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In Rare Joint Interview, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn on Iraq, Vietnam, Activism and History


AMY GOODMAN: Today an hour with Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky in a rare interview with them together, and I welcome you both to Democracy Now!

NOAM CHOMSKY: Nice to be here.

HOWARD ZINN: Thanks Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: What a day to be here. This is a day of the Boston Marathon, it is raining. It is a major storm outside and tens of thousands of people — were either of you planning to run today?

HOWARD ZINN: Well we were, yes, but you know â€"

NOAM CHOMSKY: But you really made it impossible for us.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry about that.

HOWARD ZINN: We had a choice of running in the marathon or having an interview with you, what’s more important?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today is Patriot’s Day, Howard Zinn, what does patriotism mean to you?

HOWARD ZINN: I’m glad you said what it means to me. Because it means to me something different than it means to a lot of people I think who have distorted the idea of patriotism. Patriotism to me means doing what you think you’re country should be doing. Patriotism means supporting your government when you think it’s doing right, opposing your government when you think it’s doing wrong. Patriotism to me means really what the Declaration of Independence suggests. And that is that government is an artificial entity.

Government is set up–and here’s what a Declaration of Independence is about, government is set up by the people in order to fulfill certain responsibilities: equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. And according to the Declaration of Independence when the government violates those responsibilities, then, and these are the words of the Declaration of Independence it is the right of the people to alter or abolish the government.

In otherâ€â„¢s words the government is not holy, the government is not to be obeyed when the government is wrong. So to me patriotism in its best sense means thinking about the people in the country, the principals for which the country stands for, and it requires opposing the government when the government violates those principles.

So today, for instance, the highest act of patriotism I suggest, would be opposing the war in Iraq and calling for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Simply because everything about the war violates the fundamental principles of equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, not just for Americans, but for people in another part of the world. So, yes, patriotism today requires citizens to be active on many, many different fronts to oppose government policies on the war, government policies which have taken trillions of dollars from this country’s treasury and used it for war and militarism. That’s what patriotism would require today.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, the headlines today, just this weekend, one of the bloodiest months in Iraq, the number of prisoners in U.S. Jails in Iraq has reached something like 18,000. Who knows if that’s not an underestimate? An Associated Press photographer remains in jail imprisoned by U.S. authorities without charge for more than a year. The health ministry has found 70% of Baghdad school children showing symptoms of trauma-related stress. Your assessment now of the situation there?

NOAM CHOMSKY: This is one of the worst catastrophes in military history and also in political history. The most recent studies of the Red Cross show that Iraq has suffered the worst decline in child mortality, infant mortality, an increase in infant mortality known. But itâ€â„¢s since 1990. That is, it’s a combination of the affect of the murderers’ and brutal sanctions regime, which we donâ€â„¢t talk much about, which devastated society through the 1990’s and strengthened Saddam Hussein, compelled the population to rely on him for survival, which probably saved him from the fate of a whole long series of other tyrants who were overthrown by their own people supported by the U.S.

And then came the war on top of it which has simply increased the horrors. The decline is unprecedented. The increase in infant mortality is unprecedented; it’s now below the level of, worse than some of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s one index of what’s happened. The most probably measure of deaths in a study sponsored by M.I.T. incidentally carried out by leading specialists in Iraq and here last October was about 650,000 killed, soon to be pushing a million. There are several million people fled including the large part of the professional classes, people who could in principal help rebuild the country. And without going on, it’s a hideous catastrophe and getting worse.

Itâ€â„¢s also worth stressing that aggressors do not have any rights. This is a clear-cut case of aggression and violation of the U.N. Charter, a supreme international crime and in the words of the Nuremburg Tribunal, aggressors simply have no rights to make any decisions. They have responsibilities. The responsibilities are, first of all to pay enormous reparations and that includes for the sanctions– the effect of the sanctions, in fact it ought to include the support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s, which was torture for Iraqis and worse for Iranians.

The paid reparations hold those responsible, accountable and attend to the will of the victims. It doesn’t necessarily mean follow blindly, but certainly attend to it. And the will of the victims is known, the regular U.S.-run polls in Iraq, and the government polling institutions, it’s just an overwhelming support for either immediate or quick withdrawal of U.S. Troops, about 80 percent think that the presence of U.S. Troops increases the level of violence. Over 60% think that troops are legitimate targets. This isnâ€â„¢t for all of Iraq, if you take the figures of Arab Iraq where the troops are actually deployed the figures are higher. The figures keep going up. They’re unmentioned, virtually unreported, scarcely alluded to in the Baker-Hamilton critical report. Thatâ€â„¢ll be our primary concern, along with the concerns of the Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: Vice president Cheney is saying this war can be won.

NOAM CHOMSKY: There’s an interesting study being done right now by a former Russian soldier in Afghanistan in the late 1980’s, he’s now a student in Toronto who’s comparing the Russian press and the Russian political figures and military leaders, what they were saying about Afghanistan, comparing it with what Cheney, others and the press are saying about Iraq and not to your great surprise, change a few names and it comes out about the same.

They were also saying the war in Afghanistan could be won and they were right. If they had increased the level of violence sufficiently, they could have won the war in Iraâ€â€

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