Howard Zinn: “America’s Blinders”


Richard Moore


This article continues the theme of my earlier posting
today, "Re: Army Reg #210-35", about decoding
Matrix sources.



Published on The Progressive (
Howard Zinn: America's Blinders

America's Blinders
By Howard Zinn
April 2006 Issue

Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now
that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now
that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so
overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have
begun to register indignation), we might ask: How come so
many people were so easily fooled?

The question is important because it might help us
understand why Americans-members of the media as well as the
ordinary citizen-rushed to declare their support as the
President was sending troops halfway around the world to

A small example of the innocence (or obsequiousness, to be
more exact) of the press is the way it reacted to Colin
Powell's presentation in February 2003 to the Security
Council, a month before the invasion, a speech which may
have set a record for the number of falsehoods told in one
talk. In it, Powell confidently rattled off his "evidence":
satellite photographs, audio records, reports from
informants, with precise statistics on how many gallons of
this and that existed for chemical warfare. The New York
Times was breathless with admiration. The Washington Post
editorial was titled "Irrefutable" and declared that after
Powell's talk "it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt
that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction."

It seems to me there are two reasons, which go deep into our
national culture, and which help explain the vulnerability
of the press and of the citizenry to outrageous lies whose
consequences bring death to tens of thousands of people. If
we can understand those reasons, we can guard ourselves
better against being deceived.

One is in the dimension of time, that is, an absence of
historical perspective. The other is in the dimension of
space, that is, an inability to think outside the boundaries
of nationalism. We are penned in by the arrogant idea that
this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally
virtuous, admirable, superior.

If we don't know history, then we are ready meat for
carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and
journalists who supply the carving knives. I am not speaking
of the history we learned in school, a history subservient
to our political leaders, from the much-admired Founding
Fathers to the Presidents of recent years. I mean a history
which is honest about the past. If we don't know that
history, then any President can stand up to the battery of
microphones, declare that we must go to war, and we will
have no basis for challenging him. He will say that the
nation is in danger, that democracy and liberty are at
stake, and that we must therefore send ships and planes to
destroy our new enemy, and we will have no reason to
disbelieve him.

But if we know some history, if we know how many times
Presidents have made similar declarations to the country,
and how they turned out to be lies, we will not be fooled.
Although some of us may pride ourselves that we were never
fooled, we still might accept as our civic duty the
responsibility to buttress our fellow citizens against the
mendacity of our high officials.

We would remind whoever we can that President Polk lied to
the nation about the reason for going to war with Mexico in
1846. It wasn't that Mexico "shed American blood upon the
American soil," but that Polk, and the slave-owning
aristocracy, coveted half of Mexico.

We would point out that President McKinley lied in 1898
about the reason for invading Cuba, saying we wanted to
liberate the Cubans from Spanish control, but the truth is
that we really wanted Spain out of Cuba so that the island
could be open to United Fruit and other American
corporations. He also lied about the reasons for our war in
the Philippines, claiming we only wanted to "civilize" the
Filipinos, while the real reason was to own a valuable piece
of real estate in the far Pacific, even if we had to kill
hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to accomplish that.

President Woodrow Wilson-so often characterized in our
history books as an "idealist"-lied about the reasons for
entering the First World War, saying it was a war to "make
the world safe for democracy," when it was really a war to
make the world safe for the Western imperial powers.

Harry Truman lied when he said the atomic bomb was dropped
on Hiroshima because it was "a military target."

Everyone lied about Vietnam-Kennedy about the extent of our
involvement, Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin, Nixon about
the secret bombing of Cambodia, all of them claiming it was
to keep South Vietnam free of communism, but really wanting
to keep South Vietnam as an American outpost at the edge of
the Asian continent.

Reagan lied about the invasion of Grenada, claiming falsely
that it was a threat to the United States.

The elder Bush lied about the invasion of Panama, leading to
the death of thousands of ordinary citizens in that country.

And he lied again about the reason for attacking Iraq in
1991-hardly to defend the integrity of Kuwait (can one
imagine Bush heartstricken over Iraq's taking of

Kuwait?), rather to assert U.S. power in the oil-rich Middle

Given the overwhelming record of lies told to justify wars,
how could anyone listening to the younger Bush believe him
as he laid out the reasons for invading Iraq? Would we not
instinctively rebel against the sacrifice of lives for oil?

A careful reading of history might give us another safeguard
against being deceived. It would make clear that there has
always been, and is today, a profound conflict of interest
between the government and the people of the United States.
This thought startles most people, because it goes against
everything we have been taught.

We have been led to believe that, from the beginning, as our
Founding Fathers put it in the Preamble to the Constitution,
it was "we the people" who established the new government
after the Revolution. When the eminent historian Charles
Beard suggested, a hundred years ago, that the Constitution
represented not the working people, not the slaves, but the
slaveholders, the merchants, the bondholders, he became the
object of an indignant editorial in The New York Times.

Our culture demands, in its very language, that we accept a
commonality of interest binding all of us to one another. We
mustn't talk about classes. Only Marxists do that, although
James Madison, "Father of the Constitution," said, thirty
years before Marx was born that there was an inevitable
conflict in society between those who had property and those
who did not.

Our present leaders are not so candid. They bombard us with
phrases like "national interest," "national security," and
"national defense" as if all of these concepts applied
equally to all of us, colored or white, rich or poor, as if
General Motors and Halliburton have the same interests as
the rest of us, as if George Bush has the same interest as
the young man or woman he sends to war.

Surely, in the history of lies told to the population, this
is the biggest lie. In the history of secrets, withheld from
the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there
are classes with different interests in this country. To
ignore that-not to know that the history of our country is a
history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against
tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor-is to
render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by
people in power.

If we as citizens start out with an understanding that these
people up there-the President, the Congress, the Supreme
Court, all those institutions pretending to be "checks and
balances"-do not have our interests at heart, we are on a
course towards the truth. Not to know that is to make us
helpless before determined liars.

The deeply ingrained belief-no, not from birth but from the
educational system and from our culture in general-that the
United States is an especially virtuous nation makes us
especially vulnerable to government deception. It starts
early, in the first grade, when we are compelled to "pledge
allegiance" (before we even know what that means), forced to
proclaim that we are a nation with "liberty and justice for

And then come the countless ceremonies, whether at the
ballpark or elsewhere, where we are expected to stand and
bow our heads during the singing of the "Star-Spangled
Banner," announcing that we are "the land of the free and
the home of the brave." There is also the unofficial
national anthem "God Bless America," and you are looked on
with suspicion if you ask why we would expect God to single
out this one nation-just 5 percent of the world's
population-for his or her blessing.

If your starting point for evaluating the world around you
is the firm belief that this nation is somehow endowed by
Providence with unique qualities that make it morally
superior to every other nation on Earth, then you are not
likely to question the President when he says we are sending
our troops here or there, or bombing this or that, in order
to spread our values-democracy, liberty, and let's not
forget free enterprise-to some God-forsaken (literally)
place in the world.

It becomes necessary then, if we are going to protect
ourselves and our fellow citizens against policies that will
be disastrous not only for other people but for Americans
too, that we face some facts that disturb the idea of a
uniquely virtuous nation.

These facts are embarrassing, but must be faced if we are to
be honest. We must face our long history of ethnic
cleansing, in which millions of Indians were driven off
their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations. And
our long history, still not behind us, of slavery,
segregation, and racism. We must face our record of imperial
conquest, in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, our shameful
wars against small countries a tenth our size: Vietnam,
Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq. And the lingering memory
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is not a history of which we
can be proud.

Our leaders have taken it for granted, and planted that
belief in the minds of many people, that we are entitled,
because of our moral superiority, to dominate the world. At
the end of World War II, Henry Luce, with an arrogance
appropriate to the owner of Time, Life, and Fortune,
pronounced this "the American century," saying that victory
in the war gave the United States the right "to exert upon
the world the full impact of our influence, for such
purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit."

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have embraced
this notion. George Bush, in his Inaugural Address on
January 20, 2005, said that spreading liberty around the
world was "the calling of our time." Years before that, in
1993, President Bill Clinton, speaking at a West Point
commencement, declared: "The values you learned here . . .
will be able to spread throughout this country and
throughout the world and give other people the opportunity
to live as you have lived, to fulfill your God-given

What is the idea of our moral superiority based on? Surely
not on our behavior toward people in other parts of the
world. Is it based on how well people in the United States
live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries
in terms of overall health performance, and the United
States was thirty-seventh on the list, though it spends more
per capita for health care than any other nation. One of
five children in this, the richest country in the world, is
born in poverty. There are more than forty countries that
have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better.
And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead
the world in the number of people in prison-more than two

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would
prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will
accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some
other part of the world. It might also inspire us to create
a different history for ourselves, by taking our country
away from the liars and killers who govern it, and by
rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the
rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and

Howard Zinn is the co-author, with Anthony Arnove, of
"Voices of a People's History of the United States."

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