I watched a documentary this past week on Howard Zinn – a long time historian and peace activist who recently died. As a young man he participated in the Royan bombing (dropping napalm for the first time in Europe) just weeks before the end of WWII: “And we don’t know how many people were killed or how many people were terribly burned as a result of what we did. But I did it like most soldiers do, unthinkingly, mechanically, thinking we’re on the right side, they’re on the wrong side, and therefore we can do whatever we want, and it’s OK.” said Zinn.
Only afterward did he learn the human effects of bombing, mostly harming civilians – including children, women, and the elderly. He flew at “30,000 feet, six miles high, couldn’t hear screams, couldn’t see blood. And this is modern warfare….soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place.” And it’s happening now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“And that while some societies can rightly claim to be more liberal, more democratic, more humane than others, the
difference is not great enough to justify the massive, indiscriminate slaughter of modern warfare.”
He asked shouldn’t the real motivations for war be examined. Shouldn’t the claim of fighting for democracy, liberty, a just cause, and human rights be questioned. Wouldn’t it be clear that all nations fight for power, privilege, wealth, territory, supremacy, national pride, and dominance of one side over others, the notions of freedom, righteousness, and innocent victims never considered. Tyranny is in the eye of the beholder when one side is as bad as the other.
“War isn’t inevitable”, said Zinn. “It doesn’t arise from an instinctive human need. Political leaders manufacture it, then use propaganda to justify it to the public and mobilize them to fight. War is the moral equivalent of the worst kind of terrorism.”
Toward the end of his life he wrote: “Wherever any kind of injustice has been overturned, it’s been because people acted as citizens, and not as politicians. They didn’t just moan. They worked they acted, and organized to bring their situation to the attention of people in power. And that’s what we have to do today.”