20 January, 2005 at 16:04 Leave a comment

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Suzy Hansen
On the Afghanistan War, American Terrorism, and the Role of Intellectuals
http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20020116.htm (herewith only my selections)
Background: Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag will always be remembered as the two leading American intellectuals who said the wrong thing after Sept. 11. For Sontag, it was her now infamous New Yorker magazine slap at the idea that the terrorists were cowards. For Chomsky, it was statements like this one: “The terrorist attacks were major atrocities. In scale they may not reach the level of many others, for example, the bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and killing unknown numbers of people (no one knows, because the U.S. blocked an inquiry at the U.N. and no one cares to pursue it).”
Defining Terrorism: My definition of terrorism is taken from the U.S. Code, which seems to me quite adequate. It comes down to the statement that terrorism is the calculated threat or use of violence with the aim of intimidating and provoking fear and damage in order to achieve political, religious, ideological and other goals, typically directed against civilian populations.
Self-Defense and Armed Attack: Article 51 [of the U.N. charter] is very explicit and I believe it’s correct. It says force can be used in self-defense against armed attack. Armed attack has a definition in international law. It means sudden, overwhelming, instantaneous ongoing attack. Nobody believes the U.S. is under armed attack.
Truisms:
– I’m kind of simple-minded. I believe in elementary moral truisms — namely, if something is a crime when it’s committed against us, it’s a crime when we commit it against others. If there is a simpler moral truism than that, I’d like to hear it. I think it makes sense to remind people of it.
– No, I don’t think it’s national self-interest. That’s a term of propaganda. It implies that it’s in the interest of the nation. No state acts in the interest of the nation. They usually act in the interest of powerful internal groups that dominate policy. Again, that’s a historical truism. I don’t think Nazi Germany was acting in the interest of the German people. In the case of the United States, we know who the planners are and where they come from, and yes, I think they usually act in their own interest. It’s not very surprising.
– I’m not a pacifist. I think use of force is sometimes legitimate. However, if someone is calling for the use of force, they have a heavy burden of proof to meet. The burden of proof is always on those who call for the use of violence, in particular extreme violence. That’s a moral truism. The question is, was that burden met?
– Let me repeat a moral truism. If there is a principle that we apply to others, we must insist that the principle apply to us. If there is a principle that justified the bombing in Serbia, formulate the principle and ask — does it apply to us?
QUESTION: Were you surprised by how people commonly interpreted your statement
CHOMSKY: No, not at all. I expect the intellectual classes to behave exactly like that. That’s their historical role — to support state violence and defame people who try to bring up moral truisms.
QUESTION: Can you give an example of a situation where military force is justified?
CHOMSKY: Force was justified when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war against us. If you try to think of the last 50 years, have there been military interventions which really did bring massive atrocities to an end? There are actually two cases, both in the 1970s. In 1971, India invaded what was then East Pakistan and put an end to horrendous atrocities. In 1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in self-defense and drove out the Khmer Rouge and terminated their atrocities.
Why aren’t those called humanitarian interventions? Why isn’t the 1970s called the decade of humanitarian intervention when there really were two cases that ended massive atrocities? There’s a simple reason for that: The interventions were carried out by the wrong parties — not the United States. And secondly, the U.S. strenuously opposed both of the interventions and punished those who carried them out. If we’re honest, we would say yes, there were two humanitarian interventions in the last 50 years.
QUESTION: So you do think that violence can bring peace?
CHOMSKY: Yes, the Second World War brought peace. I was a child, but I did support the war at the time, and in retrospect, still do.
QUESTION: People like you and Susan Sontag have gotten a lot of outraged reactions – even from some on the left. Comments?
CHOMSKY: It’s certainly much better than it’s been in the past. The outraged reactions are coming mostly from intellectuals, liberal intellectuals. But that’s standard. It was much worse in the ’60s. In fact, liberal intellectuals typically tend to support the use of state violence. Who initiated the Vietnam War? Liberal intellectuals, that was Kennedy’s war. Back in those days, in the early ’60s, I remember very well attempts to raise even the most mild criticism of the war at that time. You couldn’t get four people in an auditorium to listen to you. In Boston, which is a pretty liberal city, we couldn’t have a public demonstration against the war until about 1966 without it being physically attacked by people and protected by police. It’s incomparably better.

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