I just read through Terrorism and War by Howard Zinn, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to hear a brilliant mind on the current issues of war and terror. The whole book is just over one hundred pages and it’s in an interview format, as it basically is a compilation of a series of interviews Zinn gave around 2002, just after 9/11 and the Afghanistan war and just before the Iraq war. Zinn is a truly brilliant mind and I feel makes a decent case that war is simply not a useful tool anymore, period.
“I think there is a simple test of what concerns bin Laden, whether it is our democracy and internal freedom or whether it’s our foreign policy. And that simple test is: What side was Osama bin Laden on before 1990? That is, before the United States stationed troops in Saudi Arabia, made war against Iraq, and began its sanctions against Iraq. We were just as democratic and libertarian internally before 1990 as we are today. But Osama bin Laden was not offended by that. He was on our side — and we were on his side — in the fight to take control of the government in Afghanistan. The turning point for Osama bin Laden is very clear. It has nothing to do with democracy and liberty. It has to do with U.S. foreign policy. And that turning point came in 1990 and 1991.” p. 13
Speaking of alternatives to war…
The question always comes up about World War II: “What would you have done?” The answer is not an easy one, but it has to start off by saying, “I would not accept a solution that involves mass killing. I would try to find some other way.” The other way is not passivity; the other way is not acceptance; the other way is resistance without war. The other way is underground movements, strikes, general strikes, noncompliance. Even Hitler, in World War II, was at times successfully resisted in Denmark, in Norway, in Germany itself, by wives protesting the deportation of their Jewish husbands. Those methods of resistance don’t ensure a peaceful resolution, because the repressive forces are always strong. But they are means that are more proportional to the end, especially since they are means that are engaged in not by governments but by people, which is a very important consideration. With popular resistance, you have a greater assurance that your end will be attained than if governments are in charge. p. 23-24
On why he doesn’t call himself a pacifist…
I have never used the word “pacifist” to describe myself, because it suggests something absolute, and I am suspicious of absolutes. I want to leave openings for unpredictable possibilities. There might be situations (and even such strong pacifists as Gandhi and Martin Luther King believed this) when a small, focused act of violence against a monstrous, immediate evil would be justified. p. 25
A tidbit that was noted in the book:
According to an article in the Boston Review, “up to 35 million people-90 percent civilians-have been killed in 170 wars since the end of World War II. (Boston Review 24, no. 1, Gabriel Kolko, Century of War: Politics, Conflict, and Society Since 1914)
And I’ll finish with a final quote from the book, of Dwight Eisenhower, our 34th President:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.