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Howard Zinn: The truth of 9/11 will probably never be known, but searching for it now is a diversion

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network, coming to you from Boston. We’re talking to Howard Zinn. Hi, Howard.


JAY: So the e-mail we get most often is: “Why aren’t you guys doing the 9/11 story?” It can go anywhere from “9/11 was an inside job. Why aren’t you doing that story?” I would say more often now the e-mails are saying, “Will you report on those people who support the idea of an independent inquiry around the events of 9/11, who caused it, and the whole issue of incompetence and negligence, or even criminal involvement?” What do you make of this whole issue of the need to investigate what really happened around 9/11?

ZINN: There are some issues which are interesting but which are diversions from what we really have to do. This is one of them. I doubt that an independent commission—and I grant it, we don’t know all the facts about 9/11, and we could probably learn a lot more. And maybe there was a conspiracy. Who knows? But I believe it’s one of those issues that can never be fully answered, like the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’ll go on and on and on. People will write books and talk about it. It will be an enormous waste of good energy. So it’s not that I doubt any of the doubters; it’s not that I doubt that there are very troubling questions to be answered. I just don’t think that it leads anywhere.

JAY: Well, they would answer back that much of today’s foreign policy, not just Bush but Obama as well, talks about, for example, the objective of the Afghan policy is to make sure 9/11 doesn’t happen again. We’ve got to make sure it’s not a base for terrorism. Like, a lot of the underlying rationale or mythology, however you want to describe it, still has its roots in 9/11 in terms of today’s policy, and that if in fact it turned out—if you go, like, to this one end of the spectrum of what may have been, if it turns out that the leaders of the Republican administration, perhaps with some collaboration of some of the leading Democrats, which is possible, knew something was coming and decided not to do something about it—or you can go to other ends of the spectrum, which, you know, talk about bombs in the buildings and so on—the one fact we do know is that Condoleezza Rice did open up a document that said Osama plans to attack America, and seems not to have done anything about it, said at the 9/11 Commission that she was going to task all the FBI offices, and then later the 9/11 Commission found out she didn’t really task all the FBI offices, and literally nothing was done in a summer where her own national security czar was saying, “Our hair was on fire.” So on and so on and so on. If it turns out there actually was a decision that an attack ain’t so bad, isn’t that a rather important thing to know for American people?

ZINN: You say “if it turns out.”

JAY: And one would never be able to know.

ZINN: Nothing will never turn—it will never turn out. That was—it will never be clear. It’s one of those situations where nobody will be able to prove anything, and it will lead us nowhere. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about 9/11. 9/11 is crucial. We should talk about 9/11, but not about who knew in advance what. We should talk about how 9/11 was used by the Bush administration however it started, whoever was behind it. The important thing about 9/11 is that 9/11 was used as an excuse by the Bush administration to go to war, and furthermore that they have not investigated why 9/11 took place. This is something that should be asked. What should be asked is: why are there people in the world who want to blow up our buildings, who want to scare the American people, who want to do terrorist—why are there such people? If you start to ask that question, then that would lead you into, well, is it possible that there are people in the world, all over the world, who are absolutely enraged by American foreign policy? There’s a lot of evidence for that. That’s a lot easier to prove, a lot easier to prove than who conspired to plant bombs and so on and so forth. That’s what we should be concentrating on. We should be concentrating on in what way is American foreign policy responsible for the terrorism that exists in the minds and hearts of so many people in the world, and which in a small number of them results in violent acts.

JAY: And a lot of that conversation has been had. There’s been a lot of discussion about blowback. There’s been a lot of—and maybe not enough in the mainstream media, but even in the mainstream media there’s been some conversation. Even Bush, at some point before his term was over, talked a bit about how US foreign policy had been connected to these events, even though at the time they tried to close down that whole conversation completely. But if one looks at the connection between the Pakistani ISI, Saudi intelligence, some people suggest Mossad, we know there were messages coming, warning the United States that something was happening, from other intelligence agencies. If in fact there was a decision made—and you say, your point is, “Maybe it was. But how do you prove it?” But the fact that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Americans and people around the world still believe such things, doesn’t that actually suggest an inquiry, as much as it could achieve, would be worthwhile?

ZINN: Yeah, I think it would divert our energy from the real inquiry. The real inquiry is: in what way has American foreign policy inflamed and antagonized people all over the world to the point of creating terrorists? That’s the question that should be investigated. And the other question about the conspiracy and who knew about it and who didn’t do anything about it, that to me is a dead end. It’s a diversion. And I think it leads us away from what we should be doing.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us. Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Howard Zinn was an American historian, political scientist, social critic, activist and playwright. He is best known as author of the best-seller 'A People's History of the United States'. Zinn has been active in the Civil Rights and the anti-war movements in the United States.

Howard Zinn passed away on January 27, 2010.

Zinn was raised in a working-class family in Brooklyn, and flew bombing missions for the United States in World War II, an experience he now points to in shaping his opposition to war. In 1956, he became a professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, a school for black women, where he soon became involved in the Civil rights movement, which he participated in as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee SNCC and chronicled, in his book SNCC The New Abolitionists. Zinn collaborated with historian Staughton Lynd and mentored a young student named Alice Walker. When he was fired in 1963 for insubordination related to his protest work, he moved to Boston University, where he became a leading critic of the Vietnam War.