I hold that it is bad as far as we are concerned if a person, a political party, an army or a school is not attacked by the enemy, for in that case it would definitely mean that we have sunk to the level of the enemy. It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves but achieved a great deal in our work.
And uncovering the cynical crimes of mad governments? Take a look at Chomsky's 1979 After the Cataclysm:
If a serious study…is someday undertaken, it may well be discovered…that the Khmer Rouge programs elicited a positive response…because they dealt with fundamental problems rooted in the feudal past and exacerbated by the imperial system.… Such a study, however, has yet to be undertaken.
Reflect that it was published three full years after the Cambodian Holocaust of the Year Zero. Ask yourself whether this is an uncovering or a covering of the crimes of an abominable regime. But it gets worse. Go back to your Nation of 1977, and consider the paragraph:
...there are many other sources on recent events in Cambodia that have not been brought to the attention of the American reading public. Space limitations preclude a comprehensive review, but such journals as the Far Eastern Economic Review, the London Economist, the Melbourne Journal of Politics, and others elsewhere, have provided analyses by highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available, and who concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands; that these were localized in areas of limited Khmer Rouge influence and unusual peasant discontent, where brutal revenge killings were aggravated by the threat of starvation resulting from the American destruction and killing.
I hold that it is bad as far as we are concerned if a person, a political party, an army or a school is not attacked by the enemy, for in that case it would definitely mean that we have sunk to the level of the enemy.
On December 30 of last year, ABC News reported on a 16-year-old Pakistani boy, Tariq Khan, who was killed with his 12-year-old cousin when a car in which he was riding was hit with a missile fired by a U.S. drone. As I noted at the time, the report contained this extraordinary passage buried in the middle:
Asked for documentation of Tariq and Waheed’s deaths, Akbar did not provide pictures of the missile strike scene. Virtually none exist, since drones often target people who show up at the scene of an attack.
What made that sentence so amazing was that it basically amounts to a report that the U.S. first kills people with drones, then fires on the rescuers and others who arrive at the scene where the new corpses and injured victims lie.
- Glenn Greenwald
Are you an absolute pacifist? If not, then by your logic, you must be Stalin too.
Yes, I understand your highly original academic point about there being shades of gray. Unfortunately, decisions have to be made in binary: kill or don't kill, bomb or don't bomb. And ultimately the answer to that decision comes very much down to black and white moral decisions. Are they worse than us? Yes, they are worse than us. Would the world be better off without them? Yes, it would. That kind of thing. [he was talking about communism here]
Actually, yes, it is. Not to say that every single individual action that we took was necessary or moral or well-judged. But the overall strategy -- contain the USSR at any cost -- was sound, ensured the security of the world, and has led to a solidly better world today.
And capitalism is fundamentally a more moral system than communism, one which over time empowers the middle class and thus tends towards greater democracy and human rights. We destroyed the idea of communism as a viable system by bringing down its standard bearer.
Blah blah blah. Can you get your history somewhere other than a frothing Noam Chomsky? We made our Cold War decisions because we wanted to destroy the USSR and communism. We did that. It was one of the greatest human rights coups in history.
When you lead off by prising him as a philosopher and an MIT professor, you're making an argument from authority instead of from substance. That's like a lawyer saying 'my client couldn't possibly have committed this atrocious murder, he's a pillar of the community'
And I'd like to point out that Chomsky's work on linguistic theory makes him as qualified to be a commentator on world affairs as Einstein's work on relativity made him a ballerina.
My point was not in any sense that Noam Chomsky believes that all revolutions are good. My point was that Noam Chomsky believes that US Society, as it exists today, is so egregiously bad that there is no way a revolution could lead to something worse.
America does not torture
Iran has many problems, what with how they deal with political dissent and etc., but they are not aggressors in Middle East politics. At most, they support Palestine's right to exist.
posted by Chuckles
...the fact that most (all except one, in fact) of the critiques I have read need to create a straw-chomsky, put words in his mouth or ascribe to him intentions without any evidence, in order to deal with him (along with the utter cluelessness of the critics to his background, i.e that Chomsky as an anarchist is certainly no friend of leninism)...
...is a sign that his arguments as such are not that easy to counter...
...is a sign that his arguments as such are not that easy to counter...
The United States is the most open — politically speaking, forget any social issues — and freest society in the world, and it also has the most brutal record of violence and aggression in the world
You must be a Chomsky fan, because it takes a computational linguist to parse that :)
Compared to...what? I have no problem acknowledging the flaws in US foreign policy, which are sometimes egregious. But the existence of flaws and mistakes is widely accepted by historians and policymakers. Not universally - no set of ideas is - but in the large. A majority of Americans would cheerfully agree that the Vietnam war was a Bad Idea, for example, or the Iraq war for that matter.
Chomsky was a racist. He thought Jews could be nicer than Palestinians too, if they tried and that is racist.
Chomsky was born ... to Jewish parents in the affluent East Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of noted professor of Hebrew at Gratz College and IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) member William Chomsky (1896–1977), a native of Ukraine. ... Chomsky was influenced also by being a part of a Hebrew-based, Zionist organization, as well as by hanging around anarchist bookstores. ...
He describes his family as living in a sort of "Jewish ghetto", split into a "Yiddish side" and "Hebrew side", with his family aligning with the latter and bringing him up "immersed in Hebrew culture and literature"
That statement appears to have been made by someone who has not bothered to read up on the history of any revolution ever.
The appalling, industrialized slaughter of the French Revolution, to take one example, seems in retrospect an incredibly high price to pay for the spectacle of Napoleon being crowned emperor by the Pope.
Delmoi, that's patently untrue. Magna Cart is pretty old, but Britain's history of governance is pretty darn turbulent. That link is merely one extreme example.
So, Chomsky in 2008 after Obama was elected he calls Biden an "old-time political insider and an Iraq hawk." Well, I have a different memory of that.
Most five-year-olds have developed a Star Wars script. Life consists of a struggle between Good and Bad forces, with the Good generally triumphant. Many movies and television programs, and a few events in real life, can adequately be described in terms of such a script. Most historical events or works of literature, however, prove far more complex; to understand the causes of World War I or the U.S. Civil War, or to grasp the thrust of a novel by Hawthorne or Austen, one must weigh and integrate multiple factors and nuances. Students learn in class to give more complex explanations for such historical or literary events. Yet, when they are confronted with new and unfamiliar materials--say, a story from another culture, or a war in an unfamiliar part of the world--even capable students lapse to an elemental way of thinking. The Star Wars "good guy-bad guy" script is often invoked in such situations, even when it is manifestly inappropriate.
... it will take an insurgency inside the GOP itself to dislodge the neoconservatives. But whether the old guard in the GOP has the mettle for that battle is dubious. There has been no real attempt to create new generations of realists to replace the Scowcrofts and Bakers and Schlesingers. The contrast between the Nixon Center event honoring Brent Scowcroft in 2006 and the [American Enterprise Institute] dinner for Bernard Lewis was striking. At the former, elderly veterans of the Nixon, Ford, and Bush administrations reminisced about their glory days…. Meanwhile, at the AEI dinner, none of the neoconservatives displayed much doubt about their own influence.
We do disagree on the subject of American objectives in Vietnam. Professor Chomsky believes that they were wicked; I do not. I believe that they were, in a way, far worse; for often the greatest threat to moderation and peace, and certainly the most insidious, comes from objectives that are couched in terms of fine principles in which the policy-maker fervently believes, yet that turn out to have no relation to political realities and can therefore be applied only by tortuous or brutal methods which broaden ad infinitum the gap between motives and effects. ...
What Vietnam proves, in my opinion, is not the wickedness of our intentions or objectives but the wickedness that results from irrelevant objectives and disembodied intentions, applied by hideous and massive means. It has its roots, intellectual and emotional, in elements of the American style that I have been at pains to analyze in detail. The Americans’ very conviction that their goals are good blinds them to the consequences of their acts.
Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars).
One might argue that Israel was an asset during the Cold War. By serving as America’s proxy after 1967, it helped contain Soviet expansion in the region and inflicted humiliating defeats on Soviet clients like Egypt and Syria. It occasionally helped protect other US allies (like King Hussein of Jordan) and its military prowess forced Moscow to spend more on backing its own client states. It also provided useful intelligence about Soviet capabilities.
Backing Israel was not cheap, however, and it complicated America’s relations with the Arab world. For example, the decision to give $2.2 billion in emergency military aid during the October War triggered an Opec oil embargo that inflicted considerable damage on Western economies. For all that, Israel’s armed forces were not in a position to protect US interests in the region. The US could not, for example, rely on Israel when the Iranian Revolution in 1979 raised concerns about the security of oil supplies, and had to create its own Rapid Deployment Force instead.
The first Gulf War revealed the extent to which Israel was becoming a strategic burden. The US could not use Israeli bases without rupturing the anti-Iraq coalition, and had to divert resources (e.g. Patriot missile batteries) to prevent Tel Aviv doing anything that might harm the alliance against Saddam Hussein. History repeated itself in 2003: although Israel was eager for the US to attack Iraq, Bush could not ask it to help without triggering Arab opposition. So Israel stayed on the sidelines once again.
While standing in front of the cameras, the U.S. vice president made an effort to smile at Binyamin Netanyahu even after having learned on Tuesday that the Interior Ministry had approved plans to build 1,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. But in closed conversations, Joe Biden took an entirely different tone. ...
People who heard what Biden said were stunned. “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.
... Last night, after Biden publicly attacked Israel during his visit to Ramallah and spoke out furiously against it behind closed doors, Netanyahu’s aides began to focus their attention on another formidable challenge: to persuade the vice president of the United States to soften his tone in the speech he delivers today at Tel Aviv University.
The problem is that U.S. administration officials didn’t buy the explanation that Netanyahu did not know in advance. Officials in both the White House and the State Department accused Israel of having set Biden up.
Netanyahu apologized for the "bad timing" of the housing announcement, but he vowed to keep building in East Jerusalem. Knowing that concessions in the disputed city could bring down the Israeli coalition, Obama was asking Netanyahu to choose between American support or his right-wing political partners.
And Netanyahu turned right. He rallied American Jewish groups against the administration's "dressing down," anticipating a warm welcome at the AIPAC annual conference next week in Washington. His ambassador in Washington called the crisis "the worst in American-Israeli relations since 1975," when then–secretary of state Henry Kissinger announced a "reassessment" of the relationship. And even Netanyahu's key coalition member from the center-left, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, backed the prime minister, securing the prime minister's political position at home.
So now it's down to a high-stakes test of wills: will Netanyahu, following his show of partisanship, concede on settlement building—or will Obama back down under the pro-Israel-lobby pressure? Isolating Israel could push it to attack Iran's nuclear plants. But caving to Israel could strengthen anti-American feelings throughout the Middle East. It's not clear who will blink first, but it's obvious that, where once there was an understanding, today there is only a contest.
I sometimes wonder whether in this respect a democracy is not uncomfortably similar to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: he lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath — in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat. You wonder whether it would not have been wiser for him to have taken a little more interest in what was going on at an earlier date and to have seen whether he could have prevented some of these situations from arising instead of proceeding from an undiscriminating indifference to a holy wrath equally undiscriminating.
I have spoken of the prestige of the nation and of the prestige of those who govern it, that is, of the mental image which others have of us. Yet there is another kind of prestige: the image we have of ourselves. That image will suffer grievous blemishes as we get ever more deeply involved in the war in Vietnam. This war is a guerrilla war, and such a war, supported or at least not opposed by the indigenous population, can only be won by the indiscriminate killing of everybody in sight, that is, by genocide. The Germans proved that during the Second World War in occupied Europe, and they were prevented from accomplishing their task only because they were defeated in the field. The logic of the issue we are facing in Vietnam has already driven us onto the same path. We have tortured and killed prisoners; we have embarked upon a scorched-earth policy by destroying villages and forests; we have killed combatants and non-combatants without discrimination because discrimination is impossible. And this is only the beginning. For the logic of guerrilla war leaves us no choice. We must go on torturing, killing, and burning, and the more deeply we get involved in this war, the more there will be of it.
In early 1967, Walter Lippmann challenged the desire of such Congressional hawks as Mendel Rivers "... to flatten Hanoi if necessary and let world opinion go fly a kite." If the United States adopted genocide as a national policy, Lippmann wrote, it would find itself dangerously isolated. It would not only earn the suspicion and hatred of neutrals but even of allies: "... We would come to be regarded as the most dangerous nation in the world, and the great powers of the world would align themselves accordingly to contain us."
All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage--torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians--which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side. The Liberal NEWS CHRONICLE published, as an example of shocking barbarity, photographs of Russians hanged by the Germans, and then a year or two later published with warm approval almost exactly similar photographs of Germans hanged by the Russians.
It is important to understand that the massacre of the rural population of Vietnam and their forced evacuation is not an accidental by-product of the war. Rather it is of the very essence of American strategy. The theory behind it has been explained with great clarity and explicitness; for example by Professor Samuel Huntington, Chairman of the Government Department at Harvard and at the time (1968) Chairman of the Council on Vietnamese Studies of the Southeast Asia Development Advisory Group, in effect the State Department task force on Vietnam. Writing in Foreign Affairs, he explains that the Viet Cong is “a powerful force which cannot be dislodged from its constituency so long as the constituency continues to exist.” The conclusion is obvious, and he does not shrink from it. We can ensure that the constituency ceases to exist by “direct application of mechanical and conventional power…on such a massive scale as to produce a massive migration from countryside to city,” where the Viet Cong constituency—the rural population—can, it is hoped, be controlled in refugee camps and suburban slums around Saigon.
Technically, the process is known as “urbanization” or “modernization.” It is described, with the proper contempt, by Daniel Ellsberg, a Department of Defense consultant on pacification in South Vietnam, who concludes, from his extensive on-the-spot observations, that “we have, of course, demolished the society of Vietnam,” that “the bombing of the South has gone on long enough to disrupt the society of South Vietnam enormously and probably permanently”; he speaks of the “people who have been driven to Saigon by what Huntington regards as our ‘modernizing instruments’ in Vietnam, bombs and artillery.”4 Reporters have long been aware of the nature of these tactics, aware that “by now the sheer weight of years of firepower, massive sweeps, and grand forced population shifts have reduced the population base of the NLF…”5 so that conceivably, by brute force, we may still hope to “win.”
One thing is clear: so long as an organized social life can be maintained in South Vietnam, the NLF will be a powerful, probably dominant, force. This is the dilemma which has always plagued American policy, and which has made it impossible for us to permit even the most rudimentary democratic institutions in South Vietnam. For these reasons we have been forced to the solution outlined by Professor Huntington: to crush the people’s war, we must eliminate the people. [My italics.]
Time in South Viet Nam is increasingly on the side of the Government. But in the short run, with half the population still in the countryside, the Viet Cong will remain a powerful force which cannot be dislodged from its constituency to exist. Peace in the immediate future must hence be based on accommodation. [My italics]
During the past three years the pattern of the military conflict has been largely determined in Hanoi and Washington, which are also playing the dominant role in negotiations. The stability of the political settlement which eventually results in South Viet Nam, however, will depend primarily upon the extent to which it reflects the social and political forces within that country rather than on external influences, either military or diplomatic. Hence, there is good reason to encourage the early inauguration of a political process within South Viet Nam in which all significant political groups can participate and to allow that process rather than a diplomatic conference to have the lion's share in determining the future of the country.
It is often argued that this process should begin with the creation of a coalition government. There are, however, many disadvantages to such an approach. Neither the NLF nor Saigon wants a coalition with the other, and it is difficult to envision how the existing leaderships could work together. ...
The urban-rural division of the country and the mixed pattern of political control in rural areas suggests that the process of political accommodation should start at the bottom and work up rather than the reverse. Some forms of local accommodation have, of course, existed for some time in parts of the country, particularly in the Delta. Most frequently they have involved "live-and-let-live" arrangements among local military commanders. To some extent they have also involved mutual tolerance of each other's revenue-raising activities. On the Government side, the weakness of its forces and the natural desire to remain in the towns and avoid the efforts and dangers of combat have provided incentives to accept these arrangements, while for 'he Viet Cong it has been a general war-weariness among local cadres, especially in the Delta. To expand these local accommodations substantively and geographically will entail many difficulties. None the less, this is the way to start a political process which will reflect the actual balance of forces within the society.
... Initially the practical needs for and benefits from accommodation are likely to be greater at the local than at the national level. Differing patterns of control will be possible in different area, and concessions in one area can be traded for comparable concessions in other areas. If the cease-fire arrangements divide the country into military zones of control, political control in a village will in most cases be determined by the zone in which it is located. A large number of districts and the majority of provinces, however, will undoubtedly be divided between zones. At these levels, consequently, the functioning of government will require some cooperation between, and eventual integration of local NLF and Saigon governmental structures. One means of accomplishing the would be to elect province chiefs and or enlarged and strengthened provincial councils. Elections at the provincial level are likely to encourage political candidates and groups to appeal to both rural and urban voters and to promote cooperation among non-communist groups. They would give the VC NLF the legitimate opportunity to enter the political process and to demonstrate their ability to win power at the grass-roots level. Provincial elections could also be suitably staggered so as to permit more effective supervision by outside observers and international bodies.
If accommodation worked in a majority of provinces, the way would be opened for its extension to the national Government. The next step would be the election of a new constituent assembly, perhaps in part by universal suffrage and in part by the provincial councils, to devise new basic laws and choose a new Central Government. If as a result of this process the VC-NLF secured control of the Central Government, the United States would obviously regret the outcome but could also accept it and fall under little compulsion to reintervene.
Mr. Chomsky writes as follows:
Writing in Foreign Affairs, he [Huntington] explains that the Viet Cong is “a powerful force which cannot be dislodged from its constituency so long as the constituency continues to exist.” The conclusion is obvious, and he does not shrink from it. We can ensure that the constituency ceases to exist by “direct application of mechanical and conventional power…on such a massive scale as to produce a massive migration from countryside to city….”
It would be difficult to conceive of a more blatantly dishonest instance of picking words out of context so as to give them a meaning directly opposite to that which the author stated. For the benefit of your readers, here is the “obvious conclusion” which I drew from my statement about the Viet Cong:
... the Viet Cong will remain a powerful force which cannot be dislodged from its constituency so long as the constituency continues to exist. Peace in the immediate future must hence be based on accommodation.
By omitting my next sentence—”Peace in the immediate future must hence be based on accommodation”—and linking my statement about the Viet Cong to two other phrases which appear earlier in the article, Mr. Chomsky completely reversed my argument.
... I did not say that he “favored” this answer but only that he “outlined” it, “explained” it, and “does not shrink from it,” all of which is literally true.
...one reason for the invasion, surely, is to gain control over the world's second largest oil reserves, which will place the US in an even more powerful position of global domination, maintaining "a stranglehold on the global economy," as Michael Klare describes the long-term objective, which he regards as the primary motive for war. However, this cannot explain the timing. Why now?
The drumbeat for war began in September 2002, and the government-media propaganda campaign achieved a spectacular success. Very quickly, the majority of the population came to believe that Iraq posed an imminent threat to US security, even that Iraq was involved in 9-11 (up from 3% after 9-11) and was planning new attacks. Not surprisingly, these beliefs correlated closely with support for the planned war. The beliefs are unique to the US. Even in Kuwait and Iran, which were invaded by Saddam Hussein, he was not feared, though he was despised. They know perfectly well that Iraq was the weakest state in the region, and for years they had joined others in trying to reintegrate Iraq into the regional system, over strong US objections. But a highly effective propaganda assault drove the American population far off the spectrum of world opinion, a remarkable achievement.
The September propaganda assault coincided with two important events. One was the opening of the mid-term election campaign. Karl Rove, the administration's campaign manager, had already pointed out that Republicans have to "go to the country" on the issue of national security, because voters "trust the Republican Party to do a better job of...protecting America." One didn't have to be a political genius to realize that if social and economic issues dominated the election, the Bush administration did not have a chance. Accordingly, it was necessary to concoct a huge threat to our survival, which the powerful leader will manage to overcome, miraculously. For the elections, the strategy barely worked. Polls reveal that voters maintained their preferences, but suppressed concerns over jobs, pensions, benefits, etc., in favor of security. Something similar will be needed for the presidential campaign. All of this is second nature for the current incumbents. They are mostly recycled from the more reactionary sectors of the Reagan-Bush administrations, and know that they were able to run the country for 12 years, carrying out domestic programs that the public largely opposed, by pushing the panic button regularly: Libyan attempting to "expel us from the world" (Reagan), an air base in Grenada from which the Russians would bomb us, Nicaragua only "two-days driving time from Harlingen Texas," waving their copies of Mein Kampf as they planned to take over the hemisphere, black criminals about to rape your sister (Willie Horton, the 1988 presidential campaign), Hispanic narcotraffickers about to destroy us, and on and on.
To maintain political power is an extremely important matter if the narrow sectors of power represented by the Bush administration hope to carry out their reactionary domestic program over strong popular opposition, if possible even to institutionalize them, so it will be hard to reconstruct what is being dismantled.
Something else happened in September 2002: the administration released its National Security Strategy, sending many shudders around the world, including the US foreign policy elite. The Strategy has many precedents, but does break new ground: for the first time in the post-war world, a powerful state announced, loud and clear, that it intends to rule the world by force, forever, crushing any potential challenge it might perceive. This is often called in the press a doctrine of "pre-emptive war." That is crucially wrong; it goes vastly beyond pre-emption. Sometimes it is called more accurately a doctrine of "preventive war." That too understates the doctrine. No military threat, however remote, need be "prevented"; challenges can be concocted at will, and may not involve any threat other than "defiance"; those who pay attention to history know that "successful defiance" has often been taken to be justification for resort to force in the past.
When a doctrine is announced, some action must be taken to demonstrate that it is seriously intended, so that it can become a new "norm in international relations," as commentators will soberly explain. What is needed is a war with an "exemplary quality," Harvard Middle East historian Roger Owen pointed out, discussing the reasons for the attack on Iraq. The exemplary action teaches a lesson that others must heed, or else.
Why Iraq? The experimental subject must have several important qualities. It must be defenseless, and it must be important; there's no point illustrating the doctrine by invading Burundi. Iraq qualified perfectly in both respects. The importance is obvious, and so is the required weakness. Iraq was not much of a military force to begin with, and had been largely disarmed through the 1990s while much of the society was driven to the edge of survival. Its military expenditures and economy were about one-third those of Kuwait, with 10% of its population, far below others in the region, and of course the regional superpower, Israel, by now virtually an offshore military base of the US. The invading force not only had utterly overwhelming military power, but also extensive information to guide its actions from satellite observation and overflights for many years, and more recently U-2 flights on the pretext of disarmament, surely sending data directly back to Washington.
Iraq was therefore a perfect choice for an "exemplary action" to establish the new doctrine of global rule by force as a "norm of international relations." A high official involved in drafting the National Security Strategy informed the press that its publication "was the signal that Iraq would be the first test, but not the last." "Iraq became the petri dish in which this experiment in pre-emptive policy grew," the New York Times reported -- misstating the policy in the usual way, but otherwise accurate.
All of these factors gave good reasons for war. And they also help explain why the planned war was so overwhelmingly opposed by the public worldwide (including the US, particularly when we extract the factor of fear, unique to the US). And also strongly opposed by a substantial part of economic and foreign policy elites, a very unusual development. They rightly fear that the adventurist posture may prove very costly to their own interests, even to survival...
By no possible rational analysis, for example, was the US's incursion into Iraq a cunning move to "advance its own economic interests."
The Iraq war was, in fact, a highly "idealistic" war, with very little to hope in the way of "realpolitik" advantages and all kinds of lofty dreams about spreading democracy.
For my part, of course, there's no question about justifying the American and Saigon government terror. But what about the harder question, that of the terror practiced by the National Liberation Front? Was this a legitimate political act? The easiest reaction is to say that all violence is abhorrent, that both sides are guilty, and to stand apart retaining one's moral purity and condemn them both. This is the easiest response and in this case I think it's also justified. But, for reasons that are pretty complex, there are real arguments also in favor of the Viet Cong terror, arguments that can't be lightly dismissed, although I don't think they're correct. One argument is that this selective terror -- killing certain officials and frightening others -- tended to save the population from a much more extreme government terror, the continuing terror that exists when a corrupt official can do things that are within his power in the province that he controls.
Then there's also the second type of argument ... which I think can't be abandoned very lightly. It's a factual question of whether such an act of violence frees the native from his inferiority complex and permits him to enter into political life. I myself would like to believe that it's not so. Or at the least, I'd like to believe that nonviolent reaction could achieve the same result. But it's not very easy to present evidence for this; one can only argue for accepting this view on grounds of faith. And the necessity of releasing the peasant from this role of passivity is hardly in question. We know perfectly well that, in countries such as North Korea and South Vietnam and many others, it was necessary to rouse the peasants to recognize that they were capable of taking over the land. It was necessary to break the bonds of passivity that made them totally incapable of political action. And if violence does move the peasantry to the point where it can overcome the sort of permanent bondage of the sort that exists, say, in the Philippines, then I think there's a pretty strong case for it. ...
There's also a third argument in favor of violence which on the surface sounds pretty abhorrent, but I'm afraid it has a point, from the point of view of the revolutionary guerrilla groups. That is the idea that violence, say by the Viet Cong, will lead to reprisal, often overreprisal, and reprisal will win adherents to the Viet Cong. Of course, that's what happens, in fact. The first year of the massive American bombardment of South Vietnam, the number of recruits for the Viet Cong increased enormously, tripled at least.
With all these arguments in favor of this type of violence, I still think there are good grounds to reject it. It seems to me, from the little we know about such matters, that a new society rises out of the actions that are taken to form it, and the institutions and the ideology it develops are not independent of those actions; in fact, they're heavily colored by them, they're shaped by them in many ways. And one can expect that actions that are cynical and vicious, whatever their intent, will inevitably condition and deface the quality of the ends that are achieved.
As to the Viet Cong terror, we cannot possibly agree with it, just as we couldn't agree with the terror of the National Liberation Army in Algeria. People who did agree with this terror and were only against the French counter-terror, of course, were applying a double standard.
I think the course of collectivization in China and the Soviet Union can also be instructive. It's clear, I believe, that the emphasis on the use of terror and violence in China was considerably less than in the Soviet Union and that the success was considerably greater in achieving a just society. ...
Dr. Arendt takes rather an absolutist view, that I don't share, about certain historical phenomena such as the character of the new societies that have emerged. I don't feel that they deserve a blanket condemnation at all. There are many things to object to in any society. But take China, modern China; one also finds many things that are really quite admirable. Many things, in fact, do meet the sort of Luxembourgian conditions that apparently Dr. Arendt and I agree about. There are even better examples than China. But I do think that China is an important example of a new society in which very interesting positive things happened at the local level, in which a good deal of the collectivization and communization was really based on mass participation and took place after a level of understanding had been reached in the peasantry that led to this next step.
Indeed, a recent article in the China Quarterly -- which is hardly a pro-Red Chinese journal -- compares Chinese and Russian communization to the very great credit of the Chinese communization, precisely for these reasons, pointing out that its greater success in achieving a relatively livable and to some extent just society was correlated with the fact that these methods involved much less terror.
I very much agree with Mr. Chomsky's assertion that the nature of new societies is affected by the nature of the actions that bring them into being. And our experiences with such new societies are, of course, by no means encouraging. It would be really fooling ourselves if we looked upon them with enthusiastic eyes, with which I sympathize but which, I am afraid, simply do not see the truth.
I would like to congratulate The New York Review on its publication [Feb. 23] of the extraordinary article by Noam Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” Chomsky’s morally impassioned and powerfully argued denunciation of American aggression in Vietnam and throughout the world is the most moving political document I have read since the death of Leon Trotsky. It is inspiring to see a brilliant scientist risk his prestige, his access to lucrative government grants, and his reputation for Olympian objectivity by taking a clearcut, no-holds-barred, adversary position on the burning moral-political issue of the day, and by castigating the complacent mythology of “specialized expertise” under which many academic intellectuals shrug off the crimes committed by their government, only provided they are not naked enough (e.g., the Dominican intervention) to defy the most accomplished casuistry.
It will be said that Chomsky’s account of American foreign policy is drawn in black and white, and that politics is in reality a spectrum of shades of gray. And this objection would be sound, if Chomsky were writing as a detached observer on Mars. Sure, Viet Cong terrorists have murdered, mutilated, and intimidated their opposition. Certainly, Red China has been far more hysterically aggressive than Chomsky admits (so much as to have frightened their Communist allies, as well as half their own population). But I salute Chomsky for not caring to appear fair to the facts on both sides. For the facts are known well enough by now. It is the moral evaluation of our foreign policy and the decision as to what we are going to do about it that is now in order. At precisely this moment we have the best, perhaps the only, chance to stop the senseless slaughter in Vietnam and achieve a détente with the Communist nations. Why doesn’t President Johnson stop the bombing of North Vietnam, as he promised to do, if only he would receive some sign—when everyone knows he has received all sorts of frantic signs? I hope Chomsky’s indignation will prove infectious, and that he will have convinced many of his fellow scientists that judgments of right and wrong need not and should not be left to technical experts on geopolitics or the theory of thermonuclear games.
The New York Review of Books was one soapbox for Chomsky -- but only until 1972 or so. Chomsky says that's because the magazine's editorial policy abruptly shifted to the right around then. But he couldn't seem to find a home with other publications, either. He went from huddling with newspaper editors and bouncing ideas off them to being virtually banned. The New Republic wouldn't have him, in part because of his unrelenting criticism of Israel. The Nation? Occasionally. But for the most part, mainstream outlets shunned him. Today, his articles on social and political developments are confined to lesser-known journals such as the magazine Z.
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