Saturday, January 30, 2010

U.S. TO HAITI: "STAND IN LINE, CHILDREN, OR...we’re not going to help you.”

Thanks to television, on Tuesday, January 19, I heard a member of the U.S. military say to a group of Haitians, “If you don’t stand in line, we’re not going to help you.” I hope the Haitians didn’t understand him.

A week had passed since the tragic earthquake struck Haiti. These Haitians had been waiting seven days, “standing in line,” shall we say? And this well-fed U.S. soldier had the gall to say to them that if they didn’t stand in line the way he wanted them to do so, “we’re not going to help you.”

It is fortunate that he probably couldn’t speak the Haitian Creole, or even the French that some people there speak. But wouldn’t it have been nice if he would have said to a translator, “Please ask the people to stand in line, so we can distribute (whatever he was going to distribute) as fast as possible. Tell them we want to be of help, but we need their help and cooperation.”

And he should have also added, “Please tell them we are sorry that it has taken us so long to get here. Please forgive us.”

The Haitian tragedy happened Tuesday afternoon, January 12. By Wednesday morning Venezuela had the first plane land with supplies and rescue personnel. By Thursday morning, China had a similar plane there—before one arrived from the U.S. And then, seven days later, U.S. planes were dropping supplies in front of the onlooking Haitians, together with soldiers carrying weapons in their arms. There were complaints of looting. There wouldn’t have been as many if food and other necessary supplies had arrived sooner. Yes, in behalf of the citizens of the United States, he should have asked for forgiveness.

A kind elderly Catholic bishop once told me that Saint Vincent DePaul said we should ask forgiveness from the needy when we give them bread. The same should be in order for us U.S. citizens.

Even Anderson Cooper and two other CNN reporters said that excessive security measures were keeping the Haitian people from receiving help they needed. They mentioned they had no problem going wherever they wanted to go without security. The Haitians were treating them with respect.

During those first days of the tragedy, I also heard that the Haitian ambassador to the U.S. advised his countrymen and women that they should not try to enter the U.S. They would be turned back. Then I heard that the Venezuelan government formed a Haitian-Venezuelan brigade to go to Haiti. And, also, that the government planned to speed up documents for any illegal Haitian immigrant in the country that wanted to join the brigade so that they would have no problem returning to Venezuela when they wanted to do so.

Writing what I just have written makes me sad. I love my native country. I don’t want the U.S. to be the best country in the world. I just want it to be as great as every other; but I also have to recognize that we do have great power. I grew up with the impression that we also had high ideals in everything we did as a nation. It hurts to learn that we have fallen far short in the past. It hurts even more to see that we are still fumbling our responsibility, because as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker in Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” It also calls for gentleness.

I have read that there is a custom in Haiti that when one knocks at a door, one should also say, “Honor.” The person inside replies, “Respect.” After having troops in Haiti for so many years, we could have learned that custom. We should have.


This reflection was prepared originally for 21st Century Socialism .

For social justice in the face of permanent aggression

Interview with Venezuelan-American researcher and lawyer Eva Golinger

Olga Díaz Ruiz and Geisy Guía (Journalism student)

THE Havana Book Fair has accustomed us to good, interesting publications. Its 19th edition brings us Eva Golinger, the Venezuelan-American writer and lawyer, for the launch of her book, USAID, NED and the CIA: Permanent Aggression, an ambitious compilation and analysis of current situations, written by Golinger and Jean-Guy Allard, a Canadian journalist resident in Cuba.
Eva GolingerOn this occasion, the perspicacity of Golinger, who is participating in the international fair for the second time, impelled her to expose the constant onslaught of U.S. imperialism in Latin America, "which, to date, we have been unable to halt," after studying the cases of Cuba, Bolivia, Honduras and Venezuela.
"This is a visit of exposé, to achieve maximum impact and, in one way, a pretext to outline that message and to prompt reflection on the constant imperial acts of aggression and their various manifestations." Moreover, it lays out "all the marvelous things that we have achieved" in the subcontinent, she affirmed in an interview with Granma.
Golinger proposes to take up this selection of political, economic, cultural and social events that are evidence of Washington’s tactics and strategies in 2009, maintaining its interference in the region, as "a weapon in the defense of our revolutions."
At this point in the conversation, she stops to observe that the coup d’état in Honduras last June "has taught us the need to take care of our spaces, to recognize that the enemy is everywhere," adding that the book is to be published in Honduras this year.
Likewise the author of The Chávez Code (2005) and Bush vs. Chávez: Washington’s War on Venezuela, the writer believes that the strengthening of Latin American integration, fundamentally through the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) has prompted an increase in U.S. right-wing aggression, "Because we constitute a threat to its domination in the region."
Integration that has expanded its borders to the rest of the world, and that "seeks to lift up our countries without exploitation, or competition, through the principles of solidarity, integration and cooperation," she notes, commenting that Cuba and Venezuela constitute the vanguard of this South-South union.
Despite the fact that she was born and raised in the United States and "talks like a gringo" – as she reproaches herself – Golinger directs all her energy and passion into fighting for social justice, and emphasizes that cooperation among ALBA countries "is perceived outside of our bloc with much hope, because we are constructing a more just social model."
She gives the example of the Bolivarian Revolution, which has transformed all sectors of Venezuelan society, as well as making an impact at international level on account of that nation’s significance to the world, with the figure of Chávez. "We are constructing a country that was in ruins, despite its natural resources. Then this president comes along, without experience in politics, moreover, and look what he’s done!"
In this struggle against constant aggression, the writer notes the leading role of the alternative media: "Telesur has had a fundamental role in dismantling the received opinions of the international media and in promoting another class of journalism, which consists of going into and bearing witness to the facts."
At the same time, she expresses her enthusiasm at one of the first printed copies of the only Venezuelan English-language newspaper, Correo de Orinoco International. "It is the first time that there is information in English from a Venezuelan perspective, from the Venezuelan revolution," she affirms with pride.
Golinger told us that she intends to continue exposing the principal maneuvers of the powerful in Latin America and in that proposition, she says, she can count on her friend and colleague Jean-Guy Allard.

Translated by Granma International

Israel: Please, No More Bin Laden Tapes, Nobody Is Buying It!

Christmas Bombing Audio Tape Lamest Yet You Were Caught, Admit It And Move On With Life

By Gordon Duff* | Sabbah Report |

The new audio tape from "Osama bin Laden" taking responsibility for the idiotic and childish incident in Detroit where moronic Nigerian armed with a useless "bomb" is simply too much. Now using audio tapes because, supposedly, nobody in Al Qaeda got a flash drive video recorder for Christmas is even more of a joke. Please, with the hundreds of millions our Saudi allies have given to terrorists, a video camera the size of an Ipod might have been a nice touch. Even funnier was releasing the audio, using algorithm software probably illegally downloaded off the internet, and giving it to Al Jazeera.

Pundit Debbie Schussell, former Mark Siljander (VT staff writer) staffer, has bitterly complained about the strong ties between Fox News and Al Jazeera. Fox owner, Rupert Murdoch, is the most powerful "influencer" of the ultra-rightists in Israel. Attempts by the press to present Al Jazeera of today as the "pro-terrorist" media it seemed like many years ago is an epic misrepresentation.

A further abuse, of course, is not only that we are no longer seeing the easily debunked bin Laden doubles whose video tapes were "mysteriously" released by SITE Intelligence, the Rita Katz/Israeli group that seems to find them in trash bins behind delicatessens. The "new" audio tape itself contains statements claiming credit for 9/11 in direct contradiction to the real bin Laden videos, the only ones authenticated. If you wondered why the FBI doesn't list Osama bin Laden as a suspect in 9/11, I think you have your answer. If they think the bin Laden "admissions" aren't credibile, I wonder who the FBI is investigating or if they have simply been told to mind their own business.

The terrorist incident itself is the last thing Al Qaeda would ever take responsibility for despite the claims by SITE Intelligence that they found an unnamed and unverified internet site that confirmed this. Who in the name of all that is holy would want to take responsibility for an idiot who was led onto an American bound plane by passing around searches, customs and passport control in an airport run by an Israeli security company but who carried a "bomb" designed by a three year old.

Who would be so stupid as to try to pass off this childish tape when reliable witnesses saw the terrorist being led onto the plane in Amsterdam in a manner that required full cooperation from security personnel, passport control and the airline itself. We don't even have to go into the fact that the "terrorists" in Yemen that supposedly claimed responsibility were released from Guantanamo under the personal signature of Vice President Cheney in 2007 or that before the incident, the government of Yemen tied these individuals to Israeli controllers thru captured computers.

I am only thankful that the duped terrorist, or as Lee Oswald had said, "patsy", was the moronic son of a long time Mossad business associate in Nigeria. Mr. Mutallab, banker, but mostly head of Nigeria's defense industry, DICON, managed almost entirely by Israelis, may have much more story to tell other than the one he told CIA Chief of Station on November 19, 2009. Do we want to follow former Homeland Security director Chertoff, not only a Jewish activist but currently representing companies selling body scanners to airports and the mysterious ability for someone on worldwide terrorist watch lists to be escorted onto a US bound airliner without passport or search?

Billions in profits were realized almost instantly after this incident. Companies tied to Chertoff, Israel and India were on the receiving end.

The only reliable information the world has on Osama bin Laden is that he was killed by American troops on December 13, 2001 and buried outside Tora Bora by his following, 30 Mujahideen. At least 6 of these witnesses were alive at last check. Since his death, every "leaked" video or statement has been timed for convenient electoral "terrorist" scares, been childishly unprofessional and has only worked to discredit Islam.

Every effort has been made by the MSM/corporate press to cover the facts behind the Christmas "bombing" and push the blame on everyone but the obvious culprits. That effort was deemed so successful that now a brazen attempt to resurrect long dead Osama bin Laden to take responsibility for trying to set off a bomb with a flame igniter that could only be exploded using a blasting cap, is being made.

Is this an attempt to make Al Qaeda look stupid?

"My name is Osama bin Laden. I had a moron carry a defective bomb onto a plane full of Islamic families returning to Detroit, the most Muslim city in the west, as part of a terror campaign. I chose a flight that connected from the Middle East so I could kill as many of the innocent faithful as possible. Please excuse this and the dozen or other mistakes made but being dead has left me less sharp than I once was. No, I do not work for the Mossad, they simply tape and distribute my interviews. This is part of an agreement with my talent agent who is Jewish. All talent agents are Jewish, ask anyone in Hollywood. What do you expect, miracles? 10% of nothing is nothing.

For my faithful followers, I expect to be a regular on Californication next season on Showtime. I'll be the guy with the beard who seems dead."

The second possibility, one designed for the "spiritual" crowd is this:

"I am Osama, the ghost of Tora Bora. Please give more money to Israel, vote to extend the Patriot Act and buy new airport scanners from the companies listed on my weekly newsletter distributed by SITE Intelligence. Watch for more insane threats coming in the future and have a nice weekend. Remember to stop eating pork."

Any group that could make 5 airliners outwit NORAD, the most advanced air defense system in the world, any group that could train terrorist pilots inside the United States itself with nobody catching on, and it gets worse. Sources tell us that FBI Special Agent Stephen Butler may have "accidentally" been cashing checks for and paying rent for two of the 9/11 hijackers. Can people who can get this kind of thing done put a moron on an aircraft at an airport secured by an Israeli company, "extremely closely" related to the same company that managed security at all of the airports used on 9/11?

When Michigan attorney Kurt Haskell and his wife witnessed the famous, "he has no passport, he is a Sudanese refugee, we do this all the time", incident in Amsterdam, only a phony bin Laden tape could make America forget, or so "they" hope. Imagine our terrorist being taken to meet the security head for the "airline" with his "Indian looking" handler, bomb strapped to his underwear. Think of this exploding moron and his handler and who they would have had to know to get past, not only airline security and the Israeli company guarding the airport but Dutch passport control as well.

Anyone with the power to load the "crotch bomber" on a plane with no passport could have put a nuclear weapon in luggage easier. Nukes are seldom on watch lists or have parents running to the CIA reporting them as "terrorists." Next time we are being lied to, please, have more respect. Not everyone is a dumb as a Fox News, CNN, the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.

It is one thing claiming that poor, long dead Osama bin Laden runs terrorists in Yemen. It is quite something else proving that he manages an airport in Europe or runs the Dutch government. When US Senators can't get thru airport security without being detained, bin Laden's ability to get diplomatic VIP treatment for known terrorists makes him more than a threat, it makes him a magician.

We are thankful that nobody was seriously injured and that we can all laugh about this, maybe not all of us. The people of Nigeria don't think it is funny. Millions of Muslims aren't seeing the joke either. Air travelers are having their bad moments also. Some, however, have benefitted in a major way, politically, financially and militarily. None of those people, however, are ever openly accused of terrorism.

* Gordon Duff is a Marine Vietnam veteran, grunt and 100% disabled vet. He has been a UN Diplomat, defense contractor and is a widely published expert on military and defense issues. He is active in the financial industry and is a specialist on global trade. Gordon Duff acts as political and economic advisor to a number of governments in Africa and the Middle East.


Inside Israeli land grabs

TRNN speaks to settlers, Palestinians, and experts to understand the process of land confiscation in the occupied territory

Over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed the Israeli government's support of the settlement movement by planting a tree in each one of the three biggest settlement blocks in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Despite the Israeli government's support, funding, and approval of settlers, they are often presented in the media as in conflict with the state and the army. In this report, The Real News' Lia Tarachansky looks at this claim through a recent lecture by Shir Hever, an economist with the Alternative Information Center. A perfect example of the methodology Hever describes can be seen in the settlement of Kedumim which lies adjacent to the Palestinian village of Kaft Qadum. The Real News spoke to the village council of the Palestinian village and the associate mayor of the settlement about how they've expanded and the impact this has had on their lives.


Shir Hever is an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit-Sahour. Researching the economic aspect of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, some of his research topics include international aid to the Palestinians and Israel, the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. He is a frequent speaker on the topic of the economy of the Israeli occupation.

Avatar and Empire by Naomi Wolf

NEW YORK – Do nations have psychological processes – even Freudian processes, such as collective egos that can be injured, and repressed guilt feelings that can well up from the collective unconscious – just as individuals do? I believe that they do.

I also believe that just as an individual’s dreams and slips of the tongue reveal his or her repressed knowledge, so a culture’s “dreamwork” – its films, pop music, visual arts, and even in the resonant jokes, cartoons and advertising images – reveal the signs of this collective unconscious. Moreover, a nation’s “irrational dreamwork” often reflects its actual condition more truthfully than its “ego” – its official pronouncements, diplomatic statements, and propaganda.

So take this theory with you when you see James Cameron’s Avatar , and watch for two revealing themes: the raw, guilty template of the American unconscious in the context of the “war on terror” and late-stage corporate imperialism, and a critical portrayal of America – for the first time ever in a Hollywood blockbuster – from the point of view of the rest of the world.

In the Hollywood tradition, of course, the American hero fighting an indigenous enemy is innocent and moral, a reluctant warrior bringing democracy, or at least justice, to feral savages. In Avatar , the core themes highlight everything that has gone wrong with Americans’ view of themselves in relation to their country’s foreign policy.

The hero, Jake Sully, is crippled from combat in a previous American conflict, but is not well cared for by his own country; if he does his job of genocide properly, “the corporation” will reward him with proper medical treatment. He signs on, essentially, as a corporate contractor – shades of Blackwater’s massacre of civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

The enterprise is a “mission” in which the soldiers fight not “for freedom” but “for a paycheck.” They take their direction from corporate bureaucrats in waging war against the indigenous people, whose sacred land is sited on vast reserves of “unobtainium,” which the corporation wishes to secure at all costs.

The soldiers are portrayed as being manipulated by their leaders – through vicious racism and religious derision – into brutal action against the non-aggressive “hostiles.” When the villain, the American military leader of the attack, plans to bomb flat the indigenous people’s sacred tree, he boasts that he will blow such a massive hole in their “racial memory” that they won’t come “within a thousand clicks” of the place again.

Even the machinery of US military combat is portrayed non-heroically. Instead of the classic images of the US Cavalry courageously sweeping down on the savages, or of decent American doughboys bravely clearing out nests of Nazis, bored technocrats, insulated by immense layers of technology, firebomb green valleys, slaughtering enemy warriors and defenseless women and babies while sipping coffee and casually fiddling with touch screens.

The characters’ lines (all quotes are approximate) are those that never pierce the bubble of American self-regard with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan. “You should not be here!” exclaims the indigenous heroine, and eventual love interest, Neytiri, as if she is speaking of the entire US enterprise overseas. “You are like a baby.” Gesturing at the mayhem caused by the destructive but self-regarding hero, before he “goes native,” she says, “This is your fault. They should never have had to die.”

Later, as Sully starts to become sympathetic towards those whom he has been sent to betray, he tells the bureaucrats: “If people are sitting on something you want, you call them the enemy.” When he has fully identified himself with their cause, he joins a movement that is essentially a counterinsurgency, even a jihad (“Let’s show the Sky People [the US] whose land this is!”). He and his small band of Americans are even locked in a small Guantánamo-style cell and called “traitors.”

The indigenous people are an amalgam of echoes from all the great wars of empire that have troubled the recent American conscience. Although they are physically a fantasy sci-fi mix of blue skin and cat-like movement, they are culturally a mix of Native Americans and Vietnamese, with Arabic accents thrown in.

They have qualities that Americans would do well to emulate. They respect their environment, whereas the Americans must “return to a dying planet,” because, as the indigenous people put it, “they have killed their own mother.”

Sully’s journey is not one of conquest but of awakening to his and his people’s true relationship to others: “What am I, the bad guy?” he laughs at first, as if that were impossible. In the end, however, he tries to warn his own imperialist team of the futility of their brutal approach: “What do we have to offer them? Light beer? Blue Jeans? They will never leave the Hometree [their sacred land]. We have nothing that they want.”

Ironically, Avatar will probably do more to exhume Americans’ suppressed knowledge about the shallowness of their national mythology in the face of their oppressive presence in the rest of the world than any amount of editorializing, college courses, or even protest from outside America’s borders. But I am not complaining about this. Hollywood is that powerful. But, in the case of Avatar , the power of American filmmaking has for once been directed toward American self-knowledge rather than American escapism.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn (1922-2010): In Lieu of Flowers, Organize

By Al Giordano

This segment of a Bill Moyers interview with Howard Zinn came after the production of last month's History Channel special, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport, based on the works of Howard Zinn.

Almost everyone who lived and organized in New England during the past many decades found yourself on a picket line or in a rambunctious assembly hall with Howard, who passed away yesterday at the age of 87 after a long life that anyone should consider successful. A Boston University professor during much of that time, Howard practiced the art of looking at - and participating in - history from below.

Where other leftish icons across the Charles River have spent these decades gnashing their teeth, lecturing and bemoaning how awful everything that happens up above has been (as if most folks born down below didn't already know that by the time we were eight), Howard answered the call, again and again, to help us do something about it. He walked out to the picket lines every time he was called - by neighborhood organizers fighting against his university's real estate grabs, by striking workers that cleaned and fed the students and professors, by almost anyone who organized and fought that asked, and often before they asked, for his support.

To those of us who were part of the Clamshell Alliance and related anti-nuclear struggles of the seventies and early eighties in New England, Howard would drive out to the countryside, consult and call attention to our organizing campaigns and acts of civil disobedience whenever asked. He did this before his 1980 book, A People's History of the United States, published by Harper & Row, turned him into a national and international icon.

In 1986, when students at the University of Massachusetts occupied school offices to block CIA recruiting, joined by my pal Abbie Hoffman and presidential daughter Amy Carter, and went to trial (a case that I was involved in at least to the extent of getting my attorney Tom Lesser to represent Carter and advise Abbie and the others how to turn the tables and put the CIA on trial in what was meant to be a mere criminal trespass case), Howard came to Northampton, raised his right hand, and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. His testimony - about the patriotic and fully American traditions that the occupiers had practiced - was key in convincing the jury to acquit the defendants.

In 1990, when Boston University president John Silber sought and won the Democratic Nomination for Governor of Massachusetts, Zinn drove out to Springfield regularly to co-captain my WSPR radio show and explain to the populace in the western part of the state the authoritarian nature of this bizarro-land political candidate whose autobiography, Howard quipped, should have been titled Mein Campus. Howard understood the inspiring power of humor, too.

Last night and today the Internets were ablaze with worthy praise for this great narrator of authentic history, the history from below. But I must say I am puzzled (although not surprised) by how many folks who don't practice what Zinn preached have joined in the hagiography-fest because they either really believe they are part of his tradition or merely to co-brand themselves with his now hallowed name.

Howard, at least in the decades I knew him (and I don't claim to have been any particularly close friend - just another among thousands of comrades who knew him from where the work was being done, inside the foxholes of community organizing) never once whined, never committed an act of poutrage, not feigned, not real. He didn't view the world and its discontents as too overwhelming to change and he understood the non-linear nature of change. He was pragmatic to the core, optimistic in word and deed, and as he says in this recent video interview with Moyers, the real struggles happen down below.

The 1920s and 30s labor strikes that led to the New Deal and the 1950s and 60s civil rights actions that ended legal segregation were not per se aimed at those up above; they were struggles by real people to change their daily lives on the most local of levels. That they led to big national legislation and change were incidental benefits for the many of what they had already won directly for themselves; a better wage at better conditions, the ability for they and their children to play, study and shop in the same places white folks did.

Watch the video and listen, really listen, to what Howard said during his last months on earth, the culmination of what he had been saying and learning throughout his wonderful life. He was no whiner nor Chicken Little. He had the same attitude about Obama (in '08 we published his qualified endorsement which, in sum, said that it made sense to elect someone under whom the space would expand for us to organize and win our own battles for ourselves) that he'd had about every leader during his lifetime: that we, down below, have more power than we know to change things and we ought to stop waiting for others up above to hand it down to us.

The doctrine of Authentic Journalism and its emphasis on turning the cameras and microphones and pointing them below - instead of obsessing upon how bad everything is up above - is Zinnism in praxis, beyond mere repetition of theory.

(And my pal from the old Bedford Park neighborhood in the Bronx, Eddie C, has posted the rest of these final Zinn interview videos over at DKos, check 'em out.)

Howard Zinn didn't want or need flowery eulogies. He wanted us to get out there and do the work he chronicled. In lieu of flowers, organize, document and tell the stories of that organizing so that others may, too, be inspired to do the same. That - and not a book on a coffee table - is the legacy of Howard Zinn. Like the song says, if you wanna go to heaven, you gotta raise a lotta hell.


Written by Board President Mike Ferner

The death of a loved one or someone significant in our life often leaves us saying, "There weren't many like him," or "she'll really leave a hole in this world."

In the case of Dr. Howard Zinn, there was no one else like him and his passing will leave a hole we can only hope will be filled some day. He was a longtime member of Veterans For Peace.

The day before he passed, VFP received an email from Howard Zinn to confirm arrangements for June to film a video greeting for our 2010 convention. In an earlier exchange, Howard had written, "Of course my heart is with VFP, but I'm not free to come. Thanks for inviting me, and best wishes for a great event. Howard."

howard zinn and prof tom conroy

Photo: Joseph Hand-Boniakowski, Profession Tom Conroy, and Professor Howard Zinn at Castleton State College, April 21, 2004

As a renowned historian, he made no attempt to appear objective, indeed he thought it impossible. In an opening section of "A People's History of the United States," he said he preferred "to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves...the Gilded Age as seen by southern farmers." He believed history should "emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past's fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare." Then, as only Howard Zinn can, he wrote, "The reader may as well know that before going on."

From the spring in his step to the joyful, incisive wit of his words, few would have guessed his age. But at 87, his great heart, which clearly guided his remarkable intellect, finally stopped.

There may be others with great hearts and intellects to match, but Howard Zinn will be missed because he combined those with something much rarer: courage.

Some would point to his time in World War II as a B-24 bombardier, flying missions through the red-hot shrapnel of German anti-aircraft fire and Messerschmitt machine guns. Surely that is one kind of courage. It is tempered, however, by accepting that death can strike at any moment.

In his youth, Howard Zinn had the courage of a warrior. Over many decades as an adult he had another kind of courage that he practiced often, publicly and boldly, unfettered by the usual shackles of career ambitions, money or even social acceptance by ones peers.

This kind of courage, arguably the least common, Zinn frequently brought to bear in his lifelong mission of articulating uncomfortable truths and acting against injustice.

howard zinn and the arredondos

Howard Zinn with Gold Star Parents Carlos and Melida Arredondo (Also VFP Members!)

How else to explain this historian's ability to not only recognize the importance of the moment in the civil rights movement, but to encourage and join his students, eventually getting fired by Spelman College because they refused to participate as an institution; to speak publicly and early against the war in Vietnam when few with a safe job in academia dared; and most significantly, to fly into the hurricane of our most powerful myths and institutions by challenging "Three Holy Wars."

In one of his last speeches he explained that these wars were not religious, but sacrosanct, "the three wars you cannot say anything bad about: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II."

Examining his treatment of just one, the Revolution, is to begin to understand the significance of his intellect and the depth of his courage.

Zinn said that according to population differences then and now, the equivalent number of deaths today would mean "two and a half million people dying in a war to get England off our backs. Well, you might consider that worth it, or you might not."

Challenging the customary tale of our revolution, Zinn pointed out that the year before Lexington and Concord, farmers in much of western Massachusetts drove the British government out without firing a shot. "They had assembled thousands upon thousands around court houses, around official offices and they had taken over and they said good bye to the British officials."

Further challenging the standard story, he observed, "Canada is independent of England aren't they? I think so. Not a bad society. They have good health care. They have a lot of things we don't have. They didn't fight a bloody revolutionary war."

One problem he noted was we rarely take time to differentiate between various parts of the population "because we don't think in class terms. We think we all have the same interests. We all have the same interests in independence from England. We did not all have the same interests.

Perhaps most challenging, he asked, "Did blacks benefit from the Revolution? Slavery was there before; slavery was there after. No, we remained a slave society after the Revolution. Not only that, we wrote slavery into the Constitution. We legitimized it. It is always good if you want to get people to go to war to have a good document and have good words like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...Of course, when they write the Constitution it's not, life, liberty and the pursuit of's life, liberty and property. Have you noticed that difference? You should notice. You should take notice of these little things."

Howard Zinn took notice of all those "little things." He took them and, in the crucible of his intellect, forged a new story of how we came to be; a story that took great courage to articulate; a story that has the power to take us a long way down the road of freedom and peace.

January 28, 2010

Festive Left Friday Blogging: What RCTV didn't want Venezuela (or you) to see

This is the "cadena" (all-station legally mandated broadcast) that RCTV, now reduced to a cable station, refused to show and got suspended for refusing to show. Gee, don't you wonder why they refused? Well, here's a broad hint: The reality you see above doesn't fit with their crapagandic agenda. This is the opening of the "Admirable Campaign" for the Venezuelan congressional elections--a gigantic rally in O'Leary Square in Caracas. As you can see, the Chavistas totally rule; they've got a real campaign going. Admirable? Yep, it's that.

And the oppos? Well...let's just say this is as good as their campaign will get.

The Real News on the prorogation and the Canadian pro-democracy movement

Forget the Harperite lie about prorogation being "routine". There is NOTHING routine about evasion of hard questions about torture. That's the real story here.

Howard Zinn's 'War on Terror' Critique

By Sherwood Ross
January 29, 2010

Editor’s Note: Howard Zinn inspired millions of Americans with his landmark book, A People’s History of the United States, which recounted the often neglected contributions of rank-and-file Americans to the birth and the growth of the nation.

Zinn also was a critic of unnecessary war and an eloquent spokesman for peace, as Sherwood Ross notes in this guest essay:

The “largest lie,” wrote historian Howard Zinn who died Wednesday at age 87, is that “everything the United States does is to be pardoned because we are engaged in a ‘war on terrorism.’”

“This ignores the fact that war is itself terrorism, that the barging into people’s homes and taking away family members and subjecting them to torture, that is terrorism, that invading and bombing other countries does not give us more security but less security.”

In an article published previously in “The Long Term View” magazine of the Massachusetts School of Law, Zinn said that in the Fallujah area of Iraq, Knight-Ridder reporters found there was no Ba’athist or Sunni conspiracy against the U.S., “only people ready to fight because their relatives had been hurt or killed, or they themselves had been humiliated by home searches and road stops.”

Zinn, popularly known as the people’s historian, pointed out that the U.S. may have liberated Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein but afterwards it became Iraq’s occupier. He noted this is the same fate that befell Cuba after the U.S. liberated it from Spain in 1898. In both nations, the U.S. established military bases and U.S. corporations moved in to profit from the upheaval.

Zinn recalled the words of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before the NATO ministers in Brussels in June, 2002, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” of weapons of mass destruction.

“That explains why this government, not knowing exactly where to find the criminals of September 11, will just go ahead and invade and bomb Afghanistan, killing thousands of people, driving hundreds of thousands from their homes, and still not know where the criminals are,” Zinn wrote.

“This explains why the government, not really knowing what weapons Saddam Hussein is hiding, will invade and bomb Iraq, to the horror of most of the world, killing thousands of civilians and soldiers and terrorizing the population,” he continued.

The historian pointed out that even if the U.S. experienced few battle casualties in its invasion of Iraq, casualties would mount afterwards in the occupying army from sickness and trauma, which took a high toll both in Viet Nam and after the Gulf War.

In the 10 years after the Gulf War, 8,000 veterans died and 200,000 veterans filed complaints about illnesses incurred “from the weapons our government used in the war.”

Zinn predicted accurately that once the American public realized President Bush had lied to them about Iraq they would turn against the government. “When it loses its legitimacy in the eyes of its people, its days are numbered,” he said of the Bush administration.

Writing of his personal feelings, Zinn said, “I wake up in the morning, read the newspaper, and feel that we are an occupied country, that some alien group has taken over…

“I wake up thinking this country is in the grip of a President (George W. Bush) who was not elected, who has surrounded himself with thugs in suits who care nothing about human life abroad or here, who care nothing about freedom abroad or here, who care nothing about what happens to the earth, the water, the air. And I wonder what kind of world our children and grandchildren will inherit.”

Zinn called on his readers “to engage in whatever nonviolent actions appeal to us. There is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at critical points to create a power that governments cannot suppress. We find ourselves today at one of those critical points.”

Sherwood Ross formerly worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. Currently, he is a media consultant to Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.

Obama’s Secret Prisons Night Raids, Hidden Detention Centers, the “Black Jail,” and the Dogs of War in Afghanistan

By Anand Gopal

[The research for this story was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.]

One quiet, wintry night last year in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, a young government employee named Ismatullah simply vanished. He had last been seen in the town’s bazaar with a group of friends. Family members scoured Khost’s dust-doused streets for days. Village elders contacted Taliban commanders in the area who were wont to kidnap government workers, but they had never heard of the young man. Even the governor got involved, ordering his police to round up nettlesome criminal gangs that sometimes preyed on young bazaar-goers for ransom.

But the hunt turned up nothing. Spring and summer came and went with no sign of Ismatullah. Then one day, long after the police and village elders had abandoned their search, a courier delivered a neat, handwritten note on Red Cross stationary to the family. In it, Ismatullah informed them that he was in Bagram, an American prison more than 200 miles away. U.S. forces had picked him up while he was on his way home from the bazaar, the terse letter stated, and he didn’t know when he would be freed.

Sometime in the last few years, Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan’s rugged heartland began to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of the night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In the secretive U.S. detentions process, suspects are usually nabbed in the darkness and then sent to one of a number of detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families.

This process has become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition airstrikes. The night raids and detentions, little known or understood outside of these Pashtun villages, are slowly turning Afghans against the very forces they greeted as liberators just a few years ago.

One Dark Night in November

It was the 19th of November 2009, at 3:15 am. A loud blast awoke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni city, a town of ancient provenance in the country’s south. A team of U.S. soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of whom were sleeping in the family’s one-room guesthouse. One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran towards the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot, but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted towards his injured cousin. He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor. The fallen men cried out to the two relatives remaining in the room, but they -- both children -- refused to move, glued to their beds in silent horror.

The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates, and forced open closets. Finally, they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee. Rahman was responsible for converting Microsoft Windows from English to the local Pashto language so that government offices could use the software. He had spent time in Kuwait, and the Afghan translator accompanying the soldiers said they were acting on a tip that Rahman was a member of al-Qaeda.

They took the barefoot Rahman and a cousin of his to a helicopter some distance away and transported them to a small American base in a neighboring province for interrogation. After two days, U.S. forces released Rahman’s cousin. But Rahman has not been seen or heard from since.

“We’ve called his phone, but it doesn’t answer,” says his cousin Qarar, the spokesman for the agriculture minister. Using his powerful connections, Qarar enlisted local police, parliamentarians, the governor, and even the agriculture minister himself in the search for his cousin, but they turned up nothing. Government officials who independently investigated the scene in the aftermath of the raid and corroborated the claims of the family also pressed for an answer as to why two of Qarar’s family members were killed. American forces issued a statement saying that the dead were “enemy militants [that] demonstrated hostile intent.”

Weeks after the raid, the family remains bitter. “Everyone in the area knew we were a family that worked for the government,” Qarar says. “Rahman couldn’t even leave the city because if the Taliban caught him in the countryside they would have killed him.”

Beyond the question of Rahman’s guilt or innocence, however, it’s how he was taken that has left such a residue of hate and anger among his family. “Did they have to kill my cousins? Did they have to destroy our house?” Qarar asks. “They knew where Rahman worked. Couldn’t they have at least tried to come with a warrant in the daytime? We would have forced Rahman to comply.”

“I used to go on TV and argue that people should support this government and the foreigners,” he adds. “But I was wrong. Why should anyone do so? I don’t care if I get fired for saying it, but that’s the truth.”

The Dogs of War

Night raids are only the first step in the American detention process in Afghanistan. Suspects are usually sent to one among a series of prisons on U.S. military bases around the country. There are officially nine such jails, called Field Detention Sites in military parlance. They are small holding areas, often just a clutch of cells divided by plywood, and are mainly used for prisoner interrogation.

In the early years of the war, these were but way stations for those en route to Bagram prison, a facility with a notorious reputation for abusive behavior. As a spotlight of international attention fell on Bagram in recent years, wardens there cleaned up their act and the mistreatment of prisoners began to shift to the little-noticed Field Detention Sites.

Of the 24 former detainees interviewed for this story, 17 claim to have been abused at or en route to these sites. Doctors, government officials, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, a body tasked with investigating abuse claims, corroborate 12 of these claims.

One of these former detainees is Noor Agha Sher Khan, who used to be a police officer in Gardez, a mud-caked town in the eastern part of the country. According to Sher Khan, U.S. forces detained him in a night raid in 2003 and brought him to a Field Detention Site at a nearby U.S. base. “They interrogated me the whole night,” he recalls, “but I had nothing to tell them.” Sher Khan worked for a police commander whom U.S. forces had detained on suspicion of having ties to the insurgency. He had occasionally acted as a driver for this commander, which made him suspicious in American eyes.

The interrogators blindfolded him, taped his mouth shut, and chained him to the ceiling, he alleges. Occasionally they unleashed a dog, which repeatedly bit him. At one point, they removed the blindfold and forced him to kneel on a long wooden bar. “They tied my hands to a pulley [above] and pushed me back and forth as the bar rolled across my shins. I screamed and screamed.” They then pushed him to the ground and forced him to swallow 12 bottles worth of water. “Two people held my mouth open and they poured water down my throat until my stomach was full and I became unconscious. It was as if someone had inflated me.” he says. After he was roused from his torpor, he vomited the water uncontrollably.

This continued for a number of days; sometimes he was hung upside down from the ceiling, and other times blindfolded for extended periods. Eventually, he was sent on to Bagram where the torture ceased. Four months later, he was quietly released, with a letter of apology from U.S. authorities for wrongfully imprisoning him.

An investigation of Sher Khan’s case by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and an independent doctor found that he had wounds consistent with the abusive treatment he alleges. U.S. forces have declined to comment on the specifics of his case, but a spokesman said that some soldiers involved in detentions in this part of the country had been given unspecified “administrative punishments.” He added that “all detainees are treated humanely,” except for isolated cases.

The Disappeared

Some of those taken to the Field Detention Sites never make it to Bagram, but instead are simply released after authorities deem them to be innocuous. Even then, some allege abuse. Such was the case with Hajji Ehsanullah, snatched one winter night in 2008 from his home in the southern province of Zabul. He was taken to a detention site in Khost Province, some 200 miles away. He returned home 13 days later, his skin scarred by dog bites and with memory difficulties that, according to his doctor, resulted from a blow to the head. U.S. forces had dropped him off at a gas station in Khost after three days of interrogation. It took him ten more days to find his way home.

Others taken to these sites never end up in Bagram for an entirely different reason. In the hardscrabble villages of the Pashtun south, where rumors grow more abundantly than the most bountiful crop, locals whisper tales of people who were captured and executed. Most have no evidence. But occasionally, a body turns up. Such was the case at a detention site on an American military base in Helmand province, where in 2003 a U.S. military coroner wrote in the autopsy report of a detainee who died in U.S. custody (later made available through the Freedom of Information Act): “Death caused by the multiple blunt force injuries to the lower torso and legs complicated by rhabdomyolysis (release of toxic byproducts into the system due to destruction of muscle). Manner of death is homicide.”

In the dust-swept province of Khost one day this past December, U.S. forces launched a night raid on the village of Motai, killing six people and capturing nine, according to nearly a dozen local government authorities and witnesses. Two days later, the bodies of two of those detained -- plastic cuffs binding their hands -- were found more than a mile from the largest U.S. base in the area. A U.S. military spokesman denies any involvement in the deaths and declines to comment on the details of the raid. Local Afghan officials and tribal elders, however, steadfastly maintain that the two were killed while in U.S. custody. American authorities released four other villagers in subsequent days. The fate of the three remaining captives is unknown.

The matter might be cleared up if the U.S. military were less secretive about its detention process. But secrecy has been the order of the day. The nine Field Detention Sites are enveloped in a blanket of official secrecy, but at least the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations are aware of them. There may, however, be others whose existences on the scores of military bases that dot the country have not been disclosed. One example, according to former detainees, is the detention facility at Rish Khor, an Afghan army base that sits atop a mountain overlooking the capital, Kabul.

One night last year, U.S. forces raided Zaiwalat, a tiny village that fits snugly into the mountains of Wardak Province, a few dozen miles west of Kabul, and netted nine locals. They brought the captives to Rish Khor and interrogated them for three days. “They kept us in a container,” recalls Rehmatullah Muhammad, one of the nine. “It was made of steel. We were handcuffed for three days continuously. We barely slept those days.” The plain-clothed interrogators accused Rehmatullah and the others of giving food and shelter to the Taliban. The suspects were then sent on to Bagram and released after four months. (A number of former detainees said they were interrogated by plainclothed officials, but they did not know if these officials belonged to the military, the CIA, or private contractors.)

Afghan human rights campaigners worry that U.S. forces may be using secret detention sites like Rish Khor to carry out interrogations away from prying eyes. The U.S. military, however, denies even having knowledge of the facility.

The Black Jail

Much less secret is the final stop for most captives: the Bagram Internment Facility. These days ominously dubbed “Obama’s Guantanamo,” Bagram nonetheless offers the best conditions for captives during the entire detention process.

Its modern life as a prison began in 2002, when small numbers of detainees from throughout Asia were incarcerated there on the first leg of an odyssey that would eventually bring them to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In the years since, however, it has become the main destination for those caught within Afghanistan as part of the growing war there. By 2009, the inmate population had swelled to more than 700. Housed in a windowless old Soviet hangar, the prison consists of two rows of serried cage-like cells bathed continuously in white light. Guards walk along a platform that runs across the mesh-tops of the pens, an easy position from which to supervise the prisoners below.

Regular, even infamous, abuse in the style of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison marked Bagram’s early years. Abdullah Mujahed, for example, was apprehended in the village of Kar Marchi in the eastern province of Paktia in 2003. Mujahed was a Tajik militia commander who had led an armed uprising against the Taliban in their waning days, but U.S. forces accused him of having ties to the insurgency. “In Bagram, we were handcuffed, blindfolded, and had our feet chained for days,” he recalls. “They didn’t allow us to sleep at all for 13 days and nights.” A guard would strike his legs every time he dozed off. Daily, he could hear the screams of tortured inmates and the unmistakable sound of shackles dragging across the floor.

Then, one day, a team of soldiers dragged him to an aircraft, but refused to tell him where he was going. Eventually he landed at another prison, where the air felt thick and wet. As he walked through the row of cages, inmates began to shout, “This is Guantanamo! You are in Guantanamo!” He would learn there that he was accused of leading the Pakistani Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (which in reality was led by another person who had the same name and who died in 2006). The U.S. eventually released him and returned him to Afghanistan.

Former Bagram detainees allege that they were regularly beaten, subjected to blaring music 24 hours a day, prevented from sleeping, stripped naked, and forced to assume what interrogators term “stress positions.” The nadir came in late 2002 when interrogators beat two inmates to death.

The U.S. Special Forces also run a second, secret prison somewhere on Bagram Air Base that the Red Cross still does not have access to. Used primarily for interrogations, it is so feared by prisoners that they have dubbed it the “Black Jail.”

One day two years ago, U.S. forces came to get Noor Muhammad, outside of the town of Kajaki in the southern province of Helmand. Muhammad, a physician, was running a clinic that served all comers -- including the Taliban. The soldiers raided his clinic and his home, killing five people (including two patients) and detaining both his father and him. The next day, villagers found the handcuffed corpse of Muhammad’s father, apparently dead from a gunshot.

The soldiers took Muhammad to the Black Jail. “It was a tiny, narrow corridor, with lots of cells on both sides and a big steel gate and bright lights. We didn’t know when it was night and when it was day.” He was held in a concrete, windowless room, in complete solitary confinement. Soldiers regularly dragged him by his neck, and refused him food and water. They accused him of providing medical care to the insurgents, to which he replied, “I am a doctor. It’s my duty to provide care to every human being who comes to my clinic, whether they are Taliban or from the government.”

Eventually, Muhammad was released, but he has since closed his clinic and left his home village. “I am scared of the Americans and the Taliban,” he says. “I’m happy my father is dead, so he doesn’t have to experience this hell.”

Afraid of the Dark

Unlike the Black Jail, U.S. officials have, in the last two years, moved to reform the main prison at Bagram. Torture there has stopped, and American prison officials now boast that the typical inmate gains 15 pounds while in custody. Sometime in the early months of this year, officials plan to open a dazzling new prison -- that will eventually replace Bagram -- with huge, airy cells, the latest medical equipment, and rooms for vocational training. The Bagram prison itself will be handed over to the Afghans in the coming year, although the rest of the detention process will remain in U.S. hands.

But human rights advocates say that concerns about the detention process still remain. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that inmates at Guantanamo cannot be stripped of their right to habeas corpus, but stopped short of making the same argument for Bagram. (U.S. officials say that Bagram is in the midst of a war zone and therefore U.S. domestic civil rights legislation does not apply.) Unlike Guantanamo, inmates there do not have access to a lawyer. Most say they have no idea why they have been detained. Inmates do now appear before a review panel every six months, which is intended to reassess their detention, but their ability to ask questions about their situation is limited. “I was only allowed to answer yes or no and not explain anything at my hearing,” says Rehmatullah Muhammad.

Nonetheless, the improvement in Bagram’s conditions begs the question: Can the U.S. fight a cleaner war? This is what Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal promised this summer: fewer civilian casualties, fewer of the feared house raids, and a more transparent detention process.

The American troops that operate under NATO command have begun to enforce stricter rules of engagement: they may now officially hold detainees for only 96 hours before transferring them to the Afghan authorities or freeing them, and Afghan forces must take the lead in house searches. American soldiers, when questioned, bristle at these restrictions -- and have ways of circumventing them. “Sometimes we detain people, then, when the 96 hours are up, we transfer them to the Afghans,” says one U.S. Marine, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They rough them up a bit for us and then send them back to us for another 96 hours. This keeps going until we get what we want.”

A simpler way of dancing around the rules is to call in the U.S. Special Operations Forces -- the Navy SEALS, Green Berets, and others -- which are not under NATO command and so are not bound by the stricter rules of engagement. These elite troops are behind most of the night raids and detentions in the search for “high-value suspects.” U.S. military officials say in interviews that the new restrictions have not affected the number of raids and detentions at all. The actual change, however, is more subtle: the detention process has shifted almost entirely to areas and actors that can best avoid public scrutiny: Special Operations Forces and small field prisons.

The shift signals a deeper reality of war, American soldiers say: you can’t fight guerrillas without invasive raids and detentions, any more than you could fight them without bullets. Through the eyes of a U.S. soldier, Afghanistan is a scary place. The men are bearded and turbaned. They pray incessantly. In most of the country, women are barred from leaving the house. Many Afghans own a Kalashnikov. “You can’t trust anyone,” says Rodrigo Arias, a Marine based in the northeastern province of Kunar. “I’ve nearly been killed in ambushes but the villagers don’t tell us anything. But they usually know something.”

An officer who has worked in the Field Detention Sites says that it takes dozens of raids to turn up a useful suspect. “Sometimes you’ve got to bust down doors. Sometimes you’ve got to twist arms. You have to cast a wide net, but when you get the right person it makes all the difference.”

For Arias, it’s a matter of survival. “I want to go home in one piece. If that means rounding people up, then round them up.” To question this, he says, is to question whether the war itself is worth fighting. “That’s not my job. The people in Washington can figure that out.”

If night raids and detentions are an unavoidable part of modern counterinsurgency warfare, then so is the resentment they breed. “We were all happy when the Americans first came. We thought they would bring peace and stability,” says former detainee Rehmatullah. “But now most people in my village want them to leave.” A year after Rehmatullah was released, his nephew was taken. Two months later, some other villagers were grabbed.

It has become a predictable pattern: Taliban forces ambush American convoys as they pass through the village, and then retreat into the thick fruit orchards that cover the area. The Americans then return at night to pick up suspects. In the last two years, 16 people have been taken and 10 killed in night raids in this single village of about 300, according to villagers. In the same period, they say, the insurgents killed one local and did not take anyone hostage.

The people of this village therefore have begun to fear the night raids more than the Taliban. There are now nights when Rehmatullah’s children hear the distant thrum of a helicopter and rush into his room. He consoles them, but admits he needs solace himself. “I know I should be too old for it,” he says, “but this war has made me afraid of the dark.”

Anand Gopal has reported in Afghanistan for the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. His dispatches can be read at He is currently working on a book about the Afghan war. This piece appears in print in the latest issue of the Nation magazine. To catch him in an audio interview with TomDispatch’s Timothy MacBain discussing how he got this story, click here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn on '08 elections

October 26, 2008:

Democracy and militarism

Howard Zinn: The financial and war crisis have created an opportunity for real change Pt5/5 October 26, 2008

Guns or butter?

Howard Zinn: New president must choose between continued militarism and domestic well-being Pt 4/5 October 25, 2008

Howard Zinn on taxes and class war

Howard Zinn: The US has always had class war over who gets taxed Pt.3 October 24, 2008

Zinn: Bailout is trickle-down theory magnified

Howard Zinn says there has always been big government, but mostly for the wealthy Pt2 October 23, 2008

Zinn: Vote for Obama but direct action needed

Howard Zinn says real change will come when people take direct action to stop house foreclosures October 22, 2008

Goodbye Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and the author of the seminal A People's History of the United States, died today at the age of 87 of a heart attack in Santa Monica, California. He was in a swimming pool doing laps and was spotted immediately by lifeguards but died instantly.

Zinn's brand of history put common citizens at the center of the story and inspired generations of young activists and academics to remember that change is possible. As he wrote in his autobiography, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994), "From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."

Watch these videos to get a sense of what we've lost.

On three holy wars, from 2008:

On human nature and aggression, from 2004:

On civil disobedience, from 2002:

And read this report from Atlanta from the August 6, 1960 issue of The Nation for a sense of the struggles that animated the young Zinn.

Thank You, Howard Zinn

By Matthew Rothschild, January 28, 2010

Thank You, Howard Zinn, for being there during the civil rights movement, for teaching at Spelman, for walking the picket lines, and for inspiring such students as Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being there during the Vietnam War, for writing “The Logic of Withdrawal,” and for going to Hanoi.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for always being there.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a man who supported the women’s liberation movement, early on.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a straight who supported the gay and lesbian rights movement, early on.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a Jew who dared to criticize Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, early on.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for being a great man who didn’t believe in the “Great Man Theory of History.”

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for taking the time to write your landmark work, “A People’s History of the United States,” and for educating two generations now in the radical history of this country, a history, as you stressed, of class conflict.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for grasping the importance of transforming this book into “The People Speak,” the History Channel special that ran in December and that should be used by secondary, high school and college classes for as long as U.S. history is taught.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for opposing war, all wars, including our own “good wars,” our own “holy wars,” as you called them—and for pointing out that a “just cause” does not lead to a “just war.”

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for pointing out that soldiers don’t die for their country, but that they die for their political leaders who dupe them or conscript them into wars. And that they die for the corporations that profit from war.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for urging us to “renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed. We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.”

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for stressing that change comes from below, and that it comes at surprising times, even when things seem bleakest, if we organize to make it happen.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for stressing the value of engaging in action to make this world a better place, even if we don’t get there.

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for this amazing, inspiring paragraph, which I’ve had on my wall for years now:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Thank you, Howard Zinn, for recognizing the beauty and power of culture, and for exalting the poet, the singer, the actor, the artist.

Thank you, Howard, for being kind enough to write your columns this last decade for a relatively obscure magazine called The Progressive, and for doing so with the utmost intelligence and grace.

Thank you, Howard, for calling me your editor.

Thank you, Howard, for your wry and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Thank you, Howard, for your kindness.

Thank you, Howard, for your friendship.

Thank you, Howard.

Thank you.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

A Memory of Howard by Daniel Ellsberg

I just learned that my friend Howard Zinn died today. Earlier this morning, I was being interviewed by the Boston Phoenix, in connection with the release in Boston in February of a documentary in which he is featured prominently. The interviewer asked me who my own heroes were, and I had no hesitation in answering, first, "Howard Zinn."

Just weeks ago after watching the film on December 7, I woke up the next morning thinking that I had never told him how much he meant to me. For once in my life, I acted on that thought in a timely way. I sent him an e-mail in which I said, among other things, what I had often told others about him: that he was," in my opinion, the best human being I've ever known. The best example of what a human can be, and can do with their life."

Our first meeting was at Faneuil Hall in Boston in early 1971, where we both spoke against the indictments of Eqbal Ahmad and Phil Berrigan for "conspiring to kidnap Henry Kissinger," from which we marched with the rest of the crowd to make Citizens' Arrests at the Boston office of the FBI. Later that spring we went with our affinity group (including Noam Chomsky, Cindy Fredericks, Marilyn Young, Mark Ptashne, Zelda Gamson, Fred Branfman and Mitch Goodman), to the Mayday actions blocking traffic in Washington ("If they won't stop the war, we'll stop the government"). Howard tells that story in the film and I tell it at greater length in my memoir, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (pp.376-81). But for reasons of space, I had to cut out the next section in which Howard--who had been arrested in DC after most of the rest of us had gone elsewhere--came back to Boston for a rally and a blockade of the Federal Building. I've never published that story, so here it is, an out-take from my manuscript.

A day later, Howard Zinn was the last speaker at a large rally in Boston Common. I was at the back of a huge crowd, listening to him over loudspeakers. 27 years later, I can remember some things he said. "On Mayday in Washington thousands of us were arrested for disturbing the peace. But there is no peace. We were really arrested because we were disturbing the war."

He said, "If Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had been walking the streets of Georgetown yesterday, they would have been arrested. Arrested for being young."

At the end of his comments he said, "I want to speak now to some of the members of this audience, the plainclothes policemen among us, the military intelligence agents who are assigned to do surveillance. You are taking the part of secret police, spying on your fellow Americans. You should not be doing what you are doing. You should rethink it, and stop. You do not have to carry out orders that go against the grain of what it means to be an American."

Those last weren't his exact words, but that was the spirit of them. He was to pay for that comment the next day, when we were sitting side by side in a blockade of the Federal Building in Boston. We had a circle of people all the way around the building, shoulder to shoulder, so no one could get in or out except by stepping over us. Behind us were crowds of people with posters who were supporting us but who hadn't chosen to risk arrest. In front of us, keeping us from getting any closer to the main entrance to the building, was a line of policemen, with a large formation of police behind them. All the police had large plastic masks tilted back on their heads and they were carrying long black clubs, about four feet long, like large baseball bats. Later the lawyers told us that city police regulations outlawed the use of batons that long.

But at first the relations with the police were almost friendly. We sat down impudently at the very feet of the policemen who were guarding the entrance, filling in the line that disappeared around the sides until someone came from the rear of the building and announced over a bullhorn, "The blockade is complete. We've surrounded the building!" There was a cheer from the crowd behind us, and more people joined us in sitting until the circle was two or three deep.

We expected them to start arresting us, but for a while the police did nothing. They could have manhandled a passage through the line and kept it open for employees to go in or out, but for some reason they didn't. We thought maybe they really sympathized with our protest, and this was their way of joining in. As the morning wore on, people took apples and crackers and bottles of water out of their pockets and packs and shared them around, and they always offered some to the police standing in front of us. The police always refused, but they seemed to appreciate the offer.

Then one of the officers came over to Howard and said, "You're Professor Zinn, aren't you?" Howard said yes, and the officer reached down and shook his hand enthusiastically. He said, "I heard you lecture at the Police Academy. A lot of us here did. That was a wonderful lecture." Howard had been asked to speak to them about the role of dissent and civil disobedience in American history. Several other policemen came over to pay their respects to Howard and thank him for his lecture. The mood seemed quite a bit different from Washington.

Then a line of employees emerged from the building, wearing coats and ties or dresses. Their arms were raised and they were holding cards in their raised hands. As they circled past us they hold out the cards so we could see what they were: ID cards, showing they were federal employees. They were making the peace-sign with their other hands, they were circling around the building to show solidarity with what we were doing. Their spokesman said over a bullhorn, "We want this war to be over, too! Thank you for what you are doing! Keep it up." Photographers, including police, were scrambling to take pictures of them, and some of them held up their ID cards so they would get in the picture. It was the high point of the day.

A little while after the employees had gone back inside the building, there was a sudden shift in the mood of the police. An order had been passed. The bloc of police in the center of the square got into tight formation and lowered their plastic helmets. The police standing right in front of us, over us, straightened up, adjusted their uniforms and lowered their masks. Apparently the time had come to start arrests. The supporters who didn't want to be arrested fell back.

But there was no arrest warning. There was a whistle, and the line of police began inching forward, black batons raised upright. They were going to walk through us or over us, push us back. The man in front of us, who had been talking to Howard about his lecture a little earlier, muttered to us under his breath, "Leave! Now! Quick, get up." He was warning, not menacing us.

Howard and I looked at each other. We'd come expecting to get arrested. It didn't seem right to just get up and move because someone told us to, without arresting us. We stayed where we were. No one else left either. Boots were touching our shoes. The voice over our heads whispered intensely, "Move! Please. For God's sake, move!" Knees in uniform pressed our knees. I saw a club coming down. I put my hands over my head, fists clenched, and a four-foot baton hit my wrist, hard. Another one hit my shoulder.

I rolled over, keeping my arms over my head, got up and moved back a few yards. Howard was being hauled off by several policemen. One had Howard's arms pinned behind him, another had jerked his head back by the hair. Someone had ripped his shirt in two, there was blood on his bare chest. A moment before he had been sitting next to me and I waited for someone to do the same to me, but no one did. I didn't see anyone else getting arrested. But no one was sitting anymore, the line had been broken, disintegrated. Those who had been sitting hadn't moved very far, they were standing like me a few yards back, looking around, holding themselves where they'd been clubbed. The police had stopped moving. They stood in a line, helmets still down, slapping their batons against their hands. Their adrenaline was still up, but they were standing in place.

Blood was running down my hand, covering the back of my hand. I was wearing a heavy watch and it had taken the force of the blow. The baton had smashed the crystal and driven pieces of glass into my wrist. Blood was dripping off my fingers. Someone gave me a handkerchief to wrap around my wrist and told me to raise my arm. The handkerchief got soaked quickly and blood was running down my arm while I looked for a first-aid station that was supposed to be at the back of the crowd, in a corner of the square. I finally found it and someone picked the glass out of my arm and put a thick bandage around it.

I went back to the protest. My shoulder was aching. The police were standing where they had stopped, and the blockade had reformed, people were sitting ten yards back from where they had been before. There seemed to be more people sitting, not fewer. Many of the supporters had joined in. But it was quiet. No one was speaking loudly, no laughing. People were waiting for the police to move forward again. They weren't expecting any longer to get arrested.

Only three or four people had been picked out of the line to be arrested before. The police had made a decision (it turned out) to arrest only the "leaders," not to give us the publicity of arrests and trials. Howard hadn't been an organizer of this action, he was just participating like the rest of us, but from the way they treated him when they pulled him out of the line, his comments directly to the police in the rally the day before must have rubbed someone the wrong way.

I found Roz Zinn, Howard's wife, sitting in the line on the side at right angles to where Howard and I had been before. I sat down between her and their housemate, a woman her age. They had been in support before until they had seen what happened to Howard.

Looking at the police in formation, with their uniforms and clubs, guns on their hips, I felt naked. I knew that it was an illusion in combat to think you were protected because you were carrying a weapon, but it was an illusion that worked. For the first time, I was very conscious of being unarmed. At last, in my own country, I understood what a Vietnamese villager must have felt at what the Marines called a "county fair," when the Marines rounded up everyone they could find in a hamlet--all women and children and old people, never draft- or VC-age young men--to be questioned one at a time in a tent, meanwhile passing out candy to the kids and giving vaccinations. Winning hearts and minds, trying to recruit informers. No one among the villagers knowing what the soldiers, in their combat gear, would do next, or which of them might be detained.

We sat and talked and waited for the police to come again. They lowered their helmets and formed up. The two women I was with were both older than I was. I moved my body in front of them, to take the first blows. I felt a hand on my elbow. "Excuse me, I was sitting there," the woman who shared the Zinn's house said to me, with a cold look. She hadn't come there that day and sat down, she told me later, to be protected by me. I apologized and scrambled back, behind them.

No one moved. The police didn't move, either. They stood in formation facing us, plastic masks over their faces, for quite a while. But they didn't come forward again. They had kept open a passage in front for the employees inside to leave after five, and eventually the police left, and we left..

* * *

There was a happier story to tell, just over one month later. On Saturday night, June 12, 1971, we had a date with Howard and Roz to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Harvard Square. But that morning I learned from someone at the New York Times that--without having alerted me--the Times was about to start publishing the top secret documents I had given them that evening. That meant I might get a visit from the FBI any moment; and for once, I had copies of the Papers in my apartment, because I planned to send them to Senator Mike Gravel for his filibuster against the draft.

From Secrets (p. 386):

"I had to get the documents out of our apartment. I called the Zinns, who had been planning to come by our apartment later to join us for the movie, and asked if we could come by their place in Newton instead. I took the papers in a box in the trunk of our car. They weren't the ideal people to avoid attracting the attention of the FBI. Howard had been in charge of managing antiwar activist Daniel Berrigan's movements underground while he was eluding the FBI for months (so from that practical point of view he was an ideal person to hide something from them), and it could be assumed that his phone was tapped, even if he wasn't under regular surveillance. However, I didn't know whom else to turn to that Saturday afternoon. Anyway, I had given Howard a large section of the study already, to read as a historian; he'd kept it in his office at Boston University. As I expected, they said yes immediately. Howard helped me bring up the box from the car.

We drove back to Harvard Square for the movie. The Zinns had never seen Butch Cassidy before. It held up for all of us. Afterward we bought ice-cream cones at Brigham's and went back to our apartment. Finally Howard and Roz went home before it was time for the early edition of the Sunday New York Times to arrive at the subway kiosk below the square. Around midnight Patricia and I went over to the square and bought a couple of copies. We came up the stairs into Harvard Square reading the front page, with the three-column story about the secret archive, feeling very good."