Whole Lotta Lies
War Is A Lie
Howard Zinn, probably the most influential American historian ever, had an amazing sense of humor when he lectured or met people in person. He could make fun of himself and the audience in a way that exploded the guilt and ambivalence that so often paralyzes liberals, progressives, greens, socialists, anarchists, communists and everyone else on the more-or-less left. Only occasionally, however, did Zinn use his sense of humor in print. His masterpiece, A People’s History of the United States, had no humor at all, as he himself pointed out, because he didn’t find anything funny about the Trail of Tears and all the other ghastly episodes he wove into a narrative that convinced millions of citizens the United States was something less than what they had believed.
What Zinn went for in his writing—always—was clarity. I’ve got most of his books, and there isn’t an obscure, academic, post-modern, high priestly syllable in them. Anyone of normal intelligence over the age of 12 could understand him. Which is not to say that Zinn wasn’t misunderstood. He was, of course. But it was always willful misunderstanding. Establishment historians always misunderstood him, because to admit the validity of the story Zinn chose to tell was to understand that the careers of establishment historians were pathetic, if well remunerated. So they never answered his arguments. They either ignored him or caricatured him and tried to demolish something that wasn’t there.
David Swanson writes in the tradition of Howard Zinn. He always goes for clarity, both in his relentless orchestration of the facts and his ethical vision. War Is A LIe is as clear as the title. Wars are all based on lies, could not be fought without lies, and would not be fought at all if people held their governments to any reasonable standard of honesty. The book is easy to understand, easy to read, if you have the will to face a vast array of facts that hold the United States government to a reasonable standard of honesty.
Also like Zinn in A People’s History, Swanson doesn’t let you off the hook with jokes. There are many passages of bitter irony, but when you consider the carnage and ruin that have have flowed from all the lies Swanson discusses, the main emotions are revulsion and anger. If you want laughs with your tragedy, read Gore Vidal.
I suspect that Swanson did have some fun writing chapter 10, “War Does Not Come From Disinterested Observers.” Co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org (now WarIsACrime.org), he was press secretary for the Dennis Kucinich presidential campaign in 2004, which was either ridiculed or ignored completely in the New York Times (and again in 2008). If I were Swanson’s editor, I might have encouraged him to write some first person vituperation about the Times’ inveterately unfair coverage of anything to the left of Obama, but he keeps to his third person distance, opting for cold vengeance rather than hot. He exhumes one the great epiphanies in the history of journalism from a panel discussion on election reporting in 2004, which included Elisabeth Bumiller of the Times: