The Land of the Blind
If you think that electing the other side of the dime will stop the forward movement towards a global war, the kind with a Roman numeral after it, then Howard Zinn has bad news for you.
This is a must read for all who seek Peace, Freedom, and an Integrated Global Community.
By Howard Zinn
April 2006 Issue
Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have begun to register indignation), we might ask:
How come so many people were so easily fooled?
The question is important because it might help us understand why Americans—members of the media as well as the ordinary citizen—rushed to declare their support as the President was sending troops halfway around the world to Iraq.
A small example of the innocence (or obsequiousness, to be more exact) of the press is the way it reacted to Colin Powell’s presentation in February 2003 to the Security Council, a month before the invasion, a speech which may have set a record for the number of falsehoods told in one talk.
In it, Powell confidently rattled off his “evidence”: satellite photographs, audio records, reports from informants, with precise statistics on how many gallons of this and that existed for chemical warfare.
The New York Times was breathless with admiration.
The Washington Post editorial was titled “Irrefutable” and declared that after Powell’s talk “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”
It seems to me there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture, and which help explain the vulnerability of the press and of the citizenry to outrageous lies whose consequences bring death to tens of thousands of people.
If we can understand those reasons, we can guard ourselves better against being deceived.
One is in the dimension of time, that is, an absence of historical perspective.
The other is in the dimension of space, that is, an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism. We are penned in by the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.
A careful reading of history might give us another safeguard against being deceived. It would make clear that there has always been, and is today, a profound conflict of interest between the government and the people of the United States.
This thought startles most people, because it goes against everything we have been taught.
We have been led to believe that, from the beginning, as our Founding Fathers put it in the Preamble to the Constitution, it was “we the people” who established the new government after the Revolution.
When the eminent historian Charles Beard suggested, a hundred years ago, that the Constitution represented not the working people, not the slaves, but the slaveholders, the merchants, the bondholders, he became the object of an indignant editorial in The New York Times.
Our culture demands, in its very language, that we accept a commonality of interest binding all of us to one another. We mustn’t talk about classes. Only Marxists do that, although James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” said, thirty years before Marx was born that there was an inevitable conflict in society between those who had property and those who did not.
Our present leaders are not so candid.
They bombard us with phrases like “national interest,” “national security,” and “national defense” as if all of these concepts applied equally to all of us, colored or white, rich or poor, as if General Motors and Halliburton have the same interests as the rest of us, as if George Bush has the same interest as the young man or woman he sends to war.
Surely, in the history of lies told to the population, this is the biggest lie.
In the history of secrets, withheld from the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country.
To ignore that—not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor—is to render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by people in power.
If your starting point for evaluating the world around you is the firm belief that this nation is somehow endowed by Providence with unique qualities that make it morally superior to every other nation on Earth, then you are not likely to question the President when he says we are sending our troops here or there, or bombing this or that, in order to spread our values—democracy, liberty, and let’s not forget free enterprise—to some God-forsaken (literally) place in the world.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties have embraced this notion. George Bush, in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 2005, said that spreading liberty around the world was “the calling of our time.” Years before that, in 1993, President Bill Clinton, speaking at a West Point commencement, declared: “The values you learned here . . . will be able to spread throughout this country and throughout the world and give other people the opportunity to live as you have lived, to fulfill your God-given capacities.”
A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world. It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars and killers who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and justice.
Howard Zinn is the co-author, with Anthony Arnove, of “Voices of a People’s History of the United States.”
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