[R-G] [NYTr] Zinn: Dissent at the War Memorial

David Mcreynolds david.mcr at earthlink.net
Thu Jul 15 22:25:43 MDT 2004

This comes from the remarkable "NY Transfer" which sends me far far far
more pieces than I can read, let alone forward. This one, by a man known to
many of us, is remarkable for what it says about war itself, the "good
war", and of course about where much of the country is now. I was too young
to have fought in WW II - not by much, but by a few years. I was an eager
supporter of it, as a student in Jr. High School. Proud of my father who
served in the CBI (China-Burma-India) theatre, won a medal, took risks, and
went on the first bombing raid of the B-29 (over Bangkok).

I didn't become a pacifist until later. Most of those who were my mentors
were in prison as objectors during WW II - Bayard Rustin, Dave Dellinger,
Ralph DiGia, Larry Gara, and many others. When asked about that "good war"
I've always felt (and Howard Zinn confirms this) that no one who served in
that war could return without an awareness of the moral complexity of it. I
know this was true of my own father. I've also felt that none of those who
were in prison for draft resistance could be neutral about the war that
raged at a distance or not have some questions about whether they had made
the right decision. I am grateful toHoward Zinn for the thought he put into
this short piece. 

David McReynolds
Green Party candidate for US Senate in New York

> [Original Message]
> From: <nytr at olm.blythe-systems.com>
> To: <nytr at olm.blythe-systems.com (NYTr List)>
> Date: 7/15/2004 10:59:45 PM
> Subject: [NYTr] Zinn: Dissent at the War Memorial
> Via NY Transfer News Collective  *  All the News that Doesn't Fit
> The Progressive - August 2004
> http://www.progressive.org/august04/zinn0804.html
> Dissent at the War Memorial
> By Howard Zinn
> As I write this, the sounds of the World War II Memorial celebration in
> Washington, D.C., are still in my head. I was invited by the Smithsonian
> Institution to be on one of the panels, and the person who called to
> me said that the theme would be "War Stories." I told him that I would
> but not to tell "war stories," rather to talk about World War II and its
> meaning for us today. Fine, he said.
> I made my way into a scene that looked like a movie set for a Cecil B.
> DeMille extravaganza--huge tents pitched here and there, hawkers with
> souvenirs, thousands of visitors, many of them clearly World War II
> veterans, some in old uniforms, sporting military caps, wearing their
> medals. In the tent designated for my panel, I joined my fellow panelist,
> African American woman who had served with the WACS (Women's Army Corps)
> World War II, and who would speak about her personal experiences in a
> racially segregated army.
> I was introduced as a veteran of the Army Air Corps, a bombardier who had
> flown combat missions over Europe in the last months of the war. I wasn't
> sure how this audience would react to what I had to say about the war, in
> that atmosphere of celebration, in the honoring of the dead, in the glow
> a great victory accompanied by countless acts of military heroism.
> This, roughly, is what I said: "I'm here to honor the two guys who were my
> closest buddies in the Air Corps--Joe Perry and Ed Plotkin, both of whom
> were killed in the last weeks of the war. And to honor all the others who
> died in that war. But I'm not here to honor war itself. I'm not here to
> honor the men in Washington who send the young to war. I'm certainly not
> here to honor those in authority who are now waging an immoral war in
> I went on: "World War II is not simply and purely a 'good war.' It was
> accompanied by too many atrocities on our side--too many bombings of
> civilian populations. There were too many betrayals of the principles for
> which the war was supposed to have been fought.
> "Yes, World War II had a strong moral aspect to it--the defeat of fascism.
> But I deeply resent the way the so-called good war has been used to cast
> glow over all the immoral wars we have fought in the past fifty years: in
> Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan. I certainly
> don't want our government to use the triumphal excitement surrounding
> War II to cover up the horrors now taking place in Iraq.
> "I don't want to honor military heroism--that conceals too much death and
> suffering. I want to honor those who all these years have opposed the
> of war."
> The audience applauded. But I wasn't sure what that meant. I knew I was
> going against the grain of orthodoxy, the romanticization of the war in
> movies and television and now in the war memorial celebrations in the
> nation's capital.
> There was a question-and-answer period. The first person to walk up front
> was a veteran of World War II, wearing parts of his old uniform. He spoke
> into the microphone: "I was wounded in World War II and have a Purple
> to show for it. If President Bush were here right now I would throw that
> medal in his face."
> There was a moment of what I think was shock at the force of his
> Then applause. I wondered if I was seeing a phenomenon that recurs often
> society--when one voice speaks out against the conventional wisdom, and is
> recognized as speaking truth, people are drawn out of their previous
> silence.
> I was encouraged by the thought that it is possible to challenge the
> standard glorification of the Second World War, and more important, to
> refuse to allow it to give war a good name. I did not want this
> to make it easy for the American public to accept whatever monstrous
> adventure is cooked up by the establishment in Washington.
> More and more, I am finding that I am not the only veteran of World War II
> who refuses to be corralled into justifying the wars of today, drawing on
> the emotional and moral capital of World War II. There are other veterans
> who do not want to overlook the moral complexity of World War II: the
> imperial intentions of the Allies even as they declared it a war against
> fascism, and for democracy; the deliberate bombing of civilian populations
> to destroy the morale of the enemy.
> Paul Fussell was an infantry lieutenant who was badly wounded while a
> platoon leader in France in World War II.
> "For the past fifty years the Allied war has been sanitized and
> almost beyond recognition by the sentimental, the loony patriotic, the
> ignorant, and the bloodthirsty," he wrote in Wartime.
> It was easier, after the end of World War II, to point to its stupidities
> and cruelties in fiction rather than in a direct onslaught on what was so
> universally acclaimed as "the good war." Thus, Joseph Heller in Catch-22
> captured the idiocy of military life, the crass profiteering, the
> bombings. And Kurt Vonnegut, in Slaughterhouse-Five, brought to a large
> readership the awful story of the bombing of Dresden.
> My own delayed criticism of the war--I had volunteered and was an
> enthusiastic bombardier--began with reflecting about my participation in
> bombing of Royan. This was a small town on the Atlantic coast of France,
> where several thousand German soldiers had been overrun and were waiting
> the war to end. Twelve hundred heavy bombers flew over the vicinity of
> and dropped napalm, killing German soldiers and French civilians,
> what was once a beautiful little resort town.
> Recently, a man wrote to me who had heard me speak on the radio about that
> bombing mission and said he was also on that mission. After the war, he
> became a fireman, then a carpenter, and is now a strong opponent of war.
> told me of a friend of his who was also on that mission, and who has been
> arrested many times in anti-war actions. I was encouraged to hear that.
> World War II veterans get in touch with me from time to time. One is
> Wood Jr. of Denver, who upon hearing I was going to be at the Washington
> Memorial, wrote to me: He said, "If I were there, I would say: As a combat
> veteran of World War II, severely wounded in France in 1944, never the
man I
> might have been because of that wound, I so wish that this memorial to
> War II might have been made of more than stone or marble. I mourn my
> generation's failures since its victory in World War II . . . our legacy
> incessant warfare in smaller nations far from our borders."
> Another airman, Ken Norwood, was shot down on his tenth mission over
> and spent a year as a prisoner of war in Germany. He has written a memoir
> (unpublished, so far) which he says is "intentionally an anti-war war
> story." Packed first into a box car, and then forced to march for two
> through Bavaria in the spring of 1945, Norwood saw the mangled corpses of
> the victims of Allied bombs, the working class neighborhoods destroyed.
> his experiences, he says, "add to the harsh testimony about the futility
> obscenity of war."
> The glorification of the "good war" persists on our television and movie
> screens, in the press, in the pretentious speeches by politicians. The
> ugly the stories that come out of Iraq--the bombing of civilians, the
> mutilation of children, the invasion of homes, and now the torture of
> prisoners--the more urgent it is for our government to try to crowd out
> those images with the triumphant stories of D-Day and World War II.
> Those who fought in that war are perhaps better able than anyone to insist
> that whatever moral standing can be attached to that war must not be used
> turn our eyes away from Bush's atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq.
> [Howard Zinn, the author of "A People's History of the United States," is
> columnist for The Progressive.]
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