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True lies


The book reinforces Zinn's reputation as one of the most perceptive figures of our times.

Terrorism and War, Howard Zinn, Seven Stories Press, p.159, $9.95.

WRITING about World War I, the famous journalist John Reed wrote in 1917: "War means an ugly mob madness, crucifying the truth tellers, choking the artists, sidetracking reforms, revolutions and the working of social forces. Already in America those citizens who oppose the entrance of their country into the European melee are called `traitors' and those who protest against the curtailing of the meagre rights of free speech are spoken of as `dangerous lunatics'."

Not really free

As Howard Zinn argues in his post 9/11 book, Terrorism and War, free speech is meant only for trivial matters of society and "not for life-and-death issues". The Alien and Sedition Act of 1789 was passed to deport aliens without trial and jail anyone who opposed the government policy. This was followed later in the 20th century by the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act under which the famous Palmer Raids were carried out after a terrorist attack on Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Hundreds of immigrants were manacled to one another in Boston and marched down the street, whereas as many were deported including the famous activists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.

This history of oppression gives out only one message: It is fashionable to go along with authority. After the attack on the Twin Towers, the Bush government has the power to authorise new military tribunals for suspected terrorists, an Orwellian practice where military courts are now given the power to try civilians, a practice that is nothing but the rule of military dictatorship. And all this takes place in the name of democracy.

There is undoubtedly a history of deception and lies behind all significant international events in which the U.S. deemed it necessary to intervene. Drumming up fear of the existence of WMD in Iraq or fabricating the Gulf of Tonkin affair in which the supposed attack on the destroyers Maddox and Turner Jay was officially declared as an assault on the "routine mission" of the navy whereas in truth they were engaged in a spy operation against North Vietnam. The lie leads to public approval of the Vietnam War and the declaration of the Tonkin Resolution which gave Johnson a free hand in South East Asia. This step was taken in spite of the full knowledge that the President had of the incident being "fake".

Zinn further argues that it was a known fact that Johnson would have had no qualms at escalating the war in Vietnam only if it was to have a positive effect on his political future. Kennedy, and like him, George Bush, calculated the effect of continuing war on their outcome of the Presidential elections. And all the time the public continues to believe in the legitimacy of war. As Zinn argues, `The one thing that enables the authorities to deceive the public is to keep the public in a state of amnesia, to keep the public from thinking back to the history of war, the history of violence, the history of government deception, the history of media complicity and deception".

The public has to recognize that the spending of $300 billion dollars on military affairs every year has absolutely no effect on the solution to terrorism or war. If Washington needs security "we will have to change our posture in the world — to stop being an intervening military power and to stop dominating the economies of other countries". We see a rise in terrorist activities around the world simultaneously with the increase in State terrorism in Southeast Asia, Iraq, Yugoslavia. The response to terrorism, therefore, cannot be through terrorising people, stationing thousands of troops in Saudi Arabia, or by supplying weapons to Israel and devastating countries through sanctions. Indeed, the U.S. foreign policy is the villain at whose hands thousands are provoked into taking up arms.

A social problem

Zinn draws attention to countries like Sweden, Denmark, Holland and New Zealand which are, unlike the U.S., not worried about terrorism. They do not have military bases around the globe. Nor do they have a record of military intervention. Zinn suggests that the billions spent on arms should be instead diverted towards health programmes and medical care in the underdeveloped countries to promote goodwill and security. He quotes Eqbal Ahmad, who regards terrorism as a social problem and argues: "You do not solve social problems by individual acts of violence. Social problems require social and political mobilization". Militarisation of the country and suppression of civil liberties to fight communism in the past and terrorism now is not the solution. Then and now, the strategy has always been to create hysteria. In fact, communism was the "enemy" against which wars were fought in Chile or Guatemala, but in reality, there was no sign of communism there. The media creates the environment so that people begin to back the President whenever he goes to war. But you cannot fool all the people all the time. The Civil Rights Movement became a national movement once the people woke up to the suffering of the Blacks in the South, and when the people realised the genocide in Vietnam, the "great national anti-war movement" began. The days are not far when people in the U.S. will veer towards the socialism practised by Eugene Debs, Helen Keller and Jack London.

The collection of interviews with Anthony Arnove brings together Howard Zinn's views on a wide range of topics — among them the need for dissent, the logic of war and vast suffering caused to the civilians through military violence. The book reinforces his reputation as one of the most perceptive and engaging figures of our times, who has been leading a vigorous resistance against the American empire since the Vietnam War.

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