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Howard Zinn speaks out
"Democracy isn't falling into line"

October 12, 2001 | Pages 8 and 9

HOWARD ZINN is the author of A People's History of the United States and a veteran antiwar activist. He spoke at a teach-in against the war in Boston at the end of September. These remarks are excerpted from his speech.

THEY WANT us to forget the history of governments and the history of our government.

The writer I.F. Stone used to be asked to speak to journalism classes, and he would say, "If you want to know about governments, all you have to know is two words: governments lie."

That's a fact. Not just our government, but all governments. They lie.

We must learn something about the history of government and the relationship of people to government and what democracy is really about.

Democracy isn't about falling in line behind the president. Democracy is for people to think independently, be skeptical of government, look around and try to find out what's going on--and if they find out that government is deceiving them, to speak out as loudly as they can. That's democracy.

If we don't know history, we won't understand how much animosity we've engendered elsewhere in the world--not just in the Middle East, but all over the world.

If we don't have any history, we'll live our lives with the kind of things we were taught in school--that America is a beacon for democracy and freedom in the world. We'll think that we've been the Boy Scouts of the world--helping countries across the street.

But to study the history of American foreign policy is to study the history of an imperial power--a power that took over from the British Empire and the French and Dutch and established the most powerful empire after the Second World War, sending its ships and its troops all over the world and intervening again and again so far from home that no one could talk about it being defensive.

In its foreign policy, the U.S. consigned several million people to their deaths. In this foreign policy, it supported terrorist governments in various parts of the world, especially in Latin America and the Middle East.

I'm stressing all this because we all have to become communicators of this history--because the public isn't getting this history from schools, from televisions, from the newspapers. It then becomes the jobs of informed citizens to do what's lacking in the media.

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WE HAVE to broaden our definition of terrorism. We have to think about this awful thing that happened on September 11, and we need to feel deeply about it--and for the victims and the families.

But we also need to learn from it. We also need to remember the scenes of people racing in shock from the fires and people crushed--and we ought to remember that these are scenes that have happened for a long time in other parts of the world.

Therefore, we need to see terrorism as an international phenomenon. American citizens are not the only victims of terrorism.

One more thing about remembering--Abraham Lincoln was right. You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time. But you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

If people do wake up after the first wave of supporting our president, and their common sense and common humanity tells them that something is wrong here, this will be something that we've seen before.

People in the U.S. woke up to what was happening to Blacks in the South, and they joined in, and the civil rights movement became a national movement.

People did wake up to what was happening in Vietnam, and we had a great national antiwar movement.

So never think that, because of the polls or the news anchors, they're going to have it their way and people will always be fooled.

We've seen meetings like this one grow to become great national movements in the past. We need another one today. And we may be on the way to one.

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