Dennis Prager: You’re listening to the Dennis Prager Show and I welcome you to it. And we enter an hour wherein the motto of my show “I prefer clarity to agreement” will probably be more evident than perhaps in other hours. If you are to name a professor—now emeritus—but nevertheless, a professor in America who is well-known for his views on the Left, it would have to be I think either Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn. And I think Howard Zinn is far more read than the name of Noam Chomsky and his books. Howard Zinn is my guest; he is Professor Emeritus at Boston University, historian, playwright, social activist, college campus icon; newest book is Original Zinn—you will I assume all get the pun—Conversations on History and Politics. And Professor Zinn, thank you for joining me.
Howard Zinn: Well, thank you for inviting me.
DP: Well, I know that you enjoy the give and take with people who don’t tend to agree with you.
HZ: Is that you? [Laughing]
DP: Yes, that is me. Yes. Yes.
HZ: I see. Okay, I sure do. I’m looking forward to it.
DP: Well, that’s great. You know, there is in your dialogues here in Original Zinn, I think a good part of your view is summarized when you say, “If people knew history, they would scoff at that, they would laugh at that”....the idea that the United States is a force for the betterment of humanity. I believe that we are the country that has done more good for humanity than any other in history and I suspect that you believe that....what would you say on a report card—we have done more bad than good, we’re in the middle or what?
HZ: Well, probably more bad than good. We’ve done some good, of course; there’s no doubt about that. But we have done too many bad things in the world. You know, if you look at the way we have used our armed force throughout our history: first destroying the Indian communities of this continent and annihilating Indian tribes, then going into the Caribbean in the Spanish-American War, going to the Philippines, taking over other countries, not establishing democracy but in many cases establishing dictatorship, holding up dictatorships in Latin America and giving them arms, and you know, Vietnam, killing several million people for no good reason at all, certainly not for democracy or liberty, and continuing down to the present day with the War in Iraq—we’re not bringing democracy to Iraq, we’re not bringing security to Iraq, and we’re responsible for the deaths of very large numbers of people, I mean, 2500 Americans, tens of thousands of Iraqis....
DP: Okay, well let me take some of the examples that you cited. First, most of the Indians, by all the scholarship that I have seen, and I often cite the Indian tragedy—and evil—there is evil in the way we treated the Indians, there is no question about it. But there’s also no question that the great majority died of disease and not deliberately inflicted disease.
HZ: Oh, you know what, that’s true that the great majority of Indians died of disease in the 17th century when the Europeans first came here. But after that—after the American Revolution—when the colonists expanded from the thin band of colonies along the Atlantic and expanded westward, at that point we began to annihilate the Indian tribes. We committed massacres all over the country....
DP: What percentage of the Indians do you believe we massacred, as opposed to diseases ravaged?
HZ: Oh, well it might have been 10 percent.
DP: Okay, okay. So I’ll say that. But 10 percent is very different from the generalization of “we annihilated the Indians.”
HZ: Oh, well 10 percent is a huge number of Indians, that is. So it’s pointless I think to argue about whether disease or—by the way, disease brought by the Europeans....
DP: Yeah, but not intentionally. And the Europeans brought back diseases....
HZ: ....or deliberate attacks killed more Indians. All that I’m saying is—because you’re asking for a sort of report card of the United States—and I’m saying that the way we treated the Indians, and I thought you were agreeing with this, the wiping out of whole Indian villages and, you know....
DP: Well, yeah, but if we both agree with 10....
HZ: ....that is not a high mark for the United States.
DP: No, but 10 percent is very different from what the general statement of “annihilate” tends to indicate. That’s all I am saying.
DP: Let me ask you this, then.
DP: If, let’s say, Europeans never came to North America and it was left in the hands of the American indigenous Indians, do you think the world would be a better place?
HZ: I’d have no way of knowing [Laughing]. All I can say is....
DP: Alright, so you’re agnostic on that.
HZ: Yeah, absolutely. We have no way of knowing what would have happened and....
DP: Well, we do have a way of knowing. If the Indians had never been intervened with, they would have continued in the life and the values of the societies that the American Indians made.
HZ: Well, I suppose we could presume that. And many of their societies were very peaceful and benign, and some of their societies were ferocious and warlike. But the point is that we very often sort of justify barging into other peoples’ territories by the fact that we are sort of bringing civilization. But in the course of it, if in the course of bringing civilization we kill large numbers of people—which we did in that case and which we have done in other cases—then you’re led to question whether what we did deserves to be praised or condemned.
DP: Well, you can do both. You can condemn the massacres and you can praise the civilization that we made here. Alright, so let’s move on.
DP: You mention some of the wars and it’s mentioned in your book Original Zinn.
DP: And take, for example, Korea.
DP: I believe that we fought in Korea in order to enable at least half of that benighted peninsula to live in relative freedom and prosperity, and the half that we did not liberate is living in the nightmare—almost Nazi-like condition—of the North Korean government.
HZ: Yeah, well....
DP: Why don’t you see that as a great good that Americans did?
HZ: Well, I think that it’s....your description of the North Korean government is accurate. It’s sort of a monstrous government. But when we went to war in Korea the result of that war was the deaths of several million people. And I question, you know, whether the deaths of those several million people—Koreans; of course maybe 55,000 Americans—was worth the result. Because the immediate result was to leave the dictatorship in place in North Korea and to leave a dictatorship in place in South Korea. Remember, at that time, South Korea was not a democracy. South Korea was a dictatorship just as North Korea was. And we had gone through three years of war with all these people dying, and at the end of it, we were back where we started. Now, there are brutal regimes around the world, like the North Korean regime. But what I’m saying is I don’t think the answer to these brutal regimes is wars which kill large numbers of people. I think we have to find ways of undermining brutal regimes over a period of time, letting people themselves build up their own resistance. This is what’s happened in the Soviet Union. We didn’t destroy Stalinism by going to war....
DP: Well, alright. Let’s stick....forgive me....Professor, let me just stick to Korea for a moment.
DP: Do you....this is why I mean....I just want to understand where we differ. Do you believe if America had never intervened, do we both agree that Kim Il-sung—the psychopathic dictator of North Korea—would have ruled over the entire Korean peninsula?
HZ: Um....probably. I think that’s probably true.
DP: Okay. Do you believe that that would be a net moral or immoral result for the Korean people and the world?
HZ: Well, there were two immoral results. That would have been an immoral result, but the result of the war itself was also immoral—and I’m talking about the killing of several million people. And what I’m suggesting is that the answer to tyranny—the tyranny of North Korea, whether it existed just there or it moved to South Korea—the answer to tyrannies like that is not war, which in our time always involves the massive killing of innocent people. I mean, that’s what war is. And I think we have to find ways other than war to get rid of dictatorships and tyrannies.
DP: Well, I would love that. But this is where we often consider people on the Left, at best, to be naïve. There aren’t peaceful ways to get rid of a Kim Jong-il or a Kim Il-sung. We’ll continue in a moment. You’re listening to the Dennis Prager Show. I’m speaking to the extremely well-known professor who has views of the Left. He is the author of the famous series of A People’s History of the United States; his latest book Original Zinn, Howard Zinn. 1-8-PRAGER-776, as I continue with my dialogue with the professor on the Dennis Prager Show.
DP: You’re listening here to the Dennis Prager Show. I’m in dialogue here with Professor Howard Zinn. Professor Zinn, Professor Emeritus, Boston University, author of the frequently read People’s History of the United States, a major figure on the American left for I guess his whole life, or his whole adult life. I don’t know if you were born on the left....
Prager: go ahead
Zinn: My parents would have been surprised.
P: Oh really? So you’re not a red diaper baby?
Z: No, no, not at all. I came to my, I suppose my political ideas through, through working in a shipyard, being in the Air Force, teaching in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, and those were the things that shaped my thinking….and studying history….and my personal experiences plus the study of history got me to that place where you are suggesting that I am being naïve.
P: Yeah, let’s talk about that naiveté. You believe that there would have been another way to get rid of the North Korean or the Korean communists whom we both agree are monstrous...
P: And it would have been a peaceful way to remove them
P: As opposed to the Korean War. That’s what I feel and I think many do…and obviously many don’t…that this is the naiveté of the left….that ugly things can be gotten rid of in sweet ways…
Z: Not sweet ways. I wouldn’t say that. And I wouldn’t say either in totally peaceful ways...by struggle and resistance but not by war. We have historical examples of what I’m talking about. The Soviet Union, Stalinism, was not overthrown by war. If we had gone to war with the Soviet Union, as some people thought we should to get rid of the Stalinist issue (?)
D: Like Bertrand Russell
Z: At one time that’s true. And our Joint Chiefs of Staff at one point. If we had done that, may 100,000.000 people would have been killed…and we’d say, “well we did it, we got rid of Stalinism.” But in fact we didn’t do that…for good practical reasons. And we didn’t want that many people killed on their side or on our side. And Stalinism was really replaced, in time, by the Russian people themselves.
D: And how many people do you believe that Stalin killed?
Z: I have no i..….huge numbers.
D: Ok, it is estimated…everyone agrees between 20 and 40 million. So had there been a war with the Soviet Union when Lenin took over…had we invaded there…let us say 2 million people would have died…it would have saved tens of millions of people’s lives, wouldn’t we?
Z: Well, at the time, of course, invading the Soviet Union and killing 2 million people …we had no idea what would happen. D: The left had no idea, I must say a lot of people did have an idea of what a barbarian Lenin was. It was what he called “the useful idiots of the left” – forgive me, I don’t say you’re one of them – who were the ones of denied the evil of Lenin.
Z: What I’m suggesting is that there are a number of places in the world where we have had tyrannies that have been overthrown without war. The Soviet Union is an example, the countries of Eastern Europe. No, not sweetly and not totally peacefully because people demonstrated, people protested and some of them were shot down by the police. But that’s very different from war. Take South Africa for an example. Black people, the African National Congress, could have decided on a bloody war of resistance in order to get rid of the apartheid regime, the tyranny in South Africa. They did not do that. They did not want to have a million people killed, most of them would be black. They put all sorts of pressure on the South African regime, domestic and international, and apartheid fell. And in Spain, you know, Franco had a dictatorship. We could have fought a war in Spain to get rid of the Franco dictatorship.
P: Yes, but Franco was a Boy Scout compared to Mao and Stalin.
Z: Yeah, but a pretty ugly Boy Scout. My point is that there are historical examples of where tyrannies…
P: Yes, there are. No one would deny that. And there are historical examples of where war is the only way to achieve a moral end.
Z: Well, I’m not sure that’s the only way.
P: Was there another way to have gotten rid of Hitler?
Z: Well, when you go back to WW II, of course you’re dealing with a much more complicated situation than we’re dealing with today. And in the case of WWII, I don’t know what it would have taken to get rid of Hitler. We certainly had to resist him, we certainly had to get rid of him. I enlisted in the Air Force in WW II and I became a bombardier and I dropped bombs all over Europe. I really believed in that war. What bothers me most today is that people use WW II as an example for what we should do today. It’s a very different situation.
P: No, we use it as an example of where war is the moral choice. Are you prepared to say that war is ever the best moral choice?
P: Never. Not even against Hitler.
Z: The reason….well, I’m not sure about WW II.
Z: Well….because….I am sure about the situations since WW II and I am sure about the situations today. War has reached the point where when you wage war…there’s always a war against innocent people.
P: That was true in WW II. You dropped bombs on innocent people.
Z: That’s exactly true. In WW II, the ratio of innocent people to military people was about 50-50. Today, it’s more like 80-90% civilians and innocent people. All I’m saying is that war today cannot be justified because, whatever the reasons, the people who die in war are 80-90% innocent people, one third of them children.
P: You know what it sounds like to me? The debate on whether or not we had to drop bombs on Auschwitz. A lot of people said, “You can’t drop bombs on Auschwitz because you’ll kill mostly innocent Jews.” But Jews in Auschwitz wished that you would drop bombs on them.
Z: What they wished is that we had dropped bombs on the railway lines.
P: No, no, even on the crematoria and gas chambers.
Z: Well, we fought WW II and we did not save the Jews. 6 million Jews were killed. 60 thousand walked out of the concentration camps or the death camps, 1 per cent.
P: No, no, the only point I’m making is that there are times when even the innocent wish that the war was made because they know that that is the only way to get rid of the evil in their midst.
Z: Let’s be very specific about today. And what I’m suggesting today is that…and take the situation in Iraq. War is not a way to bring democracy to Iraq. We are not doing it, we are not succeeding at it, we’re killing large numbers of people.
P: Why are we not succeeding?
Z: We’re not succeeding because there is so much resistance in Iraq to the presence of a foreign invader.
P: No, there’s so much resistance in Iraq to the presence of democracy. That’s where you and I have a different read on the resistance. We’ll be back and that will be what we continue with. What they are resisting you and I have a different view of. Howard Zinn, latest book is Original Zinn: Conversations on History and Politics .
You are listening to the Dennis Prager Show.
DP: You’re listening to the Dennis Prager show. My guest is Professor Howard Zinn emeritus of Boston University. His latest book, Howard Zinn with David Barsomian. It’s called Original Zinn: Conversation on History and Politics. He is one of the preeminent Left professors of the country. Author of the widely read People’s History of the United States. And we are uh talking about now Iraq and you feel that they are resisting the United States and I feel that they are resisting democracy by blowing up their fellow citizens and hoping for moral chaos and civil war.
HZ: Well there certainly is civil war in Iraq. And we have brought it to Iraq. Uh, we have brought it by it by the occupation of our troops. We’ve brought it by choosing sides of the Shiites over the Sunnis. And we certainly have not brought democracy there. We have not brought stability there. Iraq is in chaos. Iraq is in violence. And the United States presence, the military presence has done nothing to stop that. It’s only aggregated it and provoked it. And the best thing we can do for Iraq right now is to get out of the place, and save the lives of our young people.
DP: So, what would happen if we did get out? Do you think that there would be fewer people dead or more?
HZ: Well, uh, I would hope that there would be fewer people dead… (drowned out)
DP: We all would hope. What would you predict if you had to bet your royalties from A People’s History?
HZ: (laugh) I would predict this. That if we got out, uh, under certain conditions. And that is, by conditions I mean, having an international body, uh, go into Iraq. An international body would consist of the Western nations and of Arab nations. And have this body mediate among the different groups in Iraq. Perhaps work out a situation, uh, where Iraq is divided into Sunni, and Shiite, and Kurd areas. Uh, I think that would have the best possibility of minimizing the violence in Iraq. But, I know this, that our presence is not minimizing the violence, it’s maximizing it.
DP: Right, well that’s where we differ, because I believe if we left the bloodbath would make what is happening now look like a very sad episode but not a bloodbath.
HZ: Well if you remember in Vietnam… Uh, it was, I remember that when the war started in Vietnam and if you don’t mind I’m mentioning a book I released at the time
DP: No, mention any of your books.
HZ: I’ve heard a bunch of commercials, so I might as well give a commercial, right? But I wrote a book in 1967 a couple of years after the war started called, Vietnam: the Logic of Withdrawal in which I suggested that the best thing the United States could do in Vietnam, uh, was to simply, uh, get out of Vietnam. And what did people say? That, they said uh, my critics said, well you, we can’t get out, there’s gonna be a bloodbath. Well the fact is there was a bloodbath in Vietnam. It was going on in 1967, 68, 69, right up to 73. Uh and several million Vietnamese died in this bloodbath and uh, and we did get out and there was no bloodbath after we got out. It wasn’t…
DP: No there was just a totalitarian regime which murdered everybody who wanted freedom in Vietnam. And that’s why, that’s why they then had boat people.
HZ: What happened, yeah, that what happened after we left was not good. But it was not the incessant bombing of villages. It was not the destruction of their countryside by Agent Orange.
DP: Right, but I think… but the parallel…
HZ: The point is that war is the worst possible solution.
DP: No, but it isn’t. That’s where we do differ. It isn’t the worst possible. There are worst things than war. More people have died in North Korea by, by leaving the North Korean regime alone than would have died, than did die in the war that you thought we shouldn’t have waged and let the Communists take over all of, uh, excuse me, Korea. Of all of Korea. So it isn’t the worst possible. It’s not the worst possible versus the Japanese. It wasn’t the worst possible versus the Nazis. Is it the worst possible in Afghanistan? Are we wrong there too?
HZ: It is the worst. In Afghanistan it was not a good idea to wage war on Afghanistan. Because the fact is that, uh, Bush did not know where Osama bin Laden was except that he was in the country. So what does he do? He bombs the country, kills 3000 at least, uh, ordinary Afghans. That’s as many as died in the Twin Towers. And today after these years of bombing Afghanistan, driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. What have we accomplished in Afghanistan? The Taliban is back.
DP: No, it’s not back. It, it…
HZ: (Muffled) The Taliban now controls much of the country.
DP: But it doesn’t control Kabul. It doesn’t control the major cities. And women are now free to step out of their homes. Don’t you, doesn’t that matter to you?
HZ: I, I’ve seen a lot of… It matters a lot to me. But I, I don’t think that liberation of women matters a lot to the Bush Administration. If it did it would invade Saudi Arabia. And…
DP: Oh, oh well… Oh would you, would you? But you, but you wouldn’t be for that either, so it’s an academic point. We’ll be back in a moment…
DP: You're listening to the Dennis Prager Show. My guest is Professor Howard Zinn, Emeritus of Boston University. Very very well known professor of the left whose most famous work, though he has many, is A People's History of the United States multi volume work, and his latest is Original Zinn Conversations on History and Politics. I got I got I have so many questions Professor, so I am going to try to do it more or less staccato- like.... again for as you see really truly to understand your views better.
HZ: I'll try answer staccato- like.
DP: And you certainly are, and I appreciate that. Do you.... I have written a column wherein I have said, and I have said on my radio show, that I do understand those who believe that we should have never gone into Iraq. In fact, I appreciated that view prior to going into Iraq, so that's not what I am talking about now.
DP: What I am asking you is... is a question on your view of good and evil. Would you say that by and large the people that we are fighting - whatever your view which is, of course, that we should get out, fine- but are the people that we are fighting, the so called insurgents, the people who blow up marketplaces and try to create civil war, would you say that these are bad or evil people, or would you not make a moral judgment?
HZ: I would certainly make a moral judgment about people who blow up things who kill innocent people, and I would make a moral judgment on ourselves because we are killing innocent people in Iraq. DP: OK, so do you feel that by and large the Zarqawi world and the Bush world are moral equivalents?
HZ : I do. I would put Bush on trial along with Saddam Hussein, because I think both of them are responsible for the deaths of many many people in Iraq, and uh so yes I think that...
DP: OK. Let me again, on the...alright on the moral...
HZ: ....killing innocent people is immoral and when Iraqis do it, and when we do it it is the same thing.
DP: Right, although we don't target them, but I won't get into that debate. I just again fleshing out your views.
HZ: Actually we should get into that..... because you cannot... you know as a former air force volunteer I can tell you, it is not necessary to target civilians. You just inevitably kill them.
DP: That's right.
HZ: ...and the result is the same as if you targeted them.
DP: Well, but we have a different punishment for premeditated murder and for accidental murder.
HZ: Yeah, but when accidental killing,,
DP: .....when we asses morality....
HZ: ... but when you accidentally kill 100 times as many people as the other side kills in a premeditated way...
DP: But we haven't done that that's not...
HZ: But we have.
DP: Not in Iraq we certainly haven't.
HZ: No, in Vietnam.....
DP: Don't go to Vietnam every time I ask an Iraq question.
HZ: OK OK.
DP: Next, Israel and its enemies. Would you say that Israel and Hezbollah are also moral equivalents?
HZ: Well I would say the fundamental problem.... well, first of all, I certainly oppose Hezbollah's firing rockets into Israel, and I think Israel reacted with absolutely unjustified immoral indiscriminate force. I mean you look at the casualties on both sides, and the casualties among civilians in Lebanon is ten times the casualties...
DP: Well the casualties in Germany were ten times those of the casualties in Britain. So is Britain and Hitler morally equivalent?
HZ: Well let's not go back to World War II.
DP: No, no but you are making the assessment on the basis... you are making the assessment of morality on the basis of numbers killed.
HZ: No. I think, no, I think regardless of the numbers, when you kill innocent people there is immorality. So there is immorality on both sides, but I think there is a case in the case of Israel where you have to get back to fundamental causes. The fundamental cause of the violence on both sides is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and so long as that occupation continues.....
DP: But they got out of Gaza.
HZ: Not really, not really. They got out of it and then....
DP: And they offered, and they offered, according to President Clinton, the Palestinians were offered a Palestinian state with 97 % of their land and 3 % more from Israel.
HZ: Well that's according to President Clinton...
DP: So President Clinton is ....
HZ: But not according to a lot of people who have been studying the Middle East and say...
DP: Well a lot of people on the left, but not a lot of people studying it. OK. Let me I want to ask you a domestic question.
DP: Just to understand where what your source of moral decision making is.
DP: I am sure you're prochoice on abortion.
HZ: Um, yeah, I do I do. Yeah, I think mothers should have a choice.
DP: OK fine. So my question is not a legal one it's a moral one.
DP: Would you say that there are times that even if legal, that there are abortions that are immoral?
HZ: Probably yes. I don't know. I don't think legality is the issue, I think morality is the issue.
DP: OK good. So tell me then....give me an example.....
HZ: ...and abortion is not a simple matter, and I wish there was no reason for abortions. DP: We all do. But again, the question...give me an example of an immoral abortion.
HZ: Well, you know, I suppose an abortion that's done without the consent of the mother.
DP: OK, but in other words, there is no time a mother can consent and the abortion be immoral?
HZ: I can't think of any, can you?
DP: Yeah, well certainly third trimester, partial birth abortion, but I could also think of even earlier wherein the only reason to have the abortion is because they can't uh... the child may be born at a time when the woman was planning to go into a business, as a Beverly Hills obstetrician who delivered my first son told me....that he has women who come for abortions because - who are married who are affluent - but don't want the baby when they are about to start their new business.
HZ: Those are not good reasons.
DP: So is that an immoral abortion?
HZ: Those are not good reasons... and I would say yeah, you know, it is immoral for somebody to want it for a reason like that.
DP: OK well then that's very common. OK , that's fair. I want you to know that you are the first person on the left that I least got to acknowledge that there are many abortions that are immoral.
HZ: But you know but in general, I believe the mother is the one who should make the decision. The government should not be making the decision, and it is interesting to me that people on the right - I mean you describe me as a person of the left- but there are people on the right who say we are against big government . We are against government interference. We are against government organizing the health system, but then they want the government to interfere in the private decisions that mothers make about what happens to their children.
DP: Yes, because a lot of people on the right think one of the handful of things government should do is to protect innocent life. It doesn't strike me as an advance of government...
HZ: Well If they really think that government should protect innocent life then they should not support the wars that the government. engages in.
DP: Professor Zinn, I thank you so much for your time. Was this painful?
HZ: No, was it painful for you?
HZ: Well, thanks. We both emerged unscathed.
DP: There you go. Thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it. I'll give some final thoughts, folks, when we return. You are listening to the Dennis Prager Show.