I suppose the dreaded moment has arrived for me to jot down a few notes about the election. I suppose its fairly clear by now that I am not a Kerry supporter, but I think its worth a brief explanation as to why. Firstly, I don't think Kerry understands the situation we are currently involved in nor how to deal with it. I come from Massachusetts and I remember Kerry from way back. In my opinion, he has always been a notable intellectual and political mediocrity. The claim that he is a "flip-flopper" is, of course, electioneering, but there is a strong element of truth in it. This being said, I think Kerry does have something of a default position, a political center of gravity, as it were, and this has always been with the McGovernite Left wing of the Democratic Party. Taking this into consideration, a Kerry administration would be problematic not only because of the convictions of the man himself but also because of what he will bring with him into office. As others have noted, Kerry's political debts as well as his natural sympathies will undoubtedly lead to a resurgence of power and influence for the extreme Left of the Democratic Party; the Left with which Kerry stood when he slandered (and I do not use the term lightly) his fellow soldiers after Vietnam, the Left with which Kerry voted throughout the Reagan years in opposition to the Cold War, and the Left whose insidious falsehoods Kerry has echoed on many occasions when he felt their support waning; for instance, when Howard Dean appeared to be beating him to the nomination. Kerry's fetishistic approach to Europe is also a severe worry, and this goes to a deeper question: Kerry's intellectual mediocrity. I personally cannot understand the constant harping on Kerry's well-informed and nuanced understanding of the world; in my opinion, his grasp of foreign policy is short-sighted, close-minded, reactive, and almost shockingly unimaginative. He seems congenitally unable to grasp the realities of the world we live in today, and appears mired (as are his advisors, Richard Holbrooke most notable among them) in the elitist Left worldview that Europe's approach to foreign affairs is inherently superior to the American, all use of military force represents a failure to adequately employ diplomacy, and all problems in the world have a rational explanation and can be alleviated through the proper rearrangements of the international system. This way of thinking was outdated by 1945 and it hasn't aged well since. It certainly will do nothing to combat radical Islam and its use of terror and, in all likelihood, will not even succeed in the shallowest goal of improving America's image in Europe and the Islamic world. As far as I can tell, Kerry's grasp of the war on terror ends with Bin Laden and Al Queda; he does not see it as a broader struggle between competing ideologies and worldviews. This failure to formulate a "Kerry doctrine" to answer the Bush Doctrine is telling indeed; Kerry has had more than enough time to formulate a conception of the War on Terror from the Left (I refer again to Paul Berman's excellent Terror and Liberalism for an outline of such a conception) but he has not done so. He has rather left us with a series of piecemeal - and often obviously disingenuous - criticisms which, taken together, seem to boil down to the fact that Kerry would have done everything differently and better than the president. Some of Kerry's criticism's may well be legitimate, but without any overriding counter-proposal to the Bush Doctrine, they have to be seen as spiteful, cheap, and unhelpful election year demogoguery rather than a genuine and workable politics of opposition. Is Kerry a pacifist? No, but he seems to have no discernible position on when and how to use force in a different way from the president. Is he soft on terrorism? Unfortunately, I would have to say yes, if only out of ignorance, lack of imagination, and the influence of a political base which is still mired in the passions of 1968. Is he a Chomskyite? No, but he has no answer to the Chomskyites, and in a confrontation like the one we face today, that makes all the difference.
All of this is, of course, merely anti-Kerry. Are there discernible and cogent reasons to support president Bush? In my opinion, the answer is absolutely yes. The president, while he is hardly without his flaws (I am among those who cringe when he speaks in public) has nonetheless displayed a level of political courage over the past few years which, combined with a shift in foreign policy outlook that, while not entirely his creation, he has made synonymous with his administration, bodes well for the inevitable confrontations with the future. Most importantly, the president, unlike Kerry, is not burdened with a quarter-century of deep skepticism and often outright hostility towards his own country and its society. This lack of ideological baggage, with which Kerry would be forced to struggle every second of his administration, has given Bush the ability to see beyond the narrow limits of American liberalism's grasp of the world, bounded, as it is, on one side by Vietnam and on the other by the cringing acquiescence to European scorn. If Bush has not formulated a visionary foreign policy shift to deal with Islamic terror, most notably in the elevation of democracy and liberty's spread to a primary foreign policy priority of the United States, he has nevertheless embraced it wholeheartedly and faced down opposition to it which would have annihilated a lesser president. I simply cannot imagine a Kerry administration facing down the combined opposition of France, Germany, the United Nations, and the Left wing of Kerry's own party. Bush, whether one disagrees with him or not, deserves credit for courage, conviction and determination to accomplish the imperatives of the moment.
None of this, of course, means anything if the president's ideas are not good ones. I believe they are good ones, and it is worth explaining why. In my view, the claims of so-called "realist" foreign policy analysts regarding the possibilities of democracy in the Middle East and beyond are both defeatist and fundamentally wrong. There is nothing "realistic" in the belief that the current state of affairs in this neck of the woods - with Israel the only democracy and the illiberal nature of neighboring regimes granted near ecstatic indulgence - is workable in the long term. Sooner or later, all of the Arab regimes will fall, the question is whether they will be reconstituted as Islamic theocracies or as liberal democracies. Radical Islam is working hard to ensure the former, we must work equally tirelessly to ensure the latter. It may be that it may not always be possible to do so, but it is imperative that this goal stand astride the commanding heights of American foreign policy priorities, as it does in the case of the Bush administration and which it unquestionably would not in a Kerry administration.
You have probably noted that I have written nothing about the domestic policies of the two candidates. While this may be a flaw of mine, I simply do not consider domestic issues a priority in this election. We are living in a time more fateful than perhaps any of us have fully grasped, and the way for America to seize its fate and the fate of the world lies in that idea of liberty which has served us so well in the past and may yet still represent the first, best hope for the rest of the world as well. One candidate in this election understands this, the other does not. I believe that all of us ought to vote accordingly.
Whatever your voting intentions, democracy in action is a sublime event. Enjoy yourselves and, win or lose, savor the day.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Just wanted to write a celebratory post in honor of PM Sharon's victory last night in the Knesset. This doesn't put an end to the controversy over disengagement, by any means, but its an encouraging sign that the popular front I was hoping for may be taking shape and the Israeli majority may get its say after all. Its also a tribute to the character of the Prime Minister and his courage in facing not only this difficult issue, but his own political past for the sake of Israel's future. I think Israel may finally have found its DeGaulle. More than anything else, though, this is a great day for Israeli democracy, especially if one keeps in mind that such an event could occur only in one country in the entire Middle East. I don't want to sound maudlin, but I am (cautiously) much more optimistic than I've been in a long time.
Saturday, October 23, 2004
The school year just started (over here we start after the high holidays, so everything is about two months later than in the states) and I haven't had time for life itself, let alone writing. Things should settle down within the next few days and I will endeavor to start posting again ASAP.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Saturday, October 09, 2004
If Mr. Savage and others imagine that one can somehow "overcome" the German army by lying on one's back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money, and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen...
What I object to is the intellectual cowardice of people who are objectively and to some extent emotionally pro-Fascist, but who don't care to say so and take refuge behind the formula "I am just as anti-Fascist as anyone, but--". The result of that so-called peace propaganda is just as dishonest and intellectually disgusting as war propaganda. Like war propaganda, it concentrates on putting forward a "case", obscuring the opponent's point of view and avoiding awkward questions.
In a saner world, his tireless efforts to promote justice would have long since won him the Nobel Peace Prize...
-Editors Forward to What Uncle Sam Really Wants
It is very rare that one gets to read a truly vile piece of political writing; one in which the veils of fanciful rhetoric and careful implication are pulled back and the bloody intentions of the author come through in clear and undisguised language and in all their horrifying banality. Certainly, Mein Kampf is the quintessential work of this kind, and The Communist Manifesto fairly drips with bloodthirsty rhetoric; but politics is first and foremost an art of obfuscation, and the kind of unabashed intellectual brutality on evidence in those two works is, to say the least, a rare commodity. It can be said with some confidence, however, that Noam Chomsky's What Uncle Sam Really Wants is just such a document. Like all of Chomsky's books, it is a hasty edited amalgam of interviews, speeches and short articles, and, as such, is not particularly noteworthy. It is noteworthy, however, in two ways: firstly, it is the closest thing we have to a Chomskyite manifesto, for, taken as a whole, it constitutes an attempt to formulate a broad, overarching moral critique of the United States' post-World War II foreign policy; though it fails in a most spectacular fashion, it is far more ambitious in its scope than most of Chomsky's other glorified pamphlets. Secondly, and far more important, is the directness of its language. Most of Chomsky's other writings are exercises in simultaneously saying and not saying, attempts at what Pierre Vidal-Naquet called Chomsky's "double discourse" in which mammoth amounts of effort and prose are dedicated to being as unclear as possible while simultaneously pandering to the double sentiments of Chomsky's dual audience: the radicals who come to him for his unabashed extremism, and his more moderate, liberal readers who he fears may be repulsed by precisely that. What Uncle Sam Really Wants, however, is having none of this. It is, in my opinion, the only piece of writing by Chomsky in which it is safe to say that, for the most part, he says what he really means; and what he really means is, without doubt, absolutely horrifying. I do not feel I exaggerate, and I do not use the word lightly, when I say that this is a manifesto of treason; it is the enraged ranting of a man who desires nothing less than the righteous annihilation of his own society; an invocation of the fiery vengeance of a righteous God upon a republic of sin. But it is more than that as well: it is a massive apologia for the most murderous form of tyranny that mankind ever invented; it is an anti-democratic aggrandizement of totalitarianism; it is a childish tantrum replete with rhetorical irresponsibility on a cosmic level and unrelentingly infantile slanders against many good and decent people; it is a whitewashing of class genocide and a denial of mass murder and political oppression; it is an inversion of moralities so total that Orwell himself would be hard pressed to untangle the web of its insidious abuse of ideas and the language in which such ideas are expressed; and last but not least, and with the realization that I dislike armchair psychology, it is the demented cry of someone who is, quite clearly, a moral and intellectual bankrupt, as well as a deeply emotionally disturbed human being.
The crux of this book, its primary catalytic factor, is neither unusual nor without precedent; it is the old Stalinist propaganda line, later adopted in a more anarchistic context by the European New Left, that Nazism was not defeated in World War II, but rather triumphed and came to dominate the modern world through its new manifestation: the United States of America.
In 1949, US espionage in Eastern Europe had been turned over to a network run by Reinhard Gehlen, who had headed Nazi military intelligence on the Eastern Front. This network was one part of the US-Nazi alliance that quickly absorbed many of the worst criminals, extending to operations in Latin America and elsewhere.One must give Chomsky credit here for at least finally coming out and saying what he has been insinuating and implying for most of his career: that the United States is Nazi Germany. Let us be as clear as possible here: Chomsky is not saying that the United States acts like Nazi Germany, or reminds him of Nazi Germany, or has Nazi-like aspects (and all of that would be ugly enough). He is saying, and not at all ambiguously, that that United States is Nazi Germany in the most literal sense: a Hitlerian monster which has slowly spread its tentacles (despite, apparently, the heroic efforts of the Soviet Union to present it with "anti-fascist" resistance) across the world, which it now dominates as a shadow Fourth Reich. This, for all intents and purposes, is the sum total of Chomsky's worldview as expressed in this book.
These operations included a "secret army" under US-Nazi auspices that sought to provide agents and military supplies to armies that had been established by and which were still operating inside the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe through the early 1950s. (This is known in the US but considered insignificant -- although it might raise a few eyebrows if the tables were turned and we discovered that, say, the Soviet Union had dropped agents and supplies to armies established by Hitler that were operating in the Rockies.)...
Since the United States was picking up where the Nazis had left off, it made perfect sense to employ specialists in antiresistance activities. Later on, when it became difficult or impossible to protect these useful folks in Europe, many of them (including Barbie) were spirited off to the United States or to Latin America, often with the help of the Vatican and fascist priests.
There they became military advisers to US-supported police states that were modeled, often quite openly, on the Third Reich. They also became drug dealers, weapons merchants, terrorists and educators -- teaching Latin American peasants torture techniques devised by the Gestapo. Some of the Nazis' students ended up in Central America, thus establishing a direct link between the death camps and the death squads -- all thanks to the postwar alliance between the US and the SS.
It is a mistake to dismiss this out of hand. The US equals Nazi Germany trope has made considerable headway in leftwing, and even non-leftwing, circles in Europe and around the world, and reading this book it is not difficult to see how the comparison of president Bush to Hitler has come to seem not only acceptable, but reflexively obvious to the anti-war movement: it has been part and parcel of the ideology of their foremost guru for decades.
Besides indulging the leftist tendency towards conspiracism, it is fairly obvious what purpose is served by invoking such an identification: it is a moral justification, an intellectual granting of indulgences to engage in the worst kinds of antinomianism. Put simply, once this trope has been accepted, the moral fetters fall away, and one is not merely justified, but enjoined to commit acts which would otherwise be of the most appalling possible nature. For if one is facing Nazi Germany, if you are the citizen of a state so permeated with industrial evil, then one has no choice but to destroy that society by any means at your command. Even the considered betrayal of one's own professed values becomes acceptable under the rubric of such an apocalyptic confrontation. Thus, through the original lie, a new truth is created; a truth by which, in the most classic Orwellian fashion imaginable, law becomes crime, truth becomes lie, love becomes hate, peace becomes war, war becomes peace, and treason, normally the most heinous of crimes against one's country and community, becomes the highest of moral acts. As soon as one accepts the lie that somehow, someway, Hitler is still alive, and his spirit permeates the very fabric of one's own society, then one is no longer betraying one's friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens, but saving them, liberating them even, from an evil only you are privileged to recognize and confront.
This lie is nothing less than the hinge upon which Chomsky's entire career turns, it is the one thing which justifies everything else: the denials of genocide, the apologetics for totalitarianism, the anti-American propaganda, the breezy dismissal of the most horrendous forms of human suffering, the lies upon lies upon lies; all of it can be justified as part of that glorious anti-fascist crusade that exists only in Chomsky's imagination. It is tempting to simply dismiss this worldview as insanity, but this is mistaken. Chomsky is not laboring under a psychosis; he is laboring under an existential falsehood, without it, he would effectively cease to exist. His entire conceptualization of the world, and with it the whole glorious edifice of the Chomskyite reputation, that unquantifiable thrill of worship, of being a guru to the fashionably disaffected, is threatened by the loss of the initial lie, and thus, the lie must be maintained, not out of insanity, but out of a most fundamental desperation; for without it, the emperor would not only be revealed as naked, but as a villain as well, and the accumulated intellectual atrocities of a lifetime might, at long last, have to be answered for; an eventuality Chomsky no doubt, and quite understandably, considering the breadth and variety of those atrocities, and the raw human cost they have accrued, devoutly wishes to avoid.
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF MORAL BANKRUPTCY
Most of this book deals with the Cold War, and Chomsky's historiography, or lack of it, while hardly original, is nonetheless a fascinating look at the contortions into which ideologues can twist themselves in order to avoid facing the painful but nonetheless decisive verdict of history. Chomsky's retelling of the Cold War is a classic retread of the various tropes manufactured in the early 1960s by the so-called "revisionist" historians of the Cold War, among the most prominent of which were Gabriel Kolko (who is one of the few sources Chomsky cites in the end notes who is not Chomsky himself) and, ironically enough, rightwing convert David Horowitz, whose Free World Colossus (which the author has now largely repudiated) was a seminal tract of the New Left and oft-raided for ideas by a great many lesser writers, Chomsky not least among them. According to this historiography, the Cold War was not the result of Stalin's refusal to remove his troops from Eastern Europe and allow free elections but rather the sinister imperial machinations of a United States determined to hold on to its newfound domination of the world.
American planners -- from those in the State Department to those on the Council on Foreign Relations (one major channel by which business leaders influence foreign policy) -- agreed that the dominance of the United States had to be maintained. But there was a spectrum of opinion about how to do it.This cabal of American planners (influenced, of course, by that eternal and blessedly amorphous villain known as "business leaders") engineered the conflict with the Soviet Union (aided and abetted, of course, by their newfound Nazi allies) and maintained it for the next fifty years, against a Soviet threat which did not, in fact, exist:
US planners recognized that the "threat" in Europe was not Soviet aggression (which serious analysts, like Dwight Eisenhower, did not anticipate) but rather the worker- and peasant-based antifascist resistance with its radical democratic ideals, and the political power and appeal of the local Communist parties.This novel theory; and we must thank Noam Chomsky for his boldness in stating it, for once, straightforwardly; is that the Cold War did not exist. Now, this theory is not altogether surprising, since Chomsky has something of a penchant for denying the existence of things; he has in recent years claimed that the War on Terror and anti-semitism do not exist, and has flirted with the possibility that the nonexistence of the Holocaust is a concept which any "apolitical sort of liberal" might legitimately hold; his denial of the Cold War, however, is nothing less than total and absolute.
To prevent an economic collapse that would enhance their influence, and to rebuild Western Europe's state-capitalist economies, the US instituted the Marshall Plan (under which Europe was provided with more than $12 billion in loans and grants between 1948 and 1951, funds used to purchase a third of US exports to Europe in the peak year of 1949)...
This "rotten apple theory" is called the domino theory for public consumption. The version used to frighten the public has Ho Chi Minh getting in a canoe and landing in California, and so on. Maybe some US leaders believe this nonsense -- it's possible -- but rational planners certainly don't.
According to the conventional view, the Cold War was a conflict between two superpowers, caused by Soviet aggression, in which we tried to contain the Soviet Union and protect the world from it. If this view is a doctrine of theology, there's no need to discuss it. If it is intended to shed some light on history, we can easily put it to the test, bearing in mind a very simple point: if you want to understand the Cold War, you should look at the events of the Cold War. If you do so, a very different picture emerges.Thus, not only was there no Cold War, but in fact there was a "tacit arrangement" between the US and the USSR (apparently, the US's Nazi allies were willing to overlook their anti-Bolshevism in the name of political expediency) an alliance of sorts, which Chomsky professes to condemn in equal terms. But he does not. While the Soviet Union may be "evil...an empire...brutal" it is nonetheless simply trying to protect its borders against the possibility of another attack on its territory by the hordes of the West. The US, on the other hand, is a world-dominating empire whose "repression and violence" extends across the world.
On the Soviet side, the events of the Cold War were repeated interventions in Eastern Europe: tanks in East Berlin and Budapest and Prague. These interventions took place along the route that was used to attack and virtually destroy Russia three times in this century alone. The invasion of Afghanistan is the one example of an intervention outside that route, though also on the Soviet border.
On the US side, intervention was worldwide, reflecting the status attained by the US as the first truly global power in history.
On the domestic front, the Cold War helped the Soviet Union entrench its military-bureaucratic ruling class in power, and it gave the US a way to compel its population to subsidize high-tech industry. It isn't easy to sell all that to the domestic populations. The technique used was the old stand-by-fear of a great enemy.
The Cold War provided that too. No matter how outlandish the idea that the Soviet Union and its tentacles were strangling the West, the "Evil Empire" was in fact evil, was an empire and was brutal. Each superpower controlled its primary enemy -- its own population -- by terrifying it with the (quite real) crimes of the other.
In crucial respects, then, the Cold War was a kind of tacit arrangement between the Soviet Union and the United States under which the US conducted its wars against the Third World and controlled its allies in Europe, while the Soviet rulers kept an iron grip on their own internal empire and their satellites in Eastern Europe -- each side using the other to justify repression and violence in its own domains.
Now, this point of view is by no means unprecedented; it has, in fact, a long though by no means proud pedigree. Its real ideological forefathers were the likes of A.J. Muste, a World War II era Christian pacifist and sometime New Left hero who was the subject of a hagiographic article in Chomsky's first major collection of political writing, American Power and the New Mandarins. Muste and his fellow travelers made the same claim that many Leftists had made after the First World War: that both sides were morally identical, or rather identically morally contemptible, and the war was a result of little more than competing imperial ambitions which distinguished neither side as worthy of support or fealty. Under this point of view, Nazi Germany was certainly brutal and oppressive, but it was nonetheless no more brutal and oppressive than the British Empire, and Hitler was, after all, only trying to grab a piece of the imperial pie that was infinity smaller than the vastness of the domains under the British yoke. The Japanese empire might be horrifyingly violent at times, but their tactics were hardly any worse than those of their European predecessors, and after all, one could hardly blame them for wanting to insure an Asia for Asians in the face of centuries of European expansionism at their expense. As for the difference between Hitler and Churchill, there was none, both were war-mongering imperialists trying to grab as much of the world as they could through identically gangsteresque methods. Thus, the only conclusion to be drawn in the face of global conflict was that all combatants were equally morally bereft and reprehensible. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Hitler were, in effect, equal representatives of an identical evil.
As offensive as this theory may sound to Americans - and especially to Jews, who know its implications with dark intimacy - it has gained a considerable following in Germany, France, and other countries which collaborated with the Nazis, for fairly obvious reasons of psychological necessity, as well as among those nationalists of the Third World who sided with Nazi Germany during World War II in the short sighted hope of toppling the British Empire and securing independence from a triumphant Hitler. Its horrifying implications should be obvious, however, for it is, quite simply, an ideological position of astonishing moral bankruptcy. For if Roosevelt is Hitler, if Hitler is equal to all, then no one is Hitler, and rather than democracy being demonized Nazism is normalized, and a horrendous crime against basic human truth and decency is committed. It was this terrible insinuation that George Orwell recognized and attacked as "[T]he intellectual cowardice of people who are objectively and to some extent emotionally pro-Fascist, but who don't care to say so and take refuge behind the formula 'I am just as anti-Fascist as anyone, but--'"
Applied to the Cold War, this equation is no less disturbing, for in examining it, it is necessary to examine what the Soviet Union was, as opposed to what Noam Chomsky claims it was.
At the point the Cold War began, the Soviet Union was a nation governed by a single political party which despotically ruled over every aspect of life. This party had seized power by force in an illegitimate coup d'etat; murdered, imprisoned or exiled its political opponents; ruined its country's economy in a misbegotten attempt to impose a totalist collective economic system which sought to, among other things, eliminate the use of money; engineered a famine which killed millions of its citizens due to its collectivist agricultural policies (which North Vietnam would later attempt to emulate, with identical results); committed class genocide against the burgeoning peasant middle class; resubjugated the czar's former imperial domains outside Russia; brutally put down its religious and ethnic minorities; cold-bloodedly murdered the former royal family, which included, among others, a teenage hemophiliac; sent millions to the firing squads or to prison camps of extraordinary sadism and violence; completely abrogated all democratic rights, including the right of unions to organize; formed a strategic alliance with Nazi Germany; sent the country down to military disaster due to its military incompetence; and, finally, refused to abide by agreements it had reached with its allies over the status of the Eastern European countries it occupied at the end of World War II, preferring instead to deal in expansionist and, it is worth noting, exceedingly ruthless and brutal empire building.
Looking at the facts of Soviet history, it appears to the objective observer that, contrary to there being no difference between the United States and the Soviet Union, it is difficult to see what difference exists between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
The United States, in contrast, ended the Second World War with a massive demobilization and a naive surety among its elites that the era of power politics was over and international conflicts would soon be purely the domain of the United Nations. The cause of the Cold War was, in fact, not the aggression and imperial ambitions of the United States, but the failure of the US political, and especially the foreign policy, elite to learn the lessons of Munich which ought to have been clear to them after so much carnage. Blinded by their New Deal-era liberalism, they could not conceive of the fact that Stalin was interested in keeping and protecting his territorial gains, that protestations of morality or principle meant nothing to him, and that it would be impossible to move him without the use, or at least the threat, of military force. It is my opinion that, had that force been used at the early stages after the war, before the occupation was politically stable and before the USSR possesed the atomic bomb, Stalin would likely have backed down and the entire Cold War been avoided. For Chomsky, of course, there is a ready and welcome answer to these facts: they do not exist.
Nor is Chomsky's claim that Russia did not intervene on a global scale equal to the status of a superpower any closer to the truth. In fact, it was the very nature of the Soviet Union's communist ideology to act agressively beyond its borders. Even in the earliest days of the Bolshevik regime, it belabored under an agenda that was openly international and expansionist. As the historian Richard Pipes puts it:
The Bolsheviks neither could nor would subscribe to the principles of international law and diplomacy that Western Europe had worked out during the preceding 400 years. In particular, they rejected the notion that states respected each other's sovereignty and dealt with each other only at the governmental level. As revolutionaries, they recognizes neither the principle of sovereignty nor the legitimacy of existing governments...After its victory in World War II, this expansionism became global. It fomented prospective revolution in Greece; blockaded Berlin in violation of its agreements with the West; authorized the invasion of South Korea, armed and advised by the Red Army, in the mistaken belief that the West would not intervene (as indeed it had not in Eastern Europe); provided arms, soldiers, advisors, and the protective cover of its nuclear deterrent to North Vietnam, Cuba, Syria, and Nasserist Egypt among others; sent proxy armies to Africa and Asia; and provided money, advice, and diplomatic cover to communist movements all over the Third World and, for that matter, in Europe, through which it organized political opposition in the West to anti-communist policies. As for the "repeated interventions in Eastern Europe" which Chomsky so breezily glosses over like a throat-clearing cough, it is important to remember just what these interventions were: brutal, imperialist impositions of a totalitarian system on populations which did not want them, and the continuation of Nazi Germany's policy of suppressing the long-held and long-frustrated ambitions of those nations for national independence and freedom. The occupation of Eastern Europe was, quite simply, one of the longest and most obscene sustained crimes against humanity of the late, unlamented last century. At least Noam Chomsky admits that it existed. That is, perhaps, the best that we can hope for.
While intervening freely in the internal affairs of other countries, the Bolsheviks indignantly rejected as "imperialism" any such interference on the part of foreign governments in their own country.
- A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, p. 167
He is less generous, however, in regards to the end of that occupation:
What was remarkable about the events in Eastern Europe in the 1980s was that the imperial power simply backed off. Not only did the USSR permit popular movements to function, it actually encouraged them. There are few historical precedents for that…Apparently, we are to believe that the Soviet Union was the single most humane empire ever to exist in world history and, as soon as its subjects began to express minor disagreement with their political situation, it happily encouraged their independence and then allowed to go free like children at last taking their first, awkward steps away from their parents.
Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the uprisings were remarkably peaceful. There was some repression, but historically, 1989 was unique. I can't think of another case that comes close to it.
I think the prospects are pretty dim for Eastern Europe. The West has a plan for it -- they want to turn large parts of it into a new, easily exploitable part of the Third World…
With the collapse of the Soviet system, there's an opportunity to revive the lively and vigorous libertarian socialist thought that was not able to withstand the doctrinal and repressive assaults of the major systems of power. How large a hope that is, we cannot know. But at least one roadblock has been removed. In that sense, the disappearance of the Soviet Union is a small victory for socialism, much as the defeat of the fascist powers was.
This has to qualify as one of the most obscenely immoral distortions of history I have ever read. It is a vicious and despicable insult to the hundreds of thousands of brave people - real dissidents, not self-satisfied gadflys like Chomsky - who risked prison, execution, poverty, persecution, and a thousand other petty humiliations and repressions at the hands of the Soviet overlords and their puppet governments, who sought to suppress, and not encourage their movements. People like Vaclav Havel, who Chomsky has verbally insulted, who spent years in prison for his writings; people like those who died trying to do nothing more than surmount the wall the Russians had to build to keep people under their heel in East Berlin and were shot for their troubles; and thousands of others whose names are unknown or will never be known, because they disappeared in the middle of the night, or were sent to prison never to return. Contrary to Chomsky’s frenzied apologetics for leftist tyranny, the Soviet Empire did not go gentle into that good night, it fell apart because it was exhausted by the concerted resistance of the Western democracies, under the leadership of the United States, a resistance which was called the Cold War; but it is no wonder Chomsky can’t understand the fall of the Soviet Empire, since that resistance so appals and terrifies him that he can do nothing but pretend that it never existed.
It falls to us, therefore, to make some judgment on this equation which Chomsky presents us with such unprecedented clarity. To say it is bankrupt is, perhaps, obvious. To say it is illusory is to engage in understatement. To say it is disingenuous is only to scratch the surface of what is at work in this fascinating little house of intellectual cards. What we are looking at, in fact, is a leveling of sorts; a raising up of evil by a lowering of good; a lowering of truth by an ascendancy of lies. By turning a brutally oppressive totalitarian empire into an aggrieved and relatively innocent victim, and its democratic opponent into a tyrannical imperial overlord of rapacious and bloodthirsty appetite is, ultimately, to be more than "objectively pro-fascist", but to become, to coin a phrase, a mandarin of sorts, a comfortably ensconced fellow traveler of little courage but much alacrity. For despite his protestations of objectivity, the very fact of that objectivity tells us that Chomsky has come to praise tyranny and not to bury it, to do violence to truth and to seek after lies, and, ultimately, to insure that, were such a confrontation to emerge again (as indeed it now has), those who follow him will be prepared, not to confront political evil when they see it, but to view it with equanimity, scant concern, and even, perhaps, sympathy.
THE TOTALITARIAN APOLOGY
Chomsky made his name in the post-Stalinist era of the radical Left, at a point when the main focus of Leftist ambitions was no longer the Soviet Union, whose atrocities were becoming impossible to ignore and thus was more and more difficult to forthrightly support - at least in democratic societies - without appearing increasingly foolish, but rather the emerging nations of the Third World, which were generally moving in the direction of the communist bloc, and increasingly displaying authoritarian collectivist and anti-American tendencies. As has occasionally been said: the Third World was becoming the new proletariat. In effect, the radical Left finally abandoned the possibility of a working-class revolution at home and, instead, put its faith in the coming global revolution they were all certain was inevitable (if the US-Nazi alliance could be thwarted). All the frenzied, utopian dreams - and, of course, illusions - which had once been invested in the possibilities of domestic revolution were now transferred to the even headier prospect of global revolution. In many ways, the ambitions of this new era were even more grandiose and fantastical than those of its predecessors, for not only did they propose the messianic redemption of a single nation or class but, quite literally, the entire world.
It is important to note, however, that while this New Left, as it has ever since been termed, pronounced a break with the authoritarian traditions of the past, and with their attendant shortcomings (to put it very mildly) this break, for the most part, existed only the minds of its advocates. With an almost uncanny precision, this New Left reproduced the failures, the abuses, and the atrocities of its predecessor. It is this dissonance, this terrible fact of the distance between the New Left's conception of itself and the bloody truth of its history, that drives this book and, indeed, Chomsky's entire career. For a good part of this book is, to put it in pointed terms, little more than a massive apologia for some of the most brutal and oppressive regimes of the past half-century. First and foremost among them, of course, is Chomsky's beloved North Vietnam, for which he has carried the torch for the better part of four decades. And here, again, there are a great many things which do not exist.
By 1948, the State Department recognized quite clearly that the Viet Minh, the anti-French resistance led by Ho Chi Minh, was the national movement of Vietnam. But the Viet Minh did not cede control to the local oligarchy. It favored independent development and ignored the interests of foreign investors...Among these things which do not exist are the fact that the VietMinh were totalitarian communists of the Stalinist variety sponsored by, at various times, Maoist China and the Soviet Union; the fact that they were only one part of the anti-French resistance, which also included Trotskyites and other dissident socialists, as well as non-socialist nationalist groups, all of whom were purged, exiled, or killed by Ho Chi Minh's government; the fact that the North committed mass murder in its consolidation of power and caused immense human suffering in the course of its Stalinist-style agricultural reforms; the fact that elections were canceled at the request of the South Vietnamese government, mainly because of two factors: the obvious fact that the communist North had no intention of allowing a free and fair election in the areas under its control and the even more obvious fact that the growing communist violence in the South, under the North's direction, would make a viable outcome impossible; the fact that it was the communist bloc, and not the United States, which violated the neutrality of Laos; the fact that the North consolidated its insurgency in the South through the assassination of non-communist officials, terrorism, and other familiar forms of totalitarian violence; the fact that over a million Vietnamese fled from the North to the non-communist South over the course of the war; the fact that the Diem government was considered a model reformist regime even by anti-war journalists and historians until the North-sponsored subversion caused him to clamp down on the population at large (thus playing directly into the hands of the communists); and, most of all, the fact that the eventual communist victory, duly celebrated by Chomsky and his fellow travelers, resulted in mass murder, exile, and a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing, something which any non-deluded student of previous communist regimes would have seen, and, indeed, a great many did see, as the obvious outcome of just such a victory. Of course, the acknowledgement of a single one of these facts would collapse the carefully constructed edifice of Chomsky's indictment of anti-communist resistance, whether on the part of the United States or on the part of indigenous Vietnamese forces. Chomsky's moral indictment depends on a studied amorality: the denial of any crime committed by those to whom he claims ideological fealty. Perhaps it is safer to call it an anti-morality, for in its lexicon, to resist the slaughter inherent in totalitarianism is nothing less than the ultimate of sins, and submission to its oppressions the highest of commandments.
Instead, we installed a typical Latin American-style terror state in South Vietnam, subverted the only free elections in the history of Laos because the wrong side won, and blocked elections in Vietnam because it was obvious the wrong side was going to win there too.
Naturally, Chomsky's sacred Vietnam cannot be allowed to bear the slightest cut; all its shortcomings are due to the machinations of the hegemon:
In order to bleed Vietnam, we've supported the Khmer Rouge indirectly through our allies, China and Thailand. The Cambodians have to pay with their blood so we can make sure there isn't any recovery in Vietnam. The Vietnamese have to be punished for having resisted US violence.In fact, it was Chomsky who supported the Khmer Rouge, at least while they had any real political power, and did so, ironically, just at the moment when they were showing some particularly Nazi-like tendencies (which, of course, he dismissed as fabrications of the US-Nazi alliance). The Cambodians were made to pay with their blood by the Khmer Rouge and then the Vietnamese invasion and occupation (both supported by Chomsky and left unmentioned, or perhaps non-existent, here) all in the service of the by then late Ho Chi Minh's imperialist vision of a greater Indochinese empire dominated by a communist Vietnam. And while Vietnam may be a basket case, it needed no help from the American imperium in becoming so; like every other communist nation that has ever existed, it was the collectivist tyranny imposed by its ruling party which, even with the help of massive infusions of money and material from the Soviet Union, destroyed Vietnam's economy and rendered its people helpless slaves to an ossified and corrupted oligarchy. This trope is nothing more than a New Left regurgitation of the same line sputtered by pro-communist intellectuals ever since the Russian Revolution, with hardly a note changed or out of place: that the experiment has only failed because it has never been tried, or because of sabotage by insidious outside forces. It is fascinating to watch identical lies being invoked to justify identical atrocities by people who, by all accounts, including their own, ought to know better. One has to think that, while Chomsky may bluster moral indignation at the prospect of the United States refusing to do business with such a regime, had he actually been forced to live under it, or witness the human cost behind his sputtering buzzwords, he might feel differently. On the other hand, reading all of this righteous denunciation and apocalyptic rhetoric, all in the service of mass murder, tyranny, and oppression, one is forced to conclude, contrary to Chomsky's claim that "No degree of cruelty is too great for Washington sadists," that it is more accurate to say that no degree of cruelty can shake the demagogical convictions of certain tenured fanatics.
Contrary to what virtually everyone -- left or right -- says, the United States achieved its major objectives in Indochina. Vietnam was demolished. There's no danger that successful development there will provide a model for other nations in the region....
But our basic goal -- the crucial one, the one that really counted -- was to destroy the virus, and we did achieve that. Vietnam is a basket case, and the US is doing what it can to keep it that way. In October 1991, the US once again overrode the strenuous objections of its allies in Europe and Japan, and renewed the embargo and sanctions against Vietnam. The Third World must learn that no one dare raise their head. The global enforcer will persecute them relentlessly if they commit this unspeakable crime.
Of course, this by no means ends with the war in Vietnam. That would be unbecoming of a hegemon as all encompassing as the US-Nazi alliance.
US policies in the Third World are easy to understand. We've consistently opposed democracy if its results can't be controlled. The problem with real democracies is that they're likely to fall prey to the heresy that governments should respond to the needs of their own population, instead of those of US investors…Once again, we witness the extraordinary power of things not existing. Since the Soviet empire does not exist, and the threat of communist hegemony does not exist, then the only explanation for US resistance to communist movements in the Third World (which, it also appears, do not exist, or, at least, did not exist as communist movements) is its Nazistic nature. This makes it more understandable why, despite the Sadeian pleasure Chomsky clearly takes in describing acts of torture and murder when committed by the right people, there is not a word to be found here about Castro’s prisons; Leftwing terrorism; the totalitarian nature of the Sandanista regime, including its attempts to implement Cuban-style land reform at the expense of the peasents who later formed the Contra resistance; or the fact that the “mild social revolution” in Grenada was, in fact, a Marxist coup. Nor, indeed, is there any mention of Soviet support for these movements or regimes, nor the immense geo-political desirability for the Soviets of having proxy governments so close geographically to the United States and the perfectly logical (but unfortunately less than Nazistic) desire of the United States to resist the implementation of such movements or regimes.
The methods are not very pretty. What the US-run contra forces did in Nicaragua, or what our terrorist proxies do in El Salvador or Guatemala, isn't only ordinary killing. A major element is brutal, sadistic torture -- beating infants against rocks, hanging women by their feet with their breasts cut off and the skin of their face peeled back so that they'll bleed to death, chopping people's heads off and putting them on stakes. The point is to crush independent nationalism and popular forces that might bring about meaningful democracy…
Grenada has a hundred thousand people who produce a little nutmeg, and you could hardly find it on a map. But when Grenada began to undergo a mild social revolution, Washington quickly moved to destroy the threat.
From the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 till the collapse of the Communist governments in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, it was possible to justify every US attack as a defense against the Soviet threat. So when the United States invaded Grenada in 1983, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff explained that, in the event of a Soviet attack on Western Europe, a hostile Grenada could interdict oil supplies from the Caribbean to Western Europe and we wouldn't be able to defend our beleaguered allies. Now this sounds comical, but that kind of story helps mobilize public support for aggression, terror and subversion.
The attack against Nicaragua was justified by the claim that if we don't stop "them" there, they'll be pouring across the border at Harlingen, Texas -- just two days' drive away. (For educated people, there were more sophisticated variants, just about as plausible…)
The weaker and poorer a country is, the more dangerous it is as an example. If a tiny, poor country like Grenada can succeed in bringing about a better life for its people, some other place that has more resources will ask, "why not us?"
Nor does Chomsky have much luck with his threadbare straw men, since, contrary to the lies of numerous leftwing intellectuals, the fear of the illegal and dictatorial Sandanista regime was not that it might invade Texas, but rather that it would tip the geostrategic equation in Central America in the direction of the Soviet Bloc (as, indeed, for a time, it did; just as the loss of Vietnam did the same in Southeast Asia). To elucidate this theory, however, would require a certain modicum of knowledge about the workings of geopolitics and military strategy; two subjects about which Chomsky has a lamentably limited grasp. Which is how he can make such a ludicrous statement as this one:
If you want a global system that's subordinated to the needs of US investors, you can't let pieces of it wander off. It's striking how clearly this is stated in the documentary record -- even in the public record at times. Take Chile under Allende.At least Chomsky does not attempt to parrot the propaganda line that the CIA overthrew Allende, nor the preposterous assertion that Allende was a democratic socialist, but this may be simple ignorance, since, if he knew anything about the subject, he would know that Allende’s publicly stated intention was not to make Chile "independent" - which, in any case, it already was - but to remake its society along Cuban lines and bring it into the Soviet sphere of influence, thus giving the Soviets a South American imperial base of operations to complement its Central American client state of Cuba, an eventuality which any competent Secretary of State (or any competent analyst of foreign policy for that matter) would find slightly worrisome.
Chile is a fairly big place, with a lot of natural resources, but again, the United States wasn't going to collapse if Chile became independent. Why were we so concerned about it? According to Kissinger, Chile was a "virus" that would "infect" the region with effects all the way to Italy.
That's why even the tiniest speck poses such a threat, and may have to be crushed.
Naturally, hypocrisy has its place here as well:
Reagan used them to launch a large-scale terrorist war against Nicaragua, combined with economic warfare that was even more lethal. We also intimidated other countries so they wouldn't send aid either...Apparently, it is Chomsky who cannot abide democratic elections when the results cannot be controlled. It is worth wondering if he considers himself a “kind of Nazi or unreconstructed Stalinist” for lamenting the aborted elections in Vietnam.
Third, we used diplomatic fakery to crush Nicaragua. As Tony Avirgan wrote in the Costa Rican journal Mesoamerica, "the Sandinistas fell for a scam perpetrated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias and the other Central American Presidents, which cost them the February  elections...
You have to be some kind of Nazi or unreconstructed Stalinist to regard an election conducted under such conditions as free and fair.
US achievements in Central America in the past fifteen years are a major tragedy, not just because of the appalling human cost, but because a decade ago there were prospects for real progress towards meaningful democracy and meeting human needs, with early successes in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.In fact, it is the glorious future of totalitarian collectivist government which has been successfully aborted, and hopefully forever, but much, it seems, to the chagrin of Noam Chomsky.
These efforts might have worked and might have taught useful lessons to others plagued with similar problems -- which, of course, was exactly what US planners feared. The threat has been successfully aborted, perhaps forever.
PROPHESYING IN THE ECHO CHAMBER
There is, of course, method in all this madness. It is first and foremost to create a hermetically sealed ideological environment, for fanaticism can thrive in no other surroundings. Chomsky’s intention is directed unabashedly towards control of his reader’s thinking, to exploit their ignorance to his advantage, and to extol them to think for themselves while denying them the possibility of doing precisely that, lest they stray into what the Old Left might have termed “ideological deviationism”. As Orwell himself elucidated in 1984, this demands control of both language and history. We have already seen how Chomsky attempts to control his reader’s conceptualization of history by obfuscation, omission, and outright distortionism, but What Uncle Sam Really Wants is also a masterpiece of the perversion of the English language for ideological ends. Chomsky is desperate, almost to the point of eccentricity, to control the terms of the intellectual battle. Thus unintentionally hilarious assertions such as this:
We must therefore combat a dangerous heresy..."the idea that the government has direct responsibility for the welfare of the people."Of course, “the idea that the government has direct responsibility for the welfare of the people" could easily describe the British post-war Labor government, the Israeli welfare state, or, for that matter, the Roosevelt era New Deal, none of which had anything to do with the force the United States confronted in the (non-existent?) Cold War. Putting aside the fact that for most of the 70s and 80s it was impossible to label anything communist (even members of the Communist Party like Angela Davis, who were routinely referred to as “liberals”), so successful was the New Left’s assault on the political lexicon, who was and was not considered a communist in the Cold War was fairly clear. Communist regimes or movements were those which aligned themselves ideologically with communist ideology and politically/militarily with the Soviet Union. Thus Castro was a communist and Nasser was not, even though Nasser was as close to the Soviets for a time as Castro ever was and did dabble in a brand of Arab nationalist socialism. Chomsky should check the history books he clearly never reads before making such statements. Nor is the topic of communism the only one about which Chomsky displays a remarkably eccentric, and noticeably willful, ignorance:
US planners call that idea Communism, whatever the actual political views of the people advocating it. They can be Church-based self-help groups or whatever, but if they support this heresy, they're Communists.
One can debate the meaning of the term "socialism," but if it means anything, it means control of production by the workers themselves, not owners and managers who rule them and control all decisions, whether in capitalist enterprises or an absolutist state.Once again, the flimsiest of straw men appears. In fact, socialism is a massive, encompassing ideology which includes many strains and revisions. Generally, they all advocate a collectivist society, centrally governed, with a greater or lesser abolition of private policy and most of the basic resources and services owned and dispersed by the state, or, at the very least, not in private hands. The Bolsheviks were many things, of course, but if they were anything, they were unquestionably socialists; doctrinally, politically, and organizationally. They were self-identified as such and identified as such by others (in fact, by everyone except Noam Chomsky). They subscribed unreservedly to the three principles I have mentioned above, as well as to the intellectual and revolutionary tradition of socialism, and most especially Marxism. The methods by which they sought to remake Russian society and the final goals they espoused, and for which they murdered so many, were those of the socialist utopia, as they were expressed by Marx and others, which held the “commanding heights” – as Lenin put it - of Russian society from the day of the Revolution until the day of the USSR’s collapse. This simple truth, obvious and known to all thinking people, must be negated by Chomsky for a simple reason: it would force him to answer for the terrible indictment of the socialist ideal which is the history of the Soviet Union, and would, once that indictment is complete and undeniable, demand that he reckon with the justice of the United States’s effort to oppose and contain that force whose horrendous aspect Chomsky would then be unable to expurge from history. Chomsky's denial of essential realities is not madness, but ideological necessity; it is merely another brick in the wall of his echo chamber.
To refer to the Soviet Union as socialist is an interesting case of doctrinal doublespeak. The Bolshevik coup of October 1917 placed state power in the hands of Lenin and Trotsky, who moved quickly to dismantle the incipient socialist institutions that had grown up during the popular revolution of the preceding months -- the factory councils, the Soviets, in fact any organ of popular control -- and to convert the workforce into what they called a "labor army" under the command of the leader. In any meaningful sense of the term "socialism," the Bolsheviks moved at once to destroy its existing elements. No socialist deviation has been permitted since...
The world's two major propaganda systems did not agree on much, but they did agree on using the term socialism to refer to the immediate destruction of every element of socialism by the Bolsheviks. That's not too surprising. The Bolsheviks called their system socialist so as to exploit the moral prestige of socialism.
Take democracy. According to the common-sense meaning, a society is democratic to the extent that people can participate in a meaningful way in managing their affairs. But the doctrinal meaning of democracy is different -- it refers to a system in which decisions are made by sectors of the business community and related elites. The public are to be only "spectators of action," not "participants," as leading democratic theorists (in this case, Walter Lippmann) have explained. They are permitted to ratify the decisions of their betters and to lend their support to one or another of them, but not to interfere with matters -- like public policy -- that are none of their business.In fact, democracy means, simply “rule by the people”; that is, some system in which the power is not held by a monarch, dictator, or oligarchy who are unanswerable to some form of political accountability. In the modern era, it has generally meant a system of representative government. Most countries have opted for a parliamentary version of this system, the United States has a constitutional republic. In keeping with the anarchist tradition to which he sometimes claims adherence, which always denounced representative democracy as a bourgeois conspiracy, Chomsky derides all this as a farce, as well he might, for if he admitted to the reality of American democracy, he would have to admit that the American people have, overwhelmingly, rejected anything resembling his own ideology ever since it managed to capture the Democratic Party in 1972. Even more horrifying from his point of view, he would have to admit that the government and society he has been so ferociously denouncing has, in fact, been legitimately chosen, and, thus, he himself would be transformed from his fanciful view of himself as a holy spokesman of the people into a tribune of a fanatical elite dedicated to rule by fiat over a populace which does not want them and would not vote for them; a prospect which, ironically, sounds remarkably like his own definition of what is not socialism. Perhaps Chomsky isn’t a socialist after all, if only by his own definition.
If segments of the public depart from their apathy and begin to organize and enter the public arena, that's not democracy. Rather, it's a crisis of democracy in proper technical usage, a threat that has to be overcome in one or another way: in El Salvador, by death squads -- at home, by more subtle and indirect means.
Or take free enterprise, a term that refers, in practice, to a system of public subsidy and private profit, with massive government intervention in the economy to maintain a welfare state for the rich. In fact, in acceptable usage, just about any phrase containing the word "free" is likely to mean something like the opposite of its actual meaning.Free enterprise, according to Chomsky, apparently amounts to Great Society Liberalism. It is difficult to comment on the writings of someone so clearly ignorant of the basic laws of economics, but the fact that free enterprise means private property and economic growth seems to have escaped him; as has the idea that people ought to have freedom of choice as to their economic decisions, i.e. what they want to buy and from whom; or that the prospect of becoming wealthy has proven remarkably adept at motivating technological and economic progress, such as the electric light, the car, or even the computer upon which I am typing this and, likely enough, the company through which Chomsky publishes his books, which I am inclined to think does not operate at a loss and would not publish Mr. Chomsky’s work if it were unlikely to turn much of a profit. What Chomsky is engaged in here is little more than the desperate assertion one is used to hearing from advocates of a controlled economy, i.e. that all economies are controlled so why bother arguing about it. Of course, this is a fundamentally asinine line of reasoning, since the issue is not whether an economy is free in the absolute, Platonic sense, which is something which could only have significance for a tenured intellectual, but whether it is free enough to produce the required dynamism to provide for affluence and economic liberty, something which no controlled economy has ever been able to do. Free enterprise is simply the situation in which the idea of a dynamic, unfettered economy holds the commanding heights of the economic system. Not difficult to grasp, but all too much, apparently, for the good professor.
Or take defense against aggression, a phrase that's used -- predictably -- to refer to aggression. When the US attacked South Vietnam in the early 1960s, the liberal hero Adlai Stevenson (among others) explained that we were defending South Vietnam against "internal aggression" -- that is, the aggression of South Vietnamese peasants against the US air force and a US-run mercenary army, which were driving them out of their homes and into concentration camps where they could be "protected" from the southern guerrillas. In fact, these peasants willingly supported the guerillas, while the US client regime was an empty shell, as was agreed on all sides.There is no end, apparently, to the apologetics rendered in the name of totalitarianism, and, apparently, the bloodier the better. I have already noted the nature of the insurgency in South Vietnam, something accepted by all reputable historians of the conflict, even those who disapproved of it politically. I will not comment on it further; Chomsky’s ardent apologetics for the mass murder of those with whom he politically disagrees is a matter for him and his conscience, though I do not place great hopes in the capacities of the latter. I will say only what I have said once or twice before: that had Noam Chomsky never existed, George Orwell could have created him.
Or take the term peace process. The naive might think that it refers to efforts to seek peace. Under this meaning, we would say that the peace process in the Middle East includes, for example, the offer of a full peace treaty to Israel by President Sadat of Egypt in 1971, along lines advocated by virtually the entire world, including official US policy; the Security Council resolution of January 1976 introduced by the major Arab states with the backing of the PLO, which called for a two-state settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict in the terms of a near-universal international consensus; PLO offers through the 1980s to negotiate with Israel for mutual recognition; and annual votes at the UN General Assembly, most recently in December 1990 (voted 144-2), calling for an international conference on the Israel-Arab problem, etc.Of course, outright lies are always useful when nothing else is available. Apparently, we may add the Egyptian/Syrian surprise attack and following Yom Kippur War of 1973 to our list of things which do not exist; as well as the Khartoum Conference and the “three nos”, including no recognition or peace with Israel; Palestinian terrorism, including the massacres at the Olympics and Ma’alot, and the Entebbe attack; and the negation of Israel's right to exist (which would seem to preclude "mutual recognition") enshrined in the PLO Charter. The sophisticated, however, understand that no peace offer predicated on a total Israeli withdrawal from all territories before negotiations even begin is a serious offer; that an international conference would, inevitably, be dominated by the Arab countries and thus stacked against Israel; and that the United Nations – whose corrupted elite, which somehow fails to offend Chomsky’s ostensibly populist sensibilities, can hardly be called a “near-universal international consensus” – which keeps Israel in an apartheid-style isolation from any regional group, is an organization so utterly biased and immoral as to be incapable of any serious role in negotiations beyond parroting the Arab states’ propaganda line. The peace process is called that because it is precisely that, the process by which the parties to a conflict negotiate the prospective end to said conflict between themselves. Of course, it also worth mentioning what Chomsky leaves most glaringly unmentioned; his own view of what constitutes a “peaceful diplomatic settlement”: the dismantling of the State of Israel. So much, apparently, for sophistication.
But the sophisticated understand that these efforts do not form part of the peace process. The reason is that in the PC meaning, the term peace process refers to what the US government is doing -- in the cases mentioned, this is to block international efforts to seek peace. The cases cited do not fall within the peace process, because the US backed Israel's rejection of Sadat's offer, vetoed the Security Council resolution, opposed negotiations and mutual recognition of the PLO and Israel, and regularly joins with Israel in opposing -- thereby, in effect, vetoing -- any attempt to move towards a peaceful diplomatic settlement at the UN or elsewhere.
Take the term special interest. The well-oiled Republican PR systems of the 1980s regularly accused the Democrats of being the party of the special interests: women, labor, the elderly, the young, farmers -- in short, the general population. There was only one sector of the population never listed as a special interest: corporations and business generally. That makes sense. In PC discourse their (special) interests are the national interest, to which all must bow.What does one say about an eighty year old academic who cannot admit that the general population of his country rejects his values and ideas and, even worse, doesn’t consider them worth listening to? Apparently, it is unnecessary to say anything, since we have the house of cards, the hall of mirrors, before us; the elaborate intellectual schema by which one can convince oneself that, in truth, you are the true spokesman of the people, you are the true advocate for the victims of the unseen “class war” (speaking of vulgar Marxist rhetoric), that you alone speak the truth to those terrible powers of media and politics who never, never accuse the Republican Party of being too close to big business or of cowtowing to special interests, who never give women, or poor farmers, or tenured leftists, for that matter, an even break, and who would never, simply never be caught displaying an anti-war or anti-Republican bias. It must be a pleasant place to live, this echo chamber, placid, undisturbing, and requiring no capacity for self-critical thought whatsoever.
The Democrats plaintively retorted that they were not the party of the special interests: they served the national interest too. That was correct, but their problem has been that they lack the single-minded class consciousness of their Republican opponents. The latter are not confused about their role as representatives of the owners and managers of the society, who are fighting a bitter class war against the general population -- often adopting vulgar Marxist rhetoric and concepts, resorting to jingoist hysteria, fear and terror, awe of great leaders and the other standard devices of population control. The Democrats are less clear about their allegiances, hence less effective in the propaganda wars.
Finally, take the term conservative, which has come to refer to advocates of a powerful state, which interferes massively in the economy and in social life. They advocate huge state expenditures and a postwar peak of protectionist measures and insurance against market risk, narrowing individual liberties through legislation and court-packing, protecting the Holy State from unwarranted inspection by the irrelevant citizenry -- in short, those programs that are the precise opposite of traditional conservatism. Their allegiance is to "the people who own the country" and therefore "ought to govern it," in the words of Founding Father John Jay.In fact, “advocates of a powerful state, which interferes massively in the economy and in social life. They advocate huge state expenditures and a postwar peak of protectionist measures and insurance against market risk, narrowing individual liberties through legislation and court-packing, protecting the Holy State from unwarranted inspection by the irrelevant citizenry” is a fairly good description of mainstream liberalism, or such as it has been since the late 1960s. While it has little or nothing to do with conservatism, and, in fact, describes almost everything the likes of William F. Buckley or Freidrich Hayek or Edmund Burke, for that matter, would oppose; it is a rather apt elaboration of the worldview of the East Coast Left of the Democratic Party (with which, on the basic bread and butter issues, Chomsky is essentially indistinguishable). Of course, we can be forgiving on this issue, since the ideas of free enterprise, democracy, defense against aggression, and the other sundry concepts whose reality Chomsky dares not acknowledge, such as patriotism, truth, and elementary human decency, have passed almost indisputably into the hands of the conservative movement, in no small part thanks to the influence of Chomsky and his followers. We may, however, finally be reassured - if indeed we had any doubt - that Founding Fathers are also among those of whom Chomsky disapproves.
It is not merely in the realm of language that What Uncle Sam Really Wants resembles an elaborately barricaded echo chamber. The book's documentation is, to say the least, fascinatingly unique, since it consists, almost entirely, of references to the works of Noam Chomsky; thus making Chomsky perhaps the first author in history to regard himself as the foremost authority in a subject in which he holds no credentials. Such contortions are mind boggling, or mind bogglingly hilarious, depending on your point of view. And it is not merely in reference to himself that we can recognize the hall of mirrors. There is also reference to “Broader studies by economist Edward Herman [which] reveal a close correlation worldwide between torture and US aid,” which somehow fails to inform us that Edward Herman is a frequent collaborator with Chomsky (including on his denial of the Cambodian genocide and his hysterical media-conspiracy tract Manufacturing Consent) and perhaps the only economist in the world about whom it is impossible to imagine that he would discover anything but such a correlation. Along with arch-Chomskyite Herman there is the aforementioned Kolko, who, needless to say, made himself famous with the theories of the Cold War Chomsky rather slavishly apes in these pages.
The point of all this, of course, is clear, and it is as I have mentioned before, one of control. As Pierre Vidal-Naquet described the notorious object of Chomsky’s largesse, Robert Faurisson, Chomsky “does not seek after truth but after lies,” and thus there is no chance that any source, any author, any fact, any opinion which might cast doubt upon the catechism set forth herein should penetrate the delicate skein of untruths. In order to control minds, in order to guard against the dreaded ideological deviationism, it is necessary as well to control history and to control language. This is a method with a long, though hardly distinguished, pedigree, and Chomsky puts it to good use here. Like the hapless purge victims airbrushed out of Stalin’s photographs until nothing but the dread leader remained, we are finally left, once all the victims have been expunged, all the blood washed away, all the atrocities denied and all the slaughter whitewashed, with nothing but the accumulated resentments, conceits, vanities, and neuroses of a single man; and we are left to ponder the darkness that must exist in the solitary ferocity of him who rails without end at the sound of his own echo.
THE FREE SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMY
The real debate here, however, is not about human rights, or methods of torture, or competing economic systems, or the history of the Cold War; it is, rather, about the nature of American society and the nature of those societies akin to it in structure and political inclination. It is, in effect, about the existence of freedom itself. In examining Chomsky’s assertions on this issue, it is no small thing to note that the countries which he singles out for unqualified praise: Cuba, North Vietnam, Sandanista Nicaragua, are all fundamentally unfree societies; nor does it behoove us to ignore the violence of the pseudo-prophetic apocalypticisms with which Chomsky flails at the most basic institutions of his own society, and the use to which he puts such divinations. On the media, for instance:
Other factors reinforce the same distortion. The cultural managers (editors, leading columnists, etc.) share class interests and associations with state and business managers and other privileged sectors. There is, in fact, a regular flow of high-level people among corporations, government and media. Access to state authorities is important to maintain a competitive position; "leaks," for example, are often fabrications and deceit produced by the authorities with the cooperation of the media, who pretend they don't know…This is, of course, elementary Marxist conspiracism (and vulgar, at that). One can agree or disagree with it, and, indeed, it is a point of view often advanced by conservative critics of the media and the liberal establishment (minus the “class interests”, of course, most conservatives, with the exception, perhaps, of Irving Kristol, are not quite that Marxist) and one must give Chomsky credit; he may lack originality but is, at least, undiscriminating in his plagiarism. To accept this formulation fully, however, would demand that you accept Chomsky’s assertion that there is an earnest collaboration between the media and the governmental and business sectors of American society, rather than an adversarial relationship of often significant violence; a position which would be, even for a vulgar Marxist, impossible to accept. But our determinedly un-vulgar semi-Marxist is prepared to go further; into a condemnation not merely of the media, business, or government elite, but into a complete, in total declaration of disapproval towards the vast, manipulated unwashed:
In any country, there's some group that has the real power. It's not a big secret where power is in the United States. It basically lies in the hands of the people who determine investment decisions -- what's produced, what's distributed. They staff the government, by and large, choose the planners, and set the general conditions for the doctrinal system.
The doctrinal system, which produces what we call "propaganda" when discussing enemies, has two distinct targets. One target is what's sometimes called the "political class," the roughly 20% of the population that's relatively educated, more or less articulate, playing some role in decision-making. Their acceptance of doctrine is crucial, because they're in a position to design and implement policy.And now we can see that, whatever ardent protestations of populism and philo-democracy we may hear from the good professor, he is, first and last, a professor, come to lecture us; or, at least, that unfortunate eighty percent belaboring in darkness, blinded by the tabloids, the sitcoms, the unspeakably evil Super Bowl (I detect echoes of schoolyard resentments); us, the bewildered herd, to which Chomsky is the benevolent father, come to educate, to enlighten, and, finally, to liberate. It is Chomsky’s very own Fantasy of the Cave wherein we are Plato's chained prisoners mesmerized by the dance of shadows, and he is the benighted one who has seen the sun, but chooses not to bask in its ecstatic rays but rather, out of pure generosity of spirit, returns to set us free from our fetters and bring us forth, unwashed, submissive, and bewildered as we are, into the light.
Then there's the other 80% or so of the population. These are Lippmann's "spectators of action," whom he referred to as the "bewildered herd." They are supposed to follow orders and keep out of the way of the important people. They're the target of the real mass media: the tabloids, the sitcoms, the Super Bowl and so on.
These sectors of the doctrinal system serve to divert the unwashed masses and reinforce the basic social values: passivity, submissiveness to authority, the overriding virtue of greed and personal gain, lack of concern for others, fear of real or imagined enemies, etc. The goal is to keep the bewildered herd bewildered. It's unnecessary for them to trouble themselves with what's happening in the world. In fact, it's undesirable -- if they see too much of reality they may set themselves to change it.
This reverie is many things; it is egomania on an epic scale, it is grotesquely insulting to the intelligence of the average person, it is elitist to the point of low comedy, but it is also more than that. It is, first and foremost, an unambiguous statement to the effect that Noam Chomsky has failed, resolutely and, perhaps, with malice aforethought, to learn the most existential of the lessons of the twentieth century: the ominous menace and horrendous cost of the tyranny of virtue. For here we see all the old imperatives awakened once again: the people are manipulated, decadent, and ignorant; the forces of evil control all the machinations of society; the very foundations of our world are in service of unseen satanic forces; we must teach them, we must liberate them, we must rule - I must rule. It is the same cry of a hundred proto-tyrants from the Marxist to the Islamic radical: the free society is an illusion, it does not exist; freedom is slavery, war is peace; there is only one road to liberation, it is mine; there is only one road out of this corruption, it is the road of virtue, it is absolute, it is mine. The idea of choice, that people, perhaps even the majority of the people, choose freely not to follow the musings of these infant prophets is an impossibility to the man who believes he has unlocked the key to humanity’s liberation; this impossibility demands the conclusion that choice is also an impossibility, or, rather, it is possible only for the chosen, who choose to descend to the unwashed to bring them forth into the brave new world. It is in this equation, in the confrontation between the free society and the tyranny of virtue, that Chomsky finds himself unrelentingly, resolutely, and unapologetically on the side of the tyrants, the murderers, the executioners, and the diggers of graves.
It must be noted, before we become too sanguine on the subject, that Chomsky, quite ominously, is not at all pessimistic on the possibilities of the present moment, or the future.
Take the Kennedy and Reagan administrations, which were similar in a number of ways in their basic policies and commitments. When Kennedy launched a huge international terrorist campaign against Cuba after his invasion failed, and then escalated the murderous state terror in South Vietnam to outright aggression, there was no detectable protest.It is, of course, pointless to point out that the only terrorist campaign in Cuba is that directed by the Cuban government against its people, or that the only state terror in South Vietnam was that enacted by North Vietnam following its illegal and unprovoked invasion and takeover of its southern counterpart. Nor that the Reagan administration was constrained from direct intervention in Central America not by public protests, but by the opposition of the Democratic Party, which controlled the Congress and was dominated by figures like Ted Kennedy and current presidential candidate John Kerry, whose views on the Cold War were, in essence, identical to Chomsky’s. The dominance of a political party by Chomsky-approved ideology - something which, according to Chomsky, is impossible - precluded direct intervention against Leftist tyranny in Central America, and, for that matter, anywhere else. And we are faced at the same time with another remarkable impossibility; the fact that, contrary to Chomsky’s assertion, it was the “cultural managers” who led the assault on Columbus’ discovery (no one, to my knowledge, has ever alleged “liberation”) of the American continent. “Hysteria”, of course, has always been Chomsky’s domain, and not his critics.
It wasn't until hundreds of thousands of American troops were deployed and all of Indochina was under devastating attack, with hundreds of thousands slaughtered, that protest became more than marginally significant. In contrast, as soon as the Reagan administration hinted that they intended to intervene directly in Central America, spontaneous protest erupted at a scale sufficient to compel the state terrorists to turn to other means…
Much the same is true across the board. Take 1992. If the Columbus quincentenary had been in 1962, it would have been a celebration of the liberation of the continent. In 1992, that response no longer has a monopoly, a fact that has aroused much hysteria among the cultural managers who are used to near-totalitarian control. They now rant about the "fascist excesses" of those who urge respect for other people and other cultures.
It is pointless to point out these things because the sum total of the good professor’s assertions indicates a mind compulsively ignorant of the horrendous actuality of life in an unfree society, an ignorance so all-encompassing that he cannot even recognize one when he sees it. It is painfully clear that Chomsky believes America is totalitarian because he has no experience of actually living under a totalitarian government. For him, the minor inconvenience of being relatively anonymous and ignored in his own country is enough to make him an oppressed dissident in a brutal tyranny. The horrendous indignity of not being regularly quoted in the mass media amounts to a conspiracy of government oppression against himself, the himself who is and has always been Chomsky’s foremost concern. Chomsky is, in fact, the very quintessence of that Orwellian victim of security, too much affluence, and a basic ignorance of how the world works. And so we are left only with this, blessedly final denouement:
The struggle for freedom is never over. The people of the Third World need our sympathetic understanding and, much more than that, they need our help. We can provide them with a margin of survival by internal disruption in the United States. Whether they can succeed against the kind of brutality we impose on them depends in large part on what happens here.We already know, of course, that freedom does not exist - if freedom means the right of a populace to choose for themselves what to think, what to buy, and who to rule them - if the choice they make should happen to contradict the proclamations of Noam Chomsky. Nor do we now have any illusions about what constitutes “illegitimate authority”; it is whatever authority lacks the enthusiastic approval of Noam Chomsky, something which would, apparently, leave North Vietnam, Cuba, and Sandanista Nicaragua as the only legitimate authorities of the last four decades. Most of all, however, we now have no illusions about what Chomsky means by that sinister phrase, “internal disruption”; he means all those well-known acts which disrupt, assault, and seek to delegitimize that process of representative democracy which Chomsky considers a farce and which, through the refusal of Chomsky’s manipulated unwashed to bear witness to his indisputable and prophetic truths, constitutes the most total and direct threat to the ideology of illusions which Chomsky has spent a lifetime building.
The courage they show is quite amazing. I've personally had the privilege -- and it is a privilege -- of catching a glimpse of that courage at first hand in Southeast Asia, in Central America and on the occupied West Bank. It's a very moving and inspiring experience, and invariably brings to my mind some contemptuous remarks of Rousseau's on Europeans who have abandoned freedom and justice for the peace and repose "they enjoy in their chains." He goes on to say:When I see multitudes of entirely naked savages scorn European voluptuousness and endure hunger, fire, the sword and death to preserve only their independence, I feel that it does not behoove slaves to reason about freedom.People who think that these are mere words understand very little about the world.
And that's just a part of the task that lies before us. There's a growing Third World at home. There are systems of illegitimate authority in every corner of the social, political, economic and cultural worlds. For the first time in human history, we have to face the problem of protecting an environment that can sustain a decent human existence. We don't know that honest and dedicated effort will be enough to solve or even mitigate such problems as these. We can be quite confident, however, that the lack of such efforts will spell disaster.
But there is more still than that; the Chomsky we meet in this final passage is a man at war with the entirety of the modern world, who seeks to return us all to that sacred innocent embodied in Rousseau’s “multitudes of entirely naked savages”, to remake us in the model of that racist fantasy of the Third World as a collection of noble barbarians. This Chomsky is little more than a Eurocentric fetishist of the exotic, who makes a fantasy for himself of people utterly foreign to him and who he understands not all, all in hopes of curing his own terrible inability to cope with his place in the modern world. But there is a threat behind this fantasy, for Chomsky wishes to drag us all down into the cauldron with him, and it is this trance of self-loathing; which has already motivated him and so many other self-styled advocates of human freedom to see such creeds of slavery and oppression as authoritarian socialism and radical Islam as at worst divine justice and at best the last, best hope of man; which does indeed threaten to spell disaster for us all.
The full text of What Uncle Sam Really Wants can be found on the internet at: http://www.zmag.org/chomsky/sam/sam-contents.html