Chomsky Sessions Five: International Relations, Part Two

Transcript of Chomsky Sessions 5: International Relations, a Z Video DVD with Noam Chomsky and Michael Albert (http://www.zcomm.org/zstore/products/114)


What are the mistakes that you think the antiwar movement has made over the years and things that maybe we should have done differently?

I think there are a lot of things that could have been done better. For one thing, you have to make a distinction between two kinds of tactics: you could call them feel-good tactics — makes me feel good about myself — and do-good tactics, does something for somebody else. Well, you know, the antiwar movement dissolved to a large extent into feel-good tactics, which were harmful. In fact, the Vietnamese were aware of it. I talked to them. What they liked was quiet, non-violent demonstrations which, you know, a group of women standing quietly somewhere. What they didn't like was what was being done. Say, Weathermen. These are tactics that are understandable from the point of view of the people. They were frustrated, they were bitter, nothing was working, OK, let's go out and smash some windows. Or let's go out and have a fight in a 3rd Avenue Bar and show the people we're authentic and so on.

Well, these are like just gifts to the ultra-hawks. They helped to build up support for the war. And it was obvious that they were going to have that effect, especially as the movement sort of dissolved into sects, like after '68. So, a lot of it was just self-destructive.

The other big error was to stop. I mean, by 1975, the end of the war, around 70 percent of the population condemned the war as fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake. Those are kind of unbelievable figures, because nobody ever said that. You know, where did they get it from? What did they even mean? Who knows, nobody checked. But that meant there was a huge reservoir of possible support for antiwar activity. It was dissolved, it left. Everybody went away. You started condemning the Khmer Rouge or you're doing some other thing. So then comes the Central American massacres and so it goes on.

There are other things. Almost nobody agrees with me about this. My friends on the left, many of them don't even understand my own view, which goes back to around 1970, that the U.S. won the war. The business world recognized that. You read it in the Far Eastern Economic Review. But, the left is committed to the doctrine that we won. You know, we stopped the war, the Vietnamese won, the people united and the rest of it. It's not what happened. We have a rich documentary record and it's very instructive. We should think about it. Be intellectually honest about it. The U.S. didn't go to war in order to conquer Vietnam, in fact, it didn't care if Vietnam dropped off the planet. But it went to war for good reasons.

You would think people in the movement would understand that.

And, you know, it was kind of always pretty clear. We have a rich documentary record, in fact, we've had it since the Pentagon papers. They went to war for the usual reasons. The mafia principle, which is the dominant principle in world affairs. The Godfather does not accept disobedience. It's dangerous. If one country gets away with disobedience, no matter how tiny it is, somebody else will get the idea, they'll be disobedient, and pretty soon the whole system erodes. That's one of the dominant principles in world affairs. And Vietnam was a case in point. You know, they were afraid that Vietnamese nationalism would be successful, you'd have successful economic development, it would, to use Kissinger's terminology, a virus that would spread contagion. It'd spread to Thailand, you know, Malaysia, go on to Indonesia, and now you're in real trouble. Indonesia has real resources. Pretty soon maybe ultimately Japan, which Asia historian John Dower called the superdomino. Japan would accommodate is the word that was used, to an independent East and Southeast Asia, it would become its technological and military center. Which would mean that the United States would have lost the Pacific phase of the second world war.

In 1950 they weren't ready to lose the second world war. So, you've got a virus that's spreading contagion, there's a cure: destroy the virus and inoculate the potential victims. It was done. South Vietnam was pretty much destroyed even by 1965. And the rest of Indochina not long afterwards. There would never be a model for independent development. The surrounding countries were inoculated by vicious dictatorships. The most important one was Indonesia, really rich. In 1965 came the Suharto coup, greeted with total euphoria in the United States. You know, killed maybe a million people, destroyed the only mass popular organization, opened the country up to the West. No more accommodation, no more contagion.

In fact, McGeorge Bundy, who's not a total fool, he was national security adviser for Kennedy and Johnson, in retrospect, said: we should have stopped the war in '65. He was right. Vietnam was already essentially destroyed, no virus. Indonesia, the big prize, is inoculated. They've got a vicious military dictatorship. Our kind of guy, as Clinton called him. So, you know, Japan's safe, it will be on our side, so what's the point of destroying the rest of the place? It's a waste of time.

I think the antiwar movement should understand that, because that is a pattern that is followed over and over again. It is a dominant principle of international affairs. It makes perfect sense. It's kind of interesting: it's sometimes ridiculed, like the domino theory, who believes that, ha ha ha. Yeah, everybody believes it, because it's true. The world is mostly run like the mafia. And, if you don't understand that, you're not going to understand the next thing that happens in the world.

In fact, that's part of the reason for the incredible antagonism to Iran. Why Iran? I mean, it's a terrible government, but there's a lot of terrible governments, like Saudi Arabia is a lot worse. Well, they were disobedient. We're not going to let them get away with it. It says: yeah, they took hostages, how are we going to let them get away with that? Disobedience. Cuba's a striking example. I mean, for decades, the majority of the population has been in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba. OK, disregarding the population is normal. The business world is in favor of it and has been for a long time. Big sectors, energy, agro-business, pharmaceuticals, you know, really powerful sectors. But we can't do it. We have got to keep punishing them. 'Cause they were disobedient and you don't get away with that.

When you encounter what you do on an incredibly regular basis, as the discussion reveals, the extent of horror. How do you get through all that and go right back to work again?

Actually, going back to work is one of the cures of it. If there's nothing you can think of doing, then you just collapse. You maybe decide to give up, or you just go into a deep depression. But, if you can keep working, that's a cure.

It's an advantage there, for you. I don't mean just time and access and resources, I mean you're in a position to feel like when you write, when you speak, even if it's not having a gigantic effect and it's not transforming everything right away, it's perfectly plausible, in fact you'd have to be a bit delusional to think it was having no impact. There are a lot of other people who will feel that what they're going to do is going to have zero impact. And they get crushed.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, realistically, I know that there's very little impact. But it's for me. It gives me something to do, it gives me something to, you know, feel that I'm doing the right thing. If it reaches some people, OK. But the same is true of any organizer. You organize local people in a community to, say, get a traffic light where kids cross the street. That achieves something. It empowers people. And then they can go on to the next thing.

There's a difference between a person who works in a soup kitchen, and he can clearly see the impact, it's not changing the whole world, but it's having a dramatic effect, often a bigger effect than leftists have, on other people's human lives. And, in fact, that's a reasonable question. You know, why should somebody in the United States not give their time and their energy to soup kitchens, to helping the poor, to doing something of that character, as compared to trying to build a movement that's going to change the whole system.

Take the case of a soup kitchen versus organizing the community to get a traffic light.

Or organizing an antiwar movement, something on a larger scale. Well…

Let's take a small case. Trying to organize the community to get a traffic light. That not only has an advantage. Kids can cross the street. But it empowers people. It can get them to understand: yeah, I can do things. It's not hopeless, I can go on. Well, working in a soup kitchen is great, but it doesn't have that effect.

Agreed. But you could see how the choice between social welfare, etc. work and antiwar work, anticapitalist work becomes a difficult choice for people. I think that the left is very disdainful and too quick to dismiss people who make a different choice than they make.

Yeah, that's true. I mean, I certainly don't disdain people who work in soup kitchens. You know, like, one of my daughters works for Oxfam. You know, it's kind of what it is. Incidentally, the Oxfam projects that she works for, at least they're designed to be like getting a traffic light. I mean, the idea of the projects is not just, you know, I'm going to come in and build a well and you can have it. It's to try to get the communities to get started in doing something about their own lives. That's hard. But that's the goal.

Over the years you've been subject to intense, malicious scrutiny. To people attacking you for all kinds of things. They attribute views to you that you don't hold, or they spin views that you do hold in a manner that has absolutely nothing to do with the way you hold them, and so on. Let's do them one at a time. I know you get them all the time.

It comes all the time. People ask good questions. They say: you know, I read this and that about you, what do you say? And, so I say: fine, I'll look at it. In fact, the attacks are of interest in a number of respects. For one thing, they're sometimes correct ones. OK, so I learn something. It's extremely rare, I should say. But, there are cases where, yeah, I said something the wrong way or maybe I made a mistake. Fine, I learn. And then I correct it. But, you have to ask yourself: am I getting my head blown off by an elite battalion trained in Fort Bragg? Well, that's what happens in U.S. domains. Is it happening to me? No.

It's not exactly the worst thing that can happen. But I'm not so much worried about you, I'm not trying to deal with you here, I'm dealing with again people who read it and are deterred from relating to ideas because of it. You've been slandered about Cambodia, Pol Pot, etc. What were your actual views? Obviously, you can't go through hundreds of pages, but, your actual views about Cambodia and on Pol Pot, and why do you believe they elicited the attacks?

First of all, I've been quite interested in this. I mean, I didn't write anything myself in those days, I was writing with Ed Herman. There has been a huge literature trying to show something wrong with it. I mean, it's literally the case that nobody has found a misplaced comma.

You mean the stuff you wrote about…

Yeah. I mean it must be the best stuff that's ever written. Because, anything you write, you know, there's got to be some mistakes. I mean, you read the professional journals. The last paragraph of every review of the scholarly monograph lists the errors, which are always there. Literally nothing. And the reason was explained quite early on. What we wrote about Cambodia was carefully checked by some of the leading specialists in the field. And they went through it, you know, they corrected some things, you know, changed some other things. So, first of all, it's very unlikely that there would be mistakes. Secondly, we didn't claim anything. We claimed almost nothing. We didn't take any position on it. We just said, look: here's the data that's available, here's what comes out of the doctrinal system, let's compare them. And, we don't know what happened. In fact, we said, you know, maybe the most extreme inventions will turn out to be correct. That's not our question. Our question was: let's compare what went in to what came out.

Now, the only way you can make a mistake on that is, like a logical error. OK, we didn't commit elementary logical errors. And there were no factual errors. We just took the data that was there. And this was noticed right away. One of the leading Cambodia historians, David Chandler, right away, wrote, you know, look: this is going to stand, no matter what's discovered. Because, what you're claiming is so limited that no matter what's discovered later on is not going to affect what you say. I mean, to the extent that we took a position at all, which was limited, we essentially repeated what U.S. intelligence was saying, and everyone agreed that they were the most knowledgeable source. So yeah, chances are that there have never been errors and there haven't been.

Remember, there are two volumes that South End published. Political Economy of Human Rights. These two volumes almost entirely were concerned with was exactly this question: How does the data that comes in relate to the interpretation that comes out? OK. Almost the entire two volumes are about U.S. crimes. How does the data that we have about them relate to what comes out, which turns out to be apologetics and denial. Nobody has ever mentioned any of that.

In fact, we did do a little of each side. And we had two major examples. There was a chapter devoted to Cambodia, which we went through in detail. There was a chapter devoted to East Timor, which we went through in detail. It's a very good comparison. Two major atrocities. Same time, same place, both huge. One was in the course of invasion, which is much worse, namely East Timor. But the main difference between them was that in one case it was our responsibility and we could have stopped it right away. In the other case, it was somebody else's atrocity, and we could do nothing about it. I don't think there's ever been a word about the chapter on East Timor. The one that's vastly more important. First of all, it's our crime, it's a huge crime. And we could have stopped it. And therefore it's silence. I mean some words of apologetics and denial, OK, but I'll put aside the just Stalinist types. Mostly, it's just avoidance.

On Cambodia, there's been intense effort to try to show that there was something wrong with it. Alright, that tells you something. What it tells you is an illustration of what we talked about before. The actual practice of intellectuals gives you an extremely good criterion for what should be done by a person with elementary moral convictions. Namely, the opposite of what always is done. And, here you have a really dramatic example of it. And, it continues right to the present. In fact, just recently, I happened to answer a couple of these things. And, in answering them I pointed these things out, and I also pointed out, look, if you say you're concerned about Cambodians, OK. Glad you're concerned about them. How about being concerned about the new revelations that were just made, which we talked about before, about the scale, the incredible scale of the U.S. attack, which is really incredible, which in fact created the Khmer Rouge, which you say you're upset about. So, why don't you say something about that?

The answers are interesting. Not one word about that. It's as if I didn't say it. What comes out is how come you're screaming about the Khmer Rouge. You're not condemning the Khmer Rouge, how come you're an apologist for genocide? OK, that's the reason why. That makes sense, you know, like if you're caught with your hand in someone's pocket, you'll change the subject. And that's the response. But if anyone has a criticism, I'd be glad to hear it. I have yet to see it. And I think the reasons are transparent, from things like this. And it's not just these two cases. It generalizes.

Actually, Ed and I together and, in fact, separately, have gone over many such examples. You know, thousands of pages of documentation by now. Also responding to the criticisms, like in Manufacturing Consent, our joint book, which was ten years after all the Cambodia stuff, we reviewed it, and we reviewed what actually happened, what was known at the time, what had been discovered since. The criticisms, the nature of the criticisms, we responded to them. Effect: zero. Nobody could even look at that. Either the people who are, you know, kind of like right inside the doctrinal system or the kind of decent people who you're talking about, who want to understand. They wouldn't look at our responses. I don't think they even know it exists. I mean, the only thing anyone knows about that book, is, well it says there's a conspiracy theory in the press, or something.

OK, you've already talked about the Kennedy… for which you get slammed routinely because you deny that he was killed by x y and z. You've talked about 9-11, so I won't ask you about that. You've been slammed about the Mideast, called an antisemite, called a self-hating Jew, etc.

See, that is kind of interesting.

That's why I'm asking. Again, what are your actual views broadly, and why do you think they elicited the attacks that they do, and what is your impression of…

The attacks are quite interesting. They actually have a long history. They actually go back to the Bible. The phrase "self-hating Jew" comes from the Bible. It comes from the book of Kings. You know, the epitome of evil in the Bible was King Ahab. You know, I remember that story from when you were in Hebrew school. King Ahab was the evil king, you know, terrible king and so on. At one point he called the prophet Elijah to him and asked Elijah: why are you a hater of Israel? OK, what did he mean? He meant that Elijah was condemning the acts of the evil king. And the king, like every totalitarian, identified himself with the culture, the society, you know, everything, so if Elijah is condemning his crimes, Elijah must be a hater of Israel. That's the origin of the phrase self-hating Jew. And it runs through history.

In fact, in the modern period it's very explicit. Actually Aba Eban, who was an Israeli diplomat, highly respected, British accent, you know, he was the face to the world, considered a leading liberal humanist. He once wrote an article, it must have been 35 years ago, in the American Jewish Congress Weekly, in which he told American Jews what your task is. He said your task is to show that critics of Zionism, he didn't mean Zionism, he meant critics of the state of Israel, fall into two categories: antisemites and neurotic self-hating Jews. OK, that covers 100 percent of criticism, so that's great. And that's correct. That's a way to cut out a hundred percent of criticism. If it's from non-Jews, say antisemitism. If it's Jews, they're neurotic self-hating Jews. He actually mentioned two examples: me, of course, and I.F. Stone. I.F. Stone's a dedicated Zionist. But the two of us were self-hating Jews because we're criticizing things. Aba Eban gave the game away. As King Ahab had given the game away and plenty of people in between. Actually, there's a kind of a counterpart to that which somehow nobody seems to notice. And that's the concept anti-American.

What do you think of the concept anti-American, and its use as a criticism to people such as yourself…

We're back to King Ahab. It's a straight totalitarian concept. It's used in totalitarian states, like in the Soviet Union. I mean, the harshest criticism against dissidents was that they're anti-Soviet. OK, say, Sakharov was anti-Soviet, because he attacked the crimes of the Kremlin. Was he against the Russian people? Was he against the Russian culture? Was Solzhenitsyn saying Russian people are awful? Quite the contrary. He was a Russian nationalist, extreme Russian nationalist. But they were anti-Russian because they were condemning the crimes of the state. And totalitarian states do identify themselves, it's part of the nature of totalitarianism, with the society, the culture, you know, the people, and so on. I know of only one democratic country, one more or less democratic country, which adopts this totalitarian concept. That's the United States. I mean, suppose that somebody in say, Italy, condemns Berlusconi. And they were called anti-Italian. I mean, people would collapse in laughter in the streets.

Of Italy.

Yeah. He's not anti-Italian, he's attacking Berlusconi. But in a totalitarian culture, like Western intellectual culture, if you attack the holy state, you must be anti-American. I don't know of any example other than, you know, things like King Ahab or the Soviet Union or, say, the Brazilian military dictatorship. Under the Brazilian military dictatorship, if you criticize torture, you're anti-Brazilian. Yeah, it's a totalitarian concept. What's quite interesting about the United States and England and a large part of Europe, is that this totalitarian concept is accepted. Uncritically. With regard to the United States. I mean, there are even books by people considered liberal scholars, Paul Hollander at U-Mass, a respected scholar, called the Anti-Americans [Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and Abroad, 1965-1990, 1992, Anti-Americanism: Irrational and Rational, 1995]. Who are the anti-Americans? Well, you run through the list, it's people who criticize government policy. OK, if you're a deeply committed totalitarian, so deeply you can't even see it, yeah, that's anti-American.


Leave a comment