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Conversation with Howard Zinn
by Andrea Licata
March 2004

Authoritative scholar, internationally known, Professor Emeritus in Political Science at Boston University, Howard Zinn (1922) is one of the most brilliant historians of USA. Free and original voice, attentive and exact writer, Zinn is today, to begin with the US, one of the most important reference points for the peace movement.

What interests pushed the US into the war against Iraq?

First, the oil of the Middle East, which has been central to U.S. policy in the Middle East since the end of World War II, when the United States replaced England as the main player in the oil industry of the Middle East. Second: the need to have another military base in the Middle East. Third: internal politics, that is, the Bush administration came into office under a cloud, the strange election of 2000, and Bush needed to boost his standing with the public. He knew, his advisers knew, that when a President gets into a war, his public approval immediately goes up because people feel they must stand behind the President.

Which are the reactions of US university circles to this new war?

There is no one reaction. I would guess that most Faculty are opposed to the war in Iraq. As for students, there is a great deal of ignorance and misinformation among students, and so they would be like the general population, half for, half against the war. Those of us who speak around the country to large student audiences of one or two thousands (and these are not anti-war groups) as soon as we give them some information they respond positively to our anti-war message.

What kind of opposition against the war has emerged in universities?

The universities have not been leaders in the opposition. The anti-war activity has been mostly in communities all over the country.

Are these movements internationalist?

Do you mean, do these movements have an internationalist consciousness, I would say yes. These movements feel a kinship with the Iraqi people and a kinship with all those people in Europe and elsewhere in the world who protested against the war.

What about the so-called patriotic university associations and patriotic university teachers in favor of the war? What about their effort?

There is very little organized pro-war activity in the universities. The Faculty who favor the war tend to be quiet about it, knowing that their position is a minority position.

How would you describe the history and the current situation of military researches in US Universities? What can we do today to contrast them anywhere?

I'm not sure what you mean by "military researches".

I mean the cooperation between universities and Defense Department, that is research financed by Defense Department or by private military industries, research that are finalized to increase the weapons efficiency, the Strategic Studies...

Many universities have contracts with the Defense Department - especially places like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. This became important during the Cold War, became an object of interest to the anti-war student movement during the Vietnam War, and continues today with the huge military budget.

Which suggestions would you give to a student interested in subjects as peace, nonviolence and antimilitarism? Which are the more open-minded US Universities under this point of view?

I would say that New York University, especially in the History Department, has very politically conscious and anti-war Faculty. To some extent, Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin. There is an organization called "Historians against the war" (they have a website -, I think).

Which are, according to you, the most interesting US writers that a European student could read?

Noam Chomsky of course, Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and dimed), Daniel Ellsberg (Secrets), Chalmers Johnson (Blowback and The sorrow of empire), Marilyn Young (The Vietnam Wars) also the novelist Barbara Kingsolver, especially her novel The poisonwood bible which deals with the Congo. Of course, Michael Moore.

Which initiatives are you busy with in the last months? With which European intellectuals do you have good collaborations?
I am involved with "Historians against the war". I am speaking all over the country about the war. As for European intellectuals, I am being reprinted in Le Monde Diplomatique and have a regular correspondence with the economist Frederic Clairmonte, who writes for Le Monde Diplomatique.

As an expert of their history, which is, according to you, the future of peace movements in the US?

I believe the peace movement is growing, and will continue to grow, because the failure of "the war on terrorism" and the lies associated with it, have become more and more obvious to the American public.