Maultier, die man ihnen versprochen hatte, bekamen sie nicht. So blieben sie weiter abhängig von ihren Plantagenbesitzern. Sie waren frei und doch nicht frei. Aus Sklaven waren Leibeigene geworden. Man hatte sie betrogen, so wie die Menschen in Kriegszeiten noch immer betrogen wurden. Und so frage ich wieder, ob die Sklaverei vielleicht auch ohne diese 600 000 Opfer hätte beendet werden können.
Wie Sie alle wissen, war das Ziel des Bürgerkrieges nicht di Befreiung der Sklaven, sondern Lincolns geradezu imperialistischer Wunsch, die Südstaaten unter dem Dach der Zentralregierung zu halten, also ihre Abspaltung zu verhindern. Und so wurden lediglich die Sklaven in den abtrünnigen Südstaaten als frei erklärt, jedoch nicht die in den regierungstreuen Grenzgebieten.
Allein die Antisklaverei-Bewegung, nicht Lincoln und nicht der Kongress erzwangen die Verfassungsergänzungen, die die Sklaverei endgültig beenden sollten und den Schwarzen das Wahlrecht und die Gleichbehandlung vor Gericht versprachen. Doch kaum hatten die Truppen den Süden verlassen, kamen Rassentrennung und Lynchjustiz zurück und wüteten ungestraft noch 100 Jahre weiter.
In der gesamten westlichen Hemisphäre wurde die Sklaverei ohne einen blutigen Bürgerkrieg beendet. Warum mussten in Amerika dafür 600 000 Menschen ihr Leben lassen? An sie sollte man denken, wenn man sagt, dass der Bürgerkrieg die Sklaverei beendet habe.
– 3 –
Kommen wir zum 2. Weltkrieg, dem guten und gerechten Krieg gegen den Faschismus. Ich warf Bomben über Deutschland, Ungarn, die Tschechoslowakei und sogar noch drei Wochen vor Kriegsende auch auf eine kleine Stadt in Frankreich ab. Wir testeten erstmals in Europa die fürchterlichen Napalmbomben und bekamen dafür Orden. Es war ein guter Krieg und wir waren gute Jungs.
Wenn man aus 10, 000 m Höhe eine Bombe abwirft denkt man nicht daran, dass sie töten wird und wen sie töten wird. Man hört nicht die Schreie der verwundeten Kinder und sieht nicht die abgetrennten Gliedmaßen. Man tut seinen Job, sonst nichts.
Erst nach dem Krieg begann ich, über die Angriffe auf die kleine französische Stadt und auf Dresden nachzudenken und über die Bomben, die 600 000 deutsche Zivilisten töteten. Das waren nicht “die” Nazis, vielleicht waren sie Mitläufer, die sich nicht gegen das Regime auflehnten wie einige wenige Andere. Wie viele Amerikaner protestierten gegen amerikanische Kriege? Sind wir mitschuldig am Tod von Million en von Vietnamesen? Vielleicht. Aber herrschte hier nicht die gleiche dumme, unschuldige Ahnungslosigkeit wie damals in Deutschland? Wir jedoch mussten nicht für das Großmachtbestreben unserer Regierenden, gegen das wir nichts unternahmen, mit unserem Leben bezahlen.
Ich hielt die Bomben auf Hiroschima und Nagasaki für eine gute Entscheidung. Ich wusste nicht, was sie bedeuteten. Für mich war eine Atombombe einfach eine große Bombe. Erst John Herseys Buch “Hiroshima” öffnete mir die Augen. Er hatte mit den Überlebenden gesprochen, mit Kindern, Alten, Frauen und Männern ohne Arme und Beine, blind, mit zerfetzter, verbrannter Haut. Und ich begann zu ahnen, was meine Bomben angerichtet hatten, und wie aus den Guten, die gegen den bösen Faschismus kämpften, selbst Böse geworden waren, denn das Gift des Krieges korrumpiert alle. Die Nazis bombardierten Coventry, London und Rotterdam, und wir steckten einige Monate vor Hiroshima Tokio in Brand und töteten in einer Nacht 100 000 Menschen. Kaum ein Amerikaner weiß davon. Insgesamt haben wir über eine halbe Million japanischer Zivilisten getötet. Keiner von ihnen, keines dieser Kinder hatte Pearl Harbor angegriffen!
Als Begründung für Hiroshima wird immer wieder angeführt, dass man Japan sonst nur durch eine Invasion zur Aufgabe hätte zwingen können, und diese Invasion hätte eine Million Menschenleben gekostet. Das ist einfach nicht wahr. Japan stand kurz davor zu kapitulieren, vielleicht nicht sofort, aber vielleicht in zwei oder drei Monaten. Wir wollten jedoch nicht warten, wir hatten diese Bomben und wir wollten sehen, was sie konnten.
Wir probierten unsere Bomben an den Kindern von Hiroshima aus und wir wollten den Russen zeigen, dass wir diese Bomben haben. Das war der erste Schritt zum “Kalten Krieg.”
Nach dem 2. Weltkrieg gab es keinen Hitler und keinen Mussolini mehr. Aber gab es auch keinen Faschismus? Keinen Rassismus? Keinen Militarismus? Standen wir nicht oft am Rand eines Atomkrieges?
Bei meiner Entlassung aus der Air Force erhielt ich – wie 16 Millionen anderer Kriegsteilnehmer – von General Marshall einen Brief, in dem er mir zum Sieg gratulierte und eine neue Welt versprach. Die Welt war nicht neu, aber 50 Millionen Menschen waren tot und das Kriegen ging weiter.
Und so gelangte ich zu der Überzeugung, dass Tyrannei, Aggression und Grenzüberschreitungen niemals durch Kriege, sondern nur durch zivilen Ungehorsam vermieden werden können. Indem wir einen Tyrannen bekämpfen, töten wir seine Opfer. Jeder Krieg ist ein Krieg gegen die Kinder.
Wieder sind wir im Irak, in Afghanistan und auch in Pakistan im Krieg und werfen Bomben auf unschuldige Zivilisten. Wir dürfen das nicht länger mit ansehen. Schließen Sie sich einer Friedensorganisation an, denn die Macht von “Denen da oben” ist abhängig vom Gehorsam “Derer da unten”. Streikende Arbeiter, boykottierende Verbraucher, desertierende Soldaten legen Firmen, Konzerne und Kriegsmaschinerien lahm. Wir haben die Macht etwas zu verändern, wenn wir uns zusammentun und uns nicht mehr alles gefallen lassen.
Das ist es, was ich Ihnen sagen wollte. Vielen Dank.
Other AR Howard Zinn programs –
A People’s History of the U.S.
Voices of a People’s History
The Case of Sacco & Vanzetti
Confronting Government Lies
Resistance & the Role of Artists
Air -Brushing History
A World Without Borders
War & Civil Disobedience
For information about obtaining CDs, MP3s, or transcripts of this or other programs, please contact:
P.O. Box 551
Boulder, CO 80306-0551
Three Holy Wars by Howard Zinn
Boston University, Boston, MA 11 November 2009
Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, was perhaps this country’s premier radical historian. He was born in Brooklyn in 1922. His parents, poor immigrants, were constantly moving to stay, as he once told me,”one step ahead of the landlord.” After high school, he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. After the war, he went to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He was an active figure in the civil rights movement. He was among the first to oppose U.S. aggression in Indochina. His book “Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal” was an instant classic. A principled opponent of imperialism and militarism, he was an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience. He spoke and marched against the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. His masterpiece, “A People’s History of the United States,” continues to sell in huge numbers. His last books were “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress” and “Original Zinn.” Just before his death he completed the documentary “The People Speak.” Always ready to lend a hand, he believed in and practiced solidarity. Witty, erudite, generous and loved by many the world over, Howard Zinn, friend and teacher, passed away on January 27, 2010.
Three holy wars. When I tell people the title, very often they’re a little puzzled, because they think I’m going to talk about religious wars. No. I’m speaking about three wars in American history that are sacrosanct, three wars that are untouchable, three wars that are uncriticizable.
I think you will probably agree with me that nobody criticizes the Revolutionary War, right? Especially here in Boston. No, not at all. The Revolutionary War is a holy war against England. Here in Boston, Paul Revere and Lexington and Concord and Sam Adams and all the Adamses, all of that. No, the Revolutionary War was a great war of independence from England. Heroic battles, Bunker Hill. It brings tears to my eyes. Not only in Boston but elsewhere. The Revolutionary War, you don’t criticize that. If you did, you would be a Tory. They would deport you to Canada, which might be good.
Then there is the Civil War. You notice the quiet. You don’t criticize the Civil War. And it’s understandable. Why would you criticize the Civil War? Slavery? Freedom? The Civil War. The slaves are freed. It’s Abraham Lincoln. You can’t criticize the Civil War. It’s a good war, a just war. Emancipation.
And then there is World War II. Again, the good war-except if you read Studs Terkel’s oral history called The Good War, in which he interviews all sorts of people who participated in World War II, military, civilians. When he adopted the title of this oral history, his wife suggested, after reading the manuscript, he put quotation marks around The Good War, suggesting that, well, maybe there’s a little doubt about how good that war is. But very few people have doubt about the good war. You turn on the History Channel, what is it all about? The good war, World War II, heroism, Iwo Jima, D-Day, the Greatest Generation. World War II is the best, the best of wars. I was in it.
And now I’m going to subject all three of those good wars to a kind of examination which is intended-I’ll tell you frankly what my intention is-to make us re-examine the idea of a good war, to make us re-examine the idea that there is any such thing as a good war, even the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II. No. It’s not easy to do, because, as I said, these three wars are holy. And all three wars accomplished something. No one would doubt that. That’s why they’re considered holy: they all accomplished something. Independence from England, freedom for the slaves, the end of fascism in Europe. So to criticize them is to undertake a heroic task. I only undertake heroic tasks.
The reason I think it’s important to subject them to criticism is that this idea of good wars helps justify other wars which are obviously awful, obviously evil. And though they’re obviously awful-I’m talking about Vietnam, I’m talking about Iraq, I’m talking about Afghanistan, I’m talking about Panama, I’m talking about Grenada, one of our most heroic of wars-the fact that you have the historic experience of good wars creates a basis for believing, well, you know, there is such a thing as a good war, and maybe you can find parallels between the good wars and this war, even though you don’t understand this war. But, oh, yes, the parallels. Saddam Hussein is Hitler. That makes it clear. We have to fight against him. To not fight in a war means surrender, like Munich. There are all the analogies.
Let’s start with the Revolutionary War. Let’s do it in chronological order, because, after all, I’m a historian. We do everything in chronological order. I eat in chronological order. All Bran, we’ll start with All Bran. We’ll end with Wheatina. The Revolutionary War. Balance sheets. I don’t want to make it too mathematical. I’ll be falling in line with all these mathematical social scientists. Everything has become mathematical: political science and anthropology, even social work is mathematical. No, I don’t want to get that strict. But a rough moral balance sheet, let’s say. What’s good about the Revolutionary War? Oh, there is another side? Yes, there is another side to the balance sheet. What’s dubious about the Revolutionary War? Let’s look at both sides, because if you only look at, oh, we won independence from England, it’s not enough to do that. You have to look at other things.
Let’s first look at the cost of the war on one side of the balance sheet-the cost of the war, in lives, I mean. Twenty-five thousand. Hey, that’s nothing. Twenty-five thousand? We lost 58,000 in Vietnam. Did you even know how many lives were lost in the Revolutionary War? It’s hardly worth talking about. In proportion to the Revolutionary War population of the colonies, 25,000 would be equivalent today to 2 1/2 million. Two and a half million. Let’s fight a war. We’re being oppressed by England. Let’s fight for independence. Two and a half million people will die, but we’ll have independence. Would you have second thoughts? You might. In other words, I want to make that 25,000, which seems like an insignificant figure, palpable and real, not to be minimized as a cost of the Revolutionary War, and to keep that in mind in the balance sheet as we look at whatever other factors there are. So, yes, we win independence against England. Great, and it only cost 2 1/2 million.
Who did the Revolutionary War benefit? Who benefited from independence? It’s interesting that we just assume that everybody benefited from independence. No, not everybody in the colonies benefited from independence. There were people right from the outset who knew they wouldn’t benefit from independence. There were people from the outset who thought, I’m just a working stiff, I’m just a farmer. Am I going to benefit? What difference will it make to me if I’m oppressed by the English or oppressed by my local landlord? Maybe one-third of the colonists-nobody knows because they didn’t take Gallup Polls in those days; there are various estimates-maybe one-third of the colonists were opposed to the Revolutionary War, and maybe even about one-third supported the Revolutionary War against England, and maybe one-third were neutral. I’m going by an estimate that John Adams once made, just very rough. But there obviously were lots of people who were not for the revolution.
That’s why they had a tough time recruiting people for the revolution. It wasn’t people rushing around, Wow, it’s a great crusade, independence from England. Let’s join. No, they had a tough time getting people. In the South, they couldn’t find people to join the army. George Washington had to send a general and his troops down South to threaten people in order to get them into the military, into the war. And, in fact, in the war itself, the poor people, the working people, the farmers, the artisans who were in the army, maybe some of them were there for patriotic reasons, independence from England, even if they weren’t sure what it meant for them, but some of them were there for that reason. Some of them had actually listened to the Declaration of Independence read from the Town Hall. And it was inspiring-liberty, equality. We will all have an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some people were inspired and they joined. Other people joined because they were promised land. They were promised, you might say, a little GI Bill of Rights, just as today recruiting officers make promises to young guys that they want in the army. They give them bonuses and they promise them, maybe, a free education afterward. People don’t naturally rush to war. You have to seduce them, you have to bribe them or coerce them. Some people think it’s natural for people to go to war. Not at all, no. Nations have to work hard to mobilize citizens to go to war. And they had to work in the Revolutionary War.
Especially when they found out that although there was a draft, there was a conscription, that the rich could get out of the conscription by paying a certain amount of money. But the farmers who went into the revolutionary army and who fought and who died and who were wounded in the war found that they, the privates, the ordinary soldiers in the war, weren’t treated as well as the officers, who came from the upper classes. The officers were given splendid uniforms and good food and were paid well, and the privates very often did not have shoes and clothes and were not paid. And when their time was supposed to be up, they were told, no, they had to stay. There was a class difference in the Revolutionary War. In this country we’re not accustomed to the idea of class differences. We’re all supposed to be one, big, happy family, one nation indivisible. We’re very divisible. No, we’re not one nation. There are working people and there are rich people, and in between, yes, there are nervous people.
So, yes, the conditions of the ordinary farmer who went into the Revolution, the privations were such that they mutinied against George Washington and the other officers. When I say mutinied, I mean thousands of them. Did you ever hear about this in your classrooms when you learn about the Revolutionary War? When you learn about Bunker Hill and Concord and the first shot heard ’round the world, do you ever hear about the mutinies? I doubt it. I never heard about it. I didn’t learn about it in elementary school or high school or college or graduate school. You find very often that what you learn in graduate school is what you learned in elementary school, only with footnotes. No, I never learned about the mutinies. But there were mutinies.
Thousands of soldiers mutinied, so many of them that George Washington was worried. He couldn’t put it down. He had to make concessions to what was called the Pennsylvania line, thousands of mutineers. However, shortly after he made those concessions and quieted down the mutiny by promising them things and promising them he would get them out of the army soon and give them pay and so on, soon after that there was another mutiny in the New Jersey line, which was smaller. And Washington put his foot down. He couldn’t handle the thousands in the Pennsylvania line, but he could handle the hundreds in the New Jersey line. He said, “Find the leaders and execute them.” Did you hear about this in your classrooms about the Revolutionary War? Did you hear about the executions of mutineers? I doubt it. So they executed a number of the mutineers. Their fellow soldiers were ordered to execute the mutineers.
So not everybody was treated the same way in the Revolution. In fact, when the revolution was won, independence was won, and the soldiers came back to their homes, some of them did get bits of land that were promised to them, so many of them became small farmers again. And then they found that they were being taxed heavily by the rich, who controlled the legislatures. They couldn’t pay their taxes, and so their farms, their homes were being taken away from them, auctioned off. Foreclosures they call them today. It’s an old phenomenon.
So there were rebellions. I think everybody learns about Shay’s Rebellion. They don’t learn much about Shay’s Rebellion, but they learn it enough to recognize it on a multiple-choice test. In Shay’s Rebellion, in western Massachusetts, thousands of farmers gathered around courthouses in Springfield and Northampton and Amherst and Great Barrington, and they stopped the auctions from going on, they prevented foreclosures. It’s a real rebellion that has to be put down by an army paid for by the merchants of Boston. It’s put down. But it puts a scare into the Founding Fathers.
There is as interesting chronology there. Shay’s Rebellion takes place in 1786. The Founding Fathers get together in 1787 for the Constitutional Convention. Is there a connection between the two? I don’t remember ever learning that there was a connection between Shay’s Rebellion and the Constitution. What I learned is, Oh, they got together for the Constitution because the Articles of Confederation created a weak central government. That we needed a strong central government, and everybody likes the idea of a strong central government, so it was great thing to have a constitutional convention and draft the Constitution. What you were not told, I don’t think-I wasn’t told-was that the Founding Fathers, on the eve of the Constitutional Convention, were writing one another and saying, hey, this rebellion in western Massachusetts, we’d better do something about that. We’d better create a government strong enough to deal with rebellions like this. That’s why we need a strong central government.
There was a general, General Henry Knox of Massachusetts, who had been in the army with George Washington, and he wrote to Washington at one point. I don’t have his letter with me; I do have it somewhere. I’ll paraphrase it; it won’t be as eloquent as he was. You know, they were eloquent in those days. Take a look at the language used by the political leaders of that day and the language of the political leaders of our day. So Knox writes to Washington and says something like this. He says, you know, these people who fought in the Revolution, these people who are rebelling, who have rebelled in western Massachusetts, and other states, too, not just in Massachusetts. Knox says to Washington, These people who have rebelled, they think that because they fought in the war against England, that they deserve an equal share of the wealth of this country. No. Those are the kind of letters that went back and forth. We’ve got to set up a government that will be strong enough to put down the rebellions of the poor, the slave revolts, the Indians, who may resent our going into their territory. That’s what a strong central government is for, not just because, oh, it’s nice to have a strong central government. There are reasons for that. The Constitution was a class document, written to protect the interests of bondholders and slave owners and land expansionists. So the outcome of the Revolution was not exactly good for everybody and created all sorts of problems.
What about black people? Slaves, did they benefit from the winning of the Revolution? Not at all. There was slavery before the Revolution, there was slavery after the Revolution. In fact, Washington would not enlist black people into his army. The South, southern slave owners, they were the first, doing it for the British. The British enlisted blacks before Washington did. Blacks didn’t benefit.
And what about Indians? Should we even count the Indians? Should we even consider the Indians? Who are they? Well, they lived here. They owned all this land. We moved them out of here. They should be considered. What was the outcome for them when we won the Revolution? It was bad. Because the British had set a line called the Proclamation of 1763. They had set a line at the Appalachians where they said, no, the colonists s should not go beyond this line into Indian territory. They didn’t do it because they loved the Indians. They just didn’t want trouble. They set a line. The British are now gone, and the line is gone. And now you can move westward into Indian territory, and you can move across the continent and you can create massacres and you can take that enormous land in the West away from the Indians who live there.
These are some of the consequences of the Revolution. But we did win independence from England. All I’m trying to suggest is that to simply leave it that way, that we won independence from England, doesn’t do justice to the complexity of this victory.
Was it good to be independent of England? Yes, it’s always good to be independent. But at what cost? And how real is the independence? And is it possible that we would have won independence without a war? How about Canada? Canada is independent of England. They don’t have a bad society, Canada. There are some very attractive things about Canada. They are independent of England. They did not fight a bloody war. It took longer. Sometimes it takes longer if you don’t want to kill. Violence is fast, war is fast. And that’s attractive, right? You want to do something fast. And if you don’t want killing, you may have to take more time in order to achieve your objective. And actually, when you achieve your objective, it might be achieved in a better way and with better results and with a Canadian health system instead of an American health system.
I won’t say anything more about the Revolutionary War. I just want to throw a few doubts in about it, that’s all. I don’t want to say anything revolutionary or radical. I don’t want to make trouble. I just want to think about these things. That’s all I’m trying to do-have us think again about things that we took for granted. Oh, yes, the Revolutionary War. Great. No, let’s think about it.
The Civil War. It’s even tougher to critically examine the Civil War. Slavery. Nothing worse. And at the end of the Civil War there is no slavery. You can’t deny that. So, yes, you have to put that on one side of the ledger, the end of slavery. On the other side you have to put the human cost of the Civil War in lives. Six hundred thousand. I don’t know how many people know or learned or remember how many lives were lost in the Civil War, which was the bloodiest, most brutal, ugliest war in our history from the point of view of dead and wounded and mutilated and blinded and crippled-600,000 dead in a country of 30 million. Think about that in relation to today’s population. It’s as if we fought a civil war today and 5 or 6 million people died in that civil war. You might say, well, maybe that’s worth it to end slavery. Maybe. I won’t argue that. Maybe. But at least you know what the cost is.
The slaves were freed, and what happened after that? Were they really freed? They were, actually. There was no more slavery. But the slaves, who had been given promises, 40 acres and a mule-they were promised a little land and some wherewithal so they could be independent so they need’nt be slaves anymore-well, they weren’t given anything. They were left without resources. And the result was they were still in the thrall, still under the control of the plantation owner. They were free but they were not free. There have been a number of studies made of that in the last decade. Free but not free. They were not slaves now, they were serfs. They were like serfs on a feudal estate. They were tenant farmers, they were sharecroppers. They couldn’t go anywhere, they didn’t have control of their lives, and they were in the thrall of the white plantation owners. The same white plantation owners who had been their masters when they were slaves were now their masters when they were serfs.
I don’t want to minimize the fact that it’s still not slavery in the old sense. No, it’s not. It’s better. It’s a better situation. So I want to be cautious about what I say about that and I want to be clear. But I want to say it’s more complicated than simply, oh, the slaves were freed. They were freed and they were betrayed. Promises made to them were betrayed, as promises made during wartime are always betrayed. The veterans are betrayed, the civilians are betrayed. The people who expected war to produce great results in freedom and liberty are betrayed after every war. So I just want us to consider that. And to ask the question, which is a very difficult question to answer, but it’s worth asking, Is it possible that slavery might have ended without 600,000 dead, without a nation of amputees and blinded people? Is it possible? Because, after all, we do want to end slavery. It’s not that we’re saying that we shouldn’t have a bloody war. Just let people remain slaves. No, we want to end slavery. But is it possible to end slavery without a bloody civil war?
After all, when the war started, it wasn’t Lincoln’s intention to free the slaves. You know that. That was not his purpose in fighting the war. His purpose in fighting the war was to keep southern territory within the grasp of the central government. You could almost say it was an imperial aim, which is a terrible thing to say, I know. But that’s what the war was fought for. It’s put in a nice way: We fought for the union. We don’t want anybody to secede. Why not? What if they want to secede? We’re not going to let them secede. No, we want all that territory. Lincoln’s objective was not to free the slaves.
The Emancipation Proclamation came-and, by the way, it didn’t free slaves where they were enslaved; it freed the slaves that the national government was not able to free. It declared free the slaves who were in the Confederate states who were still fighting against the Union; in other words, it declared free the slaves that we couldn’t free. And it left as slaves the slaves that were in the states that were fighting with the Union. In other words, if you were a state that was a slave state and you were fighting on the side of the union, we’ll let you keep your slaves. That was the Emancipation Proclamation. I never learned that. I learned, oh, the Emancipation Proclamation. Great.
Yes, Congress passed the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth Amendments. The Thirteenth Amendment ends slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment declares equal rights, you can’t deny people equal protection of the law; the Fifteenth Amendment, you can’t prevent people from voting because of their color, their race. However, these promises of equality in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the promise of the right to vote, they were honored for a few years, when there were federal troops in the South to enforce them, and then they were set aside. Black people in the South were left at the mercy of the white plantation owners. So there was a great betrayal that took place, a betrayal that lasted 100 years-those 100 years of segregation and of lynching and of the national government looking the other way as the Constitution was violated a thousand times by the white power structure in the South.
Congress passed those amendments why? Not because Lincoln or the Congress itself initiated it. They passed those amendments because a great movement against slavery had grown up in the country from the 1830s to the 1860s, a powerful anti-slavery movement which pushed Congress into the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. A very important thing to keep in mind, that when justice comes and when injustices are remedied, they’re not remedied by the initiative of the national government or the politicians. They only respond to the power of social movements. That’s what happened in the relationship of the anti-slavery movement and the passage of those amendments.
Of course, then those amendments, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, had no meaning for the next 100 years. The blacks were not allowed to vote in the South. Blacks did not get equal protection of the laws. Every president of the United States for 100 years, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, every president violated his oath of office. The oath of office says you will see to it that the laws are faithfully executed. Every president did not enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, collaborated with southern racism and segregation and lynching and all that happened. So the Civil War had this aftermath. It has to be looked at in a longer perspective.
Yes, the question needs to be asked also, Is it possible that slavery could have been ended without 600,000 dead? We don’t know for sure. When I mention these possibilities, it’s very hard to imagine how it might have ended except that we do know that slavery was ended in every other country in the western hemisphere. Slavery was ended in all these other places in the Western Hemisphere without a bloody civil war. That doesn’t prove that it could have been ended-every situation is different-but it makes you think. If you begin to think the only way it could have been done is with a bloody civil war, maybe not. Maybe it would have taken longer. Maybe there could have been slave rebellions which hammered away at the southern slave structure, hammered away at them, a war of attrition, not a big, bloody, mass war but a war of attrition, guerilla warfare, and John Brown-type raids.
You remember John Brown, who wanted to organize raids and the slave rebellion? Little guerilla actions. Not totally peaceful, no, but not massive slaughter. John Brown was executed by the state of Virginia and the national government. He was executed in 1859 for wanting to lead slave revolts. The next year the government goes to war, a war that cost 600,000 lives, presumably, as people came to believe, to end slavery. It was kind of a tragic irony in that juxtaposition of facts.
So it’s worth thinking about the Civil War and not to simply say, the Civil War ended slavery; therefore, whatever the human cost was, it was worth it. It’s worth rethinking.
Now we come to World War II. The good war, the best. Fascism. That’s why I enlisted in the Air Force, the fight against fascism. It’s a good war, it’s a just war. What could be more obvious? They are evil, we are good. So I became a bombardier in the Air Force. I dropped bombs on Germany, on Hungary, on Czechoslovakia, even on a little town in France. Three weeks before the war was to end, when everybody knew the war was to end and we didn’t need to drop any more bombs, but we dropped bombs on a little town in France. We were trying out napalm. The first use of napalm in the European theater. I think by now you all know what napalm is-one of the ugliest little weapons. We were trying it out. And adding medals. Who knows what reason, what complex of reasons led us to bomb a little town in France when everybody knew the war was ending? And, yes, there were really German soldiers there hanging around. They weren’t doing anything, they weren’t bothering anybody, but they were there. And it gives us a good excuse to bomb. We’ll kill the Germans. We’ll kill some Frenchmen, too. What does it matter? It’s a good war. We’re the good guys.
I didn’t think about any of this while I was bombing. I didn’t examine, oh, who are we bombing and why are we bombing and what’s going on here, and who is dying? I didn’t know who was dying, because when you bomb from 30,000 feet, this is modern warfare, you do things at a distance, it’s very impersonal. You just press a button and somebody dies. You don’t see them. I dropped bombs from 30,000 feet. I didn’t see any human beings. I didn’t see what was happening below. I didn’t see children screaming, I didn’t see arms about ripped off people. No. You just drop bombs. You see little flashes of light down below as the bombs hit. That’s it. And you don’t think. It’s hard to think when you’re in military. It’s hard to sit back and examine, ask what you’re doing. No, you’ve been trained to do a job and you do your job.
I didn’t think about any of this until after the war. And I began to think about that raid on France. And then I began to think about the raid on Dresden, where 100,000 people were killed in one night and day of bombing. Read Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse Five. He was a prisoner of war in Dresden in the basement in a kind of meat locker, a slaughterhouse. Then I became aware of the other bombings that had taken place. But when you’re in a war, you don’t see the picture. I didn’t know until afterward, 600,000 German civilians were killed by our bombing. They weren’t Nazis. Yes, you might say they were passive supporters in that they didn’t rebel. A few rebelled. How many Americans rebel against American wars? Are we all complicit for what we did in Vietnam, killing several million people? Maybe we are. But there was a kind of stupid, ignorant innocence about us. And the same thing is true of the Germans. We killed 600,000. If some great power, while we were dropping bombs in Vietnam, had come over here and dropped bombs on American cities in retaliation, and they say, well, these are imperialists, we’ll kill them all, no, the American people were not themselves imperialists, but they were passive bystanders until they woke up. So I began to think about this.
Think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I had welcomed the bombing of Hiroshima when it took place. I didn’t know what it really meant. We had finished our bombing missions in Europe, we had won the war in Europe, and my crew and I, we flew our plane, the same plane we had flown missions on, back across the Atlantic and we were given a 30-day furlough. And then the idea was we were going to go on to the Pacific, because the war against Japan was still going on. During this 30-day furlough in early August, my wife and I decided-we had been married just before I went overseas-we would take a little vacation in the country. We took a bus to go into the country, and at the bus stop there was a newsstand and there was a newspaper and the big headline, “Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima.” Oh, great. I didn’t really know what an atomic bomb was, but it was sort of obvious from the headline that it was a big bomb. Well, I had dropped bombs. This was just a bigger bomb.
I had no idea what it meant until I read John Hersey’s book Hiroshima. John Hersey had gone into Hiroshima after the bombing and he had talked to survivors. Survivors? You can imagine what those survivors looked like. They were kids and old people and women and all sorts of Japanese people. They were without arms or legs or they were blinded or their skin could not be looked at. John Hersey interviewed them and got some idea and reported-he was a great journalist-on what the bombing of Hiroshima was like to the people who were there. When I read his account, for the first time I understood, this is what bombing does to human beings, this is what my bombs had done to people. I began to rethink the idea of a good war, of our war against fascism. Oh, well, it’s okay because we did defeat Hitler. Just like we did get independence from England, we did end slavery. But wait a while. It’s not that simple. And World War II is not that simple. Oh, we defeated Hitler, therefore everything is okay. We were the good guys, they were the bad guys.
What I realized then is that once you decided-and this is what we decided at the beginning of the war, what I decided-they were the bad guys, we were the good guys, what I didn’t realize was that in the course of the war the good guys become the bad guys. War poisons everybody. War corrupts everybody. So the so-called good guys begin behaving like the bad guys.
The Nazis dropped bombs and killed civilians in Coventry, in London, in Rotterdam. And we dropped bombs and killed civilians and we committed atrocities. And we go over Tokyo several months before Hiroshima, and I’ll bet you 90% of the American people do not know about the raid of Tokyo. Everybody has heard about Hiroshima. I’ll bet 90% of the American people don’t know that several months before Hiroshima we sent planes over Tokyo to set Tokyo afire with fire bombs, and 100,000 people died in one night of bombing in Tokyo. Altogether we killed over half a million people in Japan, civilians. Some people said, well, they bombed Pearl Harbor. That’s really something. These people did not bomb Pearl Harbor. Those children did not bomb Pearl Harbor. This notion of violent revenge and retaliation is something we’ve got to get rid of.
So I began reconsidering all of that, rethinking all of that. I investigated the bombing of Hiroshima, investigated the excuse that was made, if we don’t bomb Hiroshima, we will have to invade Japan and a million people will die. I investigated all of that and found it was all nonsense. We didn’t have to invade Japan in order for Japan to surrender. Our own official investigative team, the Strategic Bombing Survey, which went into Japan right after the war, interviewed all the high Japanese military and civilian officials. Their conclusion was Japan was ready to end the war. Maybe not the next week. Maybe in two months, maybe in three months. We can’t wait. We don’t want to wait. We’ve got these bombs and we’ve got to see what they look like.
Do you know how many people die because of experimentation with weapons? We were experimenting. We were experimenting on the children of Hiroshima. Let’s see what this does. And also, let’s show the Russians we have this bomb. A British scientist who was an adviser to Churchill called the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima “the first step of the Cold War.” The Soviet Union was in the minds of the people around Harry Truman, James Byrnes and James Forrestal and others. So, yes, I began thinking about the good war and how it corrupts and poisons.
Then I looked at the world after the war. What are the results? I said bad things about the war, I’m sorry, all those casualties. But it stopped fascism. Wait a while. Let’s look closely at that. It got rid of Hitler, got rid of Mussolini. Did it get rid of fascism in the world? Did it get rid of racism in the world? Did it get rid of militarism in the world? No. You had two superpowers now arming themselves with nuclear weapons-enough nuclear weapons that if they were used, it would make Hitler’s Holocaust look puny. And there were times, in fact, in the decades that followed when we came very, very close to using those nuclear weapons.
So the world after World War II-and this is so important-you just don’t look at, oh, we won. What happens after that? What happens five years after that? What happens ten years after that? What happens to the GIs who came back alive five or ten years later? Maybe one of them will go berserk at Fort Hood. Think about that. Think about all the superficial comments made of, let’s examine this guy psychologically, his religion. Let’s not go deeper into that and say these are war casualties. Those people he killed were war casualties, he was a war casualty. That’s what war does: war poisons people’s minds. So we got rid of Hitler. But what was the world like?
When I was discharged from the Air Force, I got a letter from General Marshall. He was the general of generals. He was sending a letter-not a personal letter to me, “Dear Howie,” no-a letter that was sent to 16 million men who had served in the armed forces, some women, too. The letter was something like this: We’ve won the war. Congratulations for your service. It will be a new world. It wasn’t a new world. And we know it hasn’t been a new world since World War II. War after war after war after war. And 50 million people were dead in that war to end all wars, to end fascism and dictatorship and militarism.
Yes, I came to the conclusion that war cannot be tolerated, no matter what we’re told. And if we think that there are good wars and that therefore maybe this is a good war, I wanted to examine the so-called good wars, the holy wars, take a good look at them and think again about the phenomenon of war and come to the conclusion that war cannot can tolerated. No matter what we’re told, no matter what tyrant exists, what border has been crossed, what aggression has taken place, it’s not that we’re going to be passive in the face of tyranny or aggression, no, but we will find ways other than war to deal with whatever problems we have. War is inevitably-inevitably-the indiscriminate, massive killing of huge numbers of people. And children are a good part of those people. Every war is a war against children. So it’s not just getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Think about it. Oh, we got rid of Saddam Hussein. In the course of it, we killed huge numbers of people who had been victims of Saddam Hussein. When you fight a war against a tyrant, who do you kill? You kill the victims of the tyrant.
Anyway, all this is simply to make us think again about war. We’re at war now-in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and sort of in Pakistan, since we’re sending rockets over there and killing innocent people in Pakistan. We should not accept that. We should look for a peace movement to join. Look for some peace organization to join. It will look small at first and pitiful and helpless, but that’s how movements start. That’s how the movement against the Vietnam War started. It started with handfuls of people who thought they were helpless, thought they were powerless.
But remember, the power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power. When workers go on strike, huge corporations lose their power. When consumers boycott, huge business establishments have to give in. When soldiers refuse to fight, as so many soldiers did in Vietnam-so many deserters, so many fraggings, acts of violence by enlisted men against officers in Vietnam, B-52 pilots refusing to fly bombing missions anymore-war can’t go on. When enough soldiers refuse, the government has to decide, We can’t continue. So, yes, people have the power. If they begin to organize. If they protest, if they create a strong enough movement, they can change things. That’s all I wanted to say. Thank you.
Other AR Howard Zinn programs –
A People’s History of the U.S.
Voices of a People’s History
The Case of Sacco & Vanzetti
Confronting Government Lies
Resistance & the Role of Artists
Air -Brushing History
A World Without Borders
War & Civil Disobedience
For information about obtaining CDs, MP3s, or transcripts of this or other programs, please contact:
P.O. Box 551
Boulder, CO 80306-0551