Sam Goldman interviews Matthew Hoh, former Marine and State Department official who served in and then was the first to resign over the unjust war in Afghanistan all the way back in 2009. Then, we’re sharing an interview with educator Tamara Anderson about the upcoming Teach Truth Days of Action, a project of the Zinn Education Project happening August 27 – 29.
Follow Matthew Hoh at matthewhoh.com. Follow Tamara on Twitter at @andersontamara. Get involved with the Teach Truth Days of Action at https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/aug-27-29-teach-truth-days-action/. For the numbers cited by Sam about the war in Afghanistan see the April 2021 Costs of War report from Brown University.
Music for this episode: Penny the Snitch by Ikebe Shakedown.
Sunday August 22, 2021
Matthew Hoh 00:00
What’s occurring is, I think the inevitable consequences of the US policy in Afghanistan, not just in the last 20 years, but over the last 40 years… Going into Afghanistan was not about protecting the American people, it was about preserving the dignity of the American Empire. It was about making sure no one else would rise up against the American Empire. It was about protecting the credibility of the American Empire… The level of devastation for the Afghan people is unimaginable. The suffering is unimaginable… You don’t think a catastrophe can get much worse, and then you see what has occurred.
Sam Goldman 00:50
Welcome to Episode 73 of the Refuse Fascism podcast. This podcast is brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers and host of the show. Refuse Fascism exposes analyzes, and stands against the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in this country. Today, we’re sharing an interview with Matthew Hoh, former Marine and State Department official who served in and then was the first resign in protest over the unjust war in Afghanistan all the way back in 2009. Then we’re sharing an interview with educator and organizer Tamara Anderson about the upcoming teach truth days of action, a project of the Zen Education Project, happening August 27 through 29. To paraphrase a Daily Show tweet that brought these two issues together extremely well: The United States actions in Afghanistan are so horrendous that Texas has already banned it from being taught in classrooms.
By now, we’ve all seen the video footage of desperate Afghan refugees, the Kabul airport, trying to flee the Taliban. What we have not seen for years now is the ongoing carnage and suffering from the US occupation and bombings, which surged over and over for almost two decades. According to Brown University, more than 171,000 people have died as a direct result of this war. As of April 2021. More than 47,000 are known civilians and Afghanistan, along with another 24,000 civilians in Pakistan. As Spencer Ackerman, author of ‘A Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump’ said this week on Democracy Now, “What we’re seeing in Kabul is not the alternative to fighting in Afghanistan. It’s the result of fighting in Afghanistan.” There’s no question that the refugees who want to escape now should be welcomed by the US. After all, the US bears responsibility which extends to providing speedy and safe exits. But our hearts also go out to those brave souls who have been and are staying and fighting for their fundamental rights. We must find ways to show solidarity and support for the people there that doesn’t look to or rely on us imperial force. What’s happening in Afghanistan is an ongoing crisis at a major turning point, with millions of lives in the balance, something that anyone with a heart should be thinking and caring about.
From day one, the invasion and occupation has had everything to do with the growth of American fascism. Fascism is a qualitative change in the form of rule. It is something that we came horrifically close to in the last few years. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. If we are to confront the fascist threat looming large today, it’s imperative to deepen our understanding of how Bush’s crusade or doctrine of endless war on the world with torture and assassination out in the open, along with the creation of DHS and exponential ramping up of the militarization of the police. The unleashing a tsunami of American chauvinism, coupled with anti Arab, anti Muslim and anti Asian hate, helped get us here. And it’s important to come to grips with the reality that Obama with Joe Biden as Vice President, not only refused to prosecute those crimes against humanity, not only normalize them, but expanded many key tenets of that doctrine, and in key ways, opened the door for the fascists to walk on through. The war in Afghanistan was never the “smart war” versus the “dumb war” in Iraq as Obama said, and never had just aims. Why that is and why it’s a really good thing that the US is leaving is what I got into with Matthew Hoh. We’re talking about the US defeat in Afghanistan, the Taliban winning, and what all this means for humanity.
Today, I’m happy to talk with Matthew Hoh. Matthew spent almost 12 years serving in the United States Marine Corps, Department of Defense and State Department. He has been a senior fellow Emeritus with the Center for International Policy since 2010. In 2009, Matthew resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan with the State Department over the American escalation of the war. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew took part in the US occupation of Iraq. Matthew’s writings have appeared online in places like Counter Punch, CNN, The Guardian, the Huffington Post, Mother Jones, US Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. And we’re so glad to welcome him on today. Thanks for coming on, Matthew.
Matthew Hoh 05:49
Hey, thank you, Sam, I appreciate you having me on.
Sam Goldman 05:52
From your perspective, what’s happening right now inAfghanistan?
Matthew Hoh 05:55
What’s occurring is, I think, the inevitable consequences of the US policy in Afghanistan; not just in the last 20 years, but over the last 40 years. The thought that Americans have that they can control the force of war, that they can subjugate other people, and that people will passively accept that, as well as the very real consequences of when your policy is your strategy in war is simply one of military victory, this is what defeat looks like. I want to caution saying that the Taliban have won, because that they may have won this phase, but there are things that may occur, there are warlords who are connected to the CIA who are men who will not passively sit by and let what they believe is there to be taken from them. Particularly when you’re talking about a civil war that’s been going on for 40 years. That’s a pretty big revenge cycle, a pretty long history of personal grievances. So that’s where it’s at right now.
I think that what can happen are two things, you know — of course, many other things, but I think two major pathways here — one, the Taliban, consolidate power and control Afghanistan. That leads to a reduction in violence to the point that rebuilding and reconciliation can occur. Those are things that have not been possible on Afghanistan for the last 40 years, because it’s just simply not possible to do those things in the midst of a war. So there is, I think, a pathway — It’s a very cruel, it’s very unjust, very unfair piece, but because there may be this ceasefire, long lasting ceasefire, if you want to call it that rather than peace — there may be the opportunity again, to rebuild and to reconcile. I should say, basically, what has happened for the Afghan people is that, you know, in 2001, the United States came into Afghanistan intervened in the Civil War, which was near entirely the making of the United States, that civil war, and the United States took out of power a repressive theocratic regime put into power a kleptocratic, repressive regime and that kleptocratic repressive regime has been now replaced once again with the theocratic, repressive regime.
One thing, Sam, that’s occurred for people who are interested in the best strategy of the United States and Afghanistan was that for most of the last 20 years, for pretty much all the last 20 years, the United States has only given the Afghan people two choices: either support the Taliban or support this warlord government. That’s what it is. And it has pursued a divide and conquer strategy. This is, again, the inevitable conclusion of something like that, when that is the options you give people. When you choose military victory, you’re going to subjugate a whole group of people. You’re going to use warlords and drug lords to do so, this is the result.
I think what is amazing is the amount of support that the Taliban has outside of Pashtun areas. Not saying that people are filling out Taliban union cards or anything like that, but in the fact that it has come to the point where the status quo is so untenable for so many people in Afghanistan, even those people who are not Pashtun, because up until the last you hear, so the Taliban has been primarily posture and movement 95% or so Pashtun. Pashtuns are the plurality in Afghanistan; one of many different ethnic groups. I think the Afghan constitution lists 13 official ethnic groups, and they’re, I think, 40 official languages, many more languages than that. But Afghanistan, of course, is very multi ethnic country. You’ve had these people who for years would be considered the traditional rivals of the Pashtuns, who certainly faced oppression from the Taliban themselves, because the Taliban was brutal towards other minorities. But now 20 years after the Americans arrived, this government that has been placed is so bad that many of these people, you know, talk about choosing the lesser of two evils are saying: “You know what, maybe the Taliban is what is best for us right now.” And it is incredibly tragic. You don’t think a catastrophe can get much worse and then you see what has occurred.
Sam Goldman 09:52
I think that there’s a lot of people questioning why the US was unsuccessful, but not a lot of questioning what the actual aims were of the United States going in for conquest and Afghanistan. I was wondering if you could share a little bit about what your thoughts are and why did this country go to Afghanistan in the first place?
Matthew Hoh 10:15
You have to go back, we have to go back and talk about the 1970s. We have to talk about the decision by Jimmy Carter’s administration, specifically Zbigniew Brzezinski, to try and utilize Afghanistan as a way to both entrap and destabilize the Soviet Union. So, six months before the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan — and this is this is information that most Americans do not know, I mean, I know generals in the military who do not know this type of information, because they simply haven’t read a book about Afghanistan that wasn’t written by some celebrity journalist or some celebrity General. In 1979, six months before the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, the Carter administration starts funding the Islamic rebel groups in Afghanistan. The idea is twofold. The first is to bait the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan. In Zbigniew Brzezinski’s words, he wants to give the Soviet Union their own Vietnam. So, cause harm to the Soviet Union — of course United States and Soviet Union were in this Cold War. If you knew what Brzezinski was like, he thinks of the world as a giant game of Risk, that it’s up to him to play. I mean, that’s how Brzezinski was very, very similar to Kissinger and others; you can say that about Condoleezza Rice, or Susan Rice or any of those people.
The idea is, we’re going to arm these Mujahedeen groups, and they’re going to cause problems so much that the Soviet Union, which borders Afghanistan, will invade Afghanistan, and they will then be in trapped in their own Vietnam. And that, of course, will bleed the Soviet Union of resources and cause all kinds of problems, which it did you know, they were successful with that strategy, that plan. The second aspect of this plan in which they are not successful, was the idea that — and you have to recall that 1978-79 there have been all types of reactionary Islamic revolutions for lack of a better term or, or attempts at revolutions throughout the Muslim world, you have Saudi Arabia, Iran, of course, Pakistan. The idea Brzezinski had was: if we could get an Islamic Revolution in Afghanistan, right on the Soviet Union’s borders, is it possible then for that revolution, to spread, as Brzezinski said, into the soft underbelly of the Soviet Union. His idea [was] that we’re going to infect the Soviet Union with Islamic Revolution, and that will further destabilize the Soviet Union make a collapse.
So even in the very earliest moments of the United States being involved in Afghanistan, you have these geopolitical machinations, and you know, to hell with the suffering that they build or bring, to hell with the reality, to hell with historical evidence as to whether something like this would work. These are people who believe in themselves, believe in the force in themselves, that they can do these things, they can bend history to their will. And you have seen this all throughout the last 40 some odd years. Brzezinski was not the only person to think like this. In fact, if you didn’t think like Brzezinski, or you’re not going to rise within the American foreign policy establishment, because that was the mode of thinking. I know a lot of people discount the notion of American exceptionalism, which they should, except for the fact that there are people in Washington DC, who very much believe it.
This has been an imperial project. This has been what started as in the sense of fighting the other superpower trying to dismantle them destroy them, becomes the Soviet Union invasion, becomes the Civil War, leads to 9/11. To be fair to George W. Bush, and I don’t know if I’ve ever really said those words before, but you know, he was presented with a very hard political rally after the 9/11 attacks that he could not wait to do anything. I would give him a pass on it if he did bomb the Taliban, and then he had done what the Taliban offered and took Bin Laden from them. Because after the United States starts bombing the Taliban say: hey, look, you stop your bombing and we’ll give you a bin Laden, or we’ll give them to a third country; we’ll give them to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, somebody. But at that point, the Empire which the president United States, that’s his duty, has been hurt, it’s been wounded, it can’t appear weak. So you then launch into this defense of the Empire, really, this Imperial project, to root out this insurgency, to punish those who have risen up against the Empire. Because God forbid, I mean, this is the way that it is thought: that this can spread, others will challenge us if we do not do something about this, there will be other nine-elevens, etc.
Then you have this whole history in Afghanistan now for the last 20 years of we’ve expanded the Empire, we’ve taken Afghanistan now we must fit it into the fold of the Empire and then gets even crazier because you have people best characterized by Zalmay Khalilzad who has served under Bush, Trump, and now Biden as the senior us official for Afghanistan, who comes out of the Chicago School, those neoconservatives there, who really do believe that the purpose of the United States is to make the world in its image; that this is the best thing we can do not just for the United States, but for other nations is to recreate them as we are. Then when you get into the thinking in terms of government, military figures as kind of a line between those like Khalilzad who did believe in nation building, and those like say, John Kelly or Jim Mattis or HR McMaster who believe that those are borderlands, those are frontier lands of the empire that just need to be subjugated; they just need to be kept. This is the philosophy.
That’s the type of thinking that goes in behind this when Barack Obama comes in in 2009, it’s really no different. This is an opportunity for a Democrat and the first Black president to be a commander in chief than a white Republican. And that’s the type of thinking. As well as too, Obama is wedded to this idea of as the President, he cannot have the Empire recede. George Kennan says it best after World War Two George Kennan, the State Department officer, he authored the containment strategy of the Soviet Union. Around 1947, 1948 Kennan says the United States has half the world’s wealth, or more than half the world’s wealth, and less than 5% of the world’s population, the priority of every successive administration will be to maintain that inequality. So you have a responsibility, so to speak, that our presidents in the United States adopt, that’s how you can see someone like President Obama, not just go along with the war, but escalate the war.
Certainly you’re not getting the picture from the American media about how large the Afghan war was. At its height, the United States had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan had 40,000 NATO troops, and there were more than 100,000 contractors. That’s a 250,000 man army. Anyone who doesn’t include the contractors in the count is just either ignorant of what’s actually occurring or is willfully trying to deceive. Because all those contractors are doing work that in previous wars, they would have been wearing army uniforms in. So you’re talking about a quarter million man army in Afghanistan that Obama is utilizing to, again, get back to the strategy: subjugate the Pashtuns, get this border land, get this frontier under control, or trying to create kind of this neoliberal experiment this — you often heard about Afghanistan — the experiment in democracy. Hamid Karzai was the president Afghanistan in 2004, he was being roundly criticized because he is not the president of Afghanistan, he is the mayor of Kabul. And the idea that the writ of the President the authority of the central government did not extend outside of Kabul, and that this American experience and democracy building was failing. And there were areas of hysteria.
I was there, I was at the State Department in 2005, I saw this where we have to do something to make sure this experiment works. These are men, men, like Khalilzad, Paul Wolfowitz, and women too. I wouldn’t put like Condi Rice into this category, but I think I would put Susan Rice into this category. Samuel Huntington’s ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’, which are books that came out in the 1990s describing the triumph of Western liberal democracy and capitalism, and that divided the world into a hierarchy. These are people who believe that. That’s what Fukuyama and Huntington were reflecting. They weren’t coming up with theories on their own. This wasn’t Newton getting hit in the head with an apple. This was the reflection of what the American foreign policy establishment believed. And once that was solidified in writing — I can remember I was in college, when those books came out — the celebration of those books, the authority that those books had, that influenced these men and women even more. That’s what you can really see when I talk about the hysteria in the State Department in ’05 because Karzai being derided as the mayor Kabul, this is a direct challenge to not just the authority of the United States, but to its whole purpose, the philosophy behind it, you know, etc. So I know I probably went on way longer than you thought I would, but I enjoy the opportunity. A lot of podcasts and shows I do very much, you know, straightforward newsy kind of so coming on a show like Refuse Fascism, I’m like, man, these folks want to like hear deeper, broader stuff. I might be completely wrong, but maybe it’s an opportunity for me to say these things, so I appreciate being here.
Sam Goldman 18:59
That is right. And that is what our listeners care about. It’s not about the surface. It’s about going deeper and understanding where are the roots of these things? Where does humanity’s interests lie? I wanted to highlight a couple of the aspects that you were bringing up was, in how I understand it, I think a big part of the motivating factors for the US attack, and then 20 year war on Afghanistan, was a mafia action. It was a signal to the whole world: you have the audacity, you ever dared to even think about coming on to the US soil, you’re gonna be wiped out you’re gonna be destroyed with a vengeance 100 times worse than what you ever dreamed of doing to the US. And I think that other aspects that you touched on in terms of your remarks about Empire, I think it was a move, it was a grand design. Whether it failed, but it was his grand design to deepen and expand the the empire in Central Asia and the Middle East; violently do so. And what that Empire means has nothing to do with spreading democracy. But in spreading again, this is my opinion, not the opinion of everybody in Refuse Fascism, but in my opinion, it’s not about democracy, it’s about spreading an empire with ruthless exploitation and oppression and plunder to the environment.
Matthew Hoh 20:22
And so it’s about control.
Sam Goldman 20:23
Yeah. And I think that people grounding themselves — you know why I asked, the question is I think that it’s important to ground people’s understanding in why this country went there in the first place, and what their motives are, and helping people consistently distinguish between where our interests lie as people, as human beings, and our government’s, and not being afraid to speak out and act in the interest of other human beings, regardless of their nation or borders. That’s where I’m coming from and why I ask it. And in that spirit, I wanted to get your thoughts on what you would say is the cost of the war on Afghanistan, in terms of human beings.
Matthew Hoh 21:04
In terms of ways that we can count them, in terms of figures and numbers, it just keeps going up. First, the people who’ve suffered, it’s unimaginable, we have no idea. Anytime you see a number about Afghan casualties, how many people have been killed, they really don’t know. And most of the organizations, you know, the United Nations puts out a lot of information are very clear: this is the low end estimate, this is the minimum. So when you hear 47,000 Afghans have been killed in this war in the 20 years, that is the bare bottom minimum, and I would expect it’s at least 10 times that, probably more. Jonathan Steele, a British journalist who spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, about 10 years ago, he wrote a very good book, and very convincingly makes the argument that 100,000 Afghans were killed in the first few months of the American invasion 2001; very convincingly. You can understand that we are dropping — B-52s were wiping out entire villages. No one was around the check. But the United Nations didn’t start counting civilian casualties in until 2009. That was kind of in tandem with the Americans, and even then, that was not done because the Americans or the UN cared about the Afghan people. The casualty counting the Afghans was a byproduct of doing counter insurgency. It was going to be a metric to determine how successful we are being.
One is how many people are we killing? So we can try and tamp that down because you know what, killing these people really does affect the hearts and minds, kind of a bit. So there is that as well as two is the other, to be like: look, the Taliban keep killing you, you should be with us. The other thing I’ll say about the civilian casualties: When I was in Afghanistan and State Department, I wasn’t at the embassy in Kabul — just so people understand I was with US Army units, and so I was present, including for a few months with a very small army unit in the middle of the city in southern Afghanistan. I would estimate that for every incident where we, the United States, killed civilian, that there are at least four or five that went unreported. One time, one of our Apaches saw some guys running into a date grove and they opened fire with their 30 millimeter cannon killed nine people. I believe it was two families basically wiped out. That story never made the New York Times. No one ever knows about it. Those numbers did not go into some database that said: we’ve killed all these people. The only way the United Nations picks up for its casualty counting is when the Americans or NATO puts out a public release about it; that’s it. So even if you did not have the war, even if you did not have these bombs blowing up because the Taliban are putting in the road, or bombs dropping from the sky from the Americans or firefights happening out front of your house, you are living on less than $1 a day.
So the public health situation, even if there wasn’t the war, there is no infrastructure. In Afghanistan, there is only one main industry, and that’s the narcotics industry. There are efforts at education, but those have been dramatically overstated. Less than 1/3 of boys and girls, and probably well less than 1/3 of girls attend school. This is one of the big lies about the war. I’m sure people recall over the years, the Americans saying USAID and the Pentagon, these girls are going to school. Turns out that was all one big lie. Those numbers were all fabricated. United States has spent $188 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan, and when the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction went out to try and find the health care centers that were supposedly built all throughout the country, they couldn’t find 90% of them. So they’re either not built or they’re built someplace else. We don’t even know where we built them, how can we claim that we did this? The level of devastation for the Afghan people is unimaginable. The suffering is unimaginable. You have water issues in Afghanistan because the infrastructure has not been able to be kept up. Afghanistan has more water than it needs and they can’t get it where they need it. So you have all those things. You have ancillary things right and the only industry is narcotics.
I just saw a figure this couple months ago that one in three Afghan families deal with addiction issues. One in three. The kleptocratic warlord regime is brutal. They traffic in children. This is something that is well established. This is not something that happened couple of times, this is not the Hillary Clinton “Pizza Gate” nonsense. This is real. I mean, this is the reality of Afghanistan where the Afghan security forces will come and if they like your son, they will take him. Issues for women in Afghanistan: As many as four out of five women in Afghanistan in government controlled areas are forcibly married. Many of them as child brides. If you’re a man living in an Afghan government controlled area, you can legally rape your wife. And if you are a woman and an Afghan government controlled area and you are raped by somebody, you are most likely going to go to jail if you report it The biggest reason for the majority of women who are an Afghan prisons are in Afghan prisons because of — not being associated with the Taliban, but — because of moral crimes. Moral crimes meaning that if you’re a woman you are raped then is your fault, and you will go to jail. That is the reality of the Afghan government that has just been deposed.
So I think maybe that gives some context to, when I said earlier about why would people support the Taliban. Again, a very passive support just meaning that Taliban is the lesser of two evils. That’s the reality of life for the Afghans. It’s very hard to quantify — there’s some ways you can — the desperation the destruction, the ground is poisoned, the water is poisoned, there are munitions all through the ground that will be killing people. The Vietnamese still lose between 500 and 1000 people every year from bombs that the Americans dropped 50 years ago now. Turns of Agent Orange, every day, there are children born in Vietnam who are stillborn, who are born with deformities, who are born with some type of crippling or debilitating health issue that will destroy their lives, basically. So that’s what the Afghans have to look forward to.
I don’t think people appreciate how violent these wars actually were. Yeah, one number you can kind of get it from is that the VA believes that 20% of Iraq and Afghan veterans have traumatic brain injury. When you take 20% of 2.7 million, you get well over 500,000, have traumatic brain injury, and that’s a difficult number too because traumatic brain injury relies upon self reporting. And if you know anything about the military, the whole culture is to make you into a team player, someone who’s never going to be weak, someone who’s never going to say they’re hurting. So now you’re relying on these people who are coming out of this culture to self report. So the extension of that, though, about the violence that Americans experienced, again, imagine what the violence that the Afghans experienced or the Iraqis experienced. They didn’t have body armor, they didn’t have armored Humvees or MRAPs what that does psychologically to a country, I don’t know how you can quantify that other than saying the entire nation has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You know, this is something that Iraqis would say to me: Saddam Hussein was bad. It wasn’t good under Saddam, but you didn’t have to worry about your children getting killed by a car bomb while they are walking to school. Imagine us living with that fear for 20 years now. And again, this can help explain why people were saying: Well, at least to Taliban will bring peace to the country. At least they’ll bring law and order. At least they’ll bring some degree of stability. It’ll be very heavy handed, and it’ll be brutal, but it’s better than what we have now.
Sam Goldman 27:58
I really appreciate the way that you kept bringing it back to the civilians in Afghanistan, who are without a doubt the primary victims in this war. Comparing out you have CNN talking heads that go on about the $2 trillion dollars spent, the number of us service members killed, the number of US contractors killed, the aid workers killed, the journalists killed, and that the service and sacrifice was for nothing. Even people who are saying many other things that are true and right and good, like Michael Moore, I did see earlier where he was basically saying we spent over $2 trillion. We sacrifice 2300 American lives, the US and how much we spent and how much we sacrifice, as opposed to the human beings who were greatly affected. I’m saying all this day just express gratitude for helping people focus.
Matthew Hoh 28:58
I think to that point, too, I think it’s wrong for people to express this in the sense of we spent two trillion dollars, we could have Medicare for All for that. That’s not how it works. There was never going to be that trade off. I mean, Eisenhower made this point 60 years ago and his farewell address. He says for every bomber we build, we can have whatever 20 schools, or whatever the numbers were, every battleship, we can have etc. That never works that way. They are not going to shift this money. That money would’ve just never been spent. It’s very similar, I think, to like what we’ve seen this last year and a half with the money being put into the asset markets into the stock markets, the bond markets by the federal government and the Fed. People talk about, look, the government has no problem putting $120 billion into the stock market every month, why can’t they do that to help, you know, low income workers? Why can’t they do that to help people pay off their student debt? Why can’t they do that to keep people from being evicted? That’s not a consideration. It’s not like they’re standing there with the choices in front of them and they say: We’re going to do this rather than that. Those things Medicare for All, student debt cancellation, any of the things that would actually help the people United States and do an amazing job for our economy as well, are not considered.
Going into Afghanistan was not about protecting the American people. It was not. It was about preserving the dignity of the American Empire. It was about protecting the credibility of the American Empire. It was about making sure no one else would rise up against the American Empire. You have to remember: Why did Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda attack the United States on 9/11? They gave three reasons very clearly. It was because of the sanctions and the bombings that were killing hundreds of 1000s of Iraqis. It was because of Israel. And it was because of the presence of American forces in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in their holy land. Whether or not you agree with that, whether or not you say that’s right or wrong, you cannot deny that it is a real reason for what they did. You cannot deny that there are historical realities that led to that. They were not making this up. The US did have forces all throughout Saudi Arabia, the US was bombing Iraq through the 1990s, at times on a daily basis. I think it averages out to throughout the 1990s, the United States was bombing Iraq, twice a week, at least. Our sanctions in Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even more. There’s that United Nations figure of 500,000 dead children from Iraq because of the American sanctions. Those were the grievances listed by the al Qaeda hijackers.
One of the issues, Sam, is that you say that in this country, and all sudden, now I’m an Al Qaeda a supporter, you try and give any agency to the Taliban, and all of a sudden, you’re a Taliban supporter. I’m sure you guys have spoken about a lot is how this binary conversation in the United States where it’s either team Red, or team Blue, doesn’t allow for any nuances allow for any context, and certainly does not allow for other people to be included in the conversation. So the idea that somehow all this money a $2 trillion spent on the war would have been used for something else, absolutely not. It’s never been a thought it was never an occurrence. If you think that, get it out of your mind. The only way that would ever happen is if there’s a fundamental change in the American political system, where the political system represents the people as opposed to representing corporation oligarchs, the self interests of the politicians, or the selfishness of the Empire, etc. Because I hear that a lot too, and I’m always like, that’s not how it works. They would never do that. In the middle of a pandemic, with everything we know about the benefits of Medicare for All, how much cheaper it’s going to be, on and on and on. They still won’t even bring up Medicare for a vote and they are going to somehow transition this war money to help us? No.
Sam Goldman 32:32
I want to thank you, Matthew, for joining us and sharing your expertise and perspective. And can you tell folks where they can read or find more from you?
Matthew Hoh 32:42
I have a website. It’s MatthewHoh.com. I’m not very good about updating it, though. I write regularly for Counterpunch. So people can find stuff there. And I’m on Twitter, @MatthewPHoh, if people want to follow me there.
Sam Goldman 32:55
We’ll put it in the show notes. Again, thank you so much.
Matthew Hoh 32:58
Thank you, Sam. I really appreciate it.
Sam Goldman 33:00
That was Matthew Hoh, former State Department official who resigned his post in Afghanistan in 2009 to protest the war, which went on to last almost 20 years. In every recent episode, we’ve had to call out Texas explicitly.
This week in fascism, Texas edition:
1) After a six week stop gap. Texas House Democrats broke ranks late this past week, delivering a near certain victory for the Republi-fascist agenda to be pushed through, including the most extreme voter suppression in the nation.
2) This past Thursday, Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick insidiously claimed during a Fox News segment that African Americans were to blame for the ever increasing wave of COVID cases. He then doubled down the next day on this insertion via social media claiming: “Federal and state data clearly indicate that black vaccination rates are significantly lower than white or Hispanic rates”. So what are the facts? Well, in Texas, the vaccination rate among Black people is low compared with other racial and ethnic groups — get vaccinated folks — but in terms of raw numbers, the biggest group of the unvaccinated is white people. Vaccine hesitancy is higher among Republicans than it is among Black people in Texas. According to a June poll from the Texas Tribune from the University of Texas, Austin 30% of Republicans said they would not get a vaccine as soon as it is available to them, while 18% of Black people said the same. The Texas government is open about its white supremacy, and they’re laying the groundwork for KKK lynch mob terror.
3) The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes three Trump appointed justices upheld a Texas ban on the method of abortion most commonly used after 15 weeks gestation dilation. an evacuation frequently known as D and E. The Texas law is a 15 week pre viability abortion ban which was completely unconstitutional. Nancy Northrup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in response to this ruling said: “Texas has been hell bent on legislating abortion out of existence and it’s galling that a federal court would uphold a law that so clearly defies decades of Supreme Court precedent.” Amy Hagstrom-Miller of Whole Women’s Health, plaintiff in this case, said regarding the ruling that “This ban is about cutting off abortion access. In no other area of medicine. Would politicians consider preventing doctors from using a standard procedure? It would never be a crime for doctors to use their best medical judgment.” Rewire News reported on this this past week and made a really important point. They wrote, “This decision is a huge deal, as it’s the first federal court of appeals to uphold a pre viability abortion ban ever.” That means the law around abortion rights and access is already changing in real time. SCOTUS will hear the most consequential case since Roe v. Wade, next term. And the case involves drumroll please. Yes, a 15 week ban eerily close to the law just upheld in Texas. The fascists are coming for abortion, bringing all they can to this fight. Let’s not wait a moment longer to wage the political struggle needed to defend this fundamental right.
Next we’ll hear from Tamara Anderson to talk about taking action next weekend to defend teaching the truth about American racism in American schools. Students are getting ready to go back to school teachers preparing their classrooms for another year of learning. At the same time, school board meetings are filled with angry, furious, unhinged white parents decrying critical race theory and demanding that their children learn nothing about the history of this country. So it’s with this in mind, that I am really excited to be chatting today with Tamara Anderson, Zinn Education Project Teach Truth Campaign Organizer. She’s an advocate for children, teens, an anti-racist trainer, a professional artist, editor, freelance journalist and blogger with over 20 years of experience as an educator. She was one of the founding steering committee members of the National Black Lives Matter week of action at schools, a core member of the racial justice Organizing Committee, a core organizer of Philly Black Lives Matter Week at schools, Opt Out Philly, and a diversity consultant for the American Association of Physics Teachers. And I’m excited to talk to her today about some of the Zinn Education Project’s Teach Truth Campaign activities, including a weekend of teachings nationwide. Welcome. Thanks so much for coming on.
Tamara Anderson 38:19
Thank you for having me.
Sam Goldman 38:21
So I want to start off with: What is going on here? Why do we need to have a campaign of educators declaring that they’re gonna pledge to teach the truth?
Tamara Anderson 38:34
June 12 was the first Teach Truth action. On that day, there were only 15 states that had pending legislation, and I think maybe at that time, it might have been three or four that have passed on legislation like Texas, Iowa, spots like that, Arizona, I think I passed at that time. When you look at the language of the bills, they’re called anti CRT (Critical Race Theory – editors) bills, some of them are called anti bias bills. They’re very savvy. They don’t use racism in the bills. They use language of, you know, not being divisive and things like that. And then we fast forward to today, we are at least 28 states with pending bills, including Pennsylvania, and we now have eight states where it has passed. So it is going fast and furious. And even in those states where it’s pending, especially here in Pennsylvania, the thought is that the Governor wouldn’t sign the bill, but it’s also the end of his run. We are getting ready for a huge governor’s race, and both sides have candidates. I’m gonna say it like that. That type of energy, I felt like Philadelphia put into getting Wolf to run and backing him. We’re not seeing that yet, as of here. We also have a mayoral election coming up.
What’s already happening in the states like Pennsylvania or states where it’s pending is school boards are having these conversations. Teachers are already getting emails from Superintendents. There are some teachers that have literally been fired already, like over the summer. So then this is the issue for those states that are represented by NEA and AFT, if that becomes the union issue: What type protections are there for those teachers? But we also know that there are states that don’t have any union representation. So what does that mean for those educators? We also know that the media, the social media, and media of it on the other side has been fast and furious. It’s like a machine. You see it constantly over and over, these sound bytes, parents crying at school board meetings and these types of things. One thing that grassroots organizations like Zinn Education Project, Black Lives Matter at School, and now just recently, the African American Policy Forum, has also joined on as a partner, is we want to make sure that there’s sound on our side, that you hear something from us, that there is some support, and that we are providing spaces, not just educate educators on how to talk about this in the media in the press, but also, what protections do they have. Some of the protections are just as basic as looking at what your state curriculum is. Many of these bills counter the state curriculum. They say you can teach X, Y and Z, okay. But it’s in the American history curriculum, right. These are things that are there.
It’s a weekend of actions, and some are teaching, some are going to historical sites. I will say as of today, we have over 80 sites that are listed for our days of action. And that’s 32 states, including Washington DC. One of the things that I think is also very powerful is that where these actions are popping up. For us, we have one here in Philly on Friday August 27. That’s a teach-in at the President’s house. But there’s also one in Montgomery, Alabama, at the Legacy Museum on Saturday, August 28. There’s one in Anchorage, Alaska at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. There’s one in Mesa, Arizona, and Springdale, Arkansas. You can actually go on the Zinn Education website, and you can see where people are signing up. And there are people signing up in the states where they could get in trouble. So there’s this strong resistance that is happening. I’ve been also talking with parents about this. With the National Parents Union, individual parents, like how do you feel about this? It’s important to have these cross conversations as much as possible.
A lot of it to me is also based on fear. And it’s also, we seen this before. Because many of us have been taught very inauthentic, or I like to say very non-racially accurate histories, sometimes shocked by this, but I knew something was coming around the corner when Georgia turned blue. There’s always a response. There’s always a response to a lot of organizers, response to reconstruction, response to busing, response to Brown v board, there’s a response all the time, that this side calculates and is like we don’t want this. It’s always a push back to what is deemed to be norm. And we have to ask ourselves, constantly, what is that? Because that idea of normalcy is very much centered on white, and very much centered in white supremacy. We have DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion], you hear this term all the time, but what I think is interesting is they never simply just say we’re gonna give you some anti racism training. We’re gonna talk about racism and white supremacy. Or I would love to hear like we’re gonna talk about white terrorism and say what that is. I think being uncomfortable, looking at primary sources, is a part of learning. People like to say: “Well, schools aren’t political.” Oh, my goodness, the very act and creation of curriculum is literally to make little robot citizens out of us.
Ideally, we decolonize the curriculum. The goal is then to make students critical thinkers, and to stop under estimating their ability to talk about difficult things. This is also in response to the trans laws that have come across or anti trans or transphobia. We are seeing this intersection now. You can’t just talk about one thing without saying that it is a quilted response. A bunch of things happen, yes, the uprisings happened last year in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, but we also lost Breonna Taylor, we also lost a Ahmad Arbury. There’s countless numbers of Black men and women’s bodies that are piling up. There are even Asian victims of police violence that are piling up that we do not talk about, it does not always make news. The issue with this is that people on the ground are sick and tired of being sick and tired. They’re like I don’t have to deal with it. It’s a reckoning. Reckoning is not to make you feel at unease in any kind of way. The reckoning is to really talk about: What do you not want to learn about? America has a very messy history. Is there some points of beauty? Yeah. But I mean, I think your very life is like that. Humanity is like that. The humaneness of you is like that. We know cerebrally and in our mind, that race is a construct, that these divisions between us based upon color are not based on any scientific or anthropological study or fact. It doesn’t matter, though, because the construct itself is political and social, we have bought into it. Not just for the last five days, since we landed here. That’s a long time to be embedded in something, into a belief system. And then to basically have all of your lenses and all of your decisions go through that same system. So that same lens.
Sam Goldman 45:26
I really appreciate what you were saying about the need for a response from the people who are on the ground, who are experiencing it, who are pledging — over 6000 educators are those involved in education in some way have signed a pledge refusing to lighting on people about US history and current events. I really like the way that it’s worded in refusing to lie. As a kindergarten teacher, I think it’s very simple and very clear. We need to tell the truth about the history of this country and about what’s going on in the world. Even the uncomfortable truths. If we don’t move into a place of discomfort and unease at this moment in history, we’re gonna face a world of hurt later. I think that this is is a really beautiful action you and and those that you’ve been working with are mobilizing. And I’m wondering, since you’ve been working with a lot of educators and families, what have the effects so far been?
Tamara Anderson 46:28
There’s fear. There was a kindergarten teacher, I think she was an Idaho or Iowa, can’t remember the state, but she was in a virtual town hall, and she was nearly in tears because she was like: So what you’re saying is I came and teach my babies about Ruby Bridges anymore, without being at risk. When you do talk to people, there’s this assumption that everybody knows this is happening. Because it’s so many sound bites on one side, they think that that is the only side that saying anything. One thing that the conversations have rendered for me has been eye opening of: We need to not just look at state, we got to look at local stuff, too.
Sam Goldman 47:07
So August 27 through 29th, to raise awareness about this attack on education, these laws that would require teachers to lie to their students about racism, sexism, all forms of oppression throughout US history, educators are having these “teach truth: teaches ins.
Tamara Anderson 47:28
Right, they’re having actions, it’s amazing. Here in Philadelphia, we literally have tables, new tables popping up every day in my email: “Can I do a table with my union?” “Can I do a table for parents? They can know what’s happening with these bail schedules.” “Can I do an African American history table?” I think we’re having a tour table, that’s gonna do a tour of the president’s house. It’s gonna be very interactive. And it’ll be tables all across People’s Plaza, which will be beautiful. I think the group wanted to do something a little different besides a typical rally with speeches and people talking and just having more engaged conversation. We start at five o’clock, we’ll be there until 7pm. There’ll also be artists there to doing poetry things intermixed because I do believe in that cross when it comes to this type of work. We also [mimics fanfare] are rolling out an Instagram on Twitter challenge “Teach Truth Challenge”. So you can get on Instagram, August 18, it starts. Basically, we have graphics that you can post: Look, I support teachers who teach the truth because… Or you can say: When I learned about protest music, it made me realize we look at this idea of religiosity and churches in the movement, but that music brought great peace and great spirituality to the movement. There’s a spirit field myth that people talk about, that sometimes it doesn’t really matter what you believe in, these things come from that.
Would I have known that if I didn’t know that Mahalia Jackson gave lots of money to the movement based on her concerts, while sometimes being ridiculed by church because she was singing in secular settings. These people behind the scenes, people who made dinners and sold them and actually provided money. There was a fun call, I think it’s called “money from nowhere”, Georgia Gilmore, she was from Montgomery, Alabama, and participated in the bus boycott, and wanted to do something, and literally started selling dinners to people. Her oven broke and the movement bought her a new oven, and she literally felt the movement out of her kitchen. The people who were in the group, she said they called themselves either “the money from nowhere” so they could hide it, because many of them were domestics and working in people’s homes, and didn’t want to lose their job. You know that so when they wrote in what they were giving the money to, they would write that on the line, saying it was going to the civil rights group or da-da-da, whichever. These are the unsung heroes that children should learn about. You should know what does that do for you? So you get to do a minute video Instagram and Twitter and kind of share your story and use the hashtag #TeachTrue, use the hashtag #TeachTruthChallenge, #ZinnEducationProject, #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool, #AfricanAmericanPolicyForum, #MarchOnWashington forward to raise boys, and other groups that are working.
Sam Goldman 50:21
What’s the handle that they’ll be able to follow when it launches?
Tamara Anderson 50:26
#TeachTrue, and then #TeachTruthChallenge those 2.
Sam Goldman 50:30
Awesome, thank you for that. There’s often a question of how can people who aren’t educators support?
Tamara Anderson 50:36
This is a great way. This challenge is a wonderful way for non educators to really show that they support teachers, and they really keep our educators morale up during this time. They could go on their social media and hear testimony, hear quotes, hear music, even. You could also share a real story. I remember the first time I learned about Mary McLeod Bethune, first time I learned about Ida B. Wells, what does that mean to you? First time I read the ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison, what did that mean, when I read that? When that book was actually given to me in a class, as opposed to being erased from the curriculum.
Sam Goldman 51:13
I can’t wait to see everyone’s stories on Instagram, starting August 18. And this will upload and the it will be already happening.
Tamara Anderson 51:24
You can keep going. The goal is to keep this challenge going all the way to the 27th.
Sam Goldman 51:29
If people want to find — because this isn’t nationwide actions happening — what are the best ways for people to get involved, find something that’s happening near them?
Tamara Anderson 51:40
The best way to do that is the website: ZinnEdProject.org/News/Aug-27-29-Teach-Truth-Days-Action/ and then we’ll literally come right up. We also have, if you’re a national organization and you want to endorse, we have an endorsement page. And if you want more information about the Instagram challenge, we also have a page for that, too.
Sam Goldman 52:16
And I guess my last question will be what are you most looking forward to seeing educators do?
Tamara Anderson 52:24
I’m really excited about educators standing up 27 to 29. And I’m really excited that parents are going to come, people are going to share with their families. Especially in those states, those eight states where this is passed, it means a lot to see that you’re not alone. This allows you to build a community around yourself that you didn’t expect to. Many other people who are signing up for these actions have told us it’s their first time doing something like this. This is also getting teachers engaged in a different way, which I think is very exciting to see. I’m excited to see how this goes forward. One thing that’s not going to stop is October 14, Black Lives Matter at School has a day of resistance for teachers. October 14 is George Floyd’s birthday, and we want people to decolonize a lesson and teach it to their students that day. And we know that in those states that that has passed, they will be doing some civil disobedience. So we’re also trying to make sure we have legal things in place for them and support, but we really want that to also happen to October 14, which would be the kickoff for the year purpose for Black Lives Matter at School.
Sam Goldman 53:31
We’ll definitely have to have you back on closer to then to talk more about that and give people more resources. I really want to thank you for chatting with me, and to all our listeners, I want to put it out there that we need to imagine how many educators and students would just rather leave than stand up to this mob. Imagine where this leads if there’s not this powerful resistance to, and defiance of these laws. And the need — and this is something that I really appreciate about these teachings — is that this resistance is also linked up to people understanding more about the history and the current day reality. I want to see this spread and grow and strengthen. I know that everyone listening does too, and so I hope that they join with and scupport the educators that are coming out to these teach ins the weekend, August 27 through 29th. The Teach Truth Pledge Days of Action, and you can find more in the show notes, including a link to the locations.
Tamara Anderson 54:29
I also remember too, one thing I want tosay before we leave is that August 28th is also the commemorative of March on Washington. So there are some Black cities like DC, Atlanta, Pheonix — if you’re near DC, they’re having a huge march to commemorate on the 28th, and that is sponsored by March on Washington. Several other organizations that are leading that: the King family — look those up in March on Washington. You can see those too; we’re asking for people to support that also. That is about this pending legislation that has been sitting in Congress around voting. These fights are also connected to voter suppression; ding-ding. And I also figured out an easier way for you to get this information. Just go to BlackLivesMatterAtSchool.com, and everything is on there, all the links I talked about, and that way then you can have everything right there.
Sam Goldman 55:19
Thank you for listening to Refuse Fascism. We couldn’t upload this episode without mentioning last night’s Trump rally in Coleman, Alabama. It should come as no surprise that this rally took place in the most unvaccinated state in this country. The crowd, in mid cheer, immediately went silent and started booing Trump when in passing he recommended people take the vaccine. The GOP is in a quandary of their own making. Their hatred of Biden and Democratic party leaders, their anti science lunacy and genocidal logic led them down to anti vaccine road that is now killing people in their strongholds. Trump turned COVID into a fascist pandemic. His response was driven by white supremacy, and anti science, selling a perverted idea of freedom. Andy Zee, on this past week’s episode of The RNL show, underscored that the Republi-fascist party and its fascist base has made opposing science a litmus test and calling card of this movement. Viciously and violently posing vaccines and masks, which are basic measures to save lives. As expected within seconds of him taking the stage, Trump fire breathed the big lie: “We did have rigged election.” Why is it that this 21st century American killer is still free to hold another rally after the January 6 attempt? He unleashed his mob on the Capitol and when unpunished. With a stab in the back narrative, which has thus far helped propel and cohere, the whole fascist movement forward. What we’re aiming to do with this show is to foster a deeper understanding of why and how we’ve gotten into this predicament that we have, with a real threat of fascism in this country. So thanks for being part of that work.
Thanks for listening and sharing and spreading the show. If you want to show us some love, rate and review us on Apple podcasts or your listening platform of choice. And of course, follow or subscribe so you never miss an episode. We’re going to be doing some more ads online to promote this podcast even further soon. And if you want to help make that happen, you can donate at RefuseFascism.org or Venmo Refuse-Fascism. As always, I want to hear from you. Send your comments, ideas, questions, or lend a skill. Tweet me @SamBGoldman, or you can drop me a line at [email protected] or leave a voicemail by calling (917) 426-7582. You can also record a voice message by going to Anchor.fm/Refuse-Fascism and clicking the button there. You might even hear yourself on a future episode. Thanks as always to Lina Thorne, Richard Marini and Mark Tinkleman for helping produce the show. Thanks to incredible volunteers. We have transcripts available for each episode, so be sure to visit RefuseFascism.org and sign up to get them in your inbox each week. We’ll be back next Sunday. Until then, in the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.