The Biggest Secret

by Howard Zinn, 1975

from the Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press


Secrets are coming out of the Senate committee probing the FBI and CIA. But the biggest secrets, I suspect will remain untouched.

Yes, we learn that the FBI tapped wires illegally, kept lists of people to be put in concentration camps, wrote fake letters to destroy personal lives and used dirty tricks to disrupt organizations it didn't like. The CIA opened mail illegally, plotted the murder of foreign leaders and conspired to overthrow a democratically elected government in Chile.
It is the habit of governments everywhere, including ours, when caught lying, stealing or murdering, to murmur a few words of confession, find a scapegoat to punish and go right on doing its dirty work in more subtle ways.

Recall: Families were burned to death in Vietnam, babies were shot in their mothers' arms, Cambodia was bombed secretly and Laos openly, the land and culture of 40 million people in Southeast Asia were laid waste. And then what? Instead of trying Mr. Nixon and Kissinger for mass murder by terror bombing, we scolded their flunkies for breaking and-entering and gave them a little time in jail. Instead of trying the generals for the massacre at My Lai, we tried Calley and put him under house arrest.

What will happen now with these revelations on the CIA and FBI? The usual. A few changes in personnel, a few new laws. But the same exclusive club of corporate billionaires, with their teams of lawyers, accountants, politicians and intellectual advisers hoping to become Secretary of State, will remain in power.

For profound changes to come about in this country, we will have to start revealing to the American public, and especially to the school kids of the coming generation, the really big secrets, which no congressional committee will touch.

First, that there is little difference between Them (the enemy- Communism) and Us (the West, American, "democracy") when it comes to a reckless disregard for human lives in pursuit of something called "national interest." That "national interest," it usually turns out, is the interest, over there, of the Kremlin bureaucracy, and here, the interest of the oil companies, the banks, the military-industrial-political complex. When we were told in grade school that the difference between Them and Us is "they believe in any means to gain their ends and we don't"-we were lied to.

People are beginning to catch on. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was the first best-selling novel to boldly make that point: "Our side" would use ex-Nazis, would sacrifice the lives of its own people, to score points in a game whose concern was not humanity but power.

The current movie, Three Days of the Condor, is even more explicit. The CIA is portrayed as a group of sophisticated men using dazzling scientific techniques to ruthlessly exterminate anyone, including their own employees, who stood in the way of control of oil in the Middle East and Venezuela

Even the fantasies of movie scripts can't match the reality. There is evidence now that the FBI was involved in the planned murder of two black leaders in Chicago on December 4, 1969. A gang of police, armed with shotguns, pistols, rifles and submachine guns, and a plan of the house furnished by an FBI informant, attacked an apartment occupied by Black Panthers, at four in the morning, and executed Fred Hampton as he lay asleep in his bed.

The biggest secret of all is beginning to emerge: That "the enemy" of this government is anyone, here or abroad, who won't put up with control of the world by Chase Manhattan, Exxon, General Motors, I.T. & T. It is chilling but suddenly believable that a government willing to kill Vietnamese peasants and put Asian protesters in tiger cages will also assassinate native Americans and put citizens here in concentration camps.

That's a heavy secret for us to carry in our heads. But we need to know it, if we are going to figure out how to defend our lives and our liberties from those who have occupied America.

Foreign Policy and Pentagon

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