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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vale Alistair Hulett, 1952-2010, musician, writer, activist, socialist, Comrade and friend by John/Togs Tognolini


Alistair Hulett 1952-2010

It was with a great deal of sadness and stunned disbelief that I heard of Alistair Hulett’s death from cancer in his beloved Glasgow. It was too soon for such a man to die, with so much ahead of him. I used to share house with him in Sydney’s Inner suburb of Glebe in 1988-89, and remember meeting him in 1987 at the Sando, Newtown’s famous Sandrigham Hotel in King St.

That first time I met him in the Sando, he and the rest of Roaring Jack were playing Lads of the BLF. I didn’t know Roaring Jack was a political band and just went into the pub for a drink. I was an organiser in the Builders Labourers Federation, the union deregistered/outlawed by Bob Hawke’s ALP federal government, the first Thatcherite Labor Party government in the world. This is where the hated Australian Building Construction Commission was born and thought up by John Howard Conservative's government and kept and refined by Kevin Rudd’s ALP government.

I lost track of how many gigs I asked Alistair and the lads in Roaring Jack to play at, and they always played: whether it was for the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody campaign that ended up in the Royal Commission, the BLF Christmas picnic or during the three month strike/occupation at Cockatoo Island Dockyard occupation in 1989 or benefits for community radio’s Radio Skid Row.

And of course Alistair and Roaring Jack were playing outside Sydney’s Long Bay Goal in 42 degree heat for Tim Anderson, when he was framed for the Hilton Bombing and performing Alistair’s song Framed on Australia’s MTV show. We won that fight and the Royal Commission into Police Corruption came out of Tim’s three convictions of murder being overturned and quashed.

I had Alistair play live to air many times when I did my radio show Radio Solidarity in Radio Skid Row's studios. If there was a cause to fight Alistair would be there with a song he wrote for it. Also Alistair and Roaring Jack performed on the first Green Left Weekly Sydney Harbour cruise where we had to stop the boat for more beer.

The last time I saw Alistair was two years ago at Katoomba’s Blue Mountains Folk and Blues Festival.

To all of us that knew him, his Comrades in Socialist Alternative and all of us on the Left whether here in Australia or in Britain and his beloved Scotland, the words about Joe Hill are fitting,

Don’t Mourn Organise and Socialism Here We Go!

An Interview with Howard Zinn, Dissent as Democracy By WAJAHAT ALI


A great titan of the progressive movement passed away this week. Howard Zinn died of a heart attack in California at the age of 87.

The indefatigable Zinn maintained a prolific activist and academic jab fueled by his political and social activism nurtured during The Civil Rights Movement. The esteemed historian and controversial rabble rouser's seminal work, "The People's History of the United States," endures as a popular and beloved history book giving voice to the often marginalized, oppressed and downtrodden members of our society conveniently edited out of the textbooks. Despite his advanced age, he was still touring, giving lectures, and showed no signs of stopping.

Over the past two years, I exchanged several emails and correspondences with him after we conducted this interview. He always had a kind word, provided encouragement, gave great advice and made time to respond in spite of his hectic life.

I will always remember and respect him for his unwavering moral and ethical compass which was always directed towards ensuring social justice and equality for all.

Last year, Professor Zinn agreed to an interview reflecting on his historic and memorable time at Spelman College in the '60's, his thoughts on the Democratic Party, his philosophy of dissent as democracy, and his hope for America's future.

I will let the man who spoke for the voiceless, speak for himself.

ALI: Your experiences and acts of civil disobedience at Spelman College are, by now, thoroughly well known. However, in the 21st century, one could look at the student body at many liberal college campuses and see that fiery protest and consciousness replaced by apathy and materialism. Where has that fighting spirit gone? You spoke against "discouragement" at the 2005 Spelman College commencement speech - what of it now?

ZINN: What you describe as the difference between the Sixties and today on campuses is true, but I would not go too far with that. There are campus groups all over the country working against the war, but they are small so far. Remember, the scale of involvement in Vietnam was greater - 500,000 troops vs. 130,000 troops in Iraq. After five years in Vietnam, there were 30,000 U.S. dead vs. today we have 4,000 dead. The draft was threatening young people then, but not now. Greater establishment control of the media today, which is not reporting the horrors inflicted on the people of Iraq as the media began in the U.S. to report on U.S. atrocities like the My Lai Massacre. In the case of the movement against the Vietnam War, there was the immediate radicalizing experience of the Civil Rights Movement for racial equality, whose energy and indignation carried over into the student movement against the Vietnam War. No comparable carry over exists today. And yes, there is more materialism, more economic insecurity for young people going to college - huge tuition costs putting pressure on students to concentrate on studies and do well in school.

ALI: You were heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement that dealt not only with racial empowerment and equality, but also re-examination of U.S. foreign policy and withdrawal from the brutal Vietnam War. Here we are now in 2008 with a seemingly unending, and many say illegal, occupation of Iraq. "Racism" has emerged as a contentious topic due to Obama running for President and his Reverend's controversial comments. Yet, most say he and other candidates talk "pretty" but are unwilling to fundamentally confront and change the problems of race and foreign policy. As one who has observed this socio-political climate from the grassroots since the 1960's, what has changed if anything in regards to racial enlightenment and the humanizing of non - American, "foreign others"?

Zinn: The Civil Rights Movement was an educational experience for many Americans. The result was more opportunities for a small percentage of Black people, perhaps 10% or 20%, so more Black youth going to college and going into the professions. A greater consciousness among White people - not all, but many - of racism. For most Black people, however, there is still poverty and desperation. The Ghettos still exist, and the proportion of Blacks in prison is still much greater than Whites. Today, there is less overt racism, but the economic injustices create an "institutional racism" which exists even while more Blacks are in high places, such as Condoleeza Rice in Bush's Administration and Obama running for President.

Unfortunately, the greater consciousness among Whites about Black equality has not carried over to the new victims of racism - Muslims and Immigrants. There is no racial enlightenment for these groups, which are huge. Millions of Muslims and an equal number of immigrants, who whether legal or illegal, face discrimination both legally from the government and extra-legally from White Americans - and sometimes Black and Hispanic Americans. The Democratic Presidential candidates are avoiding these issues in order to cultivate support among White Americans.

This is shameful, especially for Obama, who should use his experience as a Black man to educate the public about discrimination and racism. He is cautious about making strong statements about these issues and about foreign policy. So, in keeping with the tradition of caution and timidity of The Democratic Party, he takes positions slightly to the left of The Republicans, but short of what an enlightened policy would be.

ALI: You said the democratic spirit of the American people is best represented when people are picketing and voicing their opinion outside the White House. How does this nature of dissent and protest serve as the crux of a democracy and a healthy, functioning civic society? Many would argue this is divisive, no?

ZINN: Yes, dissent and protest are divisive, but in a good way, because they represent accurately the real divisions in society. Those divisions exist - the rich, the poor - whether there is dissent or not, but when there is no dissent, there is no change. The dissent has the possibility not of ending the division in society, but of changing the reality of the division. Changing the balance of power on behalf of the poor and the oppressed.

ALI: The People's History of The United States is now considered a seminal work taught in high schools and universities across the country. Why do you think the work has had such lasting, influential impact?

ZINN: Because it fills a need, because there is a huge emptiness of truth in the traditional history texts. And because people who gain some understanding on their own that there are things wrong in society, they look for their new consciousness; their new feelings to be represented by a more honest history.

ALI: Minority voters, like Hispanic Catholics, voted solidly for Bush in 2002, and some sons of immigrants have virulent anger and disdain against "illegal" immigrants. It seems many marginalized voices have forgotten their history and now side with those actively intent on keeping them either on the sidelines or in some form "oppressed." How do we explain this discrepancy?

ZINN: It is to the interest of the people in power to divide the rest of the population in order to rule them. To set poor against middle class, White against Black, Native born against immigrants, Christians against other religions. It serves the interest of the establishment to keep people ignorant of their own history,

ALI: Most say that corporations now own American media. What is the proper outlet for democratic discourse and dissemination of information if indeed there is a biased monopoly over media?

ZINN: Because of the control of the media by corporate wealth, the discovery of truth depends on an alternative media, such as small radio stations, networks like Pacifica Radio, programs like Amy Goodman's Democracy Now. Also, alternative newspapers, which exist all over the country. Also, cable TV programs, which are not dependent on commercial advertising. Also, the internet, which can reach millions of people by-passing the conventional media.

ALI: Will anything change in regards to US foreign policy in the Middle East, specifically on Palestine and Israel, if the Democratic Party wins in 2008?

ZINN: The Democratic candidates, Clinton and Obama, have not shown any sign of a fundamental change in the policy of support of Israel. They have not shown sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people. Obama has occasionally referred to the situation of the Palestinians but as the campaign has gone on, he seems reluctant to bring this up, and instead emphasizes his support of Israel.

So, a change in policy will require more pressure from other countries and more education of the American people, who at this point know very little about what has been happening to the Palestinian people. The American people are naturally sympathetic to those they see as oppressed, but they get very little information from political leaders or the media, which would give them a realistic picture of the suffering of Palestinians under the Occupation

ALI: How can "the left" reconcile their assumed indifference to religion with the growing "religious" sector of society siding with the "conservative" parties? Can there be a peace between the two or is this a permanent schism? I've noticed bigotry on both sides, between the "secularists" and "religionists."

ZINN: The Left needs to more clearly make a distinction between the bigotry of fundamentalism and the progressive tradition in religion. In Latin America, there is "liberation theology." In the U.S., there were the priests and nuns who supported Black people in the South and who protested against the Vietnam War. So, it's not a matter of being for or against religion, but of deciding whether religion can play a role for justice and peace rather than for violence and bigotry.

ALI: Most don't know that you were a bombardier during WW2. Did this experience bring about the epiphany catalyzing fundamental changes in your ideology?

ZINN: I did not know much history when I became a bombardier in the U.S. Air Force in World War II. Only after the War did I see that we, like the Nazis, had committed atrocities...Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, my own bombing missions. And when I studied history after the War, I learned from reading on my own, not from my university classes, about the history of U.S. expansion and imperialism.

ALI: You're now a man in his golden years, and you look back at your many accomplishments. You've done amazing things. Any regrets? And also, if you could choose something that would embody your legacy - what would it be?

ZINN: I have no regrets about my political activity, only that I sometimes got carried away with it and didn't find the right balance between obligations to my family and my need to be involved in social movements. As for a work of mine that embodies my "legacy," probably it is not one book, but rather the combination of being a writer and an activist, being a public intellectual, by using my scholarship for social change.

ALI: Many look to the future horizons with bleak, cynical eyes foreshadowing disastrous scenarios resulting from our hubris and excess. Recession. War. Deficit. Extremism. Global Anti Americanism. Insincere Partisan politics. Will we implode? Can we move forward? Do you have hope for the future of America?

ZINN: The Present situation for the U.S. looks grim, but I am hopeful, as I see the American people waking up and being overwhelmingly opposed to this war and to the Bush regime, as I reflect on movements in history and how they arose surprisingly when they seemed defeated. I believe the American people have the capacity to create a new movement, which would change the direction of our nation from being a military power to being a peaceful nation, using our enormous wealth for human needs, here and abroad.

Wajahat Ali is a writer, journalist, blogger and attorney. His work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” is a landmark play about Muslim Americans premiering on 9-11-09 in New York. He blogs at Goatmilk. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Alistair Hulett has died by David Rovics

Icon of Scottish folk music, international socialism, and Australian punk rock dead at 57

Today is my daughter Leila's fourth birthday, and while this occasion brings my thoughts back to the day she was born, the past 24 hours have otherwise been full of fairly devastating news.

If the left can admit to having icons, then two of them have just died. Yesterday it was the great historian and activist Howard Zinn, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing many stages around the US over many years. Much has been written about Zinn's death at the age of 87, and I think many more people will be discovering his groundbreaking work who may not have heard of him til now.

And then less than a full day later I heard the news that my dear friend, comrade and fellow musician Alistair Hulett died today. He was thirty years younger than Professor Zinn, 57 years old, give or take a year (I'm shit at remembering birthdays, but he was definitely still years shy of 60). Ally had an aggressive form of cancer in his liver, lungs and stomach.

I last saw Alistair last summer at his flat in Glasgow where he had lived with his wife Fatima for many years. (Fatima, a wonderful woman about whom Ally wrote his love song, “Militant Red.”) He seemed healthy and spry as usual, with plenty to say about the state of the world as always. He was working on a new song about a Scottish anarchist who had run the English radio broadcast for the Spanish Republic in the 1930's.

I first met Ally in 2005, at least that's what he said. I seem to recall meeting him earlier than that, but maybe it's just that I was already familiar with his music and had been to his home town of Glasgow many times before I actually met him. His reputation preceded him – in my mind he was already one of those enviably great guitarists who along with people like Dick Gaughan had done so much to breath new life into the Scottish folk music tradition. I had also already heard some of his own wonderful compositions, sung by him as well as by other artists.

In 2005 the Scottish left was well mobilized, organizing the people's response to the G8 meetings that were happening in the wooded countryside not far from Edinburgh. Alistair was involved both as an organizer and a musician, and we hung out in Edinburgh, in Glasgow, outside a detention center somewhere, and out by the G8 meetings in an opulent little town with an unpronounceable Scottish name.

I asked him then if he wanted to do a tour with me in the US. He took me up on that a year or so later and we traveled from Boston to Minneapolis over the course of two weeks or so, doing concerts along the way. Many people who came to our shows were already familiar with Alistair's music, while many were hearing it for the first time and were generally well impressed with his work as well as his congenial personality, despite the fact that many people reported to me discreetly that they couldn't understand a word he was saying.

Americans aren't so good with accents at the best of times, and to make matters worse Alistair was largely doing songs from his Red Clydeside CD, which is a themed recording all about the anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist rebellion that rocked Glasgow in 1917. Naturally the songs from that CD are also sung in a Glaswegian dialect which can only be understood by non-Scottish people in written form, if you take your time.

Alistair was determined to retaliate for my having organized a tour for us in the US, which he did three years later in a big way, organizing a five-week tour for us of Australia and New Zealand from late November 2008 until early January of last year.

Our tour began in Christchurch, New Zealand. This turned out to seem very fitting, since Christchurch is where Alistair moved as a teenager, along with his parents and his sister, in the mid-1960's. He resented having to leave Glasgow, which was at that time a major hotbed of the 1960's global cultural and political renaissance -- a renaissance which had decidedly not yet made its way to little Christchurch, New Zealand. Alistair described to me how the streets of this small city were filled with proper English ladies wearing white gloves when he moved there as a restless youth.

The folk scare came to Christchurch, though, as with so many other corners of the world at that time, and at the age of 17 Alistair was in the heart of it. Our tour of New Zealand included a whole bunch of great gigs, but it was also like a tour of the beginning of Alistair's varied musical career. All along the way on both the south and north islands I met people Alistair hadn't seen for years or sometimes decades. I cringed as someone gave us a bootleg recording of Alistair as a teenager, figuring wrongly that it would be a reminder of a musically unstable early period, but it turned out to be a fine recording, a vibrant but nuanced rendition of some old songs from the folk tradition.

After two weeks exploring the postcard-perfect New Zealand countryside, smelling a lot of sheep shit, and getting in a car accident while parked, we headed to Sydney. Upon arriving in Australia I discovered a whole other side to Alistair and his impact on the world. Though his Scottish accent never seemed to thin out much, he lived for 25 years in Sydney and was on the ground floor of the Australian punk rock scene, playing in towns and cities throughout Australia with his band, Roaring Jack. The band broke up decades ago but still has a loyal following throughout the country, as I discovered first-hand night after night. In contrast with the nuanced and often quite obscure stories told in the traditional ballads which Alistair rendered so well, Roaring Jack was a brash, in-your-face musical experience, championing the militant end of the Australian labor movement and leftwing causes generally, fueled by equal parts rage against injustice, love of humanity and alcohol.

Since the 90's Alistair has lived in his native Glasgow, while regularly touring elsewhere in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. He's played in various musical ensembles including most recently his band the Malkies, but mostly his work has been as a songwriter and solo performer, also recording and occasionally touring with the great fiddler of Fairport Convention fame, Dave Swarbrick. His more recent songs have run the gamut from a strictly local Glasgow song written to support a campaign to save a public swimming pool to the timelessly beautiful song recorded by June Tabor and others, “He Fades Away.”

“He Fades Away” is about an Australian miner dying young of asbestosis, from massive exposure to asbestos, a long-lasting, daily tragedy of massive proportions fueled by, well, greedy capitalists. It is surely more than a little ironic that Alistair was taken from us at such a young age by the industrial-world epidemic known as cancer, so much like the subject of his most well-known song.

The song is written from the perspective of the wife of a miner who is dying of asbestosis. The melody of the song is so beautiful that quoting the lyrics can't come close to doing it justice, and I won't do the song that injustice here – just go to the web and search for “He Fades Away,” it's right there in various forms.

It is undoubtedly a privilege of someone like Alistair that he will be remembered passionately by people, young and old and on several continents, long after today – by friends, lovers, fellow activists, fellow musicians, and many times as many fans. And he will long be remembered also as one of the innumerable great people, including so many great musicians, who died too young.

On our last tour, so recently, he was meeting new friends and renewing old friendships every single day, so very full of life. Among the friendships he was renewing was that with his elderly parents, who came to our show in Brisbane, a couple hours from where they retired on the east coast of Australia. Though the exact causes of Alistair's illness will probably never be known, it seems to be a hallmark not just of war, but especially of the industrialized world's ever-worsening cancer epidemic, that so many parents have to see their children die so young.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The kidnapping of Haiti by John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the "swift and crude" appropriation of earthquake-ravaged Haiti by the militarised Obama administration. With George W. Bush attending to the "relief effort" and Bill Clinton the UN's man, The Comedians, Graham Greene's dark novel about exploted Haiti comes to mind.

The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude. On 22 January, the United States secured “formal approval” from the United Nations to take over all air and sea ports in Haiti, and to “secure” roads. No Haitian signed the agreement, which has no basis in law. Power rules in an American naval blockade and the arrival of 13,000 marines, special forces, spooks and mercenaries, none with humanitarian relief training.

The airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, is now an American military base and relief flights have been re-routed to the Dominican Republic. All flights stopped for three hours for the arrival of Hillary Clinton. Critically injured Haitians waited unaided as 800 American residents in Haiti were fed, watered and evacuated. Six days passed before the US Air Force dropped bottled water to people suffering thirst and dehydration.

The first TV reports played a critical role, giving the impression of widespread criminal mayhem. Matt Frei, the BBC reporter dispatched from Washington, seemed on the point of hyperventilation as he brayed about the “violence” and need for “security”. In spite of the demonstrable dignity of the earthquake victims, and evidence of citizens’ groups toiling unaided to rescue people, and even an American general’s assessment that the violence in Haiti was considerably less than before the earthquake, Frei claimed that “looting is the only industry” and “the dignity of Haiti’s past is long forgotten.” Thus, a history of unerring US violence and exploitation in Haiti was consigned to the victims. “There’s no doubt,” reported Frei in the aftermath of America’s bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003, “that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East... is now increasingly tied up with military power.”

In a sense, he was right. Never before in so-called peacetime have human relations been as militarised by rapacious power. Never before has an American president subordinated his government to the military establishment of his discredited predecessor, as Barack Obama has done. In pursuing George W. Bush’s policy of war and domination, Obama has sought from Congress an unprecedented military budget in excess of $700 billion. He has become, in effect, the spokesman for a military coup.

For the people of Haiti the implications are clear, if grotesque. With US troops in control of their country, Obama has appointed George W. Bush to the “relief effort”: a parody surely lifted from Graham Greene’s The Comedians, set in Papa Doc’s Haiti. As president, Bush’s relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 amounted to an ethnic cleansing of many of New Orleans’ black population. In 2004, he ordered the kidnapping of the democratically-elected prime minister of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and exiled him in Africa. The popular Aristide had had the temerity to legislate modest reforms, such as a minimum wage for those who toil in Haiti’s sweatshops.

When I was last in Haiti, I watched very young girls stooped in front of whirring, hissing, binding machines at the Port-au-Prince Superior Baseball Plant. Many had swollen eyes and lacerated arms. I produced a camera and was thrown out. Haiti is where America makes the equipment for its hallowed national game, for next to nothing. Haiti is where Walt Disney contractors make Mickey Mouse pjamas, for next to nothing. The US controls Haiti’s sugar, bauxite and sisal. Rice-growing was replaced by imported American rice, driving people into the cities and towns and jerry-built housing. Years after year, Haiti was invaded by US marines, infamous for atrocities that have been their specialty from the Philippines to Afghanistan.

Bill Clinton is another comedian, having got himself appointed the UN’s man in Haiti. Once fawned upon by the BBC as “Mr. Nice Guy... bringing democracy back to a sad and troubled land”, Clinton is Haiti’s most notorious privateer, demanding de-regulation of the economy for the benefit of the sweatshop barons. Lately, he has been promoting a $55m deal to turn the north of Haiti into an American-annexed “tourist playground”.

Not for tourists is the US building its fifth biggest embassy in Port-au-Prince. Oil was found in Haiti’s waters decades ago and the US has kept it in reserve until the Middle East begins to run dry. More urgently, an occupied Haiti has a strategic importance in Washington’s “rollback” plans for Latin America. The goal is the overthrow of the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, control of Venezuela’s abundant oil reserves and sabotage of the growing regional cooperation that has given millions their first taste of an economic and social justice long denied by US-sponsored regimes.

The first rollback success came last year with the coup against President Jose Manuel Zelaya in Honduras who also dared advocate a minimum wage and that the rich pay tax. Obama’s secret support for the illegal regime carries a clear warning to vulnerable governments in central America. Last October, the regime in Colombia, long bankrolled by Washington and supported by death squads, handed the US seven military bases to, according to US air force documents, “combat anti-US governments in the region”.

Media propaganda has laid the ground for what may well be Obama’s next war. On 14 December, researchers at the University of West England published first findings of a ten-year study of the BBC’s reporting of Venezuela. Of 304 BBC reports, only three mentioned any of the historic reforms of the Chavez government, while the majority denigrated Chavez’s extraordinary democratic record, at one point comparing him to Hitler.

Such distortion and its attendant servitude to western power are rife across the Anglo-American corporate media. People who struggle for a better life, or for life itself, from Venezuela to Honduras to Haiti, deserve our support.

Howard Zinn (1922-2010): A Tribute to the Legendary Historian with Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker,Naomi Klein and Anthony Arnove from Democracy Now

 We pay tribute to the late historian, writer and activist Howard Zinn, who died suddenly on Wednesday of a heart attack at the age of eighty-seven. Howard Zinn’s classic work A People’s History of the United States changed the way we look at history in America. It has sold over a million copies and was recently made into a television special called The People Speak. We remember Howard Zinn in his own words, and we speak with those who knew him best: Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein and Anthony Arnove


AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, from the Sundance Film Festival, the home of the largest independent film festival in the country.


We spend the rest of the hour paying tribute to Howard Zinn, the late historian, writer and activist. He died suddenly Wednesday of a heart attack at the age of eighty-seven.
After serving as a bombardier in World War II, Howard Zinn went on to become a lifelong dissident and peace activist. He was active in the civil rights movement and many of the struggles for social justice over the past fifty years.

He taught at Spelman College, the historically black college for women. He was fired for insubordination for standing up for the students. While at Spelman, he served on the executive committee of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. After being forced out of Spelman, Zinn became a professor at Boston University.

In 1967 he published Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. It was the first book on the war to call for immediate withdrawal, no conditions. A year later, he and Father Daniel Berrigan traveled to North Vietnam to receive the first three American prisoners of wars released by the North Vietnamese.

When Daniel Ellsberg needed a place to hide the Pentagon Papers before they were leaked to the press, he went to Howard and his late wife Roz.

In 1980, Howard Zinn published his classic work, A People’s History of the United States. The book would go on to sell over a million copies and change the way we look at history in America. The book was recently made into a television special called The People Speak.

Well, in a moment, we’ll be joined by Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein, Anthony Arnove. But first, I want to turn to a 2005 interview I did with Howard Zinn, in which he talked about his time as an Air Force bombardier in World War II.

HOWARD ZINN: Well, we thought bombing missions were over. The war was about to come to an end. This was in April of 1945, and remember the war ended in early May 1945. This was a few weeks before the war was going to be over, and everybody knew it was going to be over, and our armies were past France into Germany, but there was a little pocket of German soldiers hanging around this little town of Royan on the Atlantic coast of France, and the Air Force decided to bomb them. Twelve hundred heavy bombers, and I was in one of them, flew over this little town of Royan and dropped napalm—first use of napalm in the European theater.

And we don’t know how many people were killed or how many people were terribly burned as a result of what we did. But I did it like most soldiers do, unthinkingly, mechanically, thinking we’re on the right side, they’re on the wrong side, and therefore we can do whatever we want, and it’s OK. And only afterward, only really after the war when I was reading about Hiroshima from John Hersey and reading the stories of the survivors of Hiroshima and what they went through, only then did I begin to think about the human effects of bombing. Only then did I begin to think about what it meant to human beings on the ground when bombs were dropped on them, because as a bombardier, I was flying at 30,000 feet, six miles high, couldn’t hear screams, couldn’t see blood. And this is modern warfare.

In modern warfare, soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place. And I think, reflecting back on that bombing raid and thinking of that in Hiroshima and all the other raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge numbers of civilians in German and Japanese cities, the killing of 100,000 people in Tokyo in one night of fire-bombing, all of that made me realize war, even so-called good wars against fascism like World War II, wars don’t solve any fundamental problems, and they always poison everybody on both sides. They poison the minds and souls of everybody on both sides. We’re seeing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are not wanted. And the results are terrible.

AMY GOODMAN: After returning from the war, Howard Zinn attended New York University on the GI Bill. He then received his master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.
In the late ’50s, Howard Zinn moved to Atlanta to teach at all-black women’s school Spelman, where he became deeply involved in the civil rights movement. We’re joined now by one of his former students, the author and poet Alice Walker. She’s joining us now from her home in Mexico.

Alice, welcome to Democracy Now! So sad to talk to you on this day after we learned of the death of Howard Zinn.

ALICE WALKER: Thank you very much for inviting me to talk.

AMY GOODMAN: But talk about your former teacher.

ALICE WALKER: Well, my former teacher was one of the funniest people I have ever known, and he was likelier to say the most extraordinary things at the most amazing moments.

For instance, in Atlanta once, we get to this very staid, at that time, white college, all these very staid, upper-class white girls there and their teachers, and Howie got up—I don’t know how they managed to invite him, but anyway, there we were. And this was even before any of the changes in Atlanta. We were still battling to get into restaurants. So Howie gets up, and he goes up to the front of the room, and this large room is full of people, and he starts his talk by saying, “Well, I stand to the left of Mao Zedong.” And it was just—it was such a moment, because the people couldn’t imagine anyone in Atlanta saying something like that, when at that time the Chinese and the Chinese Revolution just meant that, you know, people were on the planet who were just going straight ahead, a folk revolution. So he was saying he was to the left of that. So, it’s just an amazing thing.

I think I felt he would live forever. And I feel such joy that I was lucky enough to know him. And he had such a wonderful impact on my life and on the lives of the students of Spelman and of millions of people. We’ve just been incredibly lucky to have him for all these years, eighty-seven. That’s such a long time. Not long enough. And I’m just so grateful.

AMY GOODMAN: Alice, Howard Zinn was thrown out of Spelman College—right?—as a professor, for insubordination, although recently they gave him an honorary degree, and he addressed the graduating class. Why was he thrown out?

ALICE WALKER: Well, he was thrown out because he loved us, and he showed that love by just being with us. He loved his students. He didn’t see why we should be second-class citizens. He didn’t see why we shouldn’t be able to eat where we wanted to and sleep where we wanted to and be with the people we wanted to be with. And so, he was with us. He didn’t stay back, you know, in his tower there at the school. And so, he was a subversive in that situation.

And, of course, the administration could expel the students for activism. And I left Spelman because I sort of lost my scholarship, but I had stayed. That was one of the ways they controlled us. And they tried to control him, but of course you couldn’t control Howie. And so, they even waited until he had left for the summer vacation to fire him, to fire him. They didn’t fire him face to face. But, yeah, he was, you know, a radical and a subversive on the campus, as far as they were concerned. And our freedom was just not that important to the administration. What they needed was for us not to rock the boat.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Noam Chomsky, who’s still with us on the phone from Boston. Noam, I wanted to ask you about Howard Zinn’s role in the antiwar movement in the ’60s. In 1968, Howard Zinn traveled to North Vietnam with Father Daniel Berrigan to bring home three US prisoners of war. They became two of the first Americans to visit North Vietnam during the war. This is Howard Zinn speaking in 1968 after he returned to the United States.

HOWARD ZINN: Father Berrigan and I, on our way back—this may seem presumptuous on our part, but when—on our way back in from Paris, we sent a wire, I think with our last fifteen bucks, to the White House, saying something like, “We’d like to talk to you, President Johnson. You know, would you please meet with us? We’ve just come back from Hanoi. We’ve just talked with the premier, Pham Van Dong. But we just read in the newspaper that you say the North Vietnamese are not ready to negotiate. What we learned from Pham Van Dong seems to contradict that. We’d like to talk with you about this and about the prisoner release, which we think has been mishandled.” But we have not, so far, seen an answer from LBJ.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Howard Zinn. Noam Chomsky, talk about this period. Talk about the time Howard Zinn went with Father Dan Berrigan to North Vietnam and what it meant.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, that was a breakthrough at recognizing the humanity of the official enemy. Of course, the main enemy were the people of South Vietnam, who were practically destroyed. South Vietnam had been devastated by then. And that was important.

But, at least in my view, the most—the more important was his—the book you mentioned before, The Logic of Withdrawal. And there was, by then—so I think this must have been 1967—you know, a substantial antiwar movement, but it was keeping to palliatives, you know, stop doing these terrible things, do less, and so on. Howard really broke through. He was the first person to say—loudly, publicly, very persuasively—that this simply has to stop; we should get out, period, no conditions; we have no right to be there; it’s an act of aggression; pull out.

Actually, he—that was so surprising at the time—it became more commonplace later—that he couldn’t even—there wasn’t even a review of the book. In fact, he asked me if I would review it in Ramparts just so that—which, you know, left-wing journal I was running then—just so somebody—people would see it. So I did that.

But it sank in pretty quickly, and it just changed the way people looked at the war. And in fact, that was one of his fabulous achievements all along. He simply changed people’s perspectives, both by his argument and his courage and his integrity and his willingness to be on the front line all the time and his simplicity and, as Alice Walker said, his humor. This is one case, the war. His People’s History is another case. I mean, it simply changed the conscience of a whole generation.

There had been some studies, you know, of the sort of actions from below, but he raised it to an entirely new plane. In fact, the phrase of his that always rings in my mind is his reverence for and his detailed study of what he called “the countless small actions of unknown people” that lead to those great moments that enter the historical record, a record that you simply can’t begin to understand unless you look at those countless small actions.

And he not only wrote about them eloquently, but he participated in them. And he inspired others to participate in them. And the antiwar movement was one case, civil rights movement before it, Central American wars in the 1980s. In fact, just about any—you know, office worker strikes—just about anything you can—any significant action for peace and justice, Howard was there. People saw him as a leader, but he was really a participant. His remarkable character made him a leader, even if he was just sitting on the—you know, waiting for the police to pull people away like everyone else.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, in 1971—you may remember this; in fact, you may have been there, but Howard Zinn and Daniel Ellsberg were both beaten by police in Boston at a protest against the Vietnam War. One day before the beating, Zinn spoke at a large rally on Boston Common. This is an excerpt from the documentary You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

HOWARD ZINN: A lot of people are troubled by civil disobedience. As soon as you talk about committing civil disobedience, they get a little upset. That’s exactly the purpose of civil disobedience: to upset people, to trouble them, to disturb them. We who commit civil disobedience are disturbed, too, and we mean to disturb those who are in charge of the war.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: He said at the end of his speech, I remember, he said, “Now let me address the secret police in this crowd.”

HOWARD ZINN: You agents of the FBI who are circulating in the crowd, hey, don’t you see that you’re violating the spirit of democracy by what you’re doing? Don’t you see that you’re behaving like the secret police of a totalitarian state?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, that cost him a bit, I think, the next day when we were sitting in front of the Federal Building, I have a feeling, because, again, the police chose in the end to arrest almost no one. They didn’t want arrests. They didn’t want a trial. They didn’t want the publicity that would be associated with that. They only arrested a couple of ring leaders, and one of those was Howard.

HOWARD ZINN: And so, let the spirit of disobedience spread to the war factories, to the battlefield, to the halls of Congress, to every town and city, until the killing stops, until we can hold up our heads again before the world. And our children deserve a world without war, and we ought to try to give them that.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: And at that point, the batons were raised, and they began clubbing us very heavily. Howard was pulled up, as I say. His shirt was ripped apart. He was taken away. And I saw blood coming down his chest as he left.

AMY GOODMAN: That was an excerpt of the documentary You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, was also the title of Howard Zinn’s autobiography.

Noam, we just have a minute left in this segment, but talk about that activism.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, that case is very similar to what Howard described about his bombing attack. I mean, the police were actually sympathetic, the individual policemen. They were coming over to demonstrators, you know, speaking supportively. And in fact, when they were given the order to move forward, they were actually telling people, Howard and others, “Look, please move, because we don’t want to do this.” But then, when the order came, they did it. I don’t know who. But it’s much like he said: when you’re in uniform, under arms, an automaton following orders, you do it.

And as Dan pointed out, they went right after Howard, probably in reaction to his comments the day before. And he was dragged away and beaten.

But he was constantly involved with civil disobedience. I was many times with him, as Dan Ellsberg was and others. And he was just—he was fearless. He was simple. He was straightforward. He said the right things, said them eloquently, and inspired others to move forward in ways they wouldn’t have done, and changed their minds. They changed their minds by their actions and by hearing him. He was a really—both in his life and in his work, he was a remarkable person, just irreplaceable.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, you were personal friends with Howard, too. You and Carol, Howard and Roz spent summers near each other on the Cape.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, we were personal friends, close personal friends for many years, over forty years. So it’s, of course, a personal loss. But it’s beyond—even beyond his close friends and family, it’s just a tragic loss to the millions of people—who knows how many endless numbers?—whose lives he touched and changed and helped them become much better people.

The one good thing is that he understood and recognized them, sure, especially in those last remarkable, vibrant years of his life, how much his incredible contributions were welcomed, admired, how much he was loved and admired, and he could look back on a very satisfying life of real unusual achievement.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Noam Chomsky, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Noam is a linguist, a world-renowned dissident and a close friend of Howard Zinn. And Alice Walker, thanks, as well, for joining us from Mexico, former student and friend of Howard Zinn.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll hear more of Howard in his own words, and we’ll be joined by Anthony Arnove, his co-editor and colleague. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be joined by Anthony Arnove and Naomi Klein, but on this sad day, the day after the news of Howard Zinn’s death, I want to turn to one of the last interviews we did with him. It was May 2009. He came to New York to promote his latest book.

AMY GOODMAN: You write in the introduction to A Young People’s History of the United States, “Over the years, some people have asked me: ‘Do you think that your history, which is radically different than the usual histories of the United States, is suitable for young people? Won’t it create disillusionment with our country? Is it right to be so critical of the government’s policies? Is it right to take down the traditional heroes of the nation, like Christopher Columbus, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt?’”

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, it’s true that people have asked that question again and again. You know, should we tell kids that Columbus, whom they have been told was a great hero, that Columbus mutilated Indians and kidnapped them and killed them in pursuit of gold? Should we tell people that Theodore Roosevelt, who is held up as one of our great presidents, was really a warmonger who loved military exploits and who congratulated an American general who committed a massacre in the Philippines? Should we tell young people that?

And I think the answer is: we should be honest with young people; we should not deceive them. We should be honest about the history of our country. And we should be not only taking down the traditional heroes like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, but we should be giving young people an alternate set of heroes.

Instead of Theodore Roosevelt, tell them about Mark Twain. Mark Twain—well, Mark Twain, everybody learns about as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but when we go to school, we don’t learn about Mark Twain as the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League. We aren’t told that Mark Twain denounced Theodore Roosevelt for approving this massacre in the Philippines. No.

We want to give young people ideal figures like Helen Keller. And I remember learning about Helen Keller. Everybody learns about Helen Keller, you know, a disabled person who overcame her handicaps and became famous. But people don’t learn in school and young people don’t learn in school what we want them to learn when we do books like A Young People’s History of the United States, that Helen Keller was a socialist. She was a labor organizer. She refused to cross a picket line that was picketing a theater showing a play about her.

And so, there are these alternate heroes in American history. There’s Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses. They’re the heroes of the civil rights movement. There are a lot of people who are obscure, who are not known. We have in this Young People’s History, we have a young hero who was sitting on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to leave the front of the bus. And that was before Rosa Parks. I mean, Rosa Parks is justifiably famous for refusing to leave her seat, and she got arrested, and that was the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and really the beginning of a great movement in the South. But this fifteen-year-old girl did it first. And so, we have a lot of—we are trying to bring a lot of these obscure people back into the forefront of our attention and inspire young people to say, “This is the way to live.”

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that was Howard Zinn. We’re joined now by Anthony Arnove in New York, by Naomi Klein here at Sundance, where Howard Zinn was last year, premiering The People Speak. He was here with Anthony Arnove, who’s co-author of Voices of a People’s History of the United States with Anthony.

Anthony, we just have a few minutes, but share your reflections on the latest work of Howard Zinn. I know this is a tremendous personal loss for you, as well as for everyone.

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, you know, Howard never rested. He had such an energy. And over the last few years, he continued to write, continued to speak, and he brought to life this history that he spoke about in that segment that you just aired. He wanted to bring a new generation of people into contact with the voices of dissent, the voices of protest, that they don’t get in their school textbooks, that we don’t get in our establishment media, and to remind them of the power of their own voice, remind them of the power of dissent, the power of protest. And he wanted to leave a legacy of crystallizing those voices, synthesizing those voices.

And he actively worked to bring together this remarkable documentary, The People Speak, which he narrated. He worked so tirelessly to bring that about. And, you know, I just felt so privileged to have had the opportunity to work with him at all, let alone on this project, and to see that realized.

But, you know, Alice Walker talked about his humor, his sense of joy in life, and that was infectious. He really conveyed to everyone he came into contact with that there was no more meaningful action than to be involved in struggle, no more fulfilling or important way of living one’s life than in struggle fighting for justice. And so many people, myself included, but, you know, millions of people around the world, countless number of people, they changed their lives by encountering Howard Zinn—Howard changed their lives—reading A People’s History of the United States, hearing one of his lectures, meeting him, hearing him on the radio, reading an article he wrote. He really inspired people to create the kinds of movements that brought about whatever rights, whatever freedoms, whatever liberties we have in this country. And that really is the legacy that it’s incumbent upon all of us to extend and keep alive and keep vibrant.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony, I wanted to bring Naomi Klein back into this discussion. I think it’s very touching we’re here at Sundance, where you were with Howard Zinn last year, as he premiered People Speak. But last night, after Howard died, we saw the New York Times put up the AP, the Associated Press, obit. The Times has something like 1,200 obits already prepared for people. They didn’t have one prepared for Howard Zinn. And this Associated Press obit very quickly went to a quote of Arthur Schlesinger, the historian, who once said, “I know”—he’s talking about Howard Zinn—“I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don’t take him very seriously. He’s a polemicist, not a historian.” Naomi Klein, your response?

NAOMI KLEIN: I don’t think that would have bothered Howard Zinn at all. He never was surprised when power protected itself. And he really was a people’s historian, so he didn’t look to the elites for validation.

I’m just so happy that Anthony and the incredible team from People Speak gave Howard this incredible gift at the end of his life. I was at Lincoln Center at the premiere of People Speak and was there when just the mention of Howard’s name led thousands of people to leap to their feet and give him the standing ovation that he deserved. So I don’t think he needed the New York Times. I don’t think he needed the official historians. He was everybody’s favorite teacher, the teacher that changed your life, but he was that for millions and millions of people. And so, you know, that’s what happened. We just lost our favorite teacher.

But the thing about Howard is that the history that he taught was not just about losing the official illusions about nationalism, about the heroic figures. It was about telling people to believe in themselves and their power to change the world. So, like any wonderful teacher, he left all of these lessons behind. And I think we should all just resolve to be a little bit more like Howard today.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s end with Howard Zinn in his own words, from one of his last speeches. He spoke at Boston University just two months ago in November.

HOWARD ZINN: No matter what we’re told, no matter what tyrant exists, what border has been crossed, what aggression has taken place, it’s not that we’re going to be passive in the face of tyranny or aggression, no, but we’ll find ways other than war to deal with whatever problems we have, because war is inevitably—inevitably—the indiscriminant massive killing of huge numbers of people. And children are a good part of those people. Every war is a war against children.

So it’s not just getting rid of Saddam Hussein, if we think about it. Well, we got rid of Saddam Hussein. In the course of it, we killed huge numbers of people who had been victims of Saddam Hussein. When you fight a war against a tyrant, who do you kill? You kill the victims of the tyrant. Anyway, all this—all this was simply to make us think again about war and to think, you know, we’re at war now, right? In Iraq, in Afghanistan and sort of in Pakistan, since we’re sending rockets over there and killing innocent people in Pakistan. And so, we should not accept that.

We should look for a peace movement to join. Really, look for some peace organization to join. It will look small at first, and pitiful and helpless, but that’s how movements start. That’s how the movement against the Vietnam War started. It started with handfuls of people who thought they were helpless, thought they were powerless. But remember, this power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power. When workers go on strike, huge corporations lose their power. When consumers boycott, huge business establishments have to give in. When soldiers refuse to fight, as so many soldiers did in Vietnam, so many deserters, so many fraggings, acts of violence by enlisted men against officers in Vietnam, B-52 pilots refusing to fly bombing missions anymore, war can’t go on. When enough soldiers refuse, the government has to decide we can’t continue. So, yes, people have the power. If they begin to organize, if they protest, if they create a strong enough movement, they can change things. That’s all I want to say. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that was Howard Zinn. As we wrap up today, Naomi Klein, your final words?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, we are in the midst of a Howard Zinn revival. I mean, this was happening anyway. And it’s so extraordinary for somebody at the end of their life to be having films made about them and played on television, and his books are back on the bestseller list. And it’s because the particular message that Howard relayed his whole life, devoted his whole life to, is so relevant for this moment. I mean, even thinking about it the day after the State of the Union address, Howard’s message was don’t believe in great men; believe in yourself; history comes from the bottom up.

And that—we have forgotten how change happens in this country. We think that you can just vote and that change will happen for us. And Howard was just relentlessly reminding us, no, you make the change that you want. And that message was so relevant for this moment. And I just feel so grateful to Anthony and, once again, the whole team that facilitated this revival, because we need Howard’s voice more than ever right now.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, that last work, The People Speak, appeared on the History Channel, oh, just in the last weeks, really a culmination of Howard Zinn’s work.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn, Historian who Challenged Status Quo, Dies at 87 by Mark Feeney


Portrait of Howard Zinn by Robert Shetterly from his series, Americans Who Tell the Truth.

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and a leading faculty critic of BU president John Silber, died of a heart attack today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling, his family said. He was 87.

http://americanswhotellthetruth.org/pgs/portraits/Howard_Zinn.php%22His writings have changed the consciousness of a generation, and helped open new paths to understanding and its crucial meaning for our lives," Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, once wrote of Dr. Zinn. "When action has been called for, one could always be confident that he would be on the front lines, an example and trustworthy guide."

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. Dr. Zinn's best-known book, "A People's History of the United States" (1980), had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers -- many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out -- but rather the farmers of Shays' Rebellion and the union organizers of the 1930s.

As he wrote in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (1994), "From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."

Certainly, it was a recipe for rancor between Dr. Zinn and Silber. Dr. Zinn twice helped lead faculty votes to oust the BU president, who in turn once accused Dr. Zinn of arson (a charge he quickly retracted) and cited him as a prime example of teachers "who poison the well of academe."

Dr. Zinn was a cochairman of the strike committee when BU professors walked out in 1979. After the strike was settled, he and four colleagues were charged with violating their contract when they refused to cross a picket line of striking secretaries. The charges against "the BU Five" were soon dropped, however.

Dr. Zinn was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1922, the son of Jewish immigrants, Edward Zinn, a waiter, and Jennie (Rabinowitz) Zinn, a housewife. He attended New York public schools and worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard before joining the Army Air Force during World War II. Serving as a bombardier in the Eighth Air Force, he won the Air Medal and attained the rank of second lieutenant.

After the war, Dr. Zinn worked at a series of menial jobs until entering New York University as a 27-year-old freshman on the GI Bill. Professor Zinn, who had married Roslyn Shechter in 1944, worked nights in a warehouse loading trucks to support his studies. He received his bachelor's degree from NYU, followed by master's and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.

Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College and lecturer at Brooklyn College before joining the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta, in 1956. He served at the historically black women's institution as chairman of the history department. Among his students were the novelist Alice Walker, who called him "the best teacher I ever had," and Marian Wright Edelman, future head of the Children's Defense Fund.

During this time, Dr. Zinn became active in the civil rights movement. He served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations.

Dr. Zinn became an associate professor of political science at BU in 1964 and was named full professor in 1966.

The focus of his activism now became the Vietnam War. Dr. Zinn spoke at countless rallies and teach-ins and drew national attention when he and another leading antiwar activist, Rev. Daniel Berrigan, went to Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese.

Dr. Zinn's involvement in the antiwar movement led to his publishing two books: "Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal" (1967) and "Disobedience and Democracy" (1968). He had previously published "LaGuardia in Congress" (1959), which had won the American Historical Association's Albert J. Beveridge Prize; "SNCC: The New Abolitionists" (1964); "The Southern Mystique" (1964); and "New Deal Thought" (1966). Dr. Zinn was also the author of "The Politics of History" (1970); "Postwar America" (1973); "Justice in Everyday Life" (1974); and "Declarations of Independence" (1990).

In 1988, Dr. Zinn took early retirement so as to concentrate on speaking and writing. The latter activity included writing for the stage. Dr. Zinn had two plays produced: "Emma," about the anarchist leader Emma Goldman, and "Daughter of Venus."

Dr. Zinn, or his writing, made a cameo appearance in the 1997 film "Good Will Hunting." The title characters, played by Matt Damon, lauds "A People's History" and urges Robin Williams's character to read it. Damon, who co-wrote the script, was a neighbor of the Zinns growing up.

Damon was later involved in a television version of the book, "The People Speak," which ran on the History Channel in 2009. Damon was the narrator of a 2004 biographical documentary, "Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train."

On his last day at BU, Dr. Zinn ended class 30 minutes early so he could join a picket line and urged the 500 students attending his lecture to come along. A hundred did so.

Dr. Zinn's wife died in 2008. He leaves a daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington; a son, Jeff of Wellfleet; three granddaugthers; and two grandsons.

Published on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 by The Boston Globe

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Bounty for Blair’s Arrest By George Monbiot




Today I am launching a new fund – http://www.arrestblair.org/
 – to reward people who attempt to arrest the former prime minister

 The only question that counts is the one that the Chilcot inquiry won’t address: was the war with Iraq illegal? If the answer is yes, everything changes. The war is no longer a political matter, but a criminal one, and those who commissioned it should be committed for trial for what the Nuremberg Tribunal called “the supreme international crime”(1): the crime of aggression.

But there’s a problem with official inquiries in the United Kingdom: the government appoints their members and sets their terms of reference. It’s the equivalent of a criminal suspect being allowed to choose what the charges should be, who should judge his case and who should sit on the jury. As a senior judge told the Guardian in November, “Looking into the legality of the war is the last thing the government wants. And actually, it’s the last thing the opposition wants either because they voted for the war. There simply is not the political pressure to explore the question of legality – they have not asked because they don’t want the answer.”(2)

Others have explored it, however. Two weeks ago a Dutch inquiry, led by a former supreme court judge, found that the invasion had “no sound mandate in international law”(3). Last month the former law lord, Lord Steyn, said that “in the absence of a second UN resolution authorising invasion, it was illegal.”(4) In November Lord Bingham, the former lord chief justice, stated that, without the blessing of the UN, the Iraq war was “a serious violation of international law and the rule of law.”(5)

Under the UN Charter, two conditions must be met before a war can legally be waged(6). The parties to a dispute must first “seek a solution by negotiation” (Article 33). They can take up arms without an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council only “if an armed attack occurs against [them]” (Article 51). Neither of these conditions applied. The US and UK governments rejected Iraq’s attempts to negotiate(7). At one point the US State Department even announced that it would “go into thwart mode” to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection(8). Iraq had launched no armed attack against either nation.

We also know that the UK government was aware that the war it intended to launch was illegal. In March 2002, the Cabinet Office explained that “a legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.”(9) In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, told the prime minister that there were only “three possible legal bases” for launching a war: “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [Security Council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.”(10) Bush and Blair later failed to obtain Security Council authorisation.

As the resignation letter on the eve of the war from Elizabeth Wilmshurst, then deputy legal advisor to the Foreign Office, revealed, her office had “consistently” advised that an invasion would be unlawful without a new UN resolution. She explained that “an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression”(11). Both Wilmshurst and her former boss, Sir Michael Wood, will testify before the Chilcot Inquiry today (Tuesday). Expect fireworks.

Without legal justification, the war with Iraq was an act of mass murder: those who died were unlawfully killed by the people who commissioned it. Crimes of aggression (also known as crimes against peace) are defined by the Nuremberg Principles as “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties”(12). They have been recognised in international law since 1945. The Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) and which was ratified by Blair’s government in 2001(13), provides for the Court to “exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression”, once it has decided how the crime should be defined and prosecuted(14).

There are two problems. The first is that neither the government nor the opposition has any interest in pursuing these crimes, for the obvious reason that in doing so they would expose themselves to prosecution. The second is that the required legal mechanisms don’t yet exist. The governments which ratified the Rome Statute have been filibustering furiously to delay the point at which the crime can be prosecuted by the ICC: after eight years of discussions, the necessary provision still hasn’t been adopted.

Some countries, mostly in eastern Europe and central Asia, have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws(15), though it is not yet clear which of them would be willing to try a foreign national for acts committed abroad. In the UK, where it remains illegal to wear an offensive T-shirt, you cannot yet be prosecuted for mass murder commissioned overseas.

All those who believe in justice should campaign for their governments to stop messing about and allow the International Criminal Court to start prosecuting the crime of aggression. We should also press for its adoption into national law. But I believe that the people of this nation, who re-elected a government which had launched an illegal war, have a duty to do more than that. We must show that we have not, as Blair requested, “moved on” from Iraq, that we are not prepared to allow his crime to remain unpunished, or to allow future leaders to believe that they can safely repeat it.

But how? As I found when I tried to apprehend John Bolton, one of the architects of the war in George Bush’s government, at the Hay festival in 2008(16), and as Peter Tatchell found when he tried to detain Robert Mugabe(17), nothing focuses attention on these issues more than an attempted citizen’s arrest. In October I mooted the idea of a bounty to which the public could contribute, payable to anyone who tried to arrest Tony Blair if he became president of the EU(18). He didn’t of course, but I asked those who had pledged money whether we should go ahead anyway. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

So today I am launching a website, www.arrestblair.org, whose purpose is to raise money as a reward for people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former prime minister. I have put up the first £100, and I encourage you to match it. Anyone meeting the rules I’ve laid down will be entitled to one quarter of the total pot: the bounties will remain available for as long as Blair lives. The higher the reward, the greater the number of people who are likely to try.

At this stage the arrests will be largely symbolic, though they are likely to have great political resonance. But I hope that as pressure builds up and the crime of aggression is adopted by the courts, these attempts will help to press governments to prosecute. There must be no hiding place for those who have committed crimes against peace. No civilised country can allow mass murderers to move on.

http://www.monbiot.com/

Published in the Guardian 26th January 2010

References:

1. http://books.google.com/books?id=-Ni6Qy2E9KwC&pg=PA46&lpg=PA46&dq=essentially+an+evil+thing…to+initiate+a+war+of+aggression…is+not+only+an+international+crime%3B+it+is+the+supreme+international+crime,+differing+only+from+other+war+crimes+in+that+it+contains+within+itself+the+accumulated+evil+of+the+whole.&source=bl&ots=vi_FtNzs0T&sig=D8sYeDqbnueaLmJvomG3Og2YBHw&hl=en&ei=Is5ESpOwMpTCML2A3bAC&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10#v=onepage&q=&f=false

2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/nov/23/chilcot-inquiry-iraq-war

3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/12/iraq-invasion-violated-interational-law-dutch-inquiry-finds

4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/dec/01/iraq-inquiry-interim-finding-illegal-law-lord

5. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/18/iraq-us-foreign-policy

6. http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/index.shtml

7. http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2003/11/11/dreamers-and-idiots/

8. http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2002/10/08/thwart-mode/

9. http://downingstreetmemo.com/iraqoptions.html

10. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article387374.ece

11. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4377605.stm

12. http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/full/390

13. http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XVIII-10&chapter=18&lang=en

14. Article 5.2, http://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/EA9AEFF7-5752-4F84-BE94-0A655EB30E16/0/Rome_Statute_English.pdf

15. Astrid Reisinger Coracini, 2010. National Legislation on Individual Responsibility for Conduct Amounting to Aggression, in: Roberto Bellelli (ed.), International Criminal Justice. Lessons Learned and the Challenges Ahead (forthcoming).

16. http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/06/03/justice-undone/

17. http://www.petertatchell.net/direct%20action/mugabe.htm

18. http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/10/26/arresting-blair/

Monday, January 25, 2010

For Israel, a reckoning by John Pilger

John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the growing boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine. Based on the anti-apartheid campaign that helped bring down the racist regime in South Africa, BDS is becoming a catch-cry for freedom in countries whose governments continue to ignore the Palestinians' struggle against another form of apartheid and which Nelson Mandela has described as "the greatest moral issue of our time".

The farce of the climate change summit in Copenhagen affirmed a world war waged by the rich against most of humanity. It also illuminated a resistance growing perhaps as never before: an internationalism linking justice for the planet earth with universal human rights, and criminal justice for those who invade and dispossess with impunity. And the best news comes from Palestine.

Palestinian resistance to the theft of their country reached a critical moment in 2001 when Israel was identified as an apartheid state at a United Nations conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. To Nelson Mandela, justice for the Palestinians is “the greatest moral issue of our time”. The Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS), was issued on 9 July 2005, effectively reconvening the great non-violent movement that swept the world and brought the scaffolding of African apartheid crashing down. “Through decades of occupation and dispossession,” wrote Mustafa Barghouti, a wise voice of Palestinian politics, “90 per cent of the Palestinian struggle has been non-violent... A new generation of Palestinian leaders [now speaks] to the world precisely as Martin Luther King did. The same world that rejects all use of Palestinian violence, even clear self-defence, surely ought not begrudge us the non-violence employed by men such as King and Gandhi."

In the United States and Europe, trade unions, academic associations and mainstream churches have brought back the strategies and tactics that were used against apartheid South African. In a resolution adopted by 431 votes to 62, the US Presbyterian Church voted for “a process of phased selective disinvestment in multinational corporations doing business with Israel”. This followed the opinion of the International Court of Justice that Israel’s wall and its “settler” colonies were illegal. A similar declaration by the court in 1971, denouncing South Africa’s occupation of Namibia, ignited the international boycott.

Like the South Africa campaign, the issue of law is central. No state is allowed to flout international law as wilfully as Israel. In 1990, a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Saddam Hussein get out of Kuwait was the same, almost word for word, as that demanding Israel get out of the West Bank. The United States and its allies attacked and drove out Iraq while Israel has been repeatedly rewarded. On 11 December, President Obama announced $2.75 billion “aid” for Israel, a down payment on the $30 billion American taxpayers will gift from their stricken economy during this decade.

The hypocrisy is now well understood in the US, where consumer boycott campaigns are becoming commonplace. A “stolen beauty” campaign pursues Ahava beauty products which are made in illegal West Bank “settlements”, forcing the company to drop its ballyhooed celebrity “ambassador”, Kristin Davis, a star of Sex and the City . In Britain, Sainsbury’s and Tesco are under pressure to identify “settlement” products, whose sale contravenes the human rights clause in the EU trade agreement with Israel.

In Australia, a consortium including the French company Veolia has lost its bid for a billion-dollar desalination plant following a campaign highlighting Veolia’s plan to build a light rail connecting Jerusalem to the “settlements”. In Norway, the government has withdrawn its support for the Israeli hi-tech company Elbit, which helped build the wall across Palestine. This is the first official boycott by a western country. “We do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law,” said the Norwegian finance minister.

In 2005, the Association of University Teachers in Britain (AUT) voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions complicit in the oppression of Palestinians. The AUT campaign was forced to retreat when the Israel lobby unleashed a blizzard of character assassination and charges of anti-Semitism. The Palestinian writer and activist Omar Baghouti called this “intellectual terror”: a perversion of morality and logic that says to be against racism towards Palestinians makes one anti-Semitic. However, the Israeli assault on Gaza on 27 December, 2008 changed almost everything. The first US Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was formed, with Desmond Tutu on its board. At its 2009 conference, Britain’s Trade Union Council voted for a consumer boycott. The “Israel taboo” is no more.

Complementing this is the rapid development of international criminal law since the Pinochet case in 1999 when the former Chilean dictator was placed under house arrest in Britain. Israeli warmongers now face similar prosecution in countries which have “universal jurisdiction” laws. In Britain, the Geneva Conventions Act of 1957 is fortified by the UN report on Gaza by Judge Richard Goldstone, which in December obliged a London magistrate to issue a warrant for the arrest of Tzini Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister wanted for crimes against humanity. In September, only contrived diplomatic immunity rescued Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister during the assault on Gaza, from arrest by Scotland Yard.

Just over a year ago, 1400 defenceless people in Gaza were murdered by the Israelis. On 29 December, Mohamed Jassier became the 367th Gazan to die because people needing life-saving medical treatment are not allowed out. Keep that in mind when you next watch the BBC “balance” such suffering with the weasel protestations of the oppressors.

There is a clear momentum now. To mark the first anniversary of the Gaza atrocity, a great humanitarian procession from 42 countries – Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, old and young, trade unionists, writers, artists, musicians and those leading convoys of food and medicine – converged on Egypt, and even though the American bribed dictatorship in Cairo prevented most from proceeding to Gaza, the people in that open prison knew they were not alone, and children climbed on walls and raised the Palestinian flag. And this is just a beginning.

Blackwater in Pakistan: Gates Confirms By Jeremy Scahill


Jeremy Scahill

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that Blackwater is operating in Pakistan. In an interview on Express TV, Gates, who was visiting Islamabad, said, "They [Blackwater and another private security firm, DynCorp] are operating as individual companies here in Pakistan," according to a DoD transcript of the interview. "There are rules concerning the contracting companies. If they're contracting with us or with the State Department here in Pakistan, then there are very clear rules set forth by the State Department and by ourselves."


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..Today, the country's senior minister for the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Bashir Bilour, also acknowledged that the company is operating in Pakistan's frontier areas. Bilour told Pakistan's Express News TV that Blackwater's activities were taking place with the "consent and permission" of the Pakistani government, saying he had discussed the issue with officials at the US Consulate in Peshawar, who told him that Blackwater was training Pakistani forces.

When Gates was asked what the US response would be if the Pakistani parliament passed a law banning private security companies, Gates said, "If it's Pakistani law, we will absolutely comply."

As Gates's comments began to make huge news in Pakistan, US defense officials tried to retract his statement. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "Defense officials tried to clarify the comment Thursday night, telling reporters that Mr. Gates had been speaking about contractor oversight more generally and that the Pentagon didn't employ Xe in Pakistan."

Bilour's statements are consistent with what a former Blackwater executive and a US military intelligence source told me in December--that Blackwater is working on a subcontract for Kestral, a Pakistani security and logistics firm. That contract, say my sources, is technically with the Pakistani government, which helps cloak Blackwater's presence. From my article in The Nation:


Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. "Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship," he said. "They've met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another." Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.


According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral's forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry's paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as "frontier scouts"). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater "is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral's folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they're having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they're executing the job," he said. "You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas." He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. "You've got BW guys that are assisting...and they're all going to want to go on the jobs--so they're going to go with them," he said. "So, the things that you're seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that--in some of those cases, you're going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house." Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. "That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, 'Hey, no, we don't have any Westerners doing this. It's all local and our people are doing it.' But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work."

When I tried to get confirmation of Blackwater's work with Kestral, I was bounced around from agency to agency. Eventually, a spokesman for the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. "We cannot help you," said department spokesman David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. "You'll have to contact the companies directly." Blackwater's spokesman Mark Corallo said the company has "no operations of any kind" in Pakistan other than one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to my inquiries.

Kestral's lobbyist, former assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, would not provide comment on the contract either. Noriega, according to federal lobby records, was recently hired by Kestral to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues "regarding [Kestral's] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States."

All of this appears to be a contradiction of previous statements made by the Defense Department, by Blackwater, by the Pakistani government and by the US Embassy in Islamabad, all of whom claimed Blackwater was not in the country. In September the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, denied Blackwater's presence in the country, stating bluntly, "Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan." In December in The Nation, after I reported on Blackwater's work for JSOC and Ketral in Pakistan, the Pentagon did not issue any clear public denials, and instead tried to pass the buck to the State Department, which in turn passed it to the US Embassy, which in turn issued an unsigned statement saying the story was false. Shortly after my story came out in The Nation, ABC News reported that in 2006, "12 Blackwater "tactical action operatives" were recruited for a secret raid into Pakistan by the U.S. military's Joint Special Operations Command, according to a military intelligence planner. The target of the planned raid, code-named Vibrant Fury, was a suspected al Qaeda training camp, according to the planner."

In Pakistan, there appears to be egg on the face of the country's Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who has said on numerous occasions that he would resign if it is proven that Blackwater is operating inside Pakistan. Today, Express TV rebroadcast Malik saying in November, "There is no Blackwater."

What's that old saying? "Never believe anything until it has been officially denied."

Published in The Nation January 22, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Consider the risks before you send your cash to Haiti by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

Satan's terms and conditions must have got worse in recent times. America's most prominent TV evangelist, Pat Robertson, announced that the Haiti earthquake was a result of a "pact with the Devil", made when they overthrew slavery 200 years ago. But in the old days a pact with the Devil brought you a life of fame and riches and earthly pleasures. Now you get a few years of life in the world's poorest country and then buried under a pile of rubble.

Maybe the Devil will issue a statement soon, that "due to difficulties arising from the current economic climate, I have found it necessary to temporarily restrict certain privileges to my valuable customers. But you can be certain I will endeavour to maintain my usual high standard of evil, and look forward to satisfying more gluttony than ever once it is financially responsible to do so."

At least Robertson claims a spiritual logic for his sociopathic judgement. Whereas TV presenter Rush Limbaugh complained about the aid effort, saying, "We've already donated to Haiti. It's called income tax." That's the trouble. It's just take take take with some people isn't it?

Or there's the Heritage Foundation, an influential group among American politicians, which declared that "the earthquake offers an opportunity to re-shape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy."

That's the aid they need, a hand-up not a hand-out. Because it takes a functional economist to see a disaster zone and think, "That's handy." If only the Heritage Foundation could get people out there to rummage through the wreckage searching for survivors, so they could call into an air pocket, "I could rescue you, but that would only make you dependent. So come up with a business plan, young fellow, and in years to come you'll thank me for this. Ta-ra."

To start with you'd think if the Haiti government had their wits about them they'd realise there are a lot of reporters out there with very few provisions, so a couple of branches of Costa Coffee would make a healthy return. But no, they're too dysfunctional to organise it.

The most worrying part of this craziness is it isn't far off the official US strategy. The International Monetary Fund has extended $100m in loans to Haiti for the disaster, and according to The Nation magazine, "These loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage, and keeping inflation low." I suppose the idea is not to make things even worse. Give them more than the minimum wage and then you'd have binge-drinking to worry about as well.

This deal was probably arranged by the bank ringing Haiti's government and saying "Hello is that the Prime Minister? It's Miriam here from the IMF. I'd like a few moments to talk to you about your account, only I notice from our records that you've had a tectonic catastrophe so you'll need to revise your payments."

Several aid organisations have complained about the role the American government is playing. For example, a spokesman from the World Food Programme said: "They organise 200 flights a day, but most are for the US military. Their priority is to secure the country." This may be why Bill Clinton was able to tell business leaders that this is an ideal time to invest in the country, because, "the political risk in Haiti is lower than it has ever been in my lifetime." Who can honestly say they don't consider the political risk before handing out money to a disaster zone? All of us wonder, as we make our donation, whether we'll get our 50 quid back, with a bit of profit for our trouble, otherwise we're being fools to ourselves.

But Clinton had a point. Because at one point Haiti was ruled by President Aristide, who refused to implement all the IMF's demands for privatisation and keeping wages to a minimum. So the US government backed a coup that overthrew him, exiled him and banned his political party, making the place much less risky for business.

This might explain why the American forces are being treated with suspicion, as their priority may not be to provide aid, but to "secure the country." This could also explain the statement by Robert Gates, US defence secretary, who said he couldn't use transport planes to drop supplies in Port-au-Prince as "air drops will simply lead to riots."

Maybe someone should consult an expert on theology, but I'd say there's a chance that if the Devil's still doing pacts, there'll be something way off the Richter scale soon passing right under Wall Street.

First published in The Independent on 20th January 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Breaking Haiti/Why the U.S. Owes Haiti Billions By BILL QUIGLEY


Why does the US owe Haiti Billions? Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, stated his foreign policy view as the “Pottery Barn rule.” That is – “if you break it, you own it.”

The US has worked to break Haiti for over 200 years. We owe Haiti. Not charity. We owe Haiti as a matter of justice. Reparations. And not the $100 million promised by President Obama either – that is Powerball money. The US owes Haiti Billions – with a big B.

The US has worked for centuries to break Haiti. The US has used Haiti like a plantation. The US helped bleed the country economically since it freed itself, repeatedly invaded the country militarily, supported dictators who abused the people, used the country as a dumping ground for our own economic advantage, ruined their roads and agriculture, and toppled popularly elected officials. The US has even used Haiti like the old plantation owner and slipped over there repeatedly for sexual recreation.

Here is the briefest history of some of the major US efforts to break Haiti.

In 1804, when Haiti achieved its freedom from France in the world’s first successful slave revolution, the United States refused to recognize the country. The US continued to refuse recognition to Haiti for 60 more years. Why? Because the US continued to enslave millions of its own citizens and feared recognizing Haiti would encourage slave revolution in the US.

After the 1804 revolution, Haiti was the subject of a crippling economic embargo by France and the US. US sanctions lasted until 1863. France ultimately used its military power to force Haiti to pay reparations for the slaves who were freed. The reparations were 150 million francs. (France sold the entire Louisiana territory to the US for 80 million francs!)

Haiti was forced to borrow money from banks in France and the US to pay reparations to France. A major loan from the US to pay off the French was finally paid off in 1947. The current value of the money Haiti was forced to pay to French and US banks? Over $20 Billion – with a big B.

The US occupied and ruled Haiti by force from 1915 to 1934. President Woodrow Wilson sent troops to invade in 1915. Revolts by Haitians were put down by US military – killing over 2000 in one skirmish alone. For the next nineteen years, the US controlled customs in Haiti, collected taxes, and ran many governmental institutions. How many billions were siphoned off by the US during these 19 years?

From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was forced to live under US backed dictators “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvlaier. The US supported these dictators economically and militarily because they did what the US wanted and were politically “anti-communist” - now translatable as against human rights for their people. Duvalier stole millions from Haiti and ran up hundreds of millions in debt that Haiti still owes. Ten thousand Haitians lost their lives. Estimates say that Haiti owes $1.3 billion in external debt and that 40% of that debt was run up by the US-backed Duvaliers.

Thirty years ago Haiti imported no rice. Today Haiti imports nearly all its rice. Though Haiti was the sugar growing capital of the Caribbean, it now imports sugar as well. Why? The US and the US dominated world financial institutions – the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – forced Haiti to open its markets to the world. Then the US dumped millions of tons of US subsidized rice and sugar into Haiti – undercutting their farmers and ruining Haitian agriculture. By ruining Haitian agriculture, the US has forced Haiti into becoming the third largest world market for US rice. Good for US farmers, bad for Haiti.

In 2002, the US stopped hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Haiti which were to be used for, among other public projects like education, roads. These are the same roads which relief teams are having so much trouble navigating now!

In 2004, the US again destroyed democracy in Haiti when they supported the coup against Haiti’s elected President Aristide.

Haiti is even used for sexual recreation just like the old time plantations. Check the news carefully and you will find numerous stories of abuse of minors by missionaries, soldiers and charity workers. Plus there are the frequent sexual vacations taken to Haiti by people from the US and elsewhere. What is owed for that? What value would you put on it if it was your sisters and brothers?

US based corporations have for years been teaming up with Haitian elite to run sweatshops teeming with tens of thousands of Haitians who earn less than $2 a day.

The Haitian people have resisted the economic and military power of the US and others ever since their independence. Like all of us, Haitians made their own mistakes as well. But US power has forced Haitians to pay great prices – deaths, debt and abuse.

It is time for the people of the US to join with Haitians and reverse the course of US-Haitian relations.

This brief history shows why the US owes Haiti Billions – with a big B. This is not charity. This is justice. This is reparations. The current crisis is an opportunity for people in the US to own up to our country’s history of dominating Haiti and to make a truly just response.

(For more on the history of exploitation of Haiti by the US see: Paul Farmer, THE USES OF HAITI; Peter Hallward, DAMNING THE FLOOD; and Randall Robinson, AN UNBROKEN AGONY).

Bill Quigley is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. He can be reached at: duprestars@yahoo.com.

CounterPunch 1-1-2010