Zinn Calls U.S. Policies Ineffective, Immoral

Boston University professor emeritus Howard Zinn openly criticized U.S. foreign policy since Sept. 11 at a speech on Tuesday at the Kennedy School of Government.

“I don’t believe we’re engaged in a war on terrorism,” Zinn told the capacity crowd of over 100 people. “Terrorism is not the kind of thing you can make war on.”

Zinn called President Bush’s January State of the Union address contradictory, saying the claims made did not reflect what had been accomplished.

“[Bush said the United States] was winning the war, but tens of thousands of terrorists are still at large,” Zinn said.

Zinn called the Bush administration’s efforts, including the bombing of Afghanistan, wrong for both pragmatic and moral reasons.

On a pragmatic level, Zinn said that “we’re not doing anything about terrorism,” citing a CNN report that claimed the United States captured only one senior al-Qaeda member after months of bombing Afghanistan.

Zinn also said that by causing casualties to innocent civilians, the bombing created “the possibility for more terrorism.”

Zinn said the Afghanistan bombing was wrong on a moral level as well.

“We’ve done the kinds of things in Afghanistan that are morally reprehensible,” Zinn said.

Even those who believe in proportioniality--that a war is just if it will prevent more deaths than it will cause--cannot find the bombing of Afghanistan justified because the United States is not successfully reducing the threat of terrorism, Zinn claimed.

Zinn compared the war on terror to other wars in the past—the Spanish-American War, the Mexican-American War and the Vietnam War—that “purport to be one thing but are really something else.” Instead of being a war on terror, Zinn said the current war is motivated by American political, economic and psychological “expansionism.”

In addition to criticizing the Bush administration’s efforts, Zinn claimed that the American media has been quiet about civilian casualties in Afghanistan to keep the American people behind the war.

He said that a New Hampshire economics professor estimated the total civilian death toll in Afghanistan to be between 3,000 and 4,000.

“Americans would reject [the war] if they understood the human suffering occuring in Aghanistan,” Zinn said.

Zinn also said that the government often lies and misrepresents civilian casualties to the American public.

“Collateral damage sounds better than ‘we bombed and killed these people,’” Zinn said.

According to Zinn, incidents like the recent bombing of an Afghan wedding party cannot be called accidents.

“When bombing, you inevitably claim innocent lives, so innocent deaths are not accidents,” he said.

The proper response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would have been to “think very intelligently...about how to dry up the sources of terrorism,” Zinn said.

He added that defensive measures alone are not able to prevent terrorism, saying the U.S. must first change its attitude towards the rest of the world.

“America needs to get out of its machismo psychology...and become a more modest country. Sweden doesn’t worry about terror,” Zinn said.

When asked by an audience member how the U.S. should have responded to the Taliban after Sept. 11, Zinn said that U.S. foreign policy should be aimed at bringing about “situations of justice around the world,” but that we are “limited” in our ability to do so.

Zinn said America should not be isolationist but should be interventionist with “economic and social means,” rather than military force.

Zinn said that the “roots” of Arab anger are easily identified: the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, economic sanctions on Iraq and American troops in Saudi Arabia.

Zinn even claimed that sometimes terrorists’ demands should be met if they are “deserving.”

Zinn said that the Palestinians’ desire to end the Israeli occupation was one of these deserving demands, and that a peace deal that included security for Israel and a Palestinian state in the currently occupied territories would be acceptable to the majority of the Israeli and Palestinian population.

Staff writer Andrew P. Winerman can be reached at winerman@fas.harvard.edu.