The Big Lie gets lots of public attention and is carried forward as in a big parade, with many hungry listeners, while the truth must come limping behind on crutches, struggling to catch up, panting with its tongue hanging out. Wilhelm Reich
I think one of the healthy things about the United States is precisely this: there’s very little respect for intellectuals as such. And there shouldn’t be. What’s there to respect? I mean, in France if you’re part of the intellectual elite and you cough, there’s a front-page story in Le Monde. That’s one of the reasons why French intellectual culture is so farcical — it’s like Hollywood. You’re in front of the television cameras all the time, and you’ve got to keep doing something new so they’ll keep focusing on you and not on the guy at the next table, and people don’t have ideas that are that good, so they have to come up with crazy stuff, and the intellectuals get all pompous and self-important. Chomsky
En ce 40e anniversaire des purges maoïstes, plus connues sous le nom de « Révolution culturelle », on ne peut évidemment pas ne pas mentionner l’un de ses derniers et plus célèbres soutiens, le maitre-rationalisateur de toutes les terreurs d’Etat – à condition bien sûr qu’elle ne soit pas américaine -, Noam Chomsky lui-même !
Après tout, même notre propre Jean-Paul n’avait pas réussi à faire mieux que le gourou préféré de la gauche mondiale (classé depuis au moins 25 ans intellectuel vivant le plus cité du monde et, si on compte les morts,… juste derrière Marx !) qui, en quelques décennies, a réussi le tour de force (seul peut-être notre Jacques Vergès national pourrait s’en approcher!) d’excuser ou de rationaliser tour à tour les terreurs d’Etat chinoise, nord-coréenne, vietcong, khmer rouge, cubaine, sandinista, serbe, soudanaise, irakienne, you name it !** Sans parler bien sûr des divers négationnistes du génocide juif et des responsables du… 11/9 !
* qui n’aurait peut-être pas apprécié son jugement pourtant pas si éloigné – pour une fois ! – de la réalité sur l’intelligentsia parisienne: « in France if you’re part of the intellectual elite and you cough, there’s a front-page story in Le Monde. That’s one of the reasons why French intellectual culture is so farcical — it’s like Hollywood » …
** d’ailleurs, pas plus tard que le mois dernier, il rendait visite au chef du Hamas au Liban-sud !
China is an important example of a new society in which very
interesting and positive things happened at the local level, in which a good deal of the collectivization and communization was really based on mass participation and took place after a level of understanding had been reached in the peasantry that led to this next step.
I don’t accept the view that we can just condemn the NLF terror,
period, because it was so horrible. I think we really have to ask
questions of comparative costs, ugly as that may sound. And if we are going to take a moral position on this—and I think we should—we have to ask both what the consequences were of using terror and not using terror. If it were true that the consequences of not using terror would be that the peasantry in Vietnam would continue to live in the state of the peasantry of the Philippines, then I think the use of terror would be justified.
post-war Cambodia was probably similar to France after liberation at the end of World War II when thousands of enemy collaborators were massacred within a few months. This was to be expected and was a small price to pay for the positive outcomes of the new government of Pol Pot.
Refugees are frightened and defenseless, at the mercy of alien forces. They naturally tend to report what they believe their interlocutors wish to hear. While these reports must be considered seriously, care and caution are necessary. Specifically, refugees questioned by Westerners or Thais have a vested interest in reporting atrocities on the part of Cambodian revolutionaries, an obvious fact that no serious reporter will fail to take into account.
the forced march of the population out of Phnom Penh was probably necessitated by the failure of the 1976 rice crop. If this was true, “the evacuation of Phnom Penh, widely denounced at the time and since for its undoubted brutality, may actually have saved many lives.
the deaths in Cambodia were not the result of systematic slaughter and starvation organized by the state but rather attributable in large measure to peasant revenge, undisciplined military units out of government control, starvation and disease that are direct consequences of the US war, or other such factors.
The [9/11] terrorist attacks were major atrocities. In scale they may not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and killing unknown numbers of people.
After the first week of bombing, the New York Times reported on a back page inside a column on something else, that by the arithmetic of the United Nations there will soon be 7.5 million Afghans in acute need of even a loaf of bread and there are only a few weeks left before the harsh winter will make deliveries to many areas totally impossible, continuing to quote, but with bombs falling the delivery rate is down to 1/2 of what is needed. Casual comment. Which tells us that Western civilization is anticipating the slaughter of, well do the arithmetic, 3-4 million people or something like that. . . . Looks like what’s happening is some sort of silent genocide.
One is the fact that terrorism works. It doesn’t fail. It works. Violence usually works. That’s world history. Secondly, it’s a very serious analytic error to say, as is commonly done, that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. Like other means of violence, it’s primarily a weapon of the strong, overwhelmingly, in fact. It is held to be a weapon of the weak because the strong also control the doctrinal systems and their terror doesn’t count as terror. Now that’s close to universal. I can’t think of a historical exception, even the worst mass murderers view the world that way. So take the Nazis. They weren’t carrying out terror in occupied Europe. They were protecting the local population from the terrorisms of the partisans. And like other resistance movements, there was terrorism. The Nazis were carrying out counter terror.
virtually everything that Israel is doing, meaning the United States
and Israel are doing, is illegal, in fact, a war crime. And many of them they defined as “grave breaches,” that is, serious war crimes. This means that the United States and Israeli leadership should be brought to trial.
Anti-Semitism is no longer a problem. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control.
Jews are « the most privileged and influential part of the population. I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers or even denial of the Holocaust.
We might ask how the Times would react to an Arab claim that the Jews do not merit a ‘second homeland’ because they already have New York, with a huge Jewish population, Jewish-run media, a Jewish mayor, and domination of cultural and economic life.
Almost any crime, a crime in the street, a war, whatever it may be, there’s usually something behind it that has elements of legitimacy. If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged. I have often thought that if a rational Fascist dictatorship were to exist, then it would choose the American system.
The United States is unusual among the industrial democracies in the rigidity of the system of ideological control – « indoctrination, » we might say – exercised through the mass media.
The Bible is one of the most genocidal books in history.
Voir aussi la probablement meilleure « dénazification », par l’historien australien Keith Windschuttle, du maitre-dénazificateur lui-même !
The Hypocrisy of Noam Chomsky
May 2, 2003
There’s a famous definition in the Gospels of the hypocrite, and the hypocrite is the person who refuses to apply to himself the standards he applies to others. By that standard, the entire commentary and discussion of the so-called War on Terror is pure hypocrisy, virtually without exception. Can anybody understand that? No, they can’t understand it.
—Noam Chomsky, Power and Terror, 2003
Noam Chomsky was the most conspicuous American intellectual to rationalize the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The death toll, he argued, was minor compared to the list of Third World victims of the “far more extreme terrorism” of United States foreign policy. Despite its calculated affront to mainstream opinion, this sentiment went down very well with Chomsky’s own constituency. He has never been more popular among the academic and intellectual left than he is today.
Two books of interviews with him published since September 11, 2001 both went straight onto the bestseller lists. One of them has since been turned into a film entitled Power and Terror, now doing brisk business in the art-house movie market. In March 2002 the film’s director, John Junkerman, accompanied his subject to the University of California, Berkeley, where in a five-day visit Chomsky gave five political talks to a total audience of no fewer than five thousand people.
Meanwhile, the liberal news media around the world has sought him out for countless interviews as the most prominent intellectual opposed to the American response to the terrorist attacks. Newspaper articles routinely open by reminding readers of his awesome intellectual status. A profile headlined “Conscience of a Nation” in the English daily The Guardian declared: “Chomsky ranks with Marx, Shakespeare, and the Bible as one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities—and is the only writer among them still alive.” The New York Times has called him “arguably the most important intellectual alive.”
Chomsky has used his status, originally gained in the field of linguistics, to turn himself into the leading voice of the American left. He is not merely a spokesman. His own stance has done much to structure left-wing politics over the past forty years. Today, when actors, rock stars, and protesting students mouth anti-American slogans for the cameras, they are very often expressing sentiments they have gleaned from Chomsky’s voluminous output.
Hence, to examine Chomsky’s views is to analyze the core mindset of contemporary radicalism, especially the variety that now holds so much sway in the academic and arts communities.
Chomsky has been a celebrity radical since the mid-1960s when he made his name as an anti-Vietnam War activist. Although he lost some of his appeal in the late-1970s and 1980s by his defense of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, he has used September 11 to restore his reputation, indeed to surpass his former influence and stature. At seventy-four years of age, he is today the doyen of the American and much of the world’s intellectual left.
He is, however, an unconventional academic radical. Over the past thirty years, the left in the humanities has been smitten by high theory, especially neo-Marxist, feminist, and postmodernist philosophy out of Germany and France. Much of this material was arcane enough in its own language but in translation it elevated obscurantism to a badge of prestige. It inundated the humanities with relativism both in epistemology and moral philosophy.
In contrast, Chomsky has produced no substantial body of political theory of his own. Nor is he a relativist. He advocates the pursuit of truth and knowledge about human affairs and promotes a simple, universal set of moral principles. Moreover, his political writings are very clear, pitched to a general rather than specialist audience. He supports his claims not by appeals to some esoteric conceptual apparatus but by presenting plain, apparently factual evidence. The explanation for his current appeal, therefore, needs to be sought not in recent intellectual fashions but in something with a longer history.
Chomsky is the most prominent intellectual remnant of the New Left of the 1960s. In many ways he epitomized the New Left and its hatred of “Amerika,” a country he believed, through its policies both at home and abroad, had descended into fascism. In his most famous book of the Sixties, American Power and the New Mandarins, Chomsky said what America needed was “a kind of denazification.”
Of all the major powers in the Sixties, according to Chomsky, America was the most reprehensible. Its principles of liberal democracy were a sham. Its democracy was a “four-year dictatorship” and its economic commitment to free markets was merely a disguise for corporate power. Its foreign policy was positively evil. “By any objective standard,” he wrote at the time, “the United States has become the most aggressive power in the world, the greatest threat to peace, to national self-determination, and to international cooperation.”
As an anti-war activist, Chomsky participated in some of the most publicized demonstrations, including the attempt, famously celebrated in Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night, to form a human chain around the Pentagon. Chomsky described the event as “tens of thousands of young people surrounding what they believe to be—I must add that I agree—the most hideous institution on this earth.”
This kind of anti-Americanism was common on the left at the time but there were two things that made Chomsky stand out from the crowd. He was a scholar with a remarkable reputation and he was in tune with the anti-authoritarianism of the student-based New Left.
At the time, the traditional left was still dominated by an older generation of Marxists, who were either supporters of the Communist Party or else Trotskyists opposed to Joseph Stalin and his heirs but who still endorsed Lenin and Bolshevism. Either way, the emerging generation of radical students saw both groups as compromised by their support for the Russian Revolution and the repressive regimes it had bequeathed to eastern Europe.
Chomsky was not himself a member of the student generation—in 1968 he was a forty-year-old tenured professor—but his lack of party membership or any other formal political commitment absolved him of any connection to the Old Left. Instead, his adherence to anarchism, or what he called “libertarian socialism,” did much to shape the outlook of the New Left.
American Power and the New Mandarins approvingly quotes the nineteenth-century anarchist Mikhail Bakunin predicting that the version of socialism supported by Karl Marx would end up transferring state power not to the workers but to the elitist cadres of the Communist Party itself.
Despite his anti-Bolshevism, Chomsky remained a supporter of socialist revolution. He urged that “a true social revolution” would transform the masses so they could take power into their own hands and run institutions themselves. His favorite real-life political model was the short-lived anarchist enclave formed in Barcelona in 1936–1937 during the Spanish Civil War.
The Sixties demand for “student power” was a consequence of this brand of political thought. It allowed the New Left to persuade itself that it had invented a more pristine form of radicalism, untainted by the totalitarianism of the communist world.
For all his in-principle disdain of communism, however, when it came to the real world of international politics Chomsky turned out to endorse a fairly orthodox band of socialist revolutionaries. They included the architects of communism in Cuba, Fidel Castro and Che Guevera, as well as Mao Tse-tung and the founders of the Chinese communist state. Chomsky told a forum in New York in December, 1967 that in China “one finds many things that are really quite admirable.” He believed the Chinese had gone some way to empowering the masses along lines endorsed by his own libertarian socialist principles:
« China is an important example of a new society in which very interesting and positive things happened at the local level, in which a good deal of the collectivization and communization was really based on mass participation and took place after a level of understanding had been reached in the peasantry that led to this next step. »
When he provided this endorsement of what he called Mao Tse-tung’s “relatively livable” and “just society,” Chomsky was probably unaware he was speaking only five years after the end of the great Chinese famine of 1958–1962, the worst in human history. He did not know, because the full story did not come out for another two decades, that the very collectivization he endorsed was the principal cause of this famine, one of the greatest human catastrophes ever, with a total death toll of thirty million people.
Nonetheless, if he was as genuinely aloof from totalitarianism as his political principles proclaimed, the track record of communism in the USSR—which was by then widely known to have faked its statistics of agricultural and industrial output in the 1930s when its own population was also suffering crop failures and famine—should have left this anarchist a little more skeptical about the claims of the Russians’ counterparts in China.
In fact, Chomsky was well aware of the degree of violence that communist regimes had routinely directed at the people of their own countries. At the 1967 New York forum he acknowledged both “the mass slaughter of landlords in China” and “the slaughter of landlords in North Vietnam” that had taken place once the communists came to power. His main objective, however, was to provide a rationalization for this violence, especially that of the National Liberation Front then trying to take control of South Vietnam. Chomsky revealed he was no pacifist.
« I don’t accept the view that we can just condemn the NLF terror, period, because it was so horrible. I think we really have to ask questions of comparative costs, ugly as that may sound. And if we are going to take a moral position on this—and I think we should—we have to ask both what the consequences were of using terror and not using terror. If it were true that the consequences of not using terror would be that the peasantry in Vietnam would continue to live in the state of the peasantry of the Philippines, then I think the use of terror would be justified. »
It was not only Chomsky who was sucked into supporting the maelstrom of violence that characterized the communist takeovers in South-East Asia. Almost the whole of the 1960s New Left followed. They opposed the American side and turned Ho Chi Minh and the Vietcong into romantic heroes.
When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975 both Chomsky and the New Left welcomed it. And when news emerged of the extraordinary event that immediately followed, the complete evacuation of the capital Phnom Penh accompanied by reports of widespread killings, Chomsky offered a rationalization similar to those he had provided for the terror in China and Vietnam: there might have been some violence, but this was understandable under conditions of regime change and social revolution.
Although information was hard to come by, Chomsky suggested in an article in 1977 that post-war Cambodia was probably similar to France after liberation at the end of World War II when thousands of enemy collaborators were massacred within a few months. This was to be expected, he said, and was a small price to pay for the positive outcomes of the new government of Pol Pot. Chomsky cited a book by two American left-wing authors, Gareth Porter and George Hildebrand, who had “presented a carefully documented study of the destructive American impact on Cambodia and the success of the Cambodian revolutionaries in overcoming it, giving a very favorable picture of their programs and policies.”
By this time, however, there were two other books published on Cambodia that took a very different line. The American authors John Barron and Anthony Paul called their work Murder of a Gentle Land and accused the Pol Pot regime of mass killings that amounted to genocide. François Ponchaud’s Cambodia Year Zero repeated the charge.
Chomsky reviewed both books, together with a number of press articles, in The Nation in June 1977. He accused them of publishing little more than anti-communist propaganda. Articles in The New York Times Magazine and The Christian Science Monitor suggested that the death toll was between one and two million people out of a total population of 7.8 million. Chomsky mocked their total and picked at their sources, showing some were dubious and that a famous photograph of forced labor in the Cambodian countryside was actually a fake.
He dismissed the Barron and Paul book partly because it had been published by Reader’s Digest and publicized on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, both of them notorious anti-communist publications, and partly because they had omitted to report the views of journalists who had been to Cambodia but not witnessed any executions.
Ponchaud’s book was harder to ignore. It was based on the author’s personal experience in Cambodia from 1965 until the capture of Phnom Penh, extensive interviews with refugees and reports from Cambodian radio. Moreover, it had been favorably reviewed by a left-wing author in The New York Review of Books, a publication for which Chomsky himself had often written. Chomsky’s strategy was to undermine Ponchaud’s book by questioning the credibility of his refugee testimony. Acknowledging that Ponchaud “gives a grisly account of what refugees have reported to him about the barbarity of their treatment at the hands of the Khmer Rouge,” Chomsky said we should be wary of “the extreme unreliability of refugee reports”:
« Refugees are frightened and defenseless, at the mercy of alien forces. They naturally tend to report what they believe their interlocutors wish to hear. While these reports must be considered seriously, care and caution are necessary. Specifically, refugees questioned by Westerners or Thais have a vested interest in reporting atrocities on the part of Cambodian revolutionaries, an obvious fact that no serious reporter will fail to take into account. »
In 1980, Chomsky expanded this critique into the book After the Cataclysm, co-authored with his long-time collaborator Edward S. Herman. Ostensibly about Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the great majority of its content was a defense of the position Chomsky took on the Pol Pot regime. By this time, Chomsky was well aware that something terrible had happened: “The record of atrocities in Cambodia is substantial and often gruesome,” he wrote. “There can be little doubt that the war was followed by an outbreak of violence, massacre and repression.” He mocked the suggestion, however, that the death toll might have reached more than a million and attacked Senator George McGovern’s call for military intervention to halt what McGovern called “a clear case of genocide.”
Instead, Chomsky commended authors who apologized for the Pol Pot regime. He approvingly cited their analyses that the forced march of the population out of Phnom Penh was probably necessitated by the failure of the 1976 rice crop. If this was true, Chomsky wrote, “the evacuation of Phnom Penh, widely denounced at the time and since for its undoubted brutality, may actually have saved many lives.” Chomsky rejected the charge of genocide, suggesting that
« the deaths in Cambodia were not the result of systematic slaughter and starvation organized by the state but rather attributable in large measure to peasant revenge, undisciplined military units out of government control, starvation and disease that are direct consequences of the US war, or other such factors. »
After the Cataclysm also presented a much more extended critique of refugee testimony. Chomsky revealed his original 1977 source for this had been Ben Kiernan, at the time an Australian graduate student and apologist for the Pol Pot regime, who wrote in the Maoist-inspired Melbourne Journal of Politics. What Chomsky avoided telling his readers, however, was that well before 1980, the year After the Cataclysm was published, Kiernan himself had recanted his position.
Kiernan had spent much of 1978 and 1979 interviewing five hundred Cambodian refugees in camps inside Thailand. They persuaded him they were actually telling the truth. He also gained a mass of evidence from the new Vietnamese-installed regime. This led him to write a mea culpa in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars in 1979. This was a left-wing journal frequently cited by Chomsky, so he must have been aware that Kiernan wrote: “There can be no doubting that the evidence also points clearly to a systematic use of violence against the population by that chauvinist section of the revolutionary movement that was led by Pol Pot.” Yet in After the Cataclysm, Chomsky does not acknowledge this at all.
Kiernan later went on to write The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power and Genocide under the Khmer Rouge 1975–79, a book now widely regarded as the definitive analysis of one of the most appalling episodes in recorded history. In the evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975, tens of thousands of people died. Almost the entire middle class was deliberately targeted and killed, including civil servants, teachers, intellectuals, and artists. No fewer than 68,000 Buddhist monks out of a total of 70,000 were executed. Fifty percent of urban Chinese were murdered.
Kiernan argues for a total death toll between April 1975 and January 1979, when the Vietnamese invasion put an end to the regime, of 1.67 million out of 7.89 million, or 21 percent of the entire population. This is proportionally the greatest mass killing ever inflicted by a government on its own population in modern times, probably in all history.
Chomsky was this regime’s most prestigious and most persistent Western apologist. Even as late as 1988, when they were forced to admit in their book Manufacturing Consent that Pol Pot had committed genocide against his own people, Chomsky and Herman still insisted they had been right to reject the journalists and authors who had initially reported the story. The evidence that became available after the Vietnamese invasion of 1979, they maintained, did not retrospectively justify the reports they had criticized in 1977.
They were still adamant that the United States, who they claimed started it all, bore the brunt of the blame. In short, Chomsky still refused to admit how wrong he had been over Cambodia.
Chomsky has persisted with this pattern of behavior right to this day. In his response to September 11, he claimed that no matter how appalling the terrorists’ actions, the United States had done worse. He supported his case with arguments and evidence just as empirically selective and morally duplicitous as those he used to defend Pol Pot. On September 12, 2001, Chomsky wrote:
« The terrorist attacks were major atrocities. In scale they may not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and killing unknown numbers of people. »
This Sudanese incident was an American missile attack on the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, where the CIA suspected Iraqi scientists were manufacturing the nerve agent VX for use in chemical weapons contracted by the Saddam Hussein regime. The missile was fired at night so that no workers would be there and the loss of innocent life would be minimised. The factory was located in an industrial area and the only apparent casualty at the time was the caretaker.
While Chomsky drew criticism for making such an odious comparison, he was soon able to flesh out his case. He told a reporter from salon.com that, rather than an “unknown” number of deaths in Khartoum, he now had credible statistics to show there were many more Sudanese victims than those killed in New York and Washington: “That one bombing, according to estimates made by the German Embassy in Sudan and Human Rights Watch, probably led to tens of thousands of deaths.” However, this claim was quickly rendered suspect. One of his two sources, Human Rights Watch, wrote to salon.com the following week denying it had produced any such figure. Its communications director said: “In fact, Human Rights Watch has conducted no research into civilian deaths as the result of US bombing in Sudan and would not make such an assessment without a careful and thorough research mission on the ground.”
Chomsky’s second source had done no research into the matter either. He was Werner Daum, German ambassador to Sudan from 1996 to 2000 who wrote in the Harvard International Review, Summer 2001. Despite his occupation, Daum’s article was anything but diplomatic.
It was a largely anti-American tirade criticizing the United States’ international human rights record, blaming America for the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, accusing it of ignoring Iraq’s gassing of the Kurds, and holding it responsible for the purported deaths of 600,000 Iraqi children as a result of post-1991 economic sanctions. Nonetheless, his comments on the death toll from the Khartoum bombing were not as definitive as Chomsky intimated. Daum wrote:
« It is difficult to assess how many people in this poor African country died as a result of the destruction of the Al-Shifa factory, but several tens of thousands seems a reasonable guess. The factory produced some of the basic medicines on the World Health Organization list, covering 20 to 60 percent of Sudan’s market and 100 percent of the market for intravenous liquids. It took more than three months for these products to be replaced with imports. »
Now, it is hard to take seriously Daum’s claim that this “guess” was in any way “reasonable.” He said there was a three-month gap between the destruction of the factory and the time it took to replace its products with imports. This seems an implausibly long interval to ship pharmaceuticals but, even if true, it is fanciful to suggest that “several tens of thousands” of people would have died in such a brief period.
Had they done so, they must have succumbed to a highly visible medical crisis, a pandemic to put the SARS outbreak in the shade. Yet no one on the spot, apart from the German ambassador, seems to have heard of it.
Anyone who makes an Internet search of the reports of the Sudanese operations of the several Western aid agencies, including Oxfam, Médecins sans Frontières, and Norwegian People’s Aid, who have been operating in this region for decades, will not find any evidence of an unusual increase in the death toll at the time. Instead, their major health concern, then and now, has been how the Muslim Marxist government in Khartoum was waging civil war by bombing the civilian hospitals of its Christian enemies in the south of the country.
The idea that tens of thousands of Sudanese would have died within three months from a shortage of pharmaceuticals is implausible enough in itself. That this could have happened without any of the aid organizations noticing or complaining is simply unbelievable.
Hence, Chomsky’s rationalization for the September 11 attacks is every bit as deceitful as his apology for Pol Pot and his misreading of the Cambodian genocide.
“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies,” Chomsky wrote in a famous article in The New York Review of Books in February 1967. This was not only a well-put and memorable statement but was also a good indication of his principal target. Most of his adult life has been spent in the critique of other intellectuals who, he claims, have not fulfilled their duty.
The central argument of American Power and the New Mandarins is that the humanities and social sciences had been captured by a new breed of intellectuals. Rather than acting as Socratic free thinkers challenging received opinion, they had betrayed their calling by becoming servants of the military-industrial state. The interests of this new mandarin class, he argued, had turned the United States into an imperial power. Their ideology demonstrated
« the mentality of the colonial civil servant, persuaded of the benevolence of the mother country and the correctness of its vision of world order, and convinced that he understands the true interests of the backward peoples whose welfare he is to administer. »
Chomsky named the academic fields he regarded as the worst offenders—psychology, sociology, systems analysis, and political science—and held up some well-known practitioners, including Samuel Huntington of Harvard, as among the worst examples. The Vietnam War, Chomsky claimed, was designed and executed by the new mandarins.
In itself, Chomsky’s identification of the emergence of a new type of academically trained official was neither original nor radical. Similar critiques had been made of the same phenomenon in both western and eastern Europe for some time. Much of his critique had been anticipated in the 1940s in a book from the other end of the political spectrum, Friedrich von Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, which identified the social engineers of the welfare state as the greatest internal threats to Western liberty. Chomsky offered a leftist version of the same idea, writing:
« There are dangerous tendencies in the ideology of the welfare state intelligentsia who claim to possess the technique and understanding required to manage our “postindustrial society” and to organize the international society dominated by the American superpower. »
Yet at the very time he was making this critique, Chomsky himself was playing at social engineering on an even grander scale. As he indicated in his support in 1967 for the “collectivization and communization” of Chinese and Vietnamese agriculture, with its attendant terror and mass slaughter, he had sought the calculated reorganization of traditional societies. By his advocacy of revolutionary change throughout Asia, he was seeking to play a role in the reorganization of the international order as well.
Hence, apart from occupying a space on the political spectrum much further to the left than the academics he criticized, and apart from his preference for bloodshed over more bureaucratic techniques, Chomsky himself was the very exemplar of the new mandarin he purported to despise.
He was, in fact, one of the more successful examples of the breed. There has now been enough analysis of the Vietnam War to demonstrate conclusively that the United States was not defeated militarily. South Vietnam was abandoned to its fate because of the war’s political costs at home. The influence of radical intellectuals like Chomsky in persuading the student generation of the 1960s to oppose the war was crucial in elevating these political costs to an intolerable level.
The result they helped produce, however, was far worse than any bureaucratic solution that might have emanated from the behavioral sciences of the 1960s. From our present vantage point, we can today see the long-term outcome of the choice Chomsky posed in 1967 between the “comparative costs” of revolutionary terror in Vietnam versus the continuation of private enterprise agriculture in the Philippines.
The results all favor the latter. In 2001, the average GDP per head in the Philippines was $4000. At the same time, twenty-five years of revolution in Vietnam had produced a figure of only half as much, a mere $2100. Even those Vietnamese who played major roles in the transformation are now dismayed at the outcome. The former Vietcong General Pham Xuan An said in 1999: “All that talk about ‘liberation’ twenty, thirty years ago, all the plotting, all the bodies, produced this, this impoverished broken-down country led by a gang of cruel and paternalistic half-educated theorists.”
These “half-educated theorists” were the very mandarins Chomsky and his supporters so badly wanted to succeed and worked so hard to install.
As well as social science practitioners and bureaucrats, the other representatives of the intelligentsia to whom Chomsky has long been hostile are the people who work in the news media.
Although his politics made him famous, Chomsky has made no substantial contribution to political theory. Almost all his political books are collections of short essays, interviews, speeches, and newspaper opinion pieces about current events. The one attempt he made at a more thoroughgoing analysis was the work he produced in 1988 with Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. This book, however, must have been a disappointment to his followers.
Media studies is a huge field ranging from traditional defenses of the news media as the fourth estate of the democratic system, to the most arcane cultural analyses produced by radical postmodernist theorists. Chomsky and Herman gave no indication they had digested any of it.
Instead, their book offers a crude analysis that would have been at home in an old Marxist pamphlet from the 1930s. Apart from the introduction, most of the book is simply a re-hash of the authors’ previously published work criticizing media coverage of events in central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua) and in south-east Asia (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), plus one chapter on reporting of the 1981 KGB-Bulgarian plot to kill the Pope.
To explain the role of the mass media, Chomsky and Herman offer their “propaganda model.” This claims the function of the media is
« to amuse, entertain and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda. »
This is true, they maintain, whether the media operate in liberal democracies or under totalitarian regimes. The only difference is that in communist and other authoritarian societies, it is clear to everyone that the media are instruments of the dominant elite. In capitalist societies, however, this fact is concealed, since the media “actively compete, periodically attack and expose corporate and governmental malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech and the general community interest.”
Chomsky and Herman argue that these attacks on authority are always very limited and the claims of free speech are merely smokescreens for inculcating the economic and political agendas of the privileged groups that dominate the economy.
The media, they note, are all owned by large corporations, they are beholden for their income to major national advertisers, most news is generated by large multinational news agencies, and any newspaper or television station that steps out of line is bombarded with “flak” or letters, petitions, lawsuits, and speeches from pro-capitalist institutes set up for this very purpose.
There are, however, two glaring omissions from their analysis: the role of journalists and the preferences of media audiences. Nowhere do the authors explain how journalists and other news producers come to believe they are exercising their freedom to report the world as they see it. Chomsky and Herman simply assert these people have been duped into seeing the world through a pro-capitalist ideological lens.
Nor do they attempt any analysis of why millions of ordinary people exercise their free choice every day to buy newspapers and tune in to radio and television programs. Chomsky and Herman fail to explain why readers and viewers so willingly accept the world-view of capitalist media proprietors. They provide no explanation for the tastes of media audiences.
This view of both journalists and audiences as easily-led, ideological dupes of the powerful is not just a fantasy of Chomsky and Herman’s own making. It is also a stance that reveals an arrogant and patronising contempt for everyone who does not share their politics. The disdain inherent in this outlook was revealed during an exchange between Chomsky and a questioner at a conference in 1989 (reproduced in Chomsky, Understanding Power, 2002):
« Man: The only poll I’ve seen about journalists is that they are basically narcissistic and left of center. Chomsky: Look, what people call “left of center” doesn’t mean anything—it means they’re conventional liberals and conventional liberals are very state-oriented, and usually dedicated to private power. »
In short, Chomsky believes that only he and those who share his radical perspective have the ability to rise above the illusions that keep everyone else slaves of the system. Only he can see things as they really are.
Since the European Enlightenment a number of prominent intellectuals have presented themselves as secular Christ-like figures, lonely beacons of light struggling to survive in a dark and corrupting world. This is a tactic that has often delivered them followers among students and other idealistic youths in late adolescence.
The phenomenon has been most successful when accompanied by an uncomplicated morality that its constituency can readily absorb. In his ruminations on September 11, Chomsky reiterated his own apparently direct and simple moral principles. Reactions to the terrorist attacks, he said, “should meet the most elementary moral standards: specifically, if an action is right for us, it is right for others; and if it is wrong for others, it is wrong for us.”
Unfortunately, like his declaration of the responsibility of the intellectual to speak the truth and expose lies, Chomsky himself has consistently demonstrated an inability to abide by his own standards. Among his most provocative recent demands are for American political and military leaders to be tried as war criminals. He has often couched this in terms of the failure by the United States to apply the same standards to itself as it does to its enemies.
For instance, America tried and executed the remaining World War Two leaders of Germany and Japan, but failed to try its own personnel for the “war crime” of dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. Chomsky claims the American bombing of dams during the Korean War was “a huge war crime … just like racist fanaticism” but the action was praised at home. “That’s just a couple of years after they hanged German leaders who were doing much less than that.”
The worst current example, he claims, is American support for Israel:
« virtually everything that Israel is doing, meaning the United States and Israel are doing, is illegal, in fact, a war crime. And many of them they defined as “grave breaches,” that is, serious war crimes. This means that the United States and Israeli leadership should be brought to trial. »
Yet Chomsky’s moral perspective is completely one-sided. No matter how great the crimes of the regimes he has favored, such as China, Vietnam, and Cambodia under the communists, Chomsky has never demanded their leaders be captured and tried for war crimes. Instead, he has defended these regimes for many years to the best of his ability through the use of evidence he must have realized was selective, deceptive, and in some cases invented.
In fact, had Pol Pot ever been captured and tried in a Western court, Chomsky’s writings could have been cited as witness for the defense. Were the same to happen to Osama bin Laden, Chomsky’s moral rationalizations in his most recent book—“almost any crime, a crime in the street, a war, whatever it may be, there’s usually something behind it that has elements of legitimacy”—could be used to plead for a lighter sentence.
This kind of two-faced morality has provided a model for the world-wide protests by left-wing opponents of the American-led coalition’s war against Iraq. The left was willing to tolerate the most hideous acts of state terrorism by the Saddam Hussein regime, but was implacable in its hostility to intervention by Western democratic governments in the interests of both their own security and the emancipation of the Iraqi people. This is hypocrisy writ large.
The long political history of this aging activist demonstrates that double standards of the same kind have characterized his entire career.
Chomsky has declared himself a libertarian and anarchist but has defended some of the most authoritarian and murderous regimes in human history. His political philosophy is purportedly based on empowering the oppressed and toiling masses but he has contempt for ordinary people who he regards as ignorant dupes of the privileged and the powerful. He has defined the responsibility of the intellectual as the pursuit of truth and the exposure of lies, but has supported the regimes he admires by suppressing the truth and perpetrating falsehoods. He has endorsed universal moral principles but has only applied them to Western liberal democracies, while continuing to rationalize the crimes of his own political favorites. He is a mandarin who denounces mandarins. When caught out making culpably irresponsible misjudgments, as he was over Cambodia and Sudan, he has never admitted he was wrong.
Today, Chomsky’s hypocrisy stands as the most revealing measure of the sorry depths to which the left-wing political activism he has done so much to propagate has now sunk.
 September 11, by Noam Chomsky; Seven Stories Press, 96 pages, $8.95. Power and Terror: Post 9/11 Talks and Interviews, by Noam Chomsky, edited by John Junkerman and Takei Masakazu; Seven Stories Press, 144 pages, $11.95.
Voir enfin l’ultime bétisier du néo-conservateur (et ancien patron de la revue-phare du gauchisme américain des années 60 « Ramparts ») David Horowitz (The Anti-Chomsky Reader) pour qui l’ « Ayatollah de l’anti-américanisme » n’a qu’un seul message: l’Amérique est le Grand Satan « .
It would be easy to demonstrate how on every page of every book and in every statement that Chomsky has written the facts are twisted, the political context is distorted and even inverted…how every piece of evidence Chomsky assembles and every analysis he makes is subordinated to the overweening purpose of his life-work, which is to justify an idee fixe—his pathological hatred of his own country ». Horowitz argues that Chomsky fulfills a role as the intellectual godfather of leftwing anti-Americanism, giving « an authentic voice to the hatred of America that has been an enduring fact of our national scene since the mid-1960s.
Et également sur Wikipedia: Criticism of Noam Chomsky.
Sur la récente visite de Chomsky au Hezbollah (voir la transcription du reportage télé par MEMRI):
The Middle East Media Research Institute
American Linguist Noam Chomsky Meets with Hizbullah Leaders in Lebanon
Following are excerpts from a report on American linguist Prof. Noam Chomsky meeting Hizbullah leaders in Lebanon. The report aired on New TV on May 14, 2006.
Anchor: The leftist Jewish American intellectual Noam Chomsky toured Al-Khiyam Prison at the end of his visit to Lebanon. He declared that the victory achieved by the resistance is a victory for all the peoples that fight injustice and oppression.
Reporter: « Umm Kamel » – the Israeli [MK] spying aircraft – was the first to welcome leftist Jewish American intellectual Noam Chomsky, in his visit to Al-Khiyam Prison. Chomsky chose to provide « Umm Kamel » with the most detestable pictures, from the Israeli perspective, by smiling and shaking hands with Hizbullah’s leader in South Lebanon, Nabil Qauq. Then they both entered the prison’s Hall of Martyrs. Chomsky, who toured the prison with his wife and university professor Fawwaz Al-Trabulsi, insisted on staying inside one of the prison cells for a short while. He commended the perseverance of the inmates during the years of cruelty and pain, stressing that this prison is no different from Guantanamo.
The leftist intellectual chose to stand in front of a destroyed Israeli vehicle and declare that all the prisoners in the world must be released, whether in Israel or in American prisons.
In response to a question about [Lebanese expatriates] who decided to honor U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, Chomsky said:
Noam Chomsky: Well, you know, they have their own choices to make. There is pressure they have to deal with. When Japan occupied Asia and committed atrocities there, some Asians honored Japan because they were subject to imperialism.
Reporter: On the U.S. position regarding his visit, Chomsky said:
Noam Chomsky: I don’t know what their response will be, and I don’t care.
Reporter: Chomsky insisted on greeting the Israeli reconnaissance plane:
Noam Chomsky: The imperialistic forces do whatever they want, and as long as Washington allows them to do so, they will continue, until the American people learns about it and stops them.
Reporter: « Umm Kamel » got a picture of another Chomsky smile, when Qauq presented him with a picture commemorating the liberation. This time, Chomsky accompanied his smile with the hope to meet in the future in the Shab’a Farms after their liberation.
Voir par ailleurs:
The Treachery of the Intelligentsia: A French Travesty
Noam Chomsky interviewed by an anonymous interviewer
C. P. Otero (ed.), Language and Politics, Black Rose, 1988, pp. 312-323 [October 26, 1981]
QUESTION: When one reads you, one has the feeling that the image of today’s world you have is quite close to Orwell’s 1984: On one side a massive and repressive totalitarianism which doesn’t hide its face, or whose face is easy to unmask (the U.S.S.R.); on the other a decentralized, subtle and crafty totalitarianism which gives the appearance, but only the appearance, of freedom (the U.S.), and which, in the final analysis, is more dangerous because it succeeds in side-tracking us and making fools of us: liberals of all colors.CHOMSKY: I would not use the term « totalitarian » to refer to the American system of « brainwashing under freedom. » It is, nevertheless, a remarkably effective system, a fact that is rarely recognized, analyzed or understood. Herman and I give many examples. To cite merely one case: In 1962, the U.S. Air Force began large-scale bombardment of rural South Vietnam, proceeding subsequently to full-scale invasion in support of a client regime that Washington knew had no legitimacy. Almost twenty years have passed, and I have never seen a reference in mainstream journalism or scholarship to « U.S. aggression » or the « U.S. invasion of South Vietnam. » Rather, the U.S. was « defending » South Vietnam — unwisely, the doves maintain. Perhaps one will be able to say the same about the Soviet press in twenty years, with regard to Afghanistan. This record of subservience to the state propaganda system is particularly noteworthy in that it is achieved without force. The system operates through a complex of inducements, privileges, class interests, etc., relying on the tendency of much of the intelligentsia to conform to power (while proclaiming their courageous independence of mind), and the unwillingness to endure vilification, lies, and denial of the opportunity to work and publish, as punishment for telling the truth.
I imagine that you can easily find analogues in France. How much principled opposition was there to the French attack on Indochina, for example? How much protest has there been over the fact that France is the main supplier of arms to Chile and South Timor, or that, as Business Week happily comments, French military forces « help keep West Africa safe for French, American, and other foreign oilmen »? It is much easier to deplore the other fellow’s crimes.
QUESTION: Seen from France, your evolution — to the extent that it is perceived this way — is somewhat bothersome, and even a bit old-fashioned. Indeed, in the evolution of ideas in France, people — at least a part of the left intellectuals — are now overcoming the (retrospective) illusion due to the Marxist analysis according to which the so-called formal liberties, those of bourgeois democracy, are not worth anything, and that only those who are naive or members of the ruling class (which are not exclusive terms) can soak in them, while a deep analysis of society, analysis which can only be a Marxist, Marxian or Marxiforme one, reveals, under deceptive appearances, the servitude and at least the alienation generated equally by the hard totalitarianism (without formal freedoms) and by the soft one (with them). Thus, in a very paradoxical way, your evolution ends up taking a smell of Stalinism completely unforeseen.
CHOMSKY: The reaction you describe is remarkable. It is obvious that the so-called « libertés formelles » represented an achievement of enormous significance. The task for the present is to extend these achievements to new domains, particularly, by placing decision-making over production and distribution in the hands of producers and communities, while dismantling authoritarian structures. The « analyse approfondie » to which you refer is not only extremely superficial, but is also helplessly misguided. The « totalitarisme dure » of the societies that some (not I) call « socialist » does not begin to approach the guarantee of freedom and rights in the industrial democracies, whatever historical reasons one can give for this fact.
Surely this is well understood among the serious left in France. Furthermore, in libertarian socialist circles, the true nature of the Soviet regime was obvious from the start, when Lenin and Trotsky destroyed the Soviets and factory councils, instituted the « militarization of labor, » etc., and indeed was fully expected before. I am often amazed by what I read about this matter in the French literature, not only by ex-Leninists; for example, the ignorant comment of Paul Thibaud that prior to Solzhenitsyn, « toutes les présentations » of « soviétisme » were within a « trotskyante » framework, or his plea for « un nouvel universalism, » a position so elementary that rational people would be embarrassed to express it, except perhaps in a Sunday School sermon for children.
QUESTION: Continuing in the same vein, this smell of Stalinism is supported by the pessimism which you show, for example, with respect to the role played by American public opinion in bringing the Vietnam war to an end. If public opinion is indefinitely manipulated and manipulatable, as you seem to want to demonstrate, is freedom of expression and, in particular, freedom of the press, worth defending?
CHOMSKY: My view is entirely different. I believe, and have often written, that the peace movement had an enormous impact on U.S. foreign policy, far more than I ever expected in the early years, when I was being shouted off of platforms and was futilely attempting to organize resistance. The movement was spontaneous, leaderless, courageous, and extremely effective. It had to escape the constraints of the ideological system, and did so. The fact caused great consternation among elite circles over what they saw as a « crisis of democracy » (Michel Crozier, Samuel Huntington, et al.), in which the public was illegitimately playing a role in public affairs; and also among much of the intelligentsia who were appalled by this display of independence of mind and courageous action, particularly among students. To cite one case, consider Alain Besançon, who describes students in 1968 as « pus » that had to be « squeezed out of the universities, » while Blacks were « a curse. » There is now a major effort to rewrite the history of this period so as to deny the importance of mass political action. If what you describe is a widely-held interpretation of my views, then it is simply a part of this reconstruction of a history more tolerable to elite groups.
This effort at historical reconstruction is notable in France as well. Consider, again, Paul Thibaud, who writes in Le Monde that I belonged to that part of the left that « a confié l’avenir des libertés vietnamiennes à la bonne volontée supposée des dirigeants du Nord » and failed to consider « le fait que la grande majorité de la population du Sud préférait une solution du type ‘troisième force’, plutôt que de type Vietcong » (a fact unknown to U.S. government specialists, who regarded the NLF [National Liberation Front] as the only mass-based political organization, much to their distress, and dismissed the « third force » as insignificant).
To begin with, this is sheer fabrication. I always stressed the obvious fact that U.S. aggression was designed to prevent the development of neutralist options (including those of the « third force »), and warned that the consequences of this aggression would be to « create a situation in which, indeed, North Vietnam will necessarily dominate Indochina, for no other viable society will remain » (1969). More interesting, however, is Thibaud’s belief that an opponent of U.S. aggression must have been a supporter of Hanoi. A perfect victim of the U.S. propaganda system, Thibaud repeats this absurd claim, which was, of course, designed to deflect attention from the U.S. attack against the rural society of South Vietnam, where 80% of the population lived. Had Thibaud bothered to look at the writings of mine that he discusses, he would know that it was precisely the attack against the South that I most insistently condemned, noting the obvious consequences, which have in fact ensued. He will not find a word to support his false and ignorant charges, but to the true believer it is simply inconceivable that one can oppose U.S. aggression exactly as one opposes Soviet aggression, or reject the official doctrine that the war was a conflict between the U.S. and North Vietnam.
QUESTION: Even when I read you, I have the feeling that the pessimism of your analysis raises questions about the usefulness of your book. Supposing that there are minds that are free enough to read you, the implacable mechanisms that you describe will only make impotent and isolated poor souls of them.
CHOMSKY: Quite the contrary. In fact, our books are more widely read than those I wrote at the height of the Vietnam war. Contrary to what is often assumed, American public opinion has shifted away from the blind conformism of earlier years. Compare Vietnam and El Salvador. The U.S. intervention in El Salvador is about at the level of Vietnam in 1960. The level of protest, however, is reminiscent of 1966-67, when hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops had invaded South Vietnam. And it has been effective in imposing some barriers to U.S. support for state terrorism in El Salvador.
QUESTION: So I want to ask you: Who is the book addressed to and what effect do you expect?
CHOMSKY: These books are written for people who want to understand the social reality in which they live. We hope that the effect will be to aid those who are attempting to maintain the « crisis of democracy » and, specifically, to bring about fundamental changes in U.S. foreign policy. And there are many of them. I cannot possibly accept a fraction of the invitations I receive to speak about these subjects, although most of the journals are closed.
QUESTION: How do you reconcile your pessimism with the intransigent defense of freedom of expression that you preached elsewhere?
CHOMSKY: It should be unnecessary to stress that freedom of expression should always be defended with vigor and commitment. In fact, the « bourgeois freedoms » that are often derided by people who regard themselves as « on the left » are precisely what allowed the major mass movements to develop in the U.S., despite the efforts of political and intellectual elites to contain them, and despite a considerable amount of state terrorism, directed particularly against Blacks who were such a « curse, » but against many others too.
QUESTION: In this respect, although my opinions as interviewer are without interest or consequences, to fill the distance that separates us (in writing), allow me to interpolate here that I very much liked the article of yours that ended up as a preface to Thion’s book on the Faurisson affair and that I approve of it without reservation.
CHOMSKY: Thank you for your comments. Perhaps I should clarify, once again, that my statement was not written as a preface to the book, which I did not know existed, and that I asked to have it withdrawn, though too late to affect publication a few weeks after I wrote it, a fact that has been subjected to much absurd and malicious comment in the French press that I will not review.
QUESTION: That leads me to ask you whether, afterwards, you have had the curiosity of interesting yourself in the substance of the affair?
CHOMSKY: My interest in this affair has been quite limited. I was asked to sign a petition calling on authorities to protect Faurisson’s civil rights, and did so. I sign innumerable petitions of this nature, and do not recall ever having refused to sign one. I assumed that the matter would end there. It did not, because a barrage of lies in France, claiming, among other absurdities, that by defending Faurisson’s civil rights I was defending his views. I then wrote the statement mentioned before. This and similar comments of mine evoked a new wave of falsification.
For example, in the Le Monde letter I mentioned earlier, Thibaud wrote that I had condemned « toute l’intelligentsia française, » without qualifications. In fact, my statement began by emphasizing that I would comment on « certain segments of the French intelligentsia… Certainly, what I say does not apply to many others, who maintain a firm commitment to intellectual integrity… I would not want these comments to be misunderstood as applying beyond their specific scope. » Le Monde refused to print my response to this and similar absurdities. Similarly, Le Matin refused to print my response to ludicrous charges by Attali and Lévy, who claimed that I was opposing protest against Pol Pot, their sole grounds being that I had testified at the United Nations about U.S.-backed massacres in Timor (which, incidentally, I described as comparable to the Pol Pot massacres, as indeed they were). It is striking that in France, alone in Europe, the press has regularly refused to grant me the right of response to lies and slander, though I read about a « debate » that is supposedly in progress.
The sheer irrationality of the comments is astounding, as the examples indicate. To cite another, consider a tirade by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, of which a typical example is this: he claims that I quoted, from his private correspondence, an error that he had corrected in his subsequent published article in Esprit, when of course he knows I quoted his published article. One must have considerable faith in the gullibility of the reading public to venture such a blatant falsehood. To mention one last case, Le Matin now claims that I regard « l’idée même de génocide » as « un mythe impérialiste, » whereas the editor surely knows that I described « the massacre of the Jews » as « the most fantastic outburst of collective insanity in human history, » and the book to which he refers is devoted to example after example of genocidal actions throughout the world.
There is no space here to review the record of lies and deceit about my alleged views, of which this is only a tiny example. In certain intellectual circles in France, the very basis for discussion — a minimal respect for facts and logic — has been virtually abandoned.
Returning to my involvement in the Faurisson affair, it consists of signature to a petition, and, after that, response to lies and slander. Period.
I will add one final comment. The French courts have now condemned Faurisson for failure of « responsibilité » as a historian and « de laisser prendre en charge, par autri [!], son discours dans une intention d’apologie des crimes de guerre ou d’incitation à la haine raciale, » among other similar charges. In a display of moral cowardice, the court then claimed that it was not restricting the right of the historian to express himself freely, but only punishing Faurisson for doing so. This shameful judgment accords to the state the right to determine official truth (despite the protestation of the court) and to punish those who show « irresponsibility. » If it does not arouse massive protest, it will be a sad day for France.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the doubt about the existence of gas chambers is a reasonable doubt? I mean, that their existence or non-existence is, from the viewpoint of historical research, a real problem?
CHOMSKY: My own view is that there are no reasonable grounds to doubt the existence of gas chambers. Of course, this is a question of fact, not religious faith. Only a religious fanatic would deny that questions of fact are subject to inquiry.
QUESTION: If you haven’t had the opportunity to examine the substance of the record, what is the reason?
CHOMSKY: My reasons are the same as those of the vast majority of others who have also not done so. The claim that there were no gas chambers seems to me highly implausible, and the denial of the holocaust, completely so. Like virtually everyone else who has written about this affair or who has not, I see no need to investigate further. It has been alleged (e.g., by Vidal-Naquet) that it is « scandalous » to defend Faurisson’s right to freedom of expression without denouncing his conclusions — which would, of course, require careful analysis of his documentation, etc. By these curious standards, I have often been engaged in « scandalous » behavior. I have frequently signed petitions — in fact, gone to far greater lengths — on behalf of East European dissidents whose views I either do not know, or do know and find horrendous: supporters of current American atrocities, for example. I never mention their views in this context, even if I am familiar with them, a fact that no doubt scandalizes the commissars. The demand that defense of civil rights requires an analysis and commentary on the views expressed would simply eliminate the defense of the rights of those who express unpopular or horrendous views, the usual case where a serious issue arises. This is taken for granted without comment by all civil libertarians. In discussing this issue, I have therefore limited myself to stating that Faurisson’s views are diametrically opposed to mine, as indicated in the comments I quoted earlier and others like them. In the case of East European dissidents, for example, I do not even go that far, nor is it necessary to do so.
QUESTION: Do you think that the existence or non-existence of gas chambers is a question which has an ideological, political, or ethnic value (even if from the viewpoint of reality their existence is not in question according to you)?
CHOMSKY: If, contrary to my belief, it were shown that there were no gas chambers but that the massacre of millions of Jews was the result of horrifying conditions in slave labor camps, that would not affect my evaluation of the Nazi genocide.
QUESTION: If you think that the existence of gas chambers has such a value, say, as something at stake in a battle about the interpretation of Nazism as a historical phenomenon, would you state precisely your ideas in this respect?
CHOMSKY: This is too complex a question for me to respond adequately here. Nazism was unique in its horror, perhaps without historical precedent, as I have often written. But we must also recognize that fascist-style institutions were developing in one or another form in much of the world in that period, and indeed since. One who views Latin America today might well assume that Hitler had won the war, though in fact it is American liberalism that a bears a major responsibility for the plague of terror and torture regimes that often mimic the Nazis. I might also mention that commentators within the mainstream of popular opinion, for example, the Nobel Laureate in Economics, Paul Samuelson, have expressed their belief that the future of Western state capitalism may be more similar to Brazil and Argentina than, say, Scandinavian social democracy. This is a topic that I cannot discuss without considerably more space, but it is a very important one.
QUESTION: There is the Chomsky who is a scientist and linguist and the Chomsky who engages in political struggles. What do they say to each other when they meet?
CHOMSKY: There is no connection, apart from some very tenuous relations at an abstract level, for example, with regard to a concept of human freedom that animates both endeavors.
QUESTION: You seem to think that the only interesting and courageous work for an intellectual is to denounce the abuses perpetrated by his own government and not be concerned with the abuses perpetrated by the governments of other countries, which are easier to denounce. Is this correct?
CHOMSKY: Not quite. I have always held that criticism of any state or society is legitimate, if it is honest. There are, for example, Western scholars who devote themselves to nothing but the crimes of the Soviet state. I do not criticize them. My own writings include considerable discussion of the criminal nature of Marxist-Leninist doctrine and practice.
But when we consider the moral significance of one’s work and actions, other criteria enter: a rational person will consider the human consequences of what he does. A person who is concerned with these consequences will concentrate finite energies where they will contribute to alleviating human misery and extending human rights. If a Soviet intellectual chooses to denounce American crimes, that is of little significance. What is important is what he says about the U.S.S.R., Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Eritrea, etc. The reasons are obvious. However valid his criticism may be, its contribution to human welfare is nil, and may even be negative, insofar as it reinforces a repressive, destructive and murderous system. If a Soviet intellectual chooses to concentrate solely on the crimes of his own state, I have only praise for him. Of course, the commissars see things differently and will denounce him for « selective outrage. » A familiar anti-Stalinist joke forty years ago was that if you criticized Soviet slave labor camps, you were asked: « What about the lynchings in the south? » The dishonesty is obvious.
Note that an institutional critique of this sort is, in contrast, perfectly legitimate. Thus it is entirely fair (though obvious) to criticize the Soviet media for concentrating on Western crimes, ignoring their own; and it is entirely fair and extremely important for us to analyze the behavior of the Western media insofar as they mirror this deplorable practice, as to a significant extent they do.
An honest person will apply the same standard to himself. In fact, I have been harshly and immediately critical of Soviet crimes, but the importance of this is slight. What is important is to expose the crimes of my own state, which are often hidden from view by the propaganda institutions. The reason is that by doing so I can help arouse public opinion which, in a democracy, can contribute to bringing these crimes to an end. The crimes of Pol Pot could be denounced, but no one had any suggestion as to how to stop them. The comparable crimes in Timor at the same time could have been stopped by an aroused public opinion, since the U.S. and its allies bore prime responsibility for them. Correspondingly, it is no surprise to find that there was vast outrage over Cambodia coupled with silence about Timor. This is typical, as we document at length in our two volumes, and elsewhere.
Perhaps one can find the equivalent of the Soviet commissar who will accuse me of « selective outrage » for concentrating my energies where I can actually do something to save lives and defend freedom in a meaningful way, though to my knowledge, such blatant dishonesty is rare in the West, apart from some ex-Stalinists or disillusioned lovers of Third World revolutions.
QUESTION: Since American opinion began to be troubled by doubts about the Vietnam war, you speak of an « ideological reconstruction » in process or completed, which leads to a sort of whitewashing or amnesia. Is it, in your opinion a matter of a deliberate and wanted evolution by certain people, or rather a sort of secretion of anti-bodies, half-unconsciously, of the American population?
CHOMSKY: Certainly much of the reconstruction of imperial ideology and effacement of the record of American crimes is quite deliberate. It must be remembered that American liberalism was responsible for many of the worst crimes, not only in Indochina, and the articulate intelligentsia largely supported the war in Indochina, turning against it when business circles did and for the same « pragmatic » reasons. The basic principle, one of long standing, is that the « responsible intellectuals » must undertake what is called « the engineering of consent, » the shaping of popular attitudes to support the aims of those with objective power. Again, a person who is concerned to help suffering people will concentrate his energies on combating these forces, which, needless to say, dominate the ideological institutions.
QUESTION: Your effort to « deflate » the Cambodian genocide has been interpreted by certain French intellectuals as your being misguided by the following postulate: everything that the CIA says (or arranges) is false, therefore the Cambodian genocide, etc.,… How do you explain this way of perceiving your action?
CHOMSKY: There was no such « effort » on my part. It is interesting that what you report is actually believed by people in France. It reflects, once again, the total ignorance of my writings on the part of the people who write so learnedly about them. In fact, in my writings on Cambodia I assume that the analyses provided by American intelligence were probably more or less accurate, as indeed appears to have been the case.
There has been a vast amount of lying about this matter in France. Consider, for example, François Ponchaud. In the introduction to the American edition of his book, he cites my praise for it as « serious and worth reading, » and in turn praises me for the « responsible attitude and precision of thought » shown in my writing on Cambodia, which in fact covered everything I wrote during the Pol Pot period. In the introduction to the world edition, dated the same day, these passages are eliminated and replaced by the claim that I had « sharply criticized » his book, deny that there were massacres, reject refugee testimony, and insist on relying on « deliberately chosen official statements. » These were all lies as he knew: compare the American preface written the same day. The world edition is not available in the U.S., where the lies would have been quickly exposed; the U.S. edition is not available elsewhere, where the facts were generally unknown. Still more revealing are the subsequent efforts to disguise the facts, as, for example, when Paul Thibaud writes that Ponchaud made an error in that only the American edition took account « des remarques de Chomsky » — an interesting way of referring to the fact that the simultaneous world edition contained outright lies about these « remarques. » The editor of Nouvel Observateur displayed comparable dishonesty. He printed a letter of mine, deleting my reference to « draconian measures » of the Pol Pot regime so that he could maintain his claim that I refused to criticize the regime, among other similar distortions. There are numerous other examples.
Herman and I begin our chapter on Cambodia observing that « there is no difficulty in documenting major atrocities and oppression, primarily from the reports of the refugees » in a society closed to the West, and that « the record of atrocities in Cambodia is substantial and often gruesome. » We continue in the same vein, reiterating precisely what Ponchaud and American intelligence officials say about refugee reports; in fact, we criticize the U.S. media for failing to make use of these reports and failing generally to attend to the analyses of U.S. intelligence. We cite estimates of killings ranging from « possibly thousands » killed (Far Eastern Economic Review; as our book went to press, the Review estimated the population at 8.2 million, well above the 1975 figure) to the claim by Jean Lacouture in February 1977 that the Pol Pot regime had « boasted » of having killed 2 million people (we wrote too early to cite the claims, which apparently derive from Hanoi propaganda, that the regime had reduced the population from 7 to 4 million). We concluded finally that « when the facts are in, it may turn out that the more extreme condemnations were in fact correct, » though this would obviously — as a matter of elementary logic — not alter our conclusion on the central matter of our study, namely, « how the available facts were selected, modified, or sometimes invented to create a certain image offered to the general population. » We documented extensive fabrication of evidence and suppression of relevant history, not only in the case of Cambodia, but throughout Indochina. The general context was a study of the ways in which the propaganda system suppressed the record of American crimes throughout the world.
The reason for the remarkable campaign of lies about my writings on Cambodia is quite clear. It began after I wrote a personal letter to Lacouture, pointing out to him that he had grossly falsified Ponchaud’s book in a review that appeared in Novel Observateur and the New York Review. Lacouture printed partial corrections in the U.S., but, revealing the total contempt that he and his editor feel for the French intelligentsia, he never issued corrections in France, assuming that no one would ever care whether what he wrote was true or false. It was then that the campaign of lies began. Evidently, my belief that one should keep to the truth outraged many people who feel that they should be free to lie at will about official enemies.
QUESTION: Doesn’t the fact that human rights are not more respected by the socialist regimes, including Cuba, immerse you in a state of complete pessimism of the type: nothing can be expected from one side or from the other?
CHOMSKY: Not at all, since I expected little else of these regimes. There are many factors that impel Third World revolutions towards totalitarianism and brutality. One of these factors, and the one that should particularly concern us since it is the only one that we can significantly influence, is the Western role. In the case of Cuba, for example, there is no doubt that the terrorist campaign launched by the Kennedy Administration after the Bay of Pigs played a role, as it was intended to do, in enhancing repressive tendencies in the Castro regime. The same is true in respect to Indochina. In Laos, for example, where the U.S. virtually destroyed the agricultural system, the U.S. not only denies food to the starving but also even refuses to aid in removing unexploded ordnance that kills many people and makes farming virtually impossible in the most heavily bombed areas. These monstrous policies, which have few analogues in great power cynicism, are subject to virtually no criticism in the U.S. The goal is to maximize suffering in Indochina and to reinforce the most brutal and repressive elements so that « Western humanists » can then deplore the savagery of the post-revolutionary regimes.
Since gross distortion of these remarks is predictable, let me reiterate the obvious: this is not the sole factor leading to repressive and brutal practice in the regimes called « socialist, » but it is the one factor we can influence, and therefore will be the factor that will primarily concern those whose concern is to help suffering people rather than to improve their image or to contribute to imperial violence.
QUESTION: Have you ever asked yourself: What would I do if I were the U.S. Secretary of State? Or, in other words, what should be the foreign policy of the U.S.?
CHOMSKY: I would rather consider a more realistic question: What can I do to modify American foreign policy so that it will contribute to human welfare rather than pursuing the goal of improving the climate for American business operations and guaranteeing the opportunity to exploit human and material resources. In a democratic society, there is a great deal that one can do, though it will naturally be denounced by those who are committed to oppressive systems, or who interpret a principled commitment to human rights as « selective outrage, » mimicking their counterparts among the commissars.
QUESTION: You fear that the complete cynicism of American foreign policy will end up corrupting and destroying what remains of American democracy. Could you be specific?
CHOMSKY: There are powerful forces in the U.S., as elsewhere, that will labor to secure their wealth and power, whatever the human cost. They will succeed, if they are not opposed by an informed and committed public. This can be done. It was done during the Vietnam war, and it is being done today. This is a continuing struggle, and will remain so, at least until there are revolutionary changes in the superpowers. As to the defense and extension of democracy, this too is a continuing struggle. The anarchist thinker Rudolf Rocker once wrote that « Political rights do not originate in parliaments; they are rather forced upon them from without… They do not exist because they have been legally set down on a piece of paper, but only when they have become the ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair them will meet with the violent resistance of the populace. » There is much truth to this.
In my view, the struggle against oppression and injustice will never end, but will continue to take new forms and impose new demands. This is not a reason for pessimism, but for honesty, commitment, and forthright efforts in defense of freedom and justice.