(*)Howard Zinn has
associate director at CEIMSA since fall 2000, when we first recruited
specialists in American Studies to participate in the gathering and
Public opinion polls now show the country decisively against the war and the Bush administration. The harsh realities have become visible. The troops will have to come home.
And while we work with increased determination to make this happen, should we not think beyond this war? Should we begin to think, even before this shameful war is over, about ending our addiction to massive violence, and using the enormous wealth of our country for human needs? That is, should we begin to speak about ending war - not just this war or that war - but war itself? Perhaps the time has come to bring an end to war, and turn the human race onto a path of health and healing.
A group of internationally known figures, celebrated both for their talent and their dedication to human rights - Gino Strada, Paul Farmer, Kurt Vonnegut, Nadine Gordimer, Eduardo Galeano and others - will soon launch a world-wide campaign to enlist tens of millions of people in a movement for the renunciation of war, hoping to reach the point where governments, facing popular resistance, will find it difficult or impossible to wage war. It may be an idea whose time has come.
There is a persistent argument against such a possibility, which I have heard from people on all parts of the political spectrum: we will never do away with war because it comes out of human nature. The most compelling counter to that claim is in history: we don't find people spontaneously rushing to make war on others. What we find instead is that governments must make the most strenuous efforts to mobilize populations for war. They must entice soldiers with promises of money, education, must hold out to young people whose chances in life look very poor that here is an opportunity to attain respect and status. And if those enticements don't work, governments must use coercion - they must conscript young people, force them into military service, threaten them with prison if they do not comply.
Furthermore, the government must persuade young people and their families that though the soldier may die, though he or she may lose arms or legs, or become blind, that it is all for a noble cause, for God, for country. When you look at the endless series of wars of this century you do not find a public demanding war, but rather resisting it, until they are bombarded with exhortations that appeal, not to a killer instinct, but to a desire to do good, to spread democracy or liberty or overthrow a tyrant.
Woodrow Wilson found a citizenry so reluctant to enter the slaughterhouse of the first World War that in his presidential campaign of 1916 he promised to stay out: "There is such a thing as a nation being too proud to fight." But after he was elected, he asked for, and received from Congress a declaration of war. The onslaught of patriotic slogans began, laws were passed to imprison dissenters, and the
In the second World War, there was indeed a strong moral imperative which still resonates among most people in this country and which maintains the reputation of World War II as "the good war". There was a need to defeat the monstrosity of Fascism. It was that belief that drove me to enlist in the Air Force and fly bombing missions over
Only after the war did I begin to question the purity of the moral crusade. Dropping bombs from five miles high, I had seen no human beings, heard no screams, seen no children dismembered, But now I had to think about
I came to a conclusion about the psychology of myself and other warriors: once we decided, at the start, that our side was the good side and the other side was evil, once we had made that simple and simplistic calculation, we did not have to think any more. Then we could commit unspeakable crimes and it was all right.
I began to think about the motives of the Western powers and Stalinist Russia and wondered if they cared as much about Fascism as about retaining their own empires, their own power, and if that was why they had military priorities higher than bombing the rail lines leading to Auschwitz. Of the six million Jews killed in the death camps (allowed to be killed?) 60,000 were saved by the war - one percent. A gunner on another crew, a reader of history with whom I had become friends, had said to me one day: "You know this is an imperialist war. The Fascists are evil. But our side is not much better." I could not accept his statement at the time, but it stuck with me.
War, I decided, creates, insidiously, a common morality for all sides. . It poisons everyone who is engaged in it, however different they are in many ways, turns them into killers and torturers, as we are seeing now. It pretends to be concerned with toppling tyrants, and may in fact do so, but the people it kills are the victims of the tyrants. It appears to cleanse the world of evil, but that does not last, because its very nature spawns more evil. War, like violence in general, I concluded, is a drug. It gives a quick high, the thrill of victory, but that wears off and then comes despair.
Whatever can be said about World War II, understanding its complexity, the situations that followed -
I would argue that the end of the Vietnam war enabled the people of the
The war in
We may be on the verge of a world-wide understanding, that war, defined as the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers of people (acknowledging the possibility of humanitarian intervention to prevent atrocities) can no longer be accepted, for whatever reason, because the technology of war has reached the point where inevitably, 90% of its victims are civilians, and many of those are children, so that any war, whatever words are used to justify it, is a war against children.
The government of the United States, indeed governments everywhere, are becoming exposed as untrustworthy, that is, not to be entrusted with the safety of human beings, or the safety of the planet, or the guarding of its air, its water, its natural wealth, or the curing of the poverty, the sickness, the alarming growth of natural disasters that plague so many of the six billion people on earth.
True, it is the governments that have the power, that monopolize the wealth, that control the information. But this power, overwhelming as it can be, is also fragile. It depends on the subservience, the obedience of the people. When that obedience is withdrawn the most powerful entities, armed governments, wealthy corporations, cannot carry on their wars or their business. Strikes, boycotts, non-cooperation can make the most arrogant of institutions helpless.
The most powerful government on earth, the
I have quoted Einstein, who, reacting to attempts to "humanize" the rules of war, said: "War cannot be humanized, it can only be abolished." Powerful truths must be reiterated, until they fasten ineradicably in our minds, until the words spread to others, until they become a mantra repeated all over the world, until the sound of those words become deafening, until they finally drown out the noise of guns, rockets, planes.