As we see it: Vietnam '68; Dr. Howard Zinn
National Educational radio presents as we see it Vietnam 68 a series of appearances of noted spokesman presenting their various views on the war in Vietnam. As we see it Vietnam 68 was conducted over a period of five weeks last spring on the campus of Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Under the sponsorship of the Miami University Student Senate because of the time period that has elapsed between the time these discussions were presented and the president these speeches should be taken to represent the views of the speakers at that time. Nevertheless even with the current events concerning the South-East Asian area these speeches represent valuable background on the Vietnam situation. The speaker for this program is Dr. Howard Zinn associate professor of Government at Boston University. Dr Zen was a fellow at the Harvard University Center for East Asian studies and was director of the non-Western studies program at Atlanta University before moving to Boston University. Speaking in as we see it Vietnam 68 here is Dr. Howard Zinn.
Of course. Hello.
But we're getting specific about Vietnam I'd like to get a little abstract and historical. It's just what you love about the academic world seems to me that something is happening and not only in this country but in other parts of the world. It has significance beyond Vietnam.
And I see it in the sit in at Howard University in Washington and I see it in a sit in in Warsaw University CNN developments in Czechoslovakia.
I sit in meetings like this taking place in Vietnam all over the country. And it seems to me that what is. Happening is that a new generation in my new generation I don't just mean this college generation but I mean a new generation ideologically not just chronologically but I suspect it's true also of older people who now I thinking I knew about events you know work in the world I think a new new generation is somehow trying to break out of the bounds out of the boundaries how to say well out of out of places like best out of the city the strategic hamlets that society creates for us both physically and ideologically.
And people are somehow trying to get back to the well of the essence of thing of what people are what they want.
Of a human need was way back in there at the beginning of what it's all supposed to be about and what we're supposed to be living for.
And this means somehow getting past the objects the symbols the totems the taboos.
Now that civilization erects between us and that ultimate something that we want and that we think here is the essence of being human.
I think that what we're trying to do is to result the ambiguity of being human which is an ambiguity around the whole problem of symbols and things and representations because on the one hand.
It is precisely this the manipulation of symbols of words and figures which is enabled man to manipulate control mold his environment and create all of those marvelous things.
Sometimes we wonder all of those things that represent progress.
And on the other hand it is also symbols words things.
Which somehow in prison ops.
And don't allow us to take full advantage of that which the other kind of symbolic manipulation has enabled us to do and it seems to me that to get just a little less abstract I figure I'll work myself towards the real you know and be back.
In a few days I'll be there.
But to get a little just a little less abstract it seems to me that war's war single singular or plural.
War represents this dilemma probably more sharply than any other phenomenon we have.
Been at war.
War is presented and accepted on the basis of symbols.
You can't. War represents mass killing. It represents impersonal killing.
And whereas animals need some very specific reason for committing violence they need a visible tangible immediate reason for committing violence.
It is to man's great credit a sign of his civilization and a sign of his superiority that he doesn't need a visible and tangible reason for committing violence it is of the nature of war that huge amounts of violence can be dispensed against objects which are not visible and for causes which are hardly as attainable and certainly not measurable.
And so that wars represent this problem of symbols at.
The most acute point.
Through history for as long as we can remember the rulers of nations have sent the young people to war.
And generally for.
No good reason other than their own wealth or their own or their own Christie their own pride.
And I've always used two methods one was compulsion and the other was simple words and these words were either frightening words like Muslims are about to take over the world or the Huns are about to take over the world or the Jews are about to take over the world or the Catholics are about to take.
In the world of the communists are about to take over the world or these were inspiring words like.
We need to make the world safe for democracy. Christianity Western civilization the motherland.
Will all sorts of other things.
Clipping apple pie.
And you wonder what makes what makes it possible for this to happen.
Again and again for a very long time throughout history.
Well for one thing it seems hard to trace from that symbol from the word from the phrase to what it is supposed to represent this is a very difficult and complex process and people don't have the time or the wherewithal the ability to do this and so others do it for them while others pretend to do it for them.
Maybe it turns out that nobody really traces it back. But the average person doesn't feel it is his job to look beyond the symbol to see what it really represents.
Then there's another factor and that is that symbols have this marvelous quality.
They represent infinite amounts of good or evil.
So that everything else which you need to measure against the value of the war.
Let us say the cost of the law.
Let us say the number of people killed in the war. The number of people injured the number of people homeless.
The amount of pain caused by a lot of us is all finite. It may be a large number but it's a finite number. It may be a hundred thousand people or a million people or ten million people but it's a finite number.
Liberty is infinite.
Democracy is infinite so that if 10 million die in World War One.
On the battlefield and if they died to make the world safe for democracy.
Then you measure that finite quantity of ten million deaths against the infinite goodness of democracy and it's so clear that it was all worth it.
Now this is what happens when we deal with democracy with liberty.
And also when we deal with the anti symbols with the enemy with evil because evil is always represented as infinite evil and if evil is infinite there is no amount of human suffering that is not worth fighting against this evil.
This is the marvelous. Marvelous quality.
That symbols have. There is another factor that makes us subservient to the coming of war and the acceptance of war.
And that is that every once in a while in human history a war comes along which can be in some way linked to a social good in a visible way.
As this seems to be some at least very rough Congar alliance between the war and a social goal. More concrete than just the general statement about freedom or democracy. Well the nice thing about this is that because this happens every once in a while it happens just often enough to cast a very warm glow around all the other wars that take place where you can find any possible social goal.
And so if you have a revolutionary war with whatever social good is embodied in the idea of independence from England.
Well then this casts a very nice light over the War of 1812 which no one has ever been able to explain.
Well the Mexican law for which nobody can really find any good reason and just about the time you begin to be suspicious.
The Civil War comes along which is tied to slavery.
And here it's sure Six hundred thousand men die.
But there it seems quite clear the war ends and the 13th remembers past and slavery is gone.
Well that's very convenient because then when the Spanish-American War comes along.
Well you can always go back and say remember how we fought for freedom in the old days also same thing now.
It's people don't check up on analogies.
I mean I have to throw him out and all you have to say Remember freedom civil war Spanish-American War freedom remember slavery. Now the Cubans their slaves under the US. We're going to help plan.
It's true it becomes hard to explain then why you also in the process of freeing the Cubans pick up the Philippine Islands which are after all on the other side of the Pacific. The whereabouts of which McKinley did not know until he picked them up.
McKinley said that he didn't know what to do with the Philippines but that he got down on his knees and prayed and God told him to take the Philippines.
God was a political scientist in those days and he analyzed the entire international situation and he came to the conclusion that nobody in the world deserved to own the Philippines more than the United States.
Of course the Filipinos did not get the same message from God. And so they rebelled against the United States and fought bitterly for several years against this divine message against McKinley desired to Christianize and civilize them.
But what the heathens know about things like that.
And there was still you know that aura of the Civil War may have lasted even as far as World War 1 although it was wearing thin by this time you know to this to this day historians American historians are trying to explain why the United States entered World War 1.
Trying to explain why anybody entered World War 1.
And yet we would just remember there's a very very severe disillusionment after World War 1 and there were the in the 20s there were all the anti-war novels and plays and poems.
Just about when people were beginning to decide that war was just no good period Hitler came along and we had him to thank.
For once again making war are a noble venture because since we engaged in that and then.
Well you could hardly have a more visible understandable evil than Hitler and Nazi ism all the trappings of it if you stretched your imagination to find the embodiment of evil and tried to stage it. You still couldn't match what Naziism and Hitler did the way they walked and talked.
The kids who see the old movies don't think that these must be actors can't be true.
Well after that after World War 2.
It has become.
A little easier to talk.
About wars for freedom and now any war that we fight. Can be invested with that same soft glow. That World War Two had.
No matter what the specific circumstances of the new war and that's why you see so much talk in Vietnam issues and Vietnam debates about the Munich analogy.
And that's why Chamberlain and Munich and Churchill and LBJ compared Marshall Kyi to Churchill.
Now we compared ZM to Churchill he compared Marshall Kyi to Tugwell That's right.
And what happened is that people forgot.
That war at its best. You know admitting it's a phenomena what has it's best that war at its best has always meant an unfocused indiscriminate and massive amount of violence even where some social good was involved.
So that along with the romance of defeating Hitler you have to accept the reality of Hiroshima.
And that's war at its best.
And people also forgot that war at its worst is war without any visible.
Understandable tangible social reason.
This is the kind of war we have in Vietnam.
And that's why the administration is having such a hard time convincing the American people who after all are always ready to be convinced and we are a patriotic bunch and we didn't go to fight in World War Two and one is always.
But if the president of the United States and the secretary of state and the vice president and the secretary of defense and all of the big guns of the administration with all the TV time and press interviews and so on. If they have a hard time convincing the patriotic American people so ready only as in history to be convinced of the rightness of the law.
If they have this difficulty then there must be something wrong here.
At least something worth in investigating.
What happens is that symbols.
Which once stood for something we thought we knew about life liberty pursuit of happiness democracy freedom determination.
We had some vague notion.
About what this meant but what happens we begin to substitute secondary symbols for those original abstract symbols.
Secondary symbols which are even harder to trace which become substitutes which then stand for that which we originally wanted.
And then finally stand on their own and are untested. And so we use symbols.
Which are removed by one or more degrees from that value which we originally held and which we don't check up on anymore and we make absolutes of these symbols. We don't question them we don't question what's behind them.
And so if you read that two hundred of the enemy were killed yesterday. You don't have to look any further.
You don't have to know whether to feel you don't have to inspect that to see whether you should feel good or bad.
You should know. That anybody called the enemy if he is killed. Then you should feel a glow of pride.
We we're winning we something good happened yesterday. Two hundred of the enemy were killed. Now nobody looks behind that.
And wanted to see who these people are who were killed you would have to go out there to the villages of Vietnam.
And you'd have to take a look now that people have taken a look tell us that a lot of these people who were killed by just people that is they just farmers were just peasants or just wives of farmers or just.
Grandfathers and grandmothers with children or Jonathan Shell who told us about the destruction of the village of Ben's Soup book The enemy were two people who was sitting on the ground having a picnic when an American helicopter pilot decided that they were the enemy or a man riding a bicycle out of the village was the enemy because he was riding the bicycle West when he should have been riding it east.
I don't know how many of you read Joseph Heller's book Catch 22 but there's a marvelous scene in that.
You know Yossarian is the mad Bombardier. What makes him mad is that he's decided doesn't want to die. Anybody who is in war decides he doesn't want to die.
You must be mad.
He's flown too many missions and he wants to stop.
So he becomes what you might call unpatriotic.
And his friend Clevenger the Harvard man a gung ho patriot is annoyed at your salary and he doesn't like the things that you say Aryan is beginning to say he said you know you're sorry and he says you shouldn't talk that way. So you are giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
And you Syrian says Look here Clevenger. He picked up this little hobbit saying look here Clevenger.
The enemy the enemy is whoever wants to get you killed.
Whichever side there are. You said. Now. With.
Thank. You said you better remember that collateral. Well one of these days you'll be dead. You know I'm of the line that came after that.
It was one of those things that in a way the Joes of color drop these lines into this novel and Clevenger forgot that and soon he was dead.
I remember that sometimes I think that one of the reasons that Benjamin Spock has been indicted instead of lots of other people they could have picked this is Dr. Spock had the nerve to say on national television that the enemy of the American people was Lyndon Johnson.
Now we're not used to hearing that and we don't like to hear things like that because the enemy is always somebody else the enemy can't be a real two fisted American born in Texas. He can't be that and our enemy an enemy must speak with a foreign accent.
Not a Texas accent. AFAI minds. You must look different be different. And then he is the enemy no matter what he's really like.
But I think that's what got Dr. Spock.
In a good deal of trouble.
Among other things we caught another example of the symbolism of communism.
Communism has become to us what the word Catholic. Well the word Protestant.
In the Thirty Years War in the religious wars.
What June was in Germany.
I started staying in the South but I really mean everywhere and that is a word which no longer requires examination of human beings as once that word is uttered everything is clear.
This word tells you immediately where you what side you are on and who to kill.
And so as the headline says 250 communists were killed yesterday.
This is cause for rejoicing.
But when you think about it.
How do they decide these 250 people who were killed work communists. And what is a communist anyway.
And how many different kinds of communists are there in the world and how many different kinds of people are there in the world. And it's hard enough to take a body count.
Can you also take a political body.
Communism is not a single easily identifiable kind of object.
Young people demonstrating in Poland and Czechoslovakia many of them are communists. The manager of the collective farm who wrote.
To Cassini in protesting against the jailing of Soviet intellectuals was a communist.
There are Chinese communists and there are Czech communists and there are Russian Communists and there are ninety seven different varieties of each and then there are Vietnamese Communists and there is Russian communism and there is Yugoslav communism and there's Albany and communism and there is Vietnamese communist.
And how can we decide. Just on the basis of knowing these are communists that they must die.
Without looking behind the symbol and inspecting Who are these people and what are they doing and what have they done.
And what do they stand for.
If we are only going to accept symbols.
And not try to look behind them then we are removing from the realm of human possibility certain things which might be true.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- As we see it: Vietnam '68
- Dr. Howard Zinn
- Producing Organization
- Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- For series info, see Item 3509. This prog.: Dr. Howard Zinn, assoc. prof. of government, Boston U.; former director, Non-Western Studies Program, Atlanta U.
- War and Conflict
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Producing Organization: WMUB
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Identifier: 68-28-10 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- Chicago: “As we see it: Vietnam '68; Dr. Howard Zinn,” 1968-07-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 21, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_500-862bdc1v.
- MLA: “As we see it: Vietnam '68; Dr. Howard Zinn.” 1968-07-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 21, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_500-862bdc1v>.
- APA: As we see it: Vietnam '68; Dr. Howard Zinn. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_500-862bdc1v