Howard Zinn: US
'In Need of Rebellion'
Al Jazeera speaks to Howard Zinn, the author, American
historian, social critic and activist, about how the Iraq war
damaged attitudes towards the US and why the US "empire" is
close to collapse
Jazeera" -- - - HZ: America has been heading - for some time, and is
heading right now - toward less and less world power, less and
Obviously, since the war in Iraq, the rest of
the world has fallen away from the United States, and if
American foreign policy continues in the way it has been - that
is aggressive and violent and uncaring about the feelings and
thoughts of other people - then the influence of the United
States is going to decline more and more.
This is an empire which is on the one hand the most powerful
empire that ever existed; on the other hand an empire that is
crumbling - an empire that has no future ... because the rest of
the world is alienated and simply because this empire is
top-heavy with military commitments, with bases around the
world, with the exhaustion of its own resources at home.
[This is] leading to more and more discontent and home, so I
think the American empire will go the way of other empires and I
think it is on its way now.
Q: Is there any hope the US will change its approach to
the rest of the world?
HZ: If there is any hope, the hope lies in the
[It] lies in American people becoming resentful enough and
indignant enough over what has happened to their country, over
the loss of dignity in the world, over the starving of human
resources in the United States, the starving of education and
health, the takeover of the political mechanism by corporate
power and the result this has on the everyday lives of the
[There is also] the higher and higher food prices, the more
and more insecurity, the sending of the young people to war.
I think all of this may very well build up into a movement of
We have seen movements of rebellion in the past: The labour
movement, the civil rights movement, the movement against the
war in Vietnam.
I think we may well see, if the United States keeps heading
in the same direction, a new popular movement. That is the only
hope for the United States.
Q: How did the US get to this point?
HZ: Well, we got to this point because ... I suppose
the American people have allowed it to get it to this point
because there were enough Americans who were satisfied with
their lives, just enough.
Of course, many Americans were not, that is why half of the
population doesn't vote, they're alienated.
But there are just enough Americans who have been satisfied,
you might say getting some of the "goodies" of the empire, just
some of them, just enough people satisfied to support the
system, so we got this way because of the ability of the system
to maintain itself by satisfying just enough of the population
to keep its legitimacy.
And I think that era is coming to an end.
Q: What should the world know about the United States?
HZ: What I find many people in the rest of the world
don't know is that there is an opposition in the United States.
Very often, people in the rest of the world think that Bush is
popular, they think 'oh, he was elected twice', they don't
understand the corruption of the American political system which
enabled Bush to win twice.
They don't understand the basic undemocratic nature of the
American political system in which all power is concentrated
within two parties which are not very far from one another and
people cannot easily tell the difference.
So I think we are in a situation where we are going to need
some very fundamental changes in American society if the
American people are going to be finally satisfied with the kind
of society we have.
Q: Do you think the US can recover from its current
HZ: Well, I am hoping for a recovery process. I mean,
so far we haven't seen it.
You asked about what the people of the rest of the world
don't know about the United States, and as I said, they don't
know that there is an opposition.
There always has been an opposition, but the opposition has
always been either crushed or quieted, kept in the shadows,
marginalised so their voices are not heard.
People in the rest of the world hear the voices of the
They do not hear the voices of the people all over this
country who do not like the American leaders who want different
I think also, people in the rest of the world should know
that what they see in Iraq now is really a continuation of a
long, long term of American imperial expansion in the world.
I think ... a lot of people in the world think that this war
in Iraq is an aberration, that before this the United States was
a benign power.
It has never been a benign power, from the very first, from
the American Revolution, from the taking-over of Indian land,
from the Mexican war, the Spanish-American war.
It is embarrassing to say, but we have a long history in this
country of violent expansion and I think not only do most people
in other countries [not] know this, most Americans don't know
Q: Is there a way for this to improve?
HZ: Well you know, whatever hope there is lies in that
large number of Americans who are decent, who don't want to go
to war, who don't want to kill other people.
It is hard to see that hope because these Americans who feel
that way have been shut out of the communications system, so
their voices are not heard, they are not seen on the television
screen, but they exist.
I have gone through, in my life, a number of social movements
and I have seen how at the very beginning of these social
movements or just before these social movements develop, there
didn't seem to be any hope.
I lived in the [US] south for seven years, in the years of
the civil rights movements, and it didn't seem that there was
any hope, but there was hope under the surface.
And when people organised, and when people began to act, when
people began to work together, people began to take risks,
people began to oppose the establishment, people began to commit
Well, then that hope became manifest ... it actually turned
Q: Do you think there is a way out of this and for the
future influence of the US on the world to be a positive one?
HZ: Well, you know for the United States to begin to
be a positive influence in the world we are going to have to
have a new political leadership that is sensitive to the needs
of the American people, and those needs do not include war and
[It must also be] sensitive to the needs of people in other
parts of the world, sensitive enough to know that American
resources, instead of being devoted to war, should be devoted to
helping people who are suffering.
You've got earthquakes and natural disasters all over the
world, but the people in the United States have been in the same
position as people in other countries.
The natural disasters here [also] brought little positive
reaction - look at [Hurricane] Katrina.
The people in this country, the poor people especially and
the people of colour especially, have been as much victims of
American power as people in other countries.
Q: Can you give us an overall scope of everything we
talked about - the power and influence of the United States?
HZ: The power and influence of the United States has
declined rapidly since the war in Iraq because American power,
as it has been exercised in the world historically, has been
exposed more to the rest of the world in this situation and in
So the US influence is declining, its power is declining.
However strong a military machine it is, power does not
ultimately depend on a military machine. So power is declining.
Ultimately power rests on the moral legitimacy of a system
and the United States has been losing moral legitimacy.
My hope is that the American people will rouse themselves and
change this situation, for the benefit of themselves and for the
benefit of the rest of the world.
© 2008 Aljazeera.net/English
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