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Chomsky
November 4, 2005 1:41 PM   Subscribe

This Emma Brockes article/interview with Chomsky in the UK Guardian provokes this angry response and raises some awkward questions about right, wrong and the media. The Guardian itself has so far chosen not to lock horns, other than indirectly on its letters page.
posted by Holly (78 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
chomsky is right
posted by Substrata at 1:47 PM on November 4, 2005


it was a classic hatchet job, but Chomsky can take it -- he's accustomed to it. after all, we all see how omnipresent and omnipotent he really is in the US liberal media -- you cannot literally turn on a Tv without being deluged by Chomsky uninterrupted speeches.

now he'll simply appear on all three networks at once and smash the Guardian lady. I hear FoxNews wants him to replace Sean Hannity, but Chomsky's just too busy
posted by matteo at 1:53 PM on November 4, 2005


I was surprised at the hatchet job, but at least it was interesting. I always thought you had to be a member of the NM fan club to get a job at the Guardian.
posted by Holly at 1:59 PM on November 4, 2005


I'd like to say for the record, I totall called that Chomsky was going to win this award back when it was posted on Metafilter.
posted by geoff. at 2:14 PM on November 4, 2005


Unusual to see any of Chomsky's actual statements appearing in the mainstream media. I suppose we should be grateful, even if they did carefully mismatch the questions and the answers!

Perfectly normal, on the other hand, to see lies and smears about Chomsky and misrepresentations of his words appearing in the media. It's the main function of the more "liberal" media to ridicule, smear and discredit the intellectuals of the Left, and they're very, very good at it. Lots of practice.

Most people who've never read Chomsky hate him - if they've heard of him at all - while those who have actually read his work tend to regard him extremely highly. That in itself should tell us something.

Hopefully a few people might start to see, after reading about this hatchet job, just how far the most so-called "liberal" mainstream media outlets are biased to the right. They constantly pump out pro-government, pro-corporate propaganda, differing only in style from Fox News, and millions of intelligent people, lacking any less biased information sources, swallow it whole.

The whole modern media system - a thousand unique voices, singing a thousand different songs, every one coincidentally in praise of capitalist corporatism - really is a vastly effective propaganda system, as anyone who has read much Chomsky is already well aware.
posted by cleardawn at 2:18 PM on November 4, 2005


chomsky is wrong.

or rather: chomsky is a smart and well-versed propagandist with a clear agenda, as befits a propagandist.
posted by bokononito at 2:21 PM on November 4, 2005


What isn't propaganda? You're making Chomsky's point, if you think about it.
posted by bardic at 2:27 PM on November 4, 2005


bokononito: Oh daaamn! You totally just debunked Chomsky's life work with a well reasoned and well articulated argument the likes of which may well shatter Western thought altogether! Congraulations, you amazing thinker!
posted by xmutex at 2:29 PM on November 4, 2005


propagandist for whom?

citations, please.
posted by Hat Maui at 2:31 PM on November 4, 2005


No I don't.
It would be fine if he were to be regarded as a propagandist, a very articulate one.

But he is portrayed (and I've been to plenty of his talks here at MIT) as someone who possesses the type of academic clarity, above the petty political agendas - someone who's interested in objective truth (whatever that might be).
Which, simply put, is a bluff.
posted by bokononito at 2:31 PM on November 4, 2005


Bokononito, have you actually read any of Chomsky's books?

If you had, you'd know that he is very interested in explaining how propaganda works, so that people have a chance of defeating it. That's his main theme.

He's not a propagandist, he's an anti-propagandist. And of course, the actual propagandists, who own all the TV channels and newspapers, don't like that one little bit. So they call him names a lot ... like, er... propagandist.... for example.

You might want to consider exactly who told you Chomsky was a propagandist, and why.
posted by cleardawn at 2:34 PM on November 4, 2005


Man, another MetaFilter post about Chomsky that is *certain* to change some minds about him!
posted by trey at 2:35 PM on November 4, 2005


also, for whom or what does he propagandize? noamco, that giant global corporation? MIT? who?

what is his "clear agenda" in propagandizing?

back your shit up, yo.
posted by Hat Maui at 2:37 PM on November 4, 2005


My favorite part:

"As for her personal opinions, interpretations and distortions, she is of course free to publish them, and I would, of course, support her right to do so, on grounds that she makes quite clear she does not understand."

This seems to be very similar to the Faurisson thing.
posted by minkll at 2:42 PM on November 4, 2005


Surprised to see this rather unsympathetic interview in the Guardian, which is left-leaning rather than right-leaning. Guess the Srebrenica controversy didn't impress the reporter.

back your shit up, yo.

Here's a recent Chomsky go-round. It ended with one of my favorite comments:

I'm not going to discuss this with you any more. Sorry, but you're wrong, and, furthermore, I find your views physically nauseating.
posted by russilwvong at 2:49 PM on November 4, 2005 [1 favorite]


sorry, russil -- my comment was directed at bokononito, who was simply offering blanket assertions with no support.
posted by Hat Maui at 2:56 PM on November 4, 2005


I thought that even the original Guardian piece read like an interview of a thinking person by a stupid one (and I'm not even a great Chomsky fan). The whole business of arguing that you can't be left-wing if you own shares or a nice suit is so old and ridiculous, as if the way to change society is to make self-indulgent gestures or beat yourself up repeatedly. Strange argument. Glad I buy The Times nowadays - the sports coverage is better :-)
posted by Shinkicker at 3:05 PM on November 4, 2005


Shinkicker, why give Rupert Murdoch your money? You can get far better sports coverage for free online!

The journalists selected by the editor chosen by Mr Murdoch are not exactly likely to criticize billionnaires or produce incisive exposés of how corruption works in politics and big business, either. But if what you want from a newspaper is endless reports about how the Muslims are taking over Britain, and the Europeans are plotting to ban Britishness, and young people today are so very, very bad, then yay, the Times is a great newspaper...
posted by cleardawn at 3:17 PM on November 4, 2005


Chomsky is the "radical's radical"?
That journalist needs to get out more.
Or read a book or something.
posted by signal at 3:18 PM on November 4, 2005


Chomsky is like the freed prisoner from the Parable of the Cave. He returns to enlighten the others and get killed in the process. Minus 10 points for the Guardian.
posted by quadog at 3:24 PM on November 4, 2005


I read part of what I believe is an early text of his, on transformational grammar. It's one of the most powerful ideas I've ever been exposed to. I can't really do it justice, so I suggest reading what he wrote instead of any feeble attempt I might make.

I found it pretty heavy going, and had to keep coming back to it over successive days... a few pages would get me thinking so hard I'd get a headache. Never did finish it, the job I was on was over before I did. (it was in a work library.) It's a shame... I should buy myself another copy.
posted by Malor at 3:34 PM on November 4, 2005


I've always wondered why those so eager to follow Dr Chomsky's prescription to speak truth to power are so eager to slavishly parrot his every pronouncement.
posted by docgonzo at 3:48 PM on November 4, 2005


someone who's interested in objective truth (whatever that might be).
Which, simply put, is a bluff.


His "opinions" often concern facts, which, nicely enough, arrive with citations. Try reading him sometime.
posted by dreamsign at 3:54 PM on November 4, 2005


I did a whole semester's worth of a one-on-one independent study with a lapsed Jesuit on Chomsky's transformational grammar...in 1972...and only later discovered his political writings.

He is frank, insightful, and brutally honest, in my opinion. He is not anti-American. He likes America and its freedoms. He does make the point, though, that a state tends to act in its own interests (hardly a controversial stand); but...and here's what gets everybody rabid...because of America's great power, we have committed (and aided and abetted) great atrocities in the twentieth century. And our tradition is not getting any better, naturally, under Cheney's leadership.

Many people would agree with his views on international issues, were they to be printed in the MSM, as opposed to the South End Press distributed in the anarchist bookstore nearest you.

You could blame his less-than-inflammatory issue-of-the-minute writing style for his lack of exposure, but his interviews are dynamic, simply-phrased and informative.

The content of his work, though, does not present our government as a benign agent of democratic change in the world. Far from it. And that is why his ideas will never be seen, heard, or read by the masses. Our leaders -- corporate, media, and governmental -- have their own version of reality to peddle. And that's the one we get.
posted by kozad at 4:01 PM on November 4, 2005 [1 favorite]


while those who have actually read his work tend to regard him extremely highly. That in itself should tell us something.

I have read his works. I have at least 6 speeches of his on my Computer. I think he is a propagandist, a weasel, and a liar. I think he frequently misquotes things and uses rhetorical tricks to make his point. Some of the positions he takes on things, leave me dumbfounded that such an intelligent person can do that. But he is an absolute master of making dogmatic and absolutist non-statements. That is, he makes statements that sound like clear and firm arguments, but he always leaves himself enough wiggle room to say "that isn't what I said."

Should it be surprising at all that most people who read him, regard him as well? That tends to be the norm of selective self-reinforcement. Why would someone who knows his position, but dislikes him, read him? (I know why I do--I find him fascinatingly wrong but a good person to learn the art of rhetoric from--, but as a general rule, people won't).

What's interesting about Chomsky is that he is an extremely intelligent guy. He is extremely well versed in how to effectively use propaganda, but his supporters assume that a person so knowledgeable on the subject doesn't use it himself.

It is awfully spurious to argue that because his readers value him, he must have value. The same can be said in much larger numbers of Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and the rest of the right wing pundits people are so apt to insult on this website. Surely that argument is wrong.
posted by dios at 4:13 PM on November 4, 2005


sorry, russil -- my comment was directed at bokononito, who was simply offering blanket assertions with no support.

No problem, I'm just trying to provide some evidence for a critical view of Chomsky, from someone who has in fact read a couple of his books (The Chomsky Reader, Deterring Democracy).

Since you asked:

for whom or what does he propagandize?

Mostly against the United States (and to some extent, for the Third World in general--in the 1960s, he seems to have believed that Communism in China and Vietnam resembled the Spanish anarchist movement of the 1930s).

Propaganda can be mostly negative. As described by Orwell in Notes on Nationalism:

It is also worth emphasizing once again that nationalist feeling can be purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the USSR without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist--that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating--but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. ... Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also--since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself--unshakeably certain of being in the right.
posted by russilwvong at 4:20 PM on November 4, 2005


Chomsky is like Amway. Sure, maybe the shampoo is just fine, but I'm still skeptical of the sales pitch.
posted by gimonca at 4:24 PM on November 4, 2005


Chomsky is like Amway. Sure, maybe the shampoo is just fine, but I'm still skeptical of the sales pitch.
posted by gimonca at 6:24 PM CST on November 4


That is the best thing I read today. Mind if I borrow it?
posted by dios at 4:27 PM on November 4, 2005


It is awfully spurious to argue that because his readers value him, he must have value. The same can be said in much larger numbers of Ann Coulter--

Coulter, blech. Another example of the rule that you shouldn't trust a controversial author just because they have footnotes; you should try looking them up yourself.
posted by russilwvong at 4:27 PM on November 4, 2005


russil,
I agree completely. Coulter is shit. But I brought her up in the context of the silly argument that merely because an author's readers like the author, there must be merit to the author. Surely such a premise is wrong. The same thing can be said about Coulter. I'm sure her readers think she is right. Does that mean she is? Of course not. But cleardawn asserted that there is something to that argument in the case of Chomsky. I was just pointing out the fault with such a point.

And Chomsky does footnote like crazy, but he is extremely adept at misconstruing the facts and footnotes to achieve his political point. Case in point: his argument about Afghanistan being an act of silent genocide by the US. That being said, I don't mean to equate Ann Coulter and Chomsky. I think Chomsky is brilliant, but deluded. He is brillant on linguistics and propaganda, but he uses those things to make his delusional points. I think Coulter is just a moderately intelligent hack who figured out how to be popular.
posted by dios at 4:33 PM on November 4, 2005


His "opinions" often concern facts, which, nicely enough, arrive with citations. Try reading him sometime.

Nicely enough? You understate. His facts come with 10's of citations per fact. I love facts. I like citations. I like specified actors as oppossed to passive verbs and missing actors. Chomsky though is seriously slow, dry and unreadable point belabouring.

Chomsky makes me think of George Forman fighting Ali. Hundreds of body blows all scoring points but it is all negated when the other side delivers a nonsensical knockout punch backed only by rhetorical flair. If the man had an ounce of charisma or wit he would be devastating. Sadly, he seems exists in the realm of pure fact and moves no one.
posted by srboisvert at 4:35 PM on November 4, 2005


and dios, why not follow russilwvong's example and provide a smidge of evidence for your "chomsky is evil" assertion? or better yet, sum up the volumes of chomsky's stuff you've read... i don't accept that at face value.

also, any comparison whatsoever between chomsky and the dimwits you cite, regardless of its nature, is completely worthless.

on preview: well, that's a bit better. but can you elaborate on the afghanistan discussion?
posted by Hat Maui at 4:36 PM on November 4, 2005


Thanks for the clarification, dios.
posted by russilwvong at 4:36 PM on November 4, 2005


moves no one? then how'd he get to the top of the pops? isn't he like karl marx's post-mortem p.r. person?
posted by gorgor_balabala at 4:58 PM on November 4, 2005


A large portion of that znet rebuttal is spent arguing against the claim that Chomsky often puts words like "massacre" in scare quotes. To do this, the guy quotes a passage in which Chomsky uses the word "genocide" in scare quotes.

" ... Or Srebrenica, almost universally described as 'genocide' in the West. In that case, as we know in detail from the Dutch government report and other sources, the Muslim enclave in Serb territory, inadequately protected, was used as a base for attacks against Serb villages, and when the anticipated reaction took place, it was horrendous. ... " (Chomsky, 'Imperial Presidency,' Canadian Dimension, January/February 2005)

These are not the words of someone who insists in "witheringly teenage" fashion: "Srebrenica was so not a massacre." They are not the words of someone who believes that the term massacre should be placed between quotation marks in describing Srebrenica.


Well.. yeah, those do sound like the words of someone who thinks that the massacre was overstated by the western media and who would use a word like "massacre" in scare quotes in the process. Which was the original claim.

Also, I'm trying to wrap my around around someone quoting "witheringly teenage" in a witheringly teenage fashion in the process of claiming that someone else doesn't quote things in a witheringly teenage fasion.
posted by Soilcreep at 5:04 PM on November 4, 2005


isn't he like karl marx's post-mortem p.r. person?

No, definitely not. He advocates anarchism (as in the Spanish anarchist movement of the 1930s), not Marxism.
posted by russilwvong at 5:08 PM on November 4, 2005


Should it be surprising at all that most people who read him, regard him as well? That tends to be the norm of selective self-reinforcement.

You mean I decided that I liked him before I read him? Funny. I was housesitting when I spotted him on the shelf and knew nothing about him at the time. And I was skeptical enough (I mean, come on -- the first time you read Chomsky? you have to at least half-disbelieve, because you don't want to believe that the world is really like that) that I started checking those citations. And what do you know -- his facts are good. And detractors slam him for falsehoods, yet their citations never manage to show up. Funny old world.

Coulter, blech. Another example of the rule that you shouldn't trust a controversial author just because they have footnotes; you should try looking them up yourself.

Bingo. But you know, everthing is opinion. So it's enough to call someone a liar. You never have to prove it.
posted by dreamsign at 5:09 PM on November 4, 2005


russilwvong: He advocates anarchism

This statement doesn't exactly square with how Chomsky characterizes his position in the following remarks:

Let me just say I don't really regard myself as an anarchist thinker. I'm a derivative fellow traveler [of anarchism], let's say.


CHOMSKY: Well, let me separate that into two questions: one, how anarchists have felt about it, and two, what I think is the case.

Sounds more like he's inspired by anarchist thought, which is a little different to me. But then, I haven't read much Chomsky that wasn't through some media filter, so I'm taking these particular statements at face value.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 5:17 PM on November 4, 2005


russ. . . i dunno, his words in that link (i ain't no expert, but) -- monopoly of power, economic critique of government. . . they smack of marx. maybe we could just section off the first phase of marx?
posted by gorgor_balabala at 5:25 PM on November 4, 2005


detractors slam him for falsehoods, yet their citations never manage to show up.

... it's enough to call someone a liar. You never have to prove it.


Here's a Vietnam-era example of a misleading quotation, in which Chomsky makes it appear that Samuel Huntington is advocating genocide. Here's another example ("maintain the disparity"), in which Chomsky makes it appear that George F. Kennan was saying that the primary motivation of US policy was to oppress the Third World and steal their resources, when in fact Kennan was arguing that the US ought to leave them alone.

I'm not arguing against criticism of the United States. The US has done plenty of terrible things; but it shouldn't be necessary to make them up.
posted by russilwvong at 5:43 PM on November 4, 2005


I am not comptetent to evaluate Chomsky's work as a linguist, but friends of mine who are and whose opinions I trust report that as a linguist he has done very fine and important work.

I do consider myself competent to evaluate Chomsky's political opinions, and to the extent that they are intelligible at all, he comes off (to me) as a complete crank.
posted by enrevanche at 5:52 PM on November 4, 2005


Yes, however Piaget's political opinions are one of the greatest hopes of humankind, while his theories of linguistic development suck donkey cock.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 6:55 PM on November 4, 2005


i find it quite symtomatic of chomsky's supporters (sadly; i think he deserves better) to become enraged at the mere thought of someone disagreeing. i find it disturbing that he, if not explicitly, then implicitly encourages such behaviours by his fans. chomsky is a bit like jesus, eh?

xmutex: my "chomsky is wrong" was a parody of the first commenter. strange, isn't it, how you didn't tell him all the things you told me. yeah, i think so too.

to the 'back your shit up, yo' kid: dear hat. i have read (5 of) his books. i have also taken his class. i've been to quite a few of his political lectures. like dios, i find the crowd behavior, including hissing whenever someone asks a critical question, to be a fascinating example of crowd control.

i wouldn't call him a liar - at least i don't know of any examples personally. he is a twister and obfuscator of facts. one of his favourites, nicaragua, is such case - he focuses on the atrocities committed by contras (no lies there, they did commit those) but frequently _completely_ skips over the sandinista actions that many times were the precursor of the actions from the other side. he also puts far more emphasis on the US support of the contras than on the Soviet support of Ortega. Which in itself is NOT a lie, but it is propaganda - deliberate obfuscation of a subset of facts that, when not given equal airtime in his presentation lead to a distorted picture. there are many more examples, but no, i don't run a document server here and can't provide you with citations. Go do your footwork yourself. Think of it: Chomsky did a lot of it for you, finding citations that support his case. Now just open the Net, go to the library, and discover the other side(s) of the same stories.
As to Chomsky being anti-American.. I don't know what anti-American means. Define it.
By the way, it is useful to read his linguistic work to understand his political thinking too (the two are definitely connected). Managua Lectures is one of more easily readable ones.
posted by bokononito at 7:19 PM on November 4, 2005


dios said: "But [Chomsky] is an absolute master of making dogmatic and absolutist non-statements. That is, he makes statements that sound like clear and firm arguments, but he always leaves himself enough wiggle room to say 'that isn't what I said.'"

Here's an intellectual exercise for you, dios: go back over all my comments and see if you can find the ones where I said all Jews are evil and the Holocaust was a good thing. Then see if you get the point of this exercise.

As for Chomsky, I'm not a Chomskyite any more than I'm a Nietzschean or a Bakuninist: I take it for granted that a lot of what anybody says is bound to be at least vapid bullshit, and I'm much more comfortable describing my Weltanschauung as an agglomeration of influences gathered and twisted according to my personal predilections than calling myself a disciple of anybody. So when someone shows me Chomsky occasionally saying something "questionable", I shrug and say "So what?" -- and point to the places in the Bible where it does say "God hates fags." (People need to learn to be more selective about their "influences" and not swallow everything anybody says whole, is my point in this paragraph, in case somebody's too tired to think but not tired enough to turn off the computer.)
posted by davy at 7:50 PM on November 4, 2005


For the record, Chomsky self-identifies as a "libertarian Socialist", which is very close to a synonym for anarcho-syndicalism (a term that never really caught on in the US). I would say that the anarchism of Bakunin is a much heavier influence on his thought than anything Marx wrote, although he is an astute student of Hegel.

He is certainly not anti-American, except in the sense that he would never put a W'04 sticker on his Volvo. He is, on the other hand, a relentless critic of American power, which for many people amounts to the same thing.

He is too often an apologist for those who find themselves at the wrong end of the American military's gunsight. Not that he will ever excuse their atrocities or lesser misdeeds, but he will argue that htey are irrelevant -- the only question is whether American power has been misused. To many, this is a specious way of argument.

As for those who believe his writing is dry and non-charismatic, you should attend a Chomsky lecture. As long as there is no heckler, you may hear a pin drop. On carpet. On the other side of the room.
posted by dhartung at 7:55 PM on November 4, 2005


russilwvong: I looked at your second link, and I don't see how people claim that Chomsky was distorting what Kennan said. I read the entire Kennan quote, in context, and I cannot disagree either with Chomsky's omissions, nor his point. While it is true that Kennan was directly addressing the impossibility of stopping the spread of communism in certain areas of Southeast Asia, it is also undeniable (from my POV anyway) that the context of his discussion was that of oppression of the third world.

The most directly oppression supportive statement: "Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security." was condinsed by Chomsky to read: "we have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population.... In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity." I don't see a problem here, nor do I see Chomsky distorting anything. The guy said that from his POV the objective of the USA was to "maintain this position of disparity", hardly a sentiment I'd expect someone opposed to opressing the third world to express.

Am I missing something big here, or did you just chose a really bad example of Chomsky distortions?
posted by sotonohito at 8:12 PM on November 4, 2005


Mind if I borrow it? Enjoy!
posted by gimonca at 9:02 PM on November 4, 2005


Vice-versa: I'm not competent to judge Chomsky's work as a linguist, but I have friends who've studied the field and say that in that regard Chomsky comes off as a complete crank. (If I got this right Chomsky has said grammar is somehow inborn, and that speech -- not just the capacity for vocalization -- is also innate; if that's not it then those who know better can feel free to wind up confusing me further.)

And I too consider myself competent to judge Chomsky's political works, and in that regard it's Chomsky's critics who come off as cranks -- or worse. Examples like that hatchet job in the Guardian are typical: few people who write against Chomsky bother to argue with him or try to refute his points and assertions, they're too busy twisting what he says to fit their aims. I'd pick Chomsky's propaganda over that of his foes any day. (Note that this doesn't mean I agree with, or even care about, even half of what he says.)
posted by davy at 9:04 PM on November 4, 2005


russilwvong: I looked at your second link, and I don't see how people claim that Chomsky was distorting what Kennan said.

Lost me there, too. Though the first Chomsky example was very bad indeed.
posted by dreamsign at 9:10 PM on November 4, 2005


bokononito, you'll find this interesting -- from the first book of bokonon: All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies.

like dios, you appeal to your own authority on chomsky, claiming to have read substantial amounts of his work. yet when challenged to support any of the vague blankets of malfeasance with which you indict chomsky (if you'll pardon the horrendous mixed metaphor), you change the subject -- all of a sudden, it's up to me to justify or support your assertions. weak.

substantiate or STFU.
posted by Hat Maui at 10:11 PM on November 4, 2005


Why are our teenagers withered? Is that like wasting disease, or an eating disorder thing?

Man, another MetaFilter post about Chomsky that is *certain* to change some minds about him!

Ha! My only problem with Chomsky is that he thinks that cartesian rationalism will change minds. Real persuasion, in my opinion, is a murkier process.

I saw him speak in Portland in 1995, I think. It felt like a religious meeting. It was awesome.
posted by mecran01 at 10:21 PM on November 4, 2005


Who tells the plain truth without a heavy agenda? Name three people. Chomsky has an agenda, but he's always up front about it.
posted by mecran01 at 10:21 PM on November 4, 2005


hat: not true. i did provide you with the nicaragua example. do you want me to provide you with a link to Soviet involvement in the Nicaraguan war? Or a link on sandinista-inflicted atrocities? Please. Go and google. You don't need Chomsky or me for that.
And then, after you've read, compare with typical Chomsky lecture (thanksfully you can also find those on google - and yes, you'll have to find a link to those yourself as well) on the subject and tell me if you see any bias.
The point of this is to exchange opinions and provide pointers for further exploration. Which I did. My mention of having read Chomsky was only due to insistence on this list, by you (or was it someone else?) that myself and the few who happen to not worship his ideas really have to read his books.

by the way, your attempts at insulting because i happen to disagree are not all they are hyped to be.
posted by bokononito at 11:04 PM on November 4, 2005


i was just wondering just how frigging hard is it to find these things out yourself:
so i googled "sandinista atrocities".
here's a very brief rundown, sadly from some right-wing site. apparently in this country you only talk about sandinista atrocities if you are a republican, and about the contras atrocities if you are a democrat. yuck.
http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=180

and if, having read this article, you say "but what about the contras?? weren't they also doing x and y and z? and isn't this one-sided?" then this is exactly how i feel after hearing Chomsky talk about Nicaragua.

I personally believe Somoza and the gang were corrupt and brutal, but Sandinista were in a league of their own. But I have read and well know the Contras acts. Do you know the stuff that didn't make it into Chomsky's spiels? And if so, how can you say that he's anything but a propagandist?
posted by bokononito at 11:16 PM on November 4, 2005


While it must be fun for all of you to debate whether Mr. Chomsky is a talented, accurate truthteller or not, I have to ask myself... how many of you have emailed the Guardian to ask them to do a public, independent review of the article in question?

If Chomsky was smeared and misquoted, then the newspaper should respond and let the public know what went wrong, apologize for it, and possibly consider disciplinary actions against the author.
posted by insomnia_lj at 11:40 PM on November 4, 2005


bokononito i find the crowd behavior [at Chomsky lectures], including hissing whenever someone asks a critical question, to be a fascinating example of crowd control

Interesting, I did not know that. That's eeriliy similar to the atmosphere I encountered at the linguistics department at my old university. This was one of the strongholds of Chomskyan linguistics in the world.
There was an absolute taboo on critically challenging the central assumptions of Chomsky.
It is also rather strange that all the people doing a particular strain of science completely change course when the founder proclaims a different approach; which is what happened when the government & binding theory was supplanted by minimalism
If only the founder can critically examine and change the central assumptions of a scientific approach it is not science at all but a movement that we're talking about since the mechanism of peer review is not functionling in that case.

This left me severely disillusioned about the worth of a lot that is going on in universities by the way. I can't escape the feeling that a lot of people are burning uselessly a lot of good brain cycles and wasting a lot of money.

After decades of Chomskyan linguistics nothing has come out of it that is interesting outside of the circle of devotees, like the foundations for a universal translating computer for example. I think there never will.
posted by jouke at 11:40 PM on November 4, 2005


"Here's a Vietnam-era example of a misleading quotation...Here's another example..."

russilwvong:

Perhaps you should actually look into the links you cite as evidence that another person doesn't honestly portray the facts. As for the Vietnam-era example, consider looking at Chomsky's analysis a bit more closely. You'll find that he's been honest about Huntington's statements, and continues to criticize them, regardless of Huntington's apparent claim that he was really a dove.

As for the second example, I fail to see how the quoted author's original comments could honestly be interpreted as suggesting anything other than that the primary motivation for U.S. foreign policy is greed.
posted by dsword at 12:38 AM on November 5, 2005


To add to that, there's more of Huntington's comments here. I'm adding this because this "rebuttal" seems to be everywhere on the internet, and people tend to just take the fact that Huntington was upset to be cast in an unflattering light as evidence that Chomsky is a liar.

Specifically, Huntington states:

"To eliminate Viet Cong control in the areas where they have been strong, I said, "would be an expensive, time-consuming and frustrating task." Instead of attempting this, we should aim at a political reintegration of the country which "clearly will depend, however, upon the recognition and acceptance of Viet Cong control of local government in these areas. It is here that accommodation in the most specific sense of the word is a political necessity."

In doing so, he makes it abundantly clear that he is completely unable to comprehend one of the most basic aspects of Chomsky's criticism: that Huntington pompously assumes that the U.S. has some right to decide what forms of government are acceptable for any of the people of Vietnam.

Chomsky has furthermore repeatedly criticized the press of the era for the same failure, as it seems that not a single journalist ever questioned the notion that the U.S. had some right to be in Vietnam (a trend that is replicated, today), but merely only made arguments similar to Huntington's that it "would be an expensive, time-consuming and frustrating task," and therefore shouldn't be undertaken.
posted by dsword at 1:34 AM on November 5, 2005


russilwvong, earlier in a post you said this: Mostly against the United States (and to some extent, for the Third World in general--in the 1960s, he seems to have believed that Communism in China and Vietnam resembled the Spanish anarchist movement of the 1930s).


Why is this a good or a bad thing? It seems a pretty random statement to make in the middle of a piece. He says that chinese communism attempts to involve more grassroots organisation then its USSR counterpart. This might have been why it is more successful. So yes, he says this little piece of the chinese revolution is something like the Spanish anarchist movement. And I agree. It does resemble it.

I wouldnt say that piece (and therefore Chomsky) is pro-China, which I think is the claim you are trying to make. He doesnt say he supports it in the way he supports the Spanish Anarchist revolution, or that this is the right thing to do, but he doesnt come right up ala fox news and say "China! Evil! Here's Jill with the Weather" either.


Quote:

"I am not suggesting that the anarchist revolution in Spain -- wit its background of more than thirty years of education and struggle -- is being relived in Asia, but rather that the spontaneous and voluntary elements in popular mass movements have probably been seriously misunderstood because of the instinctive antipathy toward such phenomena among intellectuals, and more recently, because of the insistence on interpreting them in terms of Cold War mythology."

Sorry, I can see you're getting a lot of shit in this thread for your position, but i thought id point it out.
posted by lowest.common.denominator at 3:39 AM on November 5, 2005


someone laughs at chomsky; zmag in uproar.

more at 11.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:02 AM on November 5, 2005


Chomsky calls himself a "libertarian socialist," which while it is technically a synonym for "anarcho-syndicalist" in my experience is something altogether different. Most libertarian socialists who I know have almost no programmatic ideas about a socialist government or society, which pretty much sums up what I've read of Chomsky (and I've read a number of his books, the "Chomsky Quartet" among them). I would say that Chomsky and Howard Zinn represent a current on the far Left that is generally anti-authoritarian without a full anarchist critique of government.

Anyway: is what Chomsky says and writes propaganda? Not exceptionally; certainly not compared to the corporate press. There is no unbiased or objective source for information. I say this not in a postmodernist sense, but in a frank one; the entire notion of journalistic objectivity is a fiction to give the propaganda of the ruling class merit that it does not possess. All information is biased and distorted by the person presenting it. (In the case of the mainstream press, this is the corporations that own the media outlets. They have material interests. Denying that is ridiculous.) This is obvious, and should be expected.

Does Chomsky exceptionally bias or distort the information that he presents? I don't see it. His critics seem only able to present the case that he biases toward the Left, and overpresents the crimes of the Right while underpresenting those of the Left, though his rather harsh commentary on the Soviet Union makes that pill very hard to swallow. I would in fact argue that Chomsky's ideas about truth tame his bias to a certain extent and make him a better source, not a worse one, than the mainstream despite his Left politics.
posted by graymouser at 5:47 AM on November 5, 2005


Here,a recent,nice,interview.
posted by hortense at 9:59 AM on November 5, 2005


I am not comptetent to evaluate Chomsky's work as a linguist, but friends of mine who are and whose opinions I trust report that as a linguist he has done very fine and important work.

davy's reversal is much nearer the truth. He had some insights, but they're swamped by the messianic stultification he's imposed for decades on the entire field (with a few outlying exceptions like sociolinguistics). Read jouke's extremely enlightening comment and ponder how science is supposed to work.

As for his politics, I agree with bokononito: he's not a liar, he's a twister and obfuscator of facts. (I still remember bitterly his attempts to whitewash the Khmer Rouge back in the day.) I wish the anti-corporate, anti-administration movement had a better spokesman.
posted by languagehat at 11:23 AM on November 5, 2005


i find it quite symtomatic of chomsky's supporters (sadly; i think he deserves better) to become enraged at the mere thought of someone disagreeing.

Hmm, supporters who become enraged at the mere thought of someone disagreeing? I have this nagging feeling, as if this also perfectly describes someone else's supporters. Can't quite remember the name...
posted by davejay at 4:52 PM on November 5, 2005


Lots of comments. Let's see....

lowest.common.denominator, I'll post a separate response on Chomsky's view in the 1960s and 1970s of the Communist movements in China and Vietnam.

Who tells the plain truth without a heavy agenda?

Orwell, for one. I think it's vitally important to hold the truth above one's political commitments, rather than succumbing to the temptation to simplify and distort history. If you pick out facts selectively, you can present almost any historical case you like. More on this from Brad DeLong.

dreamsign, glad you found the Huntington example convincing. dsword, the issue isn't whether Chomsky's criticism of Huntington is justified--Huntington was a supporter of the Vietnam War, after all, and I think most people here would agree that he was wrong. The issue is that Chomsky appears to have quoted Huntington in an extremely misleading way, and then defended his misquote afterward, making it clear that he did so deliberately, not by accident. Surely it should be possible to criticize someone harshly without making stuff up?

This criticism of Chomsky for misusing quotations goes back a long way--before I was born, even. In a March 1967 letter to the New York Review of Books, Stanley Hoffmann (a fellow critic of the Vietnam War) refers in passing to Chomsky's "tendency to draw from an author's statements inferences that correspond neither to the author's intentions nor to the statements' meaning."

dreamsign, sotonohito, dsword, if you didn't find the Kennan example convincing, it's a bad example on my part. I think I need to provide more context, showing how Chomsky actually uses the quote. I'll post that separately as well.
posted by russilwvong at 9:37 AM on November 6, 2005


Regarding the Kennan quote:

Chomsky and mainstream historians of the Cold War don't really disagree about the actions of each side; mainstream historians certainly acknowledge that the US was responsible for the deaths of millions in the Vietnam War, that the US overthrew Arbenz in Guatemala and Mossadegh in Iran (with the UK), and so on. What they really disagree about is motives: as Stanley Hoffmann puts it, "[Chomsky's] uncomplicated attribution of evil objectives to his foes".

Chomsky argues that the Cold War was a phony war, it wasn't really between the US and the Soviet Union--that was just an excuse to push the economic interests of the elite, at the expense of the Third World in the case of the United States (and at the expense of Eastern Europe in the case of the Soviet Union). I don't think I'm oversimplifying; I checked this with Chomsky himself.

An example of how Chomsky uses the Kennan quote, from The Chomsky Reader, pp. 317-318:

In the real world, U.S. global planning has always been sophisticated and careful.... During World War II, American planners were well aware that the United States was going to emerge as a world-dominant power, in a position of hegemony that had few historical parallels, and they organized and met in order to deal with this situation. ...

The conception that they deeveloped is what they called "Grand Area" planning. The Grand Area was a region that was to be subordinated to the needs of the American economy. ... The geopolotical analysis held that the Grand Area had to include at least the Western Hemisphere, the Far East, and the former British Empire, which we were then in the process of dismantling and taking over ourselves. ... The Grand Area was also to include western and southern Europe and the oil-producing regions of the Middle East; in fast, it was to include everything, if that were possible. ...

With respect to the Far East, the plans were roughly as follows: Japan, it was understood, would sooner or later be the industrial heartland of Asia once again. Since Japan is a resource-poor area, it would need Southeast Asia and South Asia for resources and markets. All of this, of course, would be incorporated within the global system dominated by the United States. ...

The basic thinking behind all this has been explained quite lucidly on a number of occasions. ... One of the clearest and most lucid accounts of the planning behind this was by George Kennan, who was one of the most thoughtful, humane, and liberal of the planners.... Kennan was the head of the State Department policy-planning staff in the late 1940s. In the following document, PPS23, February 1948, he outlined the basic thinking:
We have about 50 percent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population.... In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity.... We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.... We should cease to talk about vague and ... unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.
Now, recall that this is a top secret document. The idealistic slogans are, of course, to be constantly trumpeted by scholarship, the schools, the media, and the rest of the ideological system in order to pacify the domestic population....


In other words, Chomsky is citing Kennan as evidence that the US was planning to incorporate South Asia and Southeast Asia into the "global system dominated by the United States." But if you look at the memo Chomsky is quoting from, Kennan is actually arguing the exact opposite: namely, that the US ought to leave Asia alone, particularly China and India.

The guy said that from his POV the objective of the USA was to "maintain this position of disparity", hardly a sentiment I'd expect someone opposed to oppressing the third world to express.

Kennan's POV was that the disparity was a given, not something that the US was responsible for, or could do anything about. The exact quote is, "maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security."

The debate at that time wasn't between people who wanted to oppress the Third World (specifically Asia, and even more specifically China) and people who were opposed. It was between optimists who thought the US could help China (specifically, by backing the anti-Communist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek to the hilt--you can see how "helping" can easily turn into supporting oppression), and pessimists like Kennan who thought the US couldn't solve China's problems, and should leave them alone. Specifically:

... The peoples of Asia and of the Pacific area are going to go ahead, whatever we do, with the development of their political forms and mutual interrelationships in their own way. This process cannot be a liberal or peaceful one. The greatest of the Asiatic peoples—the Chinese and the Indians—have not yet even made a beginning at the solution of the basic demographic problem involved in the relationship between their food supply and their birth rate. Until they find some solution to this problem, further hunger, distress, and violence are inevitable. All of the Asiatic peoples are faced with the necessity for evolving new forms of life to conform to the impact of modern technology. This process of adaptation will also be long and violent. It is not only possible, but probable, that in the course of this process many peoples will fall, for varying periods, under the influence of Moscow, whose ideology has a greater lure for such peoples, and probably greater reality, than anything we could oppose to it. All this, too, is probably unavoidable; and we could not hope to combat it without the diversion of a far greater portion of our national effort than our people would ever willingly concede to such a purpose.

He's not talking about Southeast Asia here, but all of Asia.

For more details on the Policy Planning Staff's view of China, see PPS/39, written by Kennan's colleague John Paton Davies Jr. Identification of similarities with the current situation in Iraq are left as an exercise for the reader.

The question naturally arises: late as it is, might not the Kuomintang and National Government as now constituted yet save themselves and might not American aid reverse the course of the civil war? The answer to the first half of the question is, "No"; it began to be evident ten years ago and is now abundantly clear that the Chiang-Kuomintang-National Government combination lacks the political dynamism to win out. The answer to the second half of the question is, "It might, but only if the U.S. would provide as much aid as was necessary for as long as was necessary."

The aid which we have extended (Annex "A") has been insufficient to check the communist advance, much less reverse its course. How much more aid would be needed is less likely to be a problem of arithmetic progression than one approaching geometric progression. "All-out aid" amounts to overt intervention. Overt intervention multiplies resistance to the intervener. The ramified forces of new nationalism and traditional Chinese xenophobia would be likely to rally to the Communists, whose ties with the USSR are obscured in Chinese eyes by the Communists' violent anti-imperialism. Open U.S. intervention would, as it militarily strengthened Chiang, tend politically to strengthen the Communists. Thus, the more we openly intervened in the deep-rooted Chinese revolution, the more we would become politically involved, the more the National Government would tend to be regarded in Chinese eyes as a puppet--and thus discreditable, the greater our task would become, and the more the intervention would cost.

Eventually assuming optimistically, that the American people did not balk at the political and financial price, that the Communists were defeated on the field of battle and that the National Government was made supreme over a unified China--what then? Would we have ensured that the National Government would not promptly go to pieces on us again? What guarantee would we have that the revolution--the basic causes of which our action could not cure--would not begin all over again, and once more he exploited by the Kremlin? And when could we expect to get out from under the dreary load of political, military, and financial responsibility for the National Government of China?


Another distortion: Chomsky implies that Kennan advocated realism only in a top-secret document, while "the idealistic slogans are, of course, to be constantly trumpeted" in public. Kennan was actually arguing that the US should use more realistic language in public, e.g., "We should stop putting ourselves in the position of being our brothers' keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice."

For anyone who thinks the Cold War was a phony war and that the US was primarily concerned with the Third World, not the Soviet Union, I'd suggest reading the Long Telegram (February 1946), or PPS/13, Resume of World Situation (November 1947). I've transcribed a selection of other Policy Planning Staff papers and posted them to George F. Kennan on the Web.
posted by russilwvong at 7:16 PM on November 6, 2005


russilwvong : "But if you look at the memo Chomsky is quoting from, Kennan is actually arguing the exact opposite: namely, that the US ought to leave Asia alone, particularly China and India."

That's not how I see Chomsky using the quote. He's quoting that specific passage as the concise embodiment of the philosophy behind policymaking that the US ought to execute. Atleast within your comment, I don't see where Chomsky uses the rest of PPS23 as a concrete illustration of that philosophy. I haven't read Chomsky so I don't know if he does this.

russilwvong : "Kennan's POV was that the disparity was a given, not something that the US was responsible for, or could do anything about."

I don't think your first two contentions are in dispute. Kennan doesn't touch on the source of the disparity (in that passage, at least); he just acknowledges its presence and magnitude. But he does posit that the US ought to maintain it, as best it can. That's the emphasis. Chomsky's using this policy advice as a general evidence of US attitude-at-large.
posted by Gyan at 8:07 PM on November 6, 2005


At least within your comment, I don't see where Chomsky uses the rest of PPS23 as a concrete illustration of that philosophy.

My point is, Kennan's arguing against US involvement in Asia in the rest of PPS23 is evidence against such a philosophy.

Kennan doesn't touch on the source of the disparity (in that passage, at least); he just acknowledges its presence and magnitude. But he does posit that the US ought to maintain it, as best it can.

No and no. He does describe the source of the disparity, and he argues that it's beyond US control. Again:

The greatest of the Asiatic peoples—the Chinese and the Indians—have not yet even made a beginning at the solution of the basic demographic problem involved in the relationship between their food supply and their birth rate. Until they find some solution to this problem, further hunger, distress, and violence are inevitable. All of the Asiatic peoples are faced with the necessity for evolving new forms of life to conform to the impact of modern technology. This process of adaptation will also be long and violent. It is not only possible, but probable, that in the course of this process many peoples will fall, for varying periods, under the influence of Moscow, whose ideology has a greater lure for such peoples, and probably greater reality, than anything we could oppose to it. All this, too, is probably unavoidable; and we could not hope to combat it without the diversion of a far greater portion of our national effort than our people would ever willingly concede to such a purpose.
posted by russilwvong at 9:22 PM on November 6, 2005


lowest.common.denominator:

Why is [comparing the Chinese and Vietnamese Communist movements to the Spanish anarchist movement] a good or a bad thing? It seems a pretty random statement to make in the middle of a piece.

Chomsky admires the Spanish anarchist movement, so I think it's fair to say that his comparison of the Chinese and Vietnamese communist movements to the Spanish anarchist movement is intended to be positive, not negative. In general it seems to me that Chomsky's writings show a fair degree of sympathy for the Communist movements in Asia; some other examples are his New York Review of Books essay In North Vietnam (August 1970), his speech in North Vietnam (April 1970), his positive comments about the Chinese revolution in a 1967 panel discussion (he describes many things as meeting "Luxembourgian conditions"). Conversely, I haven't seen any really critical comments by him in the 1960s and 1970s. Compare his harsh condemnation of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor with his comments on the Chinese occupation of Tibet, for example. And there's the speech he gave in North Vietnam.

I don't think it's a really major point, which is why I put it in parentheses. Lots of people in the 1960s and 1970s had romantic illusions about Communist China (as Orwell notes, it's a lot easier to have such illusions about a foreign country than about one's own country). More recently, he has criticized the Chinese government (although he then goes on to say that India was far worse; see Rajeev Advani's critical comments).

The reason I mentioned this is that some people (e.g. graymouser) don't realize that after the Sino-Soviet split, there were actually three sides to the Cold War. So they think that if Chomsky criticizes both the US and the Soviet Union, he must be objective.
posted by russilwvong at 9:47 PM on November 6, 2005


"And there's the speech he gave in North Vietnam."

Oops, missed the duplication while editing.
posted by russilwvong at 9:48 PM on November 6, 2005


russilwvong : "My point is, Kennan's arguing against US involvement in Asia in the rest of PPS23 is evidence against such a philosophy."

1a)that assumes that maintaining the disparity requires active intervention. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't.
1b)Wikipedia tells me that he became critical of US foreign policy soon after: "As U.S. Cold War strategy assumed a more aggressive and militaristic tone, Kennan bemoaned what he called a misinterpretation of his thinking." The examination here is of US attitude, not Keenan's except to the extent that Keenan does represent US attitudes.
2)The source of the disparity is not touched upon, in Chomsky's quoted passage of PPS23. As I understand it, the quote starts and ends "We have about ... slogans, the better". So my original point still stands.
3)The quoted passage is pretty unambigious. So, if the rest of PPS23 is indeed evidence against that quote (taking 1a in consideration), then Keenan seems schizophrenic.
posted by Gyan at 10:03 PM on November 6, 2005


The source of the disparity is not touched upon, in Chomsky's quoted passage of PPS23.

But it's relevant! That is to say, Kennan is saying that the source of the disparity is outside US control, the US just has to live with it (envy and resentment of the US's wealth will be inevitable, so the US had better make sure it can't be attacked from the Pacific again); while Chomsky is saying that the disparity is the result of deliberate US policy. Again, the actual document contradicts Chomsky's thesis.
posted by russilwvong at 11:16 PM on November 6, 2005


russilwvong : "the US just has to live with it"

That's not what Kennan says:

"Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity"

russilwvong : "while Chomsky is saying that the disparity is the result of deliberate US policy."

As of 1948? Then that seems unsupported. But the Chomsky Reader is from 1987, according to Amazon. When is your quoted passage from? Presumably much later than 1948 since the cold war is referred to. So the favorable reading is that Chomsky is suggesting that the disparity at the time of his writing was maintained because of US policy and he points to the 1948 document as evidence of American thinking at the time of the emergence of the new world order post-WWII.
posted by Gyan at 11:38 PM on November 6, 2005


bokononito:
he also puts far more emphasis on the US support of the contras than on the Soviet support of Ortega. Which in itself is NOT a lie, but it is propaganda - deliberate obfuscation of a subset of facts that, when not given equal airtime
This statement perfectly illustrates how you and many who claim Chomsky is a propagandist misunderstand what he is doing. He is not Fox News - he does not claim to be fair and balanced. He does not owe "equal airtime" to anyone. He has stated many times before that he chooses to be more critical of his government, having a greater stake and ability to effect change here, which explains the apparent disparity in information. He is also not the media. He does not intend to inform as much as discuss; there is an expectation that the reader/listener will inform himself. All sides of the Nicaraguan example should be well-known to anyone approaching Chomsky, and he chooses to focus on discussing one aspect of it. Think of him as a graduate-level course on an aspect of the subject. I think many expect him to teach Nicaragua 101 (to continue with this example), which is unrealistic, and which leads to misplaced expectations and ultimately the misconceptions on his work.
posted by blendor at 12:23 AM on November 7, 2005


That's not what Kennan says:

That is indeed what he says, unless you strip the quotation of its context, which is exactly what Chomsky does. Again, you're omitting part of the sentence: "without positive detriment to our national security"; more importantly, from the rest of the discussion, it's clear that Kennan regards poverty in Asia as something that the US cannot do anything about, and is primarily concerned with preventing a future attack from the Pacific.

Chomsky is taking a single sentence from the middle of a 21-page document and arguing that this represents the primary goal of US foreign policy (in a rather Freudian way), ignoring the rest of the document and numerous other documents in which it's clear that the primary concern of US policymakers was containment of the Soviet Union. In their view, the Soviet Union was a threat not because it stood outside the capitalist economic system, but because of its military power, its hostility towards the capitalist countries, and its willingness to use violence (primarily violence by Soviet-controlled Communist parties rather than outright invasion, in Kennan's view). (Note that in 1948, following demobilization, the US had only 10 divisions; the Soviet Union had 25 divisions in East Germany and Poland alone, and 40 divisions in the Western zones of the Soviet Union. Of course, the US had a monopoly on the atomic bomb, but only until 1949.)

A few examples, all from secret documents. Kennan's Long Telegram, February 1946:

In summary, we have here a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with US there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secure. This political force has complete power of disposition over energies of one of world's greatest peoples and resources of world's richest national territory, and is borne along by deep and powerful currents of Russian nationalism. In addition, it has an elaborate and far flung apparatus for exertion of its influence in other countries, an apparatus of amazing flexibility and versatility, managed by people whose experience and skill in underground methods are presumably without parallel in history. Finally, it is seemingly inaccessible to considerations of reality in its basic reactions. For it, the vast fund of objective fact about human society is not, as with us, the measure against which outlook is constantly being tested and re-formed, but a grab bag from which individual items are selected arbitrarily and tendenciously to bolster an outlook already preconceived. This is admittedly not a pleasant picture. Problem of how to cope with this force is undoubtedly greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced and probably greatest it will ever have to face.

PPS/13, November 1947:

Of the four factors cited above which have brought communist expansion to a halt, three are the result of our efforts. We have borne almost single-handed the burden of the international effort to stop the Kremlin's political advance. But this has stretched our resources dangerously far in several respects.

The continued occupation of Japan and of portions of Germany and Austria becomes increasingly more difficult for us, and disadvantageous in other respects, as the war recedes.

The program of aid to Europe which we are now proposing to undertake probably be the last major effort of this nature which our people could, or should, make.

Our use of the United Nations as an instrument for opposing Soviet expansion. prior to the conclusion of peace, has strained that instiution severely. It has an increasing tendency to alarm smaller nations and to paralyze, rather than stimulate, their will to play an active part in the organization. Furthermore, if we continue vigorously along this line--and particularly if we try to make effective use of the "little Assembly," there is a real likelihood that the Russians will leave the Organization.

In these circumstances it is clearly unwise for us to continue the attempt to carry alone, or largely singlehanded, the opposition to Soviet expansion. It is urgently necessary for us to restore something of the balance of power in Europe and Asia by strengthening local forces of independence and by getting them to assume part of our burden. The Harvard speech approach was highly effective from this standpoint. But we have done almost nothing to exploit psychologically the initial advantage we have gained. If our effort in Europe is to be successful we must improve radically our machinery and practice in matters of informational policy in Europe and elsewhere.


Kennan's 1952 dispatch on The Soviet Union and the Atlantic Pact:

... the conditions that existed as World War II came to an end seemed to offer high promise for the success of such tactics. The effects of Nazi rule on the social fabric of the occupied countries, as well as of Germany herself, had weakened the traditional institutions of those countries, and had in fact performed a good deal of the work which the Communists would in any case have wished to carry out in order to soften these countries up for seizure of power by Communist minorities. The postwar exhaustion and bewilderment of peoples everywhere heightened vulnerability to Communist pressures and deceits. The positions gained in Eastern Europe by the advance of the Red Army in the final phases of the war, plus the Soviet right, on the basis of Yalta and Potsdam, to a prominent voice in the determination of the future of Germany, protected by the veto power in the Council of Foreign Ministers, made it seem to Moscow implausible that vigor and hope and economic strength could ever be returned to the Western European area otherwise than on Moscow's terms; and these terms, in the Kremlin's mind, would be built around a set of conditions in which the triumph of Soviet-controlled forces would be assured. In France and Italy, furthermore, the Communists had succeeded in exploiting both the resistance to the Germans and ultimately the liberation from them, for purposes of infiltration into every possible point of political, military and economic control, and had thereby reached positions of influence from which it seemed most unlikely that they could be dislodged without chaos and civil war. In these circumstances the Kremlin had good reason to hope that a relatively brief period--let us say three to five years--would see Communist power, or at least Communist domination, extended to the Western European area in general, even in the absence of any further military effort by the Soviet Union. By virtue of such a development, as Moscow saw it, the preponderance of military-industrial strength in the world would be assembled under Soviet control. England would represent at best an isolated industrial slum, extensively dependent on the Communist-controlled Continent across the channel. Taken together with the possibilities for Communist success in China, where the immediately desired phase of "expelling the imperialists" seemed to he progressing almost unbelievably well with no effort at all on Moscow's part, all this meant that prospects were not bad for the rapid advance of the Kremlin to a dominant and almost unchallengeable position in world affairs. Thus the lack of desire or expectancy for a new major foreign war did not mean that Moscow had no hope for the expansion of Bolshevik power in the postwar period.

I feel like I'm beating a horse to death by quoting so much material, but I hope that you can see that the picture presented by Chomsky of US policymakers' goals (the "phony war" theory) and the picture presented by the documents I've quoted are wildly at variance. You can easily look through them yourself, either online or offline.
posted by russilwvong at 9:10 PM on November 7, 2005


russilwvong : "you're omitting part of the sentence: 'without positive detriment to our national security'"

That's a constraint, not a modifier. You're arguing about Chomsky's cold-war-phony argument; I'm not. My argument is simply that Kennan's quoted passage means what it says at face-value.
posted by Gyan at 9:30 PM on November 7, 2005


I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

If I understand correctly, you think that Kennan was indeed stating that the primary goal (the "real task") of the US, in the Far East or indeed worldwide, was to maintain its disproportionate wealth. There's no other possible interpretation of his words.

My interpretation, based on the discussion in the rest of this section on PPS/23 (which focuses on the inability of the US to address the problems faced by the Asian countries, and how to prevent a future attack from the Pacific) is that Kennan was arguing that the US needed to focus on protecting its national security against attack from the Pacific, given that its disproportionate wealth would result in envy and resentment on the part of the poorer nations in Asia.

I don't want to continue to beat a dead horse, so I think I should leave it at that.
posted by russilwvong at 10:59 PM on November 7, 2005


Followup: the Guardian has apologized and retracted the article.
posted by russilwvong at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2005


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