Yesterday evening I post Some thoughts on rereading Howard Zinn. Earlier this evening I spent some time pondering some more words from the same book, some by Zinn, some quoted from others.
Let me begin with Zinn:
It seems that once an initial judgment has been made that a war is just, there is a tendency to stop thinking, to assume then that everything done on behalf of victory is morally acceptable. I had myself participated in the bombing of cities, without even considering whether there was any relationship between what I was doing and the elimination of fascism in the world. One of my bombing missions had been on the city of Pilsen (now Plzen) in Czechoslovakia. The inhabitants were Czechs - the very people who had been among the first victims of Nazi expansion -0 yet we were dropping bombs on them. I don't remember being conscious of the irony , or questioning our mission.
After the war I looked up the official Air Force history and found this description of the Pilsen bombing:The last attack on an industrial target by the Eighth Air Force occurred on 25 April, when the famous Skoda works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, received 500 well-placed bombs. Because of a warning sent out ahjad of time the workers were able to escape, except for five persons."
In 1966, I encountered two Czech citizens who had lived in Pilsen at that time, and they told me that several hundred people died in that bombing raid.
Please continue reading. . .
When Zora Neale Hurston wrote Dust Tracks on the Road, her publisher, Lippincott, because Pearl Harbor had just been attacked, removed some text from the book just before releasing it. Zinn quotes those words, written after the war in Europe ha started, but before we were drawn in by the Japanese attack:
All around me, bitter tears are being shed over the fate of Holland, Belgium, France and England. I must confess to being a little dry around the eyes. I hear people shaking with shudders at the thought of Germany collecting taxes in Holland. I have not heard a word against Holland collecting one twelfth of poor people's wages in Asia. Hitler's crime is that he is actually doing a thing like that to his own kind. . . .
As I see it, the doctrines of democracy deal with the aspirations of men's souls, but the application deals with things. One hand in somebody else's pocket and one on your gun, and you are highly civilized. . . . Desire enough for your own use only, and you are a heathen. Civilized people have things to show to their neighbors.
Again from Zinn, a longer passage:
Whatever alternative scenarios we can imagine to replace World War II and its mountain of corpses, it really doesn't matter any more. The war is over. The practical effect of declaring World War II just is not for that war, but for the wars that follow. And that effect has been a dangerous one, because the glow of righteousness that accompanied that has been transferred, by false analogy and emotional carryover, to other wars. To put it another way, perhaps the worst consequence of War War II is that it kept alive the idea that war cold be just.
Quoting the words of AdmiralGene LaRocque, a veteran of 13 battle engagements during the 2nd World War, spoken to Studs Terkel:
We've institutionalized militarism. This came out of World War Two. . . . It gave us the National Security Council. It gave us the CIA, that is able to spy on you and me this very moment. For the first time in the history of man, a country has divided up the world into military district.
You could argue World War Two had to be fought. Hitler had to be stopped. Unfortunately, we translate it unchanged to the situation today.
I hate it when they say, "He gave his life for his country." Nobody gives their life for anything. We steal the lives of these kids. We take it away from them. They don't die for the honor and glory of their country. We kill them.
Zinn immediately follows the words of Larocque by telling us about Gen. Jacques Paris de Bollardier, a war hero first with the Free French in N Africa and then parachuting into France and Holland to organize resistance, and who commanded an airborne unit in Indochina for 7 years ending in 1953.
But in 1957, according to the obituary,he "caused an uproar in the French army when he asked to be relieved of his command in Algeria to protest the torture of Algerian rebels." In 1961 he began to speak out against militarism and nuclear weapons. He created an organization called The Alternative Movement for Non-Violence and in 1973 participated in a protest expedition to France's South Pacific nuclear testing site.
It remains to be seen how many people in our time will make the journey from war to nonviolent action against war. It is the great challenge of our time. How to achieve justice, with struggle, but without war.
I have chosen to let Zinn speak for himself, with his words and those from others he chose to share.
I do not see how we can reform American society so long as the military-industrial-intelligence apparatus continues to run unchecked and uncontrolled. What makes our time now even more scary is because so many of the functions of that apparatus are now being privatized, thereby removed from what little oversight the Congress has been willing to exercise, with those who perpetrate atrocities along the way further sheltered from consequences - they are not under the rules of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and somehow we have contrived (thank you, Paul Bremer among others) to shield them from prosecution in civil courts either in the US or in the nations where the atrocities were committed, or by nations whose citizens were mistreated at a minimum, and in more than a few cases tortured in violation of US law and international convention.
We need to honestly examine our own history, acknowledge the flaws - even the crimes - of the so-called great men we hold up as exemplars to our young people when we teach them what should be history. Instead, as James Loewen rightly notes, what we get is Lies My Teacher Told Me (a book that, along with Zinn's work, is essential to beginning to understand how distorted the history we teach actually is).
I have now begun a 12 day break from teaching, but not from school duties. I have 170+ papers to read and grade, and some planning to do.
I also have 7 books to review, two of which I have not yet read.
I have commitments to several postings that will take hours to put together.
I will probably not be returning to Zinn for a while.
Which is why I thought I should share a bit more from him this evening.
If you have never read Zinn, I strongly suggest you do. I am fairly sure you will find it more than worth your while.
And if like me, it has been a while since you pondered his words, perhaps now might be a good time to return, to read a few pages?
Thanks for reading.