A bad week for my personal heroes. First, Kate McGarrigle, and now Howard Zinn.
Here is a basic obit from the AP, which is all that we find on the New York Times web edition. (Which I find odd. I mean, he was 87, and there was no canned obit ready to go?)
By now, there are tons of tributes online, so I’ll just offer one memorable interview. Here he speaks of the fact that he did horrible things in the waning days of World War II. As part of a bomber crew, he dropped napalm on a tiny French village as a kind of experiment (the flight crews were not told), but he stood up to what he had done.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about your final bombing run, not over Japan, not over Germany, but over France?
HOWARD ZINN: Yeah. Well, we thought bombing missions were over. The war was about to come to an end. This was in April of 1945, and remember the war ended in early May 1945. This was a few weeks before the war was going to be over, and everybody knew it was going to be over, and our armies were past France into Germany, but there was a little pocket of German soldiers hanging around this little town of Royan on the Atlantic coast of France, and the Air Force decided to bomb them. 1,200 heavy bombers, and I was in one of them, flew over this little town of Royan and dropped napalm—first use of napalm in the European theater. And we didn’t know how many people were killed, how many people were terribly burned as a result of what we did. But I did it like most soldiers do, unthinkingly, mechanically, thinking we’re on the right side, they’re on the wrong side, and therefore we can do whatever we want, and it’s okay. And only afterward, only really after the war when I was reading about Hiroshima from John Hersey and reading the stories of the survivors of Hiroshima and what they went through, only then did I begin to think about the human effects of bombing. Only then did I begin to think about what it meant to human beings on the ground when bombs were dropped on them, because as a bombardier, I was flying at 30,000 feet, six miles high, couldn’t hear screams, couldn’t see blood. And this is modern warfare.
In modern warfare, soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place. And I think reflecting back on that bombing raid, and thinking of that in Hiroshima and all of the other raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge numbers of civilians in German and Japanese cities, the killing of a hundred thousand people in Tokyo in one night of fire-bombing, all of that made me realize war, even so-called good wars against fascism like World War II, wars don’t solve any fundamental problems, and they always poison everybody on both sides. They poison the minds and souls of everybody on both sides. We are seeing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are not wanted. And the results are terrible.
Zinn goes on to say that ten years later he visited the village and spoke to survivors, and relatives of those killed by the napalm bombing:
And they were very bitter about the bombing, and you know, they attributed it to all sorts of things, the desire to try out a new weapon. It’s amazing how many things are done in a war just to try out new weapons. You know, maybe the—one of the reasons for dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to see what this does to human beings. Human beings become sacrifices in the desire to develop new military technology. And I think that was one of those instances.