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A Brief History of Terrorism
by the USA

HOWARD ZINN 2002

Excerpted from Terrorism and War
by Howard Zinn
Chapter 3, A Peaceful Nation?, pp.50-56
Seven Stories Press
2002

 

A Note on the Text:
This book is based on a series of interviews with Howard Zinn conducted by Anthony Arnove between September 2001 and late January 2002. The interviews--which took place in Cambridge and Boston, MA; Providence, RI; and New York City, in person and by phone--were then edited by Arnove and expanded by the author. The notes and more detailed references were added in the editorial process

Well, obviously Bush hasn't read any history and does not remember any history, even the history of his own time, because the United States has been involved in wars and military actions for a very long time. You can't tell the Native Americans we were a peaceful nation as we moved across the continent and engaged in hundreds of wars against the Indians. The United States engaged in at least twenty military interventions in the Caribbean in the first twenty years of the last century. And then from World War II through today, we've had an endless succession of wars and military interventions.

Just five years after the end of the most disastrous war in world history, after World War II, we are at war in Korea. And then almost immediately we are helping the French in Indochina, supplying 80 percent of their military equipment, and soon we are involved in Southeast Asia. We are bombing not only Vietnam but Cambodia and Laos.

In the 1950s, we are also involved in covert operations, overthrowing the governments of Iran and Guatemala. And almost as soon as we get involved in Vietnam, we are sending military troops into the Dominican Republic. In that period, we are also giving enormous amounts of aid to the government of Indonesia, helping the dictator Suharto carry on an internal war against the opposition, in the course of which several hundred thousand people are killed. Then the U.S. government, starting in 1975, provides critical support to Indonesia's brutal campaign to subdue the people of East Timor, in which hundreds of thousands of people are killed.

In the 1980s, when Reagan comes into office, we begin a covert war throughout Central America, in El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and especially in Nicaragua, creating the counterrevolutionary force, the Contras, whom Reagan called "freedom fighters."

In 1978, even before the Russians were in Afghanistan, we are covertly sending arms to the rebel forces in Afghanistan, the mujahedeen. Some of these people turned out later to be the Taliban, the people who suddenly are our enemy. The national security adviser to Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, boasted that he knew U.S. aid would "induce a Soviet military intervention" in Afghanistan. In fact, this happened, provoking a war that lasted ten years.[44] The war was devastating to the people of Afghanistan and left the country in ruins. The moment it was over, the United States immediately moved out. The people that we supported, the fundamentalists, took power in Afghanistan and established their regime.

Almost as soon as George Bush Sr. came into office, in 1989, he launched a war against Panama, which left perhaps several thousand dead. Two years later, we were at war in the Gulf, using the invasion of Kuwait as an excuse to intensify our military presence in that area and to station troops in Saudi Arabia, which then became one of the major offenses for Osama bin Laden and other Saudi Arabian nationalists. Then in the Clinton administration we were bombing Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia, and Iraq again.

So for Bush to call us "a peaceful nation" means forgetting an enormous amount of history. Now, maybe that history is too much for Bush to take in, but even a small part of it would be enough to suggest that we have not been a peaceful nation. In fact, it is safe to say that since World War II, there has not been a more warlike nation in the world than the United States.

They want us to act as if we were born yesterday. They want us to forget the history of our government. Because if you forget history, if you were born yesterday, then you'll believe anything.

How do you think we got Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California? Because the Mexicans liked us and gave them to us? No. We acquired that territory in the Mexican War. And we thought the Mexicans should be grateful that we didn't take it all.

But the Mexican War began with a lie. There was an incident on the Mexican border. American troops went into this disputed area and people were killed. President James Polk said that blood had been spilled on American soil, and soon the armies were on their way to Mexico City. Not long after, we had half of Mexico.

In 1898, the battleship Maine was sunk in Havana Harbor, which led to the Spanish-American War. By the way, no one ever asked what the Maine was doing in Havana Harbor. This was like when the U.S. ship was bombed in Yemen a few years ago. I didn't see reporters ask, "What is an American destroyer doing there?"

If people knew some history, if teachers gave them history, if the media gave people history, if anyone with power over communications networks gave them some history, they might recognize in this rush of Congress to war the same subservience as we have seen in the past. When Bush went to Congress after September 11, everyone there acted as if there were no need to think and to ask questions about what we should do. They voted unanimously in the Senate and almost unanimously in the House of Representatives. There was only one dissenting vote. When I heard that, I thought that dissenting vote must have been Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont, but it wasn't. It was Barbara Lee from California.

So, history can be useful. It can tell you something about government, about lies and deception. If people knew that history, they wouldn't just sit and listen to Bush and be impressed that he knows how to read.

If we don't know that history, we won't understand how much animosity we have engendered elsewhere in the world--not just in the Middle East but all over the world. In its foreign policy, the United States has consigned several million people to their deaths and supported terrorist governments in various parts of the world, especially in Latin America and the Middle East.

If we don't have any history, we'll live our lives believing what we're taught in school, that America is a beacon for democracy and freedom in the world. We'll think that we've been the Boy Scouts of the world, helping countries across the street.

Yes, we live in an age of irony. There was the Stone Age, and now there is the Age of Irony. The government says it is determined to close terrorist camps, yet here in the United States the School of the Americas has trained people who have engaged in terrorism, trained people who then became organizers of death squads in Central America.

If you put up photos of the graduating classes of the School of the Americas on the wall, you would have a rogues' gallery of terrorism. I think of the El Salvadoran death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson; of the graduates who took part in the massacre of 811 people in El Mozote in December 1981; of the many generals and dictators who went through the School of the Americas. In fact, some of the manuals used in the School of the Americas give advice on how to carry out what amount to terrorist acts.[47]

You know, the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega went to the School of the Americas and then became an employee of the CIA; but then suddenly he becomes an enemy and a terrorist, so we go to war to capture him. But we probably won't go to war to get Kissinger anytime soon. The United States has consistently opposed the creation of an international war crimes tribunal because it could be used against people in the U.S. government and military. They are very explicit about it. In effect, the government is saying, "Yes, we have people who could be accused of having committed war crimes." The United States wants to find other people who have committed war crimes, but an American by definition cannot commit a war crime.

In fact, Kissinger wrote recently that the proposal to create an international court is a bad idea.[48] Well, naturally it's a bad idea, because he would be one of the first people who would be up there on the witness stand trying to explain his support for death squads and repressive governments in Latin America, war crimes in Southeast Asia, and the apartheid South African government.

It would be good to have an international war crimes trial that would be truly evenhanded in bringing up for prosecution people in all countries of the world who have engaged in and supported, or conspired to support, terrorism. But the U.S. government is clearly not interested in that.

REFERENCES

43 George Bush, "Bush's Remarks on U.S. Military Strikes in Afghanistan," New York Times, 8 October 2001, B6.

44 Vincent Jauvert, interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Oui, la CIA est entrée en Afghanistan avant les Russes...," Nouvel Observateur (France/ 1732 (January 1998) (www.archives.nouvelobs.com).

45 John Kifner, "Forget the Past: It's A War Unlike Any Other," New York Times, 23 September 2001, 4: 8.

46 Eduardo Galeano, Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World, trans. Mark Fried (New York: Picador USA, 2001 /, 195.

47 SOA Watch (www.soaw.org; Frida Berrigan, "Beyond the School of the Americas: U.S. Military Training Programs Here and Abroad," Arms Trade Research Center, World Policy Institute, May 2000; Dana Priest, "U.S. Instructed Latins on Executions, Torture; Manuals Used 1982-91, Pentagon Reveals," Washington Post, 21 September 1996, Al; Tina Rosenberg, "Another Hallowed Terror Ground," New York Times Magazine, 13 January 2002, 6: 26.

48 Henry A. Kissinger, "The Pitfalls of Universal Jurisdiction," Foreign Affairs 80, no. 4 (July/August 2001/: 86.

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