[Note to Tomdispatch readers: You have to be careful these days about predicting the obvious. In my last piece, Iraq in America, I wrote, “…don’t hold your breath about either the Pentagon’s or the administration’s nation-building skills in the U.S. (But count on ‘reconstruction’ contracts going to Halliburton.)” Well, as readers were quick to inform me, I was already behind the times. The first contract — to repair Katrina storm damage at Gulf Coast naval facilities — had already been issued to our Vice President’s former company.
In fact, as National Guards and other troops finally poured into New Orleans, the Iraq-in-America parallels only grew. There was the FEMA attempt to prevent the taking of news photos of dead bodies — think of those bodies coming home to Dover Air Force Base from Iraq — and the Army Times piece that referred to “the insurgency” in New Orleans, not to speak of GIs in that city and Iraq who noted eerie resonances between the two situations, or the Louisiana National Guardsman who referred to potential snipers in New Orleans as “terrorists.” And let’s not forget all those “private security contractors that specialize in supporting military operations in war-torn countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan” now heading for the Big Easy to protect businesses and private residences. Talk about the war coming home…
Then I suggested that the administration’s initial moves in the Katrina crisis — easing pollution standards for gas blends and bolstering the Pentagon’s new Northcom command — did little more than forward their usual agenda. No sooner had I written that than David Rogers and John J. Fialka of the Wall Street Journal reported (“Hurricane Reorders Capitol Hill,” September 8) on Republicans in Congress weighing in with plans to ease yet more pollution standards, pursue further tax cuts “to ease the price squeeze,” and (doh!) allow “exploration for oil and gas along the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.” Talk about bulldogs in a storm!
In any case, with an urge not to let this site grow either predictable or obvious, and armed with two cheap tape recorders and a reasonable amount of nerve, I’m launching a new feature: the Tomdispatch interview. I often have the feeling that between brief quotes in the newspapers and the normal 12-second comments by “newsmakers” on TV, we seldom hear voices speaking directly to us for long. I also like the idea of watching people think aloud about matters that concern us all. And then, for me, there’s just the pleasure of talking to a Howard Zinn. Tom]
The Outer Limits of Empire:
A Tomdispatch Interview with Howard Zinn
He’s tall and thin, with a shock of white hair. A bombardier in the great war against fascism and an antiwar veteran of America’s wars ever since, he’s best known as the author of the pathbreaking A People’s History of the United States, and as an expert on the unexpected voices of resistance that have so regularly made themselves heard throughout our history. At 83 (though he looks a decade younger), he is also a veteran of a rugged century and yet there’s nothing backward looking about him. His voice is quiet and he clearly takes himself with a grain of salt, chuckling wryly on occasion at his own comments. From time to time, when a thought pleases him and his well-used face lights up or breaks out in a bona fide grin, he looks positively boyish.
We sit down on the back porch of the small coffee shop, alone, on a vacation morning. He has a croissant and coffee in front of him. I suggest that perhaps we should start after breakfast, but he assures me that there’s no particular contradiction between eating and talking and so, as a novice interviewer, I awkwardly turn on my two tape recorders – one of which, on pause, will still miss several minutes of our conversation (our equivalent, we joke, of Nixon’s infamous 18-minute gap). In preparation, he pushes aside his half-eaten breakfast, never to touch it again, and we begin.
Tomdispatch: You and Anthony Arnove just came out with a new book, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, featuring American voices of resistance from our earliest moments to late last night. Now, we have a striking new voice of resistance, Cindy Sheehan. I was wondering what you made of her?