Zinn part two: Same arguments made in Vietnam made now

John Byrne

Raw Story: Some people are comparing Iraq with Vietnam. Do you think that's a fair comparison?

Zinn: Of course there are obvious differences, the scale, there are only 130,000 troops in Iraq, there were 550,000 troops in Vietnam, different kind of terrain, and so on. But certain fundamental things are very much the same. The fact that the American people were led into war with deception, the Gulf of Tonkin incident fabricated and presented as an attack on the United States, and therefore Congress rushes to give Johnson the authority basically to go to war in Southeast Asia. The fact that in both instances the fundamental fact that this very powerful country crossed half the world to send troops into a tiny country far, far weaker than this country and rained huge amounts of death and destruction on that country and still could not win a military victory.

And in both cases, there were lies told about the deaths of civilians, the killing of innocent people, you know, so-called accidents, mistakes which resulted in Vietnam in the deaths of over a million civilians, and which resulted in Iraq in the deaths of, we don't know, 30,000 to100,000 people in the course of this war.


And we have faced the same situation in Iraq that were faced in Vietnam two years into the war, that some people began calling for withdrawal from Vietnam. And in fact I wrote the book, Vietnam: The logical withdrawal which came out in the spring of '67, which was exactly two years after the war had begun. When I wrote that book, Vietnam: The Logical Withdrawal, because it seemed evident by that time; it seemed clear by that time that this war was wrong, that it was immoral, and that the only proper thing to do was to get out of Vietnam as fast as possible.

The same arguments that were made then are made now. And what happened of course was that we did not get out of there. We did not withdraw for another six years, and in the course of that time huge numbers of people died. Today there is a timidity in our political leadership about calling for withdrawal. The farthest they can come in direction of boldness is the suggestion that maybe in the end of 2006 troops might be withdrawn.

But there is no major political leader who's calling for immediate withdrawal, and that's shameful. Because people are going to die as a result as the continuation of the war. And the same arguments that were made then at the time of Vietnam against withdrawal are being made now. 'Well, we're in it too deep and we can't get out,' 'our prestige will be hurt if we leave,' it's sort of ridiculous. A thief has broken into a house and decides it's wrong to leave because he will be called a coward, you know. Or they say, 'well, terrible things will happen when we leave.' Well, they said that about Vietnam. The most terrible thing in Vietnam was what we were doing to Vietnam, that's not what happened after we left. It's not that things were fine after we left. That the Chinese were driven out, and so on, and people were sent to reeducation camps. But it was nothing compared to the ongoing slaughter while we were occupying and fighting in Vietnam.

And similarly today, there may be trouble in Iraq when we leave, but nothing that happens is going to be worse than what we're experiencing now there. Chaos, violence, and people dying every day. Whatever bad things are happening in Iraq now, are happening as a result of the American occupation. So if the American occupation is not helping the situation, if we’re not pastoring the situation, if we're not defending any people, not saving any lives—and we're not doing any of that—then we have no business there, and we should withdraw. But as I said, the same arguments that were made in Vietnam are being made today. And if we continue the war as the war continued in Vietnam, later on, years later, we will say, 'yes, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives will be lost because the United States would not withdraw when it should have withdrawn.'

Raw Story: You talked about how over times the truth comes out, and you can't get discouraged; what would you say to someone who is really frustrated with this administration, what would encourage people to do to affect change?

Zinn: I would encourage people to look around them in their community and find an organization that is doing something that they believe in, even if that organization has only five people, or ten people, or twenty people, or a hundred people. And to look at history and understand that when change takes place it takes place as a result of large, large numbers of people doing little things unbeknownst to one another. And that history is very important for people to not get discouraged. Because if you look at history you see the way the labor movement was able to achieve things when it stuck to its guns, when it organized, when it resisted. Black people were able to change their condition when they fought back and when they organized. Same thing with the movement against the war in Vietnam, and the women's movement. History is instructive. And what it suggests to people is that even if they do little things, if they walk on the picket line, if they join a vigil, if they write a letter to their local newspaper. Anything they do, however small, becomes part of a much, much larger sort of flow of energy. And when enough people do enough things, however small they are, then change takes place.

Raw Story: Well thank you for taking the time.

Zinn: Oh sure. Good luck.

Raw Story: Thanks so much. Take care.

To read more about Howard Zinn, click here.

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Originally published on Friday September 9, 2005.


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