Dennis Prager Interview with Professor Howard Zinn September 12, 2006 Dennis Prager: Youâre listening to the Dennis Prager Show and I welcome you to it. And we enter an hour wherein the motto of my show âI prefer clarity to agreementâ will probably be more evident than perhaps in other hours. If you are to name a professorânow emeritusâbut nevertheless, a professor in America who is well-known for his views on the Left, it would have to be I think either Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn. And I think Howard Zinn is far more read than the name of Noam Chomsky and his books. Howard Zinn is my guest; he is Professor Emeritus at Boston University, historian, playwright, social activist, college campus icon; newest book is Original Zinnâyou will I assume all get the punâConversations on History and Politics. And Professor Zinn, thank you for joining me. Howard Zinn: Well, thank you for inviting me. DP: Well, I know that you enjoy the give and take with people who donât tend to agree with you. HZ: Is that you? [Laughing] DP: Yes, that is me. Yes. Yes. HZ: I see. Okay, I sure do. Iâm looking forward to it. DP: Well, thatâs great. You know, there is in your dialogues here in Original Zinn, I think a good part of your view is summarized when you say, âIf people knew history, they would scoff at that, they would laugh at thatâ....the idea that the United States is a force for the betterment of humanity. I believe that we are the country that has done more good for humanity than any other in history and I suspect that you believe that....what would you say on a report cardâwe have done more bad than good, weâre in the middle or what? HZ: Well, probably more bad than good. Weâve done some good, of course; thereâs no doubt about that. But we have done too many bad things in the world. You know, if you look at the way we have used our armed force throughout our history: first destroying the Indian communities of this continent and annihilating Indian tribes, then going into the Caribbean in the Spanish-American War, going to the Philippines, taking over other countries, not establishing democracy but in many cases establishing dictatorship, holding up dictatorships in Latin America and giving them arms, and you know, Vietnam, killing several million people for no good reason at all, certainly not for democracy or liberty, and continuing down to the present day with the War in Iraqâweâre not bringing democracy to Iraq, weâre not bringing security to Iraq, and weâre responsible for the deaths of very large numbers of people, I mean, 2500 Americans, tens of thousands of Iraqis.... DP: Okay, well let me take some of the examples that you cited. First, most of the Indians, by all the scholarship that I have seen, and I often cite the Indian tragedyâand evilâthere is evil in the way we treated the Indians, there is no question about it. But thereâs also no question that the great majority died of disease and not deliberately inflicted disease. HZ: Oh, you know what, thatâs true that the great majority of Indians died of disease in the 17th century when the Europeans first came here. But after thatâafter the American Revolutionâwhen the colonists expanded from the thin band of colonies along the Atlantic and expanded westward, at that point we began to annihilate the Indian tribes. We committed massacres all over the country.... DP: What percentage of the Indians do you believe we massacred, as opposed to diseases ravaged? HZ: Oh, well it might have been 10 percent. DP: Okay, okay. So Iâll say that. But 10 percent is very different from the generalization of âwe annihilated the Indians.â HZ: Oh, well 10 percent is a huge number of Indians, that is. So itâs pointless I think to argue about whether disease orâby the way, disease brought by the Europeans.... DP: Yeah, but not intentionally. And the Europeans brought back diseases.... HZ: ....or deliberate attacks killed more Indians. All that Iâm saying isâbecause youâre asking for a sort of report card of the United Statesâand Iâm saying that the way we treated the Indians, and I thought you were agreeing with this, the wiping out of whole Indian villages and, you know.... DP: Well, yeah, but if we both agree with 10.... HZ: ....that is not a high mark for the United States. DP: No, but 10 percent is very different from what the general statement of âannihilateâ tends to indicate. Thatâs all I am saying. HZ: Okay. DP: Let me ask you this, then. HZ: Yes. DP: If, letâs say, Europeans never came to North America and it was left in the hands of the American indigenous Indians, do you think the world would be a better place? HZ: Iâd have no way of knowing [Laughing]. All I can say is.... DP: Alright, so youâre agnostic on that. HZ: Yeah, absolutely. We have no way of knowing what would have happened and.... DP: Well, we do have a way of knowing. If the Indians had never been intervened with, they would have continued in the life and the values of the societies that the American Indians made. HZ: Well, I suppose we could presume that. And many of their societies were very peaceful and benign, and some of their societies were ferocious and warlike. But the point is that we very often sort of justify barging into other peoplesâ territories by the fact that we are sort of bringing civilization. But in the course of it, if in the course of bringing civilization we kill large numbers of peopleâwhich we did in that case and which we have done in other casesâthen youâre led to question whether what we did deserves to be praised or condemned. DP: Well, you can do both. You can condemn the massacres and you can praise the civilization that we made here. Alright, so letâs move on. HZ: Okay. DP: You mention some of the wars and itâs mentioned in your book Original Zinn. HZ: Yes. DP: And take, for example, Korea. HZ: Yes. DP: I believe that we fought in Korea in order to enable at least half of that benighted peninsula to live in relative freedom and prosperity, and the half that we did not liberate is living in the nightmareâalmost Nazi-like conditionâof the North Korean government. HZ: Yeah, well.... DP: Why donât you see that as a great good that Americans did? HZ: Well, I think that itâs....your description of the North Korean government is accurate. Itâs sort of a monstrous government. But when we went to war in Korea the result of that war was the deaths of several million people. And I question, you know, whether the deaths of those several million peopleâKoreans; of course maybe 55,000 Americansâwas worth the result. Because the immediate result was to leave the dictatorship in place in North Korea and to leave a dictatorship in place in South Korea. Remember, at that time, South Korea was not a democracy. South Korea was a dictatorship just as North Korea was. And we had gone through three years of war with all these people dying, and at the end of it, we were back where we started. Now, there are brutal regimes around the world, like the North Korean regime. But what Iâm saying is I donât think the answer to these brutal regimes is wars which kill large numbers of people. I think we have to find ways of undermining brutal regimes over a period of time, letting people themselves build up their own resistance. This is whatâs happened in the Soviet Union. We didnât destroy Stalinism by going to war.... DP: Well, alright. Letâs stick....forgive me....Professor, let me just stick to Korea for a moment. HZ: Sure. DP: Do you....this is why I mean....I just want to understand where we differ. Do you believe if America had never intervened, do we both agree that Kim Il-sungâthe psychopathic dictator of North Koreaâwould have ruled over the entire Korean peninsula? HZ: Um....probably. I think thatâs probably true. DP: Okay. Do you believe that that would be a net moral or immoral result for the Korean people and the world? HZ: Well, there were two immoral results. That would have been an immoral result, but the result of the war itself was also immoralâand Iâm talking about the killing of several million people. And what Iâm suggesting is that the answer to tyrannyâthe tyranny of North Korea, whether it existed just there or it moved to South Koreaâthe answer to tyrannies like that is not war, which in our time always involves the massive killing of innocent people. I mean, thatâs what war is. And I think we have to find ways other than war to get rid of dictatorships and tyrannies. DP: Well, I would love that. But this is where we often consider people on the Left, at best, to be naÃ¯ve. There arenât peaceful ways to get rid of a Kim Jong-il or a Kim Il-sung. Weâll continue in a moment. Youâre listening to the Dennis Prager Show. Iâm speaking to the extremely well-known professor who has views of the Left. He is the author of the famous series of A Peopleâs History of the United States; his latest book Original Zinn, Howard Zinn.