On November 19, American alternative historian Howard Zinn gave a speech at the Univeristy of Quebec in Montreal.
While Montreal's 9/11 Truth organization took the opportunity to vent their outrage at Zinn for refusing to join their movement, Zinn also made some interesting remarks about Iraq war resisters. In a question-and-answer period, Zinn was asked a question about how Canadians can force the government to start sheltering Iraq war resisters.
It's widely known that Howard Zinn is an advocate of nonviolent civil disobedience, a tactic that he and many of his students used to protest the Vietnam war. There's little surprise that Zinn's answer invoked civil disobedience, but Zinn's remarks on the historical context of the matter simply defy credulity:
"It's going to take a lot of civil disobedience. It'll be like what Americans did in the 1850s when Congress passed the Fugitive Slave act requiring that slaves be sent back to their masters.Of course, the reaction to the Fugitive Slave Act is a great example of citizens banding together to oppose an unjust law.
What happened is that we had citizens organize to rescue these slaves. To refuse to allow the authorities to take them back.
So you will have these organized citizens actions to protect and defend and give sanctuary to GIs who come here. That would mean violating the law. That would mean organization and mass action. Even if it fails, and even if the police come in and don't allow the rescue to take place, it will bring dramatic attention to the situation that may then arouse enough Canadian citizens to join the movement for the defense and sanctuary, and force a change in policy."
But the comparison between the two leads one to wonder if Zinn understands what slavery was, or if he spent any amount of time considering such issues before answering this question.
The key distinction between slavery and Iraq war resisters is actually the same as the stark distinction between Vietnam war resisters and Iraq war resisters.
Slavery is not a voluntary condition. It involves forcibly putting people into bondage in support of causes for which they will be disproportionately reimbursed for the value of their labour. In the modern context, slaves are generally considered to be property -- although in Greek (particularly Athenian) antiquity, slaves were actually regarded as indentured (and, once again, involuntary) employees).
A conscripted soldier, such as was the case during the Vietnam conflict, could certainly be successfully argued to fit this particular definition.
But Iraq war resisters -- universally members of a volunteer military -- simply cannot. They volunteered to join the military. In some cases, such as that of Brad McCall, they enlisted after the Iraq war began.
In some cases, that of Corey Glass, the soldiers in question weren't facing Court Martials at all.
Glass almost seemed disappointed. "I had absolutely no idea that I had been discharged," Glass told American network ABC. "This is insane. This is so weird. There are no warrants? No one is looking for me?"
In fact, Glass had actually been discharged from the US Army before he even arrived in Canada. He insists he didn't know this.
Iraq war resisters hiding in Canada are far from slaves. No matter what delusions they entertain, those seeking to ensure the Canadian state shelters them are far from a modern incarnation of the underground railroad.
Howard Zinn is widely known as a man of intense social conscience. But that social conscience may have gotten the better of him this time around, as his allusions between Iraq war resisters and slavery prove to be, ultimately, vacuous.
As for the 9/11 "truth" movement, Zinn can be forgiven for his lack of patience. It's simply not worthwhile to continue dealing with people too stupid to admit that their consipracy theories have been thoroughly and constantly rubished.