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March 2002 • Vol 2, No. 3 •

The Great Deception:
Elusive Enemy, Endless War

By Howard Zinn

It is becoming clearer every day that the nation has been seriously, tragically deceived by the Bush administration, with the collaboration of a timorous Democratic Party.

The clue to this was in Bush’s State of the Union Address. He began by saying we are “winning the war on terror.” A few paragraphs later he said “tens of thousands of terrorists are still at large,” and, “Terror training camps still exist in at least a dozen countries.” If so, how can we be “winning” the war on terrorism?

And if it is clear that we are not, why have we bombed Afghanistan, an already bombed and starving country, for four months? Why have we killed a thousand or two thousand or four thousand (no one knows the exact number) innocent men, women, and children?

Was not the bombing intended to destroy the Al Qaeda network? The Boston Globe reported on February 21st: “Four months into the campaign in Afghanistan, U.S. officials acknowledged that American forces have killed or captured only one senior Al Qaeda figure and seven far less prominent leaders.”

In fact, there was no chance from the beginning that we could “win” a war on terrorism because terrorism is not that kind of phenomenon. It is not Japan or Germany in World War II, or Iraq in the Gulf War. It is a phenomenon that can spring from any country in the world where there are people who are angry at the United States.

The prospect is for a war without end. For, as the President says: “These enemies view the entire world as a battlefield, and we must pursue them wherever they are.” He says: “The campaign may not be finished on our watch.” He will pass on the war to the next president, and perhaps the next and the next.

How useful to have an enemy who is so elusive, whose defeat will require an endless war. Because so long as the nation is in a state of war, it is possible to control the population by saying: we are at war, and this is no time for division, we must sacrifice our freedoms. But it is exactly when the nation is at war, when we are dealing with life and death matters, that freedom of speech is most necessary.

We are told we have all sorts of enemies to fear: non-citizens and dissidents at home, an infinite number of mysterious enemies abroad. We will have to concentrate not only our resources, but our attention, on that endless war. We will be looking everywhere in the world for our enemies.

The “war on terrorism,” which cannot locate the perpetrators of the crime of September 11th, is useful for our political leaders, because while searching for an invisible enemy we will not be paying attention to what the government is doing to the citizens of this country in the name of that war.

If citizens are forced to concentrate on a “war against terrorism” they may not have time to consider that perhaps our most serious problem, despite the awful event of September 11th, is a political system in which the government can fund four hundred billions for its military machine, but cannot find the money to give free health care, decent housing, minimum family incomes—all those requisites for children to grow up healthy.

Is it possible that the war being waged is really a war against us? Yes, we do have enemies in caves and compounds abroad, but perhaps our greatest danger comes from the corporate boardrooms and governmental offices where decisions are made that take away our tax dollars and satisfy the greed for profit and power.

If that is so, we will need a resurgence of democracy, a revival of free speech, a new citizens movement, a mobilization of Americans to insist that the nation’s wealth be used for human needs, not for war. Joined to similar movements abroad, it could be the beginning of global solidarity, looking to a long-delayed sharing of the fruits of the earth. H

Howard Zinn is an historian and author of A People’s History of the United States.

February 27, 2002





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