Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Howard Zinn, on the legacy of Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara, and the possibilities for reform from inside the halls of power

On Democracy Now today, Howard Zinn offers this brilliant and far-reaching analysis, upon the death of Robert McNamara:

Well, assessing the legacy … It seems to me one of the things which we should be thinking about, is that McNamara represented all of those superficial qualities of brightness and intelligence and education that are so revered in our culture. This whole idea that you judge young kids today on the basis of what their test scores are, how smart they are, how much information they can digest, how much they can give back to you and remember. That’s what McNamara was good at. He was bright and he was smart, but he had no moral intelligence. What strikes me as one of the many things we can learn from this McNamara experience is that we’ve got to stop revering these superficial qualities of brightness and smartness, and bring up a generation which thinks in moral terms, which has moral intelligence, and which asks questions not, “Do we win or do we lose?” Asks questions, “Is this right? Is it wrong?” And McNamara never asked that question. Even when he was leaving, even when he decided he had to leave the post of Secretary of Defense, even when he left, his leaving was not based on the fact that the war was wrong. His leaving was based on the fact, well, we weren’t going to win.

Unfortunately, you know, the present administration is still stuck in that kind of thinking. You know, I hear them talking in the White House and around the White House, Obama and the others, about winning in Afghanistan, and not asking, “Is it right that we are in Afghanistan?” To me, that’s one of the important things to think about when we try to learn something from the life of this figure McNamara.

Another thing I suppose I’d think about is that after he decided that we should get out of the Vietnam, after he decided that, he remained silent. He leaves in silence. He doesn’t speak out and tell the rest of the country, “We need to get out.” He doesn’t criticize the ongoing war whether it was under Johnson, or later under Nixon. No, he sits by silently while the war goes on. This is the kind of unpardonable thing that we should be, I think, very much concerned with.


And, even more sweeping:

Once you enter the machinery of government, once you enter the House of Empire, you are lost. You are going to be silenced. You may feel anguish and you may be torn and you may weep and so on, but you are not going to speak out. What lesson I think that is for us, for young people who may be thinking, as many young people do: “You know, I think I’ll enter the government and I’ll get in there and I’ll make a difference.” No. The people who made a difference are not the people inside the Pentagon. The people who made the difference are the people outside the Pentagon, the people who demonstrated against the Pentagon, the people in the streets, the movement. If people are going to devote their energy to making this a better world, they better not think of getting into that machine that destroyed people like McNamara and that silence them.


Thank you, Howard Zinn!

4 comments:

Hilary Goldberg said...

and thank You for reposting...just what I needed to read to start the day.

Love You!
hil

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Yay -- this is my favorite part:

"Once you enter the machinery of government, once you enter the House of Empire, you are lost. You are going to be silenced. You may feel anguish and you may be torn and you may weep and so on, but you are not going to speak out."

Gorgeous!

Love --
mattilda

Oli said...

what a mensch

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

:)

Love --
mattilda