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John Spritzler: Howard Zinn's Unacceptable Regimes

A Critique of Howard Zinn's
Unacceptable regimes in Iraq and the US

by John Spritzler

Historian Howard Zinn, author of the widely read A People's History of the United States, recently wrote a powerful article, Unacceptable regimes in Iraq and the US. Zinn makes some excellent points, the most important of which is that, "The 'war on terrorism' is not only a war on innocent people in other countries, but is a war on the people of the US. A war on our liberties, a war on our standard of living. The wealth of the country is being stolen from the people and handed over to the super-rich. The lives of the young are being stolen.

"But Zinn unfortunately expresses a key view in this article which is both wrong and dangerous.

When he writes: "But this small group of men who have taken power in Washington (Bush, Richard Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of their clique), they are alien to me" Zinn implies that the problem in our country is that in 2000 the country was taken over by a cabal of Bush, Cheney and company, and that this cabal is qualitatively different in its goals and values from the corporate and political leaders who held power in the United States prior to 2000.

This is the view that drove the "anybody but Bush" strategy that supported Kerry in the 2004 election, despite Kerry's obvious pro-war stance. This is the view that led Zinn to write in September, 2004, "Kerry, if he will stop being cautious, can create an excitement that will carry him into the White House and, more important, change the course of the nation." It is a very wrong view which, if not soundly rejected, will paralyze our efforts to change the course of the nation.

If the problem were just a cabal of Bush etc., then the Democratic Party (and the "non-cabal" members of the Republican Party) and the corporate-controlled mass media would have isolated and neutralized the cabal easily by now. They would have orchestrated a campaign to destroy Bush's legitimacy the way Watergate undermined Nixon's ability to rule and forced him to resign. Bush would never have been able to launch the invasion of Iraq.

The fact that the Iraq war was based on lies was well known by Democratic Party leaders and the owners of the mass media before the U.S. invaded Iraq, and the leaders of the Democratic Party in Congress (don't forget, the Democrats held the majority in the Senate at this time) and the mass media (supposedly not included in Zinn's "small group of men who have taken power in Washington") could easily have denied Bush his Congressional authorization for the invasion.

Tom Daschle, as the Democratic Senate Majority Leader (at the time), was privy then to the fact that, except for those responding to intense pressure from Cheney, the intelligence community did not believe Iraq posed an imminent threat to the U.S. The New York Times, in its Feb 1, 2004 editorial about what U.S. intelligence experts believed prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, noted that "the most important intelligence document leading up to the invasion was a National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] hastily assembled and presented to Congress shortly before the vote on a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq" and that the claims this document made about Iraq's danger to the U.S. were "out of kilter with the government's own most expert opinions." The editorial points out that while the NIE said the aluminum tubes Iraq tried to import were for a nuclear program, "the Energy Department, the government's leading source of expertise, thought the tubes unfit for that purpose." It points out that the NIE's claim that Iraq had drone aircraft intended to deliver biological agents to American soil "was disputed by Air Force intelligence, the chief source of expertise on drones, which thought the drones were primarily for reconnaissance." And the editorial adds, "Also left unexplained was how the estimate's [NIE's] authors could conclude that Iraq was continuing and expanding its chemical weapons programs when a Defense Intelligence Agency report had just acknowledged that there is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons." Yet the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, with access to all of these dissenting intelligence authorities, chose to accept Bush's lies as the gospel truth.

The Democratic Party is fully complicit in U.S. criminal aggression in Iraq, along with the entire corporate elite who control the mass media which did everything it could to rally the U.S. public behind the war. The war on terror, which Zinn correctly identifies as a war on ordinary Americans to enable the super-rich to steal the wealth from them, is fully supported not only by the "small group of men who have taken power in Washington" but also by the liberal NPR-public-radio-Hillary-Clinton-loving elite, in particular by that darling of the liberals, Bill Moyers (LBJ's former White House press secretary.) In Winning the War on Terror [April 8, 2004], Moyers writes glowingly of the war on terror. He writes, "Mr. Bush clearly believes what he said: The war on terror is an inescapable calling of the generation now in charge. Like most Americans, I want to support him in that work; I want to do my part." [See Beware the Liberal War on Terror for more discussion of this.]

No, the problem is not just Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld etc. The problem is that this country is a capitalist society with a capitalist ruling class plutocracy which controls the electoral process with politicians and pundits (from liberals like Kucinich and Moyers to conservatives like Bush and Rush Limbaugh) in order to control the government and the people; it controls both major parties, the mass media, the big unions, the major universities and of course the big foundations and private corporations, all of which, collectively, dominate our society undemocratically. This plutocracy has decided to use a "war on terror" to control ordinary Americans much the same way it used the "Cold War on communism" and before that the "Good War" against fascism to control people. (See my book, The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II, about how the "war on fascism" was bogus.)

To identify the problem accurately is to see that the solution is a fundamental social revolution that will require people taking direct action where they work and live, to overthrow the rule of this plutocracy in every institution in society, not merely the ouster of a "small group of men who have taken power in Washington. "Understanding the problem is the first and perhaps most important step towards solving it. This is the step for which we are trained to rely the most on intellectuals like Zinn. I am extremely disappointed at the failure of American intellectuals to speak the truth on this matter. It would be nice if they did. But since they don't, I am very confident that ordinary Americans can do the job on their own, once they set their minds to it.


John Spritzler is a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II, and a co-editor of . He has been fighting the U.S. government's warmongering since he and other students at Dartmouth College took over the administration building in 1969 in a successful effort to abolish ROTC from the College during the remainder of the Vietnam war. He can be reached at

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