Terrorism and War
NY, NY: Seven Stories Press
2002, 157 pp.
by Howard Zinn
reviewed by MC5
This book came out against the war in Afghanistan, and most of its reasoning also applies to the war in Iraq. As the war in Iraq threatens to intensify, it is easy to forget that the United $tates is still at war in Afghanistan and many other places too. At the end of January, the military claimed to kill 18 Afghan fighters.
In fact, since 1991, the United $tates has also enforced a war on Iraq, including the "no-fly" zone over Iraq which Iraq has contested. These are just two examples of how the massive U.$. military is always at war.
Yet, despite the fact that the United $tates is engaged in war after war, the public busy reading Cosmopolitan magazine and watching nakednews.com acted as if the September 11th attacks were completely out-of-the-blue. For those who never looked up from their Nintendo, those attacks were completely out-of-the-blue. The benefit of more evenly matched wars as in World War II is that its participants all know they are attacking the other side. In the United $tates, many citizens pay so little attention to the constant warring by their government that they become extraordinarily indignant when the other side counterattacks.
Howard Zinn was an air force bomber in World War II, but he is now known as a radical historian, the one who wrote "A People's History of the Unites States." Zinn gets to the internationalist point right away: "Terrorism is an international phenomenon. American citizens are not the only victims of terrorism. You hear journalists and politicians talking about globalization and the free flow of markets. But they don't talk about international solidarity of people. They don't say that we should consider people everywhere as our brothers and sisters---that we should consider children all over the world as our children." (p. 16)
We have disagreements with Zinn to be sure. The book lists the neo-Trotskyist group the ISO (International Socialist Organization) as an important one to work with. Zinn is also featured prominently fund-raising for the ISO on its web page. Along these lines, Zinn speaks of the "left" and the typical American "left." As a result he makes the mistake of wanting to link the anti-war movement to economic demands of Amerikkkans. Zinn says he wants these economic issues linked because he wants the "left" to have "a much stronger bond with the American people."(p. 38) Historically, we have heard "jobs, not war" as a slogan. Yet the slogan implies that if jobs are forthcoming, then support for war could be purchased. Historically that's exactly what happened in England prior to World War I. That's not to mention that MIM does not agree that the Amerikkkan majority today is exploited.
In any case, since the collapse of the Soviet Union perhaps no organization has benefitted more than the ISO. Like, MIM, the ISO held that the "Soviet Union" and China were "state-capitalist." Since that time, the ISO has grown where other traditional Amerikan "left" groups like the Socialist Party and Socialist Labor Party have been unable to regenerate.
We agree with Zinn's anticipations of where politics in the U$A is developing. There is going to be a Yankee-doodle resurgence of the "left" before the middle-classes try something more exotic like the MIM line. As with Zinn himself, this "left" will distance itself from the real world of socialism, because after all, knowing it or not, most of the united $tates is petty-bourgeois. The petty-bourgeoisie as a class cannot rule, so it tends to want the impossible--either perfect capitalist democracy (which in times like these it tends to realize is impossible, thus the Bush "election" and "Patriot Act") or perfect violence-free socialism.
Part of what separates MIM from others talking about internationalism is that we stress how far Amerikkkans have to go before they are not enemies of the world's people. We believe people cannot change if no one ever lays out what the goal is and how much the economic situation has to change for international solidarity to come about. While Bush has chosen not to conduct the Iraq War as just a covert war, Zinn is wrong to say that "there is a moral good sense in the American people that comes to the fore when the blanket of propaganda begins to be lifted."(p. 120) Quite the contrary, the U.$. population supports wars around the world mostly in situations where there is almost no propaganda at all. The media said almost nothing about East Timor in 1975 for example, but the public has/had no "moral good sense" to do anything about that. We Leninists refer to Zinn's error as two-fold: 1) "spontaneity" in believing what the U.$. public will do 2) "parasitism" for not recognizing the active enemy component of the U.$. population and why it lets the imperialist government go about its business often with hardly any propaganda effort on its part at all. It's quite enough to take advantage of the dynamics of the gender aristocracy in the united $tates: with no one paying attention to anything but their Britney $pears and Marie Claire, there is no need for propaganda.
For the most part, Zinn is talking about internationalism as a moral imperative. This becomes difficult for many Amerikkkans to support. At the same time, such a moral perspective either is or is not in line with the requirements of the times. We believe it is scientifically discernible that internationalism is necessary for peace. Once we set peace--including an end to terrorism-- as the goal, the means of achieving that have to include internationalism. That is a scientific question. Howard Zinn puts it this way in connection to terrorism: "There is a reservoir of possible terrorists among all those people in the world who have suffered as a result of U.S. foreign policy."(p. 17) Despite this statement approaching science, Zinn ends the book saying the majority of people will morally re-evaluate the Afghanistan war and then it will fall apart.(p. 118)
The golden rule of "do unto others as you would have others do unto you" applies in matters of war and peace. We cannot expect the world to have peace until all its component peoples treat each other peacefully.
We are thankful that Zinn admitted that Amerikkkans in their 90% supported war against Afghanistan. He suggested tactics to change that, but he did not deny it, as those most inclined to believe in the spontaneity of Amerikkkans would, and he did not say we should accept evil in order to get on the good side of that 90%. (p. 31-2)
Unfortunately, Zinn's class analysis is vague enough that it supports a line which amounts to saying the Amerikkkan majority is exploited. That's the line of the organizations listed in the back of the book as organizations to work with and nothing contrary is to be found in the book.
At a couple points in the book Zinn raises the "Stalinism" bogeyman to use as bogeyman without detailing what it was.(pp. 75, 113) Making use of such anti-communism, Zinn veers into an assortment of unicorns such as neo-Trotskyism, pacifism and anarchism. He now points positively to the Trotskyist resistance to fighting in World War II against the Nazis.
We are glad that people of all persuasions, even those calling themselves "left" like Zinn made their own efforts to oppose the war. Our disagreements on Stalin and the conditions of U.S. "workers" do not invalidate our unity in opposing the war on Afghanistan. Much of what Zinn is talking about is something the public needs to chew on one way or another. We are happy this book made into many public places on many bookshelves.
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