A Chorus Against War
by Howard Zinn
AS I WRITE THIS, it looks like war. This, in spite
of the obvious lack of enthusiasm in the country for
war. The polls that register "approve" or "disapprove"
can only count numbers; they cannot test the depth of
feeling. And there are many signs that the support for
war is shallow and shaky and ambivalent.
This Administration will not likely be stopped,
though it knows its support is thin. In fact, that is
undoubtedly why it is in such a hurry; it wants to go
to war before the support gets any thinner.
The assumption is that once the soldiers are in
combat, the American people will unite behind the war.
The television screens will show "smart bombs"
exploding, and the Secretary of Defense will assure the
American people that civilian casualties are being kept
to a minimum. (We're in the age of megadeaths, and any
number of casualties less than a million is no cause
This is the way it has been. Unity behind the
President in time of war. But it may not be that way
The anti-war movement will not likely surrender to
the martial atmosphere. The hundreds of thousands who
marched in Washington and San Francisco and New York
and Boston--and in villages, towns, and cities all over
the country from Georgia to Montana--will not meekly
withdraw. Unlike the shallow support for the war, the
opposition to the war is deep and cannot be easily
dislodged or frightened into silence.
Indeed, the anti-war feelings are bound to become
To the demand "Support Our GIs," the movement will
be able to reply: "Yes, we support our GIs, we want
them to live, we want them to be brought home. The
government is not supporting them. It is sending them
to die, or to be wounded, or to be poisoned by our own
depleted uranium shells."
No, our casualties may not be numerous, but every
single one will be a waste of an important human life.
We will insist that this government be held responsible
for every death, every dismemberment, every case of
sickness, every case of psychic trauma caused by the
shock of war.
And though the media will be blocked from access to
the dead and wounded of Iraq, though the human tragedy
unfolding in Iraq will be told in numbers, in
abstractions, and not in the stories of real human
beings, real children, real mothers and fathers, the
movement will find a way to tell that story. And when
it does, the American people--who can be cold to death
on "the other side," but who also wake up when "the
other side" is suddenly seen as a man, a woman, a
child, just like us--will respond.
This is not a fantasy, not a vain hope. It happened
in the Vietnam years. For a long time, what was being
done to the peasants of Vietnam was concealed by
statistics, the "body count," without bodies being
shown, without faces being shown, without pain, fear,
anguish shown. But then the stories began to come
through: the story of the My Lai massacre, the stories
told by returning GIs of atrocities they had
And the pictures appeared: the little girl struck
by napalm running down the road, her skin shredding,
the mothers holding their babies to them in the
trenches as GIs poured rounds of bullets from automatic
rifles into their bodies.
When those stories began to come out, when the
photos were seen, the American people could not fail to
be moved. The war "against Communism" was seen as a war
against poor peasants in a tiny country half the world
At some point in this coming war, and no one can
say when, the lies of the Administration--"the death of
this family was an accident," "we apologize for the
dismemberment of this child," "this was an intelligence
mistake," "a radar malfunction"--will begin to come
How soon that will happen depends not only on the
millions now--whether actively or silently--in the
anti-war movement, but also on the emergence of
whistle-blowers inside the Establishment who begin to
talk, of journalists who become tired of being
manipulated by the government and begin to write the
truth. And of dissident soldiers sick of a war that is
not a war but a massacre: How else to describe the
mayhem caused by the most powerful military machine on
Earth raining thousands of bombs on a fifth-rate
military power already reduced to poverty by two wars
and ten years of economic sanctions?
The anti-war movement has the responsibility of
encouraging defections from the war machine. It does
this simply by its existence, by its example, by its
persistence, by its voices reaching out over the walls
of government control and speaking to the consciences
Those voices have already become a chorus, joined
by Americans in all walks of life, of all ages, in
every part of the country.
There is a basic weakness in governments--however
massive their armies, however wealthy their treasuries,
however they control the information given to the
public--because their power depends on the obedience of
citizens, of soldiers, of civil servants, of
journalists and writers and teachers and artists. When
these people begin to suspect they have been deceived,
and when they withdraw their support, the government
loses its legitimacy, and its power.
We have seen this happen in recent decades, all
around the globe. Leaders who were apparently
all-powerful, surrounded by their generals, suddenly
faced the anger of an aroused people, the hundreds of
thousands in the streets and the reluctance of the
soldiers to fire, and those leaders soon rushed to the
airport, carrying their suitcases of money with them.
The process of undermining the legitimacy of our
own government has begun. There has been a worm eating
at the innards of its complacency all along--the
knowledge of the American public, buried, but in a very
shallow grave, easy to disinter, that this government
came to power by a political coup, not by popular will.
The movement should not let this be forgotten.
The first steps to delegitimize this government are
being taken, in small but significant ways.
The wife of the President calls off a gathering of
poets in the White House because the poets have
rebelled, seeing the march to war as a violation of the
most sacred values of poets through the ages.
The generals who led the Gulf War of 1991 speak out
against this impending war as foolish, unnecessary,
The CIA contradicts the President by saying Saddam
Hussein is not likely to use his weapons unless he is
All across the country--not just the great
metropolitan centers, like Chicago, but places like
Boseman, Montana; Des Moines, Iowa; San Luis Obispo,
California; Nederland, Colorado; York, Pennsylvania;
Gary, Indiana; Carrboro, North Carolina-- fifty-seven
cities and counties have passed resolutions against the
war, responding to their citizens.
The actions will multiply, once the war has begun.
The stakes will be higher. People will be dying every
day. The responsibility of the peace movement will be
huge--to speak to what people may feel but are hesitant
to say. To say that this is a war for oil, for
business. Bring back the Vietnam-era poster: "War Is
Good for Business--Invest Your Son." (In this morning's
Boston Globe, a headline: "Extra $15 Billion for
Military Would Profit New England Firms.")
Yes, by all means, no blood for oil, no blood for
Bush, no blood for Rumsfeld or Cheney or Powell. No
blood for political ambition, for grandiose designs of
No action should be seen as too small, no
nonviolent action should be seen as too large. The
calls now for the impeachment of George Bush should
multiply. The constitutional requirement "high crimes
and misdemeanors" certainly applies to sending our
young halfway around the world to kill and be killed in
a war of aggression against a people who have not
Those poets troubled Laura Bush because by bringing
the war into her ceremony they were doing something
"inappropriate." That should be the key: People will
continue to do "inappropriate" things, because that
brings attention--the rejection of propriety, the
refusal to be "professional" (which usually means not
breaking out of the box your business or your
profession insists you stay in).
The absurdity of this war is so starkly clear that
people who have never been involved in an anti-war
demonstration have been showing up in huge numbers at
recent rallies. If you've been to one of them, you can
testify to the numbers of young people and older people
doing this for the first time.
Arguments for the war are paper thin and fall apart
at first touch. Weapons of mass destruction? Iraq may
develop one nuclear bomb (though the U.N. inspectors
find no sign of development), but Israel has 200
nuclear weapons and the U.S. has 10,000, and six other
countries have undisclosed numbers. Saddam Hussein a
tyrant? Undoubtedly, like many others in the world. A
threat to the world? Then how come the rest of the
world, much closer to Iraq, does not want war?
Defending ourselves? The most incredible statement of
all. Fighting terrorism? No connection found between
September 11 and Iraq.
I believe it is the obvious emptiness of the
Administration position that is responsible for the
swift growth of the anti-war movement. And for the
emergence of new voices, unheard before, speaking
"inappropriately" outside their professional
boundaries: 1,500 historians have signed an anti-war
petition; businessmen, clergy, have put full-page ads
in newspapers. All are refusing to stick to their
"profession" and instead are professing that they are
human beings first.
I think of Sean Penn traveling to Baghdad, in spite
of mutterings about patriotism. Or Jessica Lange and
Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen speaking at anti-war
rallies in Washington and New York. Renee Zellweger
spoke to a reporter for the Boston Globe about "how
public opinion is manipulated by what we're told. You
see it all the time, especially now! The goodwill of
the American people is being manipulated. It gives me
the chills. I'm going to go to jail this year!"
Rap artists have been speaking out on war, on
injustice. Mr. Lif says: "I think people have been on
vacation and it's time to wake up. We need to look at
our economic, social, and foreign policies and not be
duped into believing the spin that comes from the
government and the media."
In the cartoon "The Boondocks," which reaches
twenty million readers every day, the cartoonist Aaron
McGruder has his character, a black youngster named
Huey Freedman, say the following: "In this time of war
against Osama bin Laden and the oppressive Taliban
regime, we are thankful that OUR leader isn't the
spoiled son of a powerful politician from a wealthy oil
family who is supported by religious fundamentalists,
operates through clandestine organizations, has no
respect for the democratic electoral process, bombs
innocents, and uses war to deny people their civil
The voices will multiply. The actions, from silent
vigils to acts of civil disobedience (three nuns are
facing long jail terms for pouring their blood on
missile silos in Colorado), will multiply.
If Bush starts a war, he will be responsible for
the lives lost, the children crippled, the terrorizing
of millions of ordinary people, the American GIs not
returning to their families. And all of us will be
responsible for bringing that to a halt.
Men who have no respect for human life or for
freedom or justice have taken over this beautiful
country of ours. It will be up to the American people
to take it back. Howard Zinn, author of "A People's
History of the United States," is a columnist for The