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The Toll of War - Howard Zinn

The Toll of War

Democracy flies out the window as soon as war comes along. So when officials in Washington talk about democracy, either here or abroad, as they take this country to war, they don't mean it. They don't want democracy; they want to run things themselves. They want to decide whether we go to war. They want to decide the lives and deaths of people in this country, and they certainly want to decide the lives and deaths of people in Iraq and all over the Middle East.

Faced with this attitude, our job is just a simple one: to stop them.

I am not going to go into the Bush arguments, if that's what they are. No, don't make me do that.

Don't make me point out the U.S. violations of international law.

Don't make me point out that even if Saddam Hussein has not gone along with this resolution or that resolution of the U.N. Security Council, the United States is about to violate the fundamental charter of the United Nations, which declares that nations may not initiate wars.

No, don't make me do that.

Don't make me point out how this fear of weapons of mass destruction does not extend to the United States. Bush officials think if they use that phrase "weapons of mass destruction" again and again and again that people will cower, cower, cower. Never mind that this fifth-rate military power is not even the strongest in the region. Israel, with 200 nuclear weapons, has that distinction. Bush is not demanding that Ariel Sharon rid himself of his weapons of mass destruction or face "regime change."

The media are a pitiful lot. They don't give us any history, they don't give us any analysis, they don't tell us anything. They don't raise the most basic questions: Who has the most weapons of mass destruction in the world by far? Who has used weapons of mass destruction more than any other nation? Who has killed more people in this world with weapons of mass destruction than any other nation? The answer is simple: the United States.

Please, I don't want to hear anything more about Saddam Hussein's possibly making a nuclear bomb in two years, in five years, nobody knows. We have 20,000 nuclear weapons.

No, I don't want to talk about that. It's not worth talking about.

I'd like to make a few general points about war. I was a bombardier in the Air Force during World War II. I say this not to indicate that I am an expert on war--although, in fact, I am. People who've served in the military, they have a thousand different view points, so nobody can say, "Oh, I served in the military therefore you have to listen to me." However, in my case. . . . I served in the best of wars. The neatest of wars. The war that killed the most people, but for good purpose. The war that had wonderful motives, at least on the part of some people. But that war ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was interspersed with other atrocities committed by the good guys against the bad guys. I, being one of the good guys, feel very proud that I was on the good side, and that if atrocities were to be committed, they were to be committed by good guys.

One point: War always has unintended consequences. You start a war, you never know how it ends.

Another point: By now we have reached a point in human history when the means of war have become so horrible that they exceed any possible good that come out of using those means.

Since World War II, war has taken its toll increasingly against civilians. In World War I, there was a ten-to-one ratio of military personnel killed versus civilians, whereas in World War II that ratio got closer to one-to-one. And after World War II, most of the people who have gotten killed in wars were civilians.

And by the way, I don't want to really make the distinction-and this is something to think about-between innocent civilians and soldiers who are not innocent. The Iraqi soldiers whom we crushed with bulldozers, toward the end of the Gulf War in 1991, in what way were they not innocent? The U.S. Army just buried them--buried them--hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. What of the Iraqi soldiers the United States mowed down in the so-called Turkey Shoot as they were retreating, already defeated? Who were these soldiers on the other side? They weren't Saddam Hussein. They were just poor young men who had been conscripted.

In war you kill the people who are the victims of the tyrant you claim to be fighting against. That's what you do.

And wars are always wars against children. In every war, unforgivable numbers of children die.

This brings me to the last general point I want to make. We ought to really remind our neighbors, remind our friends, remind everybody we can that if we really believe that all people are created equal we cannot go to war.

If we really believe that the children of Iraq have as much a right to live as the children of the United States, then we cannot make war on Iraq.

And if we're going to have globalization, let's have a globalization of human rights. Let's insist that we consider the lives of people in China and Afghanistan and Iraq and Israel and Palestine--that we consider the lives of all these people--equal to one another, and therefore war cannot be tolerated.

-- Howard Zinn is the author of "A People's History of the United States." This article is adapted from a speech Zinn delivered in Madison, Wisconsin, on October 10.

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