Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.- George Orwell
Some choice partsâ€¦
GÃ¶ring said, â€œWhy, of course, the people donâ€™t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war? But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them theyâ€™re being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism. It works the same way in any country.â€
I was interested in that last line: â€œIt works the same way in any country.â€ I mean, here, these are the Nazis. Thatâ€™s the fascist regime. We are a democracy. But it works the same way in any country, whatever you call yourself. Whether you call yourself a totalitarian state or you call yourself a democracy, it works the same way, and that is, the leaders of the country are able to cajole or coerce and entice the people into war by scaring them, telling them theyâ€™re in danger, and threatening them and coercing them, that if they donâ€™t go along, they will be considered unpatriotic. And this is what really happened in this country right after 9/11â€¦
If the American people really knew history, if they learned historyâ€¦ if the press did its job in giving people historical perspective, then a people would understand. When the President gets up before the microphone, says we must go to war for this or for that, for liberty or for democracy, or because weâ€™re in danger, and so on, if people had some history behind them, they would know how many times presidents have announced to the nation, we must go to war for this reason or that reason. They would know that President Polk said, â€œOh, we must go to war against Mexico, because, well, there was an incident that took place on the border there, and our honor demands that we go to war.â€
They would know, if they knew some history, how President McKinley took the nation into war against Spain and Cuba, saying, â€œOh, weâ€™re going in to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control.â€ And in fact, there was a little bit of truth to that: we did go in, we fought against Spain, we got Spain out of Cuba, we liberated them from Spain, but not from ourselves. And so, Spain was out, and United Fruit was in, and then the American banks and the American corporations were in.
And if people knew their history, they would know, you know, that President McKinley said, when â€” as the American army was already in the Philippines and the American navy was already in the Philippines, and Theodore Roosevelt, one of our great presidential heroes, was lusting for war, then people would know that McKinley, who did not know where the Philippines were, but very often now presidents need to be briefed and told where something is. You know, George Bush, â€œThis is where Iraq is,â€ you know. Lyndon Johnson, â€œThis is where the Gulf of Tonkin is.â€ You know, they need itâ€¦
[People] would know, if they knew history, that President McKinley said, â€œWeâ€™re going into the Philippines to civilize and Christianize the Filipinos.â€ And if they knew their history, if the history books spent some time on the war in the Philippines in the early part of the 20th century, instead of, as history books do â€” they spend a lot of time on the Spanish-American War, which just lasted three months â€” they spend virtually no time on the war on the Philippines, a bloody war which lasted, oh, seven years, and which involved massacres and the extermination of populations. That history doesnâ€™t appear. You know, we had civilized and Christianized the Filipinos and established our control.
They would know, if they heard the President say, â€œWe are going to bring democracy to the Middle East,â€ they would know how many times we brought democracy to other countries that we invaded. They would know if we brought democracy to Chile, when we overthrew a democratically elected government in Chile in 1973. They would know how we brought democracy to Guatemala when we overthrew, again, a democratically elected â€” oh, we love democratic elections, we love free elections, except when they go the wrong way. And then we send either our army in or the CIA in or secret agents in to overthrow the governmentâ€¦
Not long ago, I was on a radio program, interviewed by â€” this was sort of a regular commercial station. I like to be interviewed on regular commercial stations, where the guy really doesnâ€™t know who heâ€™s invited, you see. And he says, â€œProfessor Zinn, donâ€™t you think America has, in general, been a force for good in the world?â€ â€œNo, no, no.â€ Why not ask me, â€œDo you think the British Empire was a force for good in Africa, or the Belgians were a force for good in the Congo, or the French were a force for good in Indochina? You think the United States was a force for good when they sent the Marines into Central America again and again andâ€ â€” no.
But thereâ€™s this notion of, you know, we are different. We are the great â€” I mean, sure, there are very great things about America, but thatâ€™s not what we did to other countries, not what we did to black people, not what we did to Native Americans, not what we did to working people in this country who suffered twelve-hour days until they organized and rebelled and rose up. No, we have to be honest with ourselvesâ€¦
If we knew this history, we would understand how often fear has been used as a way of getting people to act against their own interests to work up hysteria and to get people to do terrible things to other people, because theyâ€™ve been made afraid. Wasnâ€™t it fear and hysteria that motivated lynch mobs in the South? Wasnâ€™t there created fear of black people, hysteria about black people, that led white people to do some of the most atrocious things that have been done in our history? And isnâ€™t it today â€” isnâ€™t it fear, fear of Muslims, not just terrorists, in general? â€¦ A very ugly kind of sentiment to inculcate on the American people, and creating a kind of hysteria, which then enables them to control the population and enable them to send us into war after war and to threaten, you know, still another war.
And if we knew some history, we would know about the hysteria that accompanied the Cold War, the hysteria about communism. Itâ€™s not that communism didnâ€™t exist, just as terrorism does exist, yes. Itâ€™s not that communism â€” communism existed, and there was a Soviet Union, and it was repressive to its own people, and it did control Eastern Europe, but there was an enormous exaggeration of the Soviet threat to the point where â€” oh, itâ€™s not just that theyâ€™re in Eastern Europe. Itâ€™s, theyâ€™re going to invade Western Europe.
By the way, no evidence of that. CIA analysts who were specialists in the Soviet Union in recent years came forth and said there was never any evidence that the Soviet Union were going to invade Western Europe. But against that, NATO was created. Against that, the United States built up an enormous nuclear arsenalâ€¦
And the hysteria about communism reached the point where â€” and Iâ€™m not just talking about school kids hiding under their desks, you know, because the Soviets were going to drop an atomic bomb. There was no evidence the Soviets were going to drop an atomic bomb. By the way, there is evidence that the joint chiefs of staff, the people high up in the American government, at various, various times proposed preventive war, dropping nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union. But we created a threat so ominous, so omnipresent, that kids were, yeah, hiding under their desks, and also so that anything that happened anywhere in the world that was not to the liking of the United States became part of the world communist threatâ€¦
But terrorism has supplanted communism as an attempt to get people to do things against their own interests, to do things that will send their own young people to war, to do things that will cause the depletion of the countryâ€™s wealth for the purposes of war and for the enrichment of the super-rich. It doesnâ€™t take much thought about terrorism to realize that when somebody talks about a war on terrorism, theyâ€™re dealing with a contradiction in terms. How can you make war on terrorism, if war itself is terrorism? Because â€” so you respond to terrorism with terrorism, and you multiply the terrorism in the worldâ€¦
Some of you may remember that when Reagan was supporting the Contras in Nicaragua, he was saying, â€œYou know, you see where Nicaragua is? It wouldnâ€™t take much for them to get to Texas.â€ I wondered about that, you see? And then I wondered, why would the Nicaraguans want to get to Texas? And this is no slur on Texas, but â€” and once they got to Texas, what would they do? Take a United Airlines flight to Washington. What would they â€” but really, itâ€™s very important to know some of that history to see how hysteria absolutely cripples consciousness about what is going onâ€¦
But I want to suggest one thing: we have to think beyond Iraq and even beyond Iran. We donâ€™t want to have to struggle against this war and then against that war and then against the next war. We donâ€™t want to have an endless succession of antiwar movements. It gets tiring. And we need to think and talk and educate about the abolition of war itself, you seeâ€¦
War corrupts everybody who engages in it. War poisons everybody who engages in it. You start off as the good guys, as we did in World War II. Theyâ€™re the bad guys. Theyâ€™re the fascists. What could be worse? So, theyâ€™re the bad guys, weâ€™re the good guys. And as the war goes on, the good guys begin behaving like the bad guys. You can trace this back to the Peloponnesian War. You can trace it back to the good guy, the Athenians, and the bad guys, the Spartans. And after a while, the Athenians become ruthless and cruel, like the Spartans.
And we did that in World War II. We, after Hitler committed his atrocities, we committed our atrocities. You know, our killing of 600,000 civilians in Japan, our killing of probably an equal number of civilians in Germany. These, they werenâ€™t Hitler, they werenâ€™t Tojo. They werenâ€™t â€” no, they were just ordinary people, like we are ordinary people living in a country that is a marauding country, and they were living in countries that were marauding countries, and they were caught up in whatever it was and afraid to speak up. And I donâ€™t know, I came to the conclusion, yes, war poisons everybodyâ€¦
And the people you kill in a war are the victims of the tyrant. The people we killed in Germany were the victims of Hitler. The people we killed in Japan were the victims of the Japan Imperial Army, you know. And the people who die in wars are more and more and more people who are not in the military. You may know this about the different ratio of civilian-to-military deaths in war, how in World War I, ten military dead for one civilian dead; in World War II, it was 50-50, half military, half civilian; in Vietnam, it was 70% civilian and 30% military; and in the wars since then, itâ€™s 80% and 85% civilianâ€¦
So, war â€” well, Einstein said this after World War I. He said, â€œWar cannot be humanized. It can only be abolished.â€ War has to be abolished, you know. And itâ€™s â€” I know itâ€™s a long shot. I understand that, but you have to â€” when somethingâ€™s a long shot, but it has to be done, you have to start doing it. Just as the ending of slavery in this country in the 1830s was a really long shot, but people stuck at it, and it took 30 years, but slavery was done away with. And we can see this again and again. So, we have a job to do. We have lots of things to doâ€¦
Everything we do is important. Every little thing we do, every picket line we walk on, every letter we write, every act of civil disobedience we engage in, any recruiter that we talk to, any parent that we talk to, any GI that we talk to, any young person that we talk to, anything we do in class, outside of class, everything we do in the direction of a different world is important, even though at the moment they seem futile, because thatâ€™s how change comes about. Change comes about when millions of people do little things, which at certain points in history come together, and then something good and something important happens.