Howard Zinn Interview: Dissent In Pursuit Of Equality, Life, Liberty And Happiness

When the government is taking huge sums of money
from education and health, and using that money
for military purposes, that’s a violation of the
principles of the Declaration of Independence.
And a government like that cannot be obeyed. To
obey a government like that is not being
patriotic. At that point, when a government
behaves like that, it is the most patriotic thing
to disobey the government.

2002.07.03

TomPaine.com: Dissent these days seems to
be a dirty word. The Bush administration has, at
least since September 11th, usually termed any
criticism of its policies “unpatriotic.”

Howard Zinn: One of the great mistakes made in discussing
patriotism — a very common mistake — is to think
that patriotism means support for your government.
And that view of patriotism ignores the founding
principles of the country expressed in the
Declaration of Independence.

That is: the Declaration of Independence makes it
clear that governments are artificial creations
set up to achieve certain ends — equality, life,
liberty, the pursuit of happiness — and when
governments become destructive of those ends it is
the right of the people in the words of the
Declaration, to alter or abolish the government.

When the government is taking huge sums of money
from education and health, and using that money
for military purposes, that’s a violation of the
principles of the Declaration of Independence.

And a government like that cannot be obeyed. To
obey a government like that is not being
patriotic. At that point, when a government
behaves like that, it is the most patriotic thing
to disobey the government.

TP.c: Does the United States’ lack of
dissent have anything to do with the fact that we
generally enjoy a reasonably prosperous economy?

Zinn: What other reasonable and prosperous
societies are there? Not too many.

Britain, France, Germany, the Scandinavian countries
and so on — they I think have a stronger tradition of
allowing dissent than the United States does. And
I think it has to do with the degree to which the
United States has become a world power, an
expansionist power, a military power.

It is always easier to suppress dissent when you
are in a war, when you are engaging in military
activity, and therefore when you can claim dissent
cannot be allowed because it’s dangerous to the
security of the nation.

TP.c: If we see the Bush administration
quashing dissent are we seeing something unusual?
Or is this just the way presidents behave during a
crisis or in wartime?

Zinn: Well it is, if you look at, I mean
Lincoln suppressed dissent during the Civil War.

In World War I, Woodrow Wilson, a liberal Democrat, passed
legislation just as Bush has passed legislation,
the Patriot Act; and in Wilson’s time, the
Espionage and Sedition Act, which sent 1,000
people to jail.

And it was under Wilson that they
rounded up thousands of non-citizens and sent them
out of the country without due process. I mean,
civil liberties were really smashed under Wilson.

So, yes, Bush is not the first. Although this is
one of the worst cases that we’ve had. But still
it is typical in American history, and
particularly in the 20th century, particularly as
the United States has grown in military strength
and has engaged in more and more military
operations.

TP.com: And the citizenry must not mind,
since we see Bush’s approval ratings bobbing way
up in the stratosphere.

Zinn: I believe that those numbers that
register large degrees of popular support for Bush
have been misleading. That is, I think there is an
immediate tendency when a nation goes to war, for
the public to rally around.

Especially since, when
a nation goes to war, the public has no other
information given it about the war except what the
president gives it.

Just as the nation supported the war in Vietnam at
first because it got all of its information at
first from the government.

It’s only when other
kinds of information begin coming in, and when
people start questioning what the government does,
and become skeptical and have second thoughts
about their support for the government, it’s only
then that you begin to get more and more dissent.

And I believe that already — I’ve seen signs of
it myself just going around the country speaking
to many different groups of people, including many
high school students — I see signs of more and
more skepticism about Bush policies, about the war
on terrorism, and more and more worry about the
attacks on our civil liberties.

I’m not saying that what I’m talking about has yet
become a majority phenomenon. The majority
probably still supports Bush.

But, after all,
during the Vietnam War we saw the public opinion
change dramatically from support of the
government’s policy on Vietnam to opposition to
the government. And of course it took a couple of
years in the case of Vietnam.

TP.c: If the war against terrorism
continues apace and yet shows no result, do you
think that will erode Bush’s success with the
public?

Zinn: I think that’s so, although it’s
impossible to predict at what point that happens.

It is possible, if you look at the situation in
Israel for instance, and you see that the suicide
bombers in Israel are met with overwhelming force
by the Sharon government, and the people in Israel
are of two minds.

That is, on the one hand they
declare that they’d like to see a Palestinian
state; on the other hand they support Sharon
because they’re afraid of the suicide bombers.

And yet, as the military action against the
Palestinians grows, becomes more intense, and it
doesn’t stop the suicide bombers, I believe there
begins to be an uneasiness among the Israeli
people about whether this policy of Sharon, of
using force against terrorism, works.

And I think in the case of the United States,
we’ve been at war bombing Afghanistan for over
six, eight months, and there’s no sign that the
threat of terrorism has abated. No sign that the
American people feel more secure.

Every day we get
more and more warnings of possible terrorist
actions. And it seems to me that at a certain
point the American people must ask if this is so,
if we still live under fear of terrorism which has
not lessened at all, then what in the world was
the government doing, spending all this money and
expending all these lives — the lives of other
people — in bombing Afghanistan.

And now possibly
going to bomb, or possibly invade another country
like Iraq. I think there’s bound to be — and I
don’t know when this will happen — but there’s
bound to be a growing disillusionment with such a
policy.

Author: Sharon Basco and Howard Zinn

News Service: TomPaine.com

URL: http://tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/5908