War Crimes & Imperial Fantasies
Noam Chomsky, internationally renowned MIT professor, practically invented modern linguistics. In addition to his pioneering work in that field he has been a leading voice for peace and social justice. He is in such demand as a public speaker that he is booked years in advance. And wherever he appears, he draws huge audiences. The New Statesman calls him, "The conscience of the American people." He is the author of scores of books, his latest is the bestseller Hegemony or Survival. He has done a series of books with David Barsamian, the most recent ones are The Common Good and Propaganda & the Public Mind.
Let's start with some memories. There is a new documentary film out called The Fog of War about Robert McNamara. And in it he makes a rather interesting admission. He had been working with General Curtis LeMay, with whom he served in the period of the fire-bombing of Japanese cities in World War II, and he quoted LeMay telling him that" If we had lost the war, we would all have been prosecuted as war criminals." And then McNamara added, "And I think he's right." Then he asks, "But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?"
I haven't seen the film, but what I've been told about it and read about it is that in the film for the first time McNamara identifies his own role during the Second World War. In the biographical material about him, he's been described as kind of a statistician who was working somewhere in the background, but apparently, correct me if I'm wrong, it turns out in the film that he was actually in a planning status, trying to decide where you could maximize Japanese civilian deaths with minimal cost. And Tokyo was selected because it was recognized that it's very densely populated, it's a mostly wooden city, so that you could set up a firestorm that would be able to kill maybe 100,000 people with no problem. At that point Japan had no air defenses, so it was just the question of how you could kill the most civilians with the least effort. And I understand that McNamara takes responsibility - I can't say credit, exactly - for having made this decision.
His comment about the war criminals is not only true but also a truism. In fact, if you look back at the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, they were designed that way in principle. This is discussed by, for example, Telford Taylor, who was chief prosecutor at Nuremberg years ago. He pointed out - and if you look at the record it's clear – that these were all post facto criminal sentencing. That it was for crimes that were not on the books at the time but they had to decide what's going to be a war crime, and they will charge people for what they called war crimes. They had an operational definition of war crime as anything that they did and we didn't do. It was very explicit. That's why, for example, the bombing of Tokyo was not considered or the bombing of Dresden or the bombing of urban civilian centers generally. The U.S. and British air force did much more of it than the Germans. They aimed mainly at working-class, poor, civilian areas, and it was devastating. But since the Allies did it much more than the Axis, it was removed from the category of war crimes.
And that even showed up in individual testimonies. A German admiral - I think it was Doenitz, the submarine commander - brought as a defense witness an American submarine commander, Nimitz, who testified that Americans had done the things that he was charged with, and he was exonerated. So the principle was it's a crime that you committed and we didn't. So, therefore, McNamara's comment is certainly accurate, but in fact a truism. And it's been known for a long time. In fact, this is the Nuremberg tribunal, which at least was semi-respectable. The Tokyo tribunal was simply a farce. And some of the other trials of the Japanese were just unbelievable, like the trial of General Yamashita, who was charged and hanged for crimes that were committed by Japanese soldiers in the Philippines. They were technically under his command, but at the end of the war, they were isolated, cut off, he had no communication with them. They did commit terrible atrocities. And he was hanged for it. Just imagine if that were generalized to commanders whose soldiers, on their own, without any communication, committed crimes. The whole military command of every functioning army in the world would be hanged, plus the civilian leadership, who are mostly responsible for it. It's not the generals; it's the civilians who were usually authorizing and organizing the worst crimes. So McNamara's statement is accurate, familiar, a truism, and an understatement. Incidentally, the same is true of the trials that are going on right now. You recall what happened when it looked for about 30 seconds as though the special tribunal for Yugoslavia, might investigate NATO crimes. There were briefs brought to it from Canadian and British lawyers urging that they look into NATO war crimes, which of course existed. And for a brief moment it looked as if they might. They were warned pretty quickly that they had better not. The State Department spokesman said, Look, we're funding this. This is not the kind of thing you do. Crimes are something that others do, not that we do. And that's true right down the line.
To take something timely, the famous Bush Doctrine, it has two components. One component is that we declare that we have the right to carry out offensive military actions against countries that we regard as a security threat because they have weapons of mass destruction. The commentary on that was interesting. That's half the doctrine. I'll get to the second half. Foreign Affairs immediately had a critical article on what they called the new imperial grand strategy. Many others criticized it, not so much because they disagreed but because they thought the brazenness and the manner of implementation was ultimately a threat to the United States and therefore shouldn't be done that way. Even Madeleine Albright, in an article in Foreign Affairs, pointed out, quite accurately, that this is not the kind of thing you do. Of course, every president has that doctrine, but you don't advertise it. You keep it in your pocket and you use it when you want to. So this is just kind of stupid and dangerous. The most interesting comment, perhaps, was Kissinger's. Actually, it was before the doctrine was announced but it was obvious what it was going to be. He described it as a revolutionary new doctrine in international affairs which, of course, tears to shreds the U.N. Charter and international law but also eliminates the whole Westphalian system from the 17th century. So it's really revolutionary, but a good doctrine, although he also criticized the implementation. But he added, We have to understand that it is not in the national interest for this doctrine to be universalized - a nice way of saying that the doctrine is for us, not for anyone else. So we will use force whenever we like against anyone we regard as a potential threat, and maybe we will delegate that right to clients, but it's not for others. So that's the same point.
Let's turn to the other part of the Bush Doctrine. It says states that harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves and will be treated as such. Just as we have the right to attack and destroy terrorists, we have a right to attack and destroy the states that harbor terrorists. Graham Allison, at Harvard, a distinguished professor and strategic analyst there, a former Pentagon official, described that as the most radical part of the Bush Doctrine. He also approves of it, but he says this really is a radical change in world affairs. It hasn't entered international law yet, but it's a norm of behavior by now because the Bush Administration announced it. Let's take a look at it. How does that part work? What are the states that harbor terrorists? Let's put aside harboring leaders of states. If we count that, it reduces to absurdity in no time. So let's talk about the kind of terrorists whom they regard as terrorists, what I call subnational terrorists, like Al-Qaeda, Hamas, people like that, those terrorists. What states harbor them? Right now there is an extremely important case coming to the appeals court in Miami that bears on this very directly. I haven't seen much coverage of it. It's the case of the Cuban Five. Just to give a little background, the United States launched a terrorist war against Cuba in 1959. It picked up rapidly under Kennedy, with Operation Mongoose - a major terrorist war that actually came close to leading to a nuclear war. Probably the peak of the atrocities was in the late 1970s. By the late 1970s, the U.S. was dissociating itself from the terrorist war; that is, as far as we know, the U.S. was not implementing the terrorist actions directly, as it had been up until then, but they were being carried out from U.S. territory, in violation of U.S. law and, of course, international law, and the U.S. was harboring the terrorists, and quite serious ones. The terrorist acts, incidentally, go on at least into the late 1990s. And we don't have to debate about whether these people are terrorists are not, because the FBI and the Justice Department describe them as dangerous terrorists, so let's take their word for it.
Orlando Bosch, for example, whom the FBI accuses of 30 serious terrorist acts, some of them on U.S. soil - that includes participation in the destruction of the Cubana airliner in which 73 people were killed - the Justice Department wanted him deported. They said he's a threat to the security of the United States. George Bush I, at the request of his son Jeb, gave him a presidential pardon. So he's sitting happily in Miami, and we're harboring a person whom the Justice Department regards as a dangerous terrorist, a threat to the security of the U.S.
When it became clear that the U.S. was going to do nothing to try to interfere with the terrorist actions taking place from terrorists harbored here, Cuba decided to infiltrate the terrorist organizations in Florida with agents of their own, and they collected a lot of information about them. Cuba invited the FBI to come to Havana, and they did. They sent high-level FBI officials in 1998, and they were provided with thousands of pages of documents and videotapes and so on of planning of terrorist actions in Florida. And the FBI responded, namely, by arresting the infiltrators. That's the Cuban Five. So the infiltrators who gave the FBI the information on harboring terrorists in the United States were arrested. They were brought to court in Miami, which is ridiculous. The judge refused a change of venue. The prosecutor conceded that there was basically no case, and the judge kind of pretty much ordered the jury to disregard the testimony. But they were convicted. Three of them, I think, have life sentences, the others long sentences. Their families are denied the right to visit them, they're isolated. They are coming up for appeal. This is a major scandal and a perfect example of harboring terrorists.
There is another one coming along. The Venezuelan government is now asking extradition of two military officers who were accused of participation in bombing attacks in Caracas and then just fled the country and are now pleading for political asylum here. If this had happened in the U.S., the issue would never have arisen, because they would have been executed by a firing squad a long time ago. The reason is that these military officers participated in a military coup, for a couple of days, overthrew the Chavez government. The U.S. openly supported the coup, and according to quite good journalists in the British press, was involved in instigating it. Putting that aside, these officers were participating. If some military officers in the U.S. had taken over the White House and run the government, we know what would have happened to them. Anyway, the Venezuelan courts, which are still from the old regime, very reactionary, denied the government's effort to try the officers. The totalitarian regime of Chavez agreed to the court ruling and didn't try them. So they were set free. And then they were accused of participating in terrorism. They are now seeking asylum in the United States, and I presume they will get it. Or take, say, Emmanuel Constant. We don't have to go through that case. He had the responsibility for killing maybe 4- or 5,000 Haitians. It’s part of the background for what's happening now. He is living happily in Queens because the U.S. refuses to even respond to requests for extradition.
Without going on, who is harboring terrorists? If the most important revolutionary part of the Bush Doctrine is that states that harbor terrorists are terrorist states, what do we conclude from that? We conclude exactly what Kissinger was kind enough to say: These doctrines are unilateral. They are not intended as doctrines of international law or doctrines of international affairs; they are doctrines which grant the U.S. the right to use force and violence and to harbor terrorists and so on, but not anyone else, pretty much as Kissinger stated. And now back to McNamara. Yes, he's simply saying, yes, of course -- and this goes back to World War II, to the trials. And in fact there wasn't much relevant international law prior to that. But to the extent there was, that's always true. For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit. We don't have to run through the record, but it's close to universal.
George Orwell, whose centenary was marked last year, once remarked, "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." Let's talk a bit more about Nuremberg. I've been looking at Telford Taylor's book "The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials." He was a chief prosecutor. He said the charge of aggressive war "was the core of the entire case" at Nuremberg. Robert Jackson, a Supreme Court justice, a distinguished jurist, was the chief American prosecutor, and he talked about "crimes against the peace of the world. To start or wage an aggressive war has the moral qualities of the worst of crimes." Then the British prosecutor, Hartley Shawcross, said the Germans in the dock had committed "crime against peace," which consists of "waging wars of aggression and in violation of treaties." All of this was later encoded in the U.N. Charter, where, under international law, the planning and waging of aggressive war was regarded as the major war crime. One has to ask, Given the U.S. attack on Iraq, a country that was not threatening it, why has there not been any discussion about this issue? And why aren't people talking about impeachment?
They are. Various lawyers' groups, to some extent in the U.S., but mostly in England, Canada and elsewhere, are bringing demands for war crimes trials for the crime of aggression. We should point out, however, that though the invasion of Iraq was plainly an act of aggression, it doesn't break any records. What was the invasion of South Vietnam, for example, in 1962, when Kennedy sent the air force to attack South Vietnam and started chemical warfare, which had devastating consequences, driving the population into concentration campus? That's aggression. You could say it was not aggression against a state that was a member of the United Nations, if that matters, but it was certainly aggression. Or what was the Indonesian invasion of East Timor? Obviously aggression. What was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which ended up killing 20,000 people? Both of these were carried out thanks to decisive U.S. diplomatic, military, and economic support. In the case of East Timor, Britain, too. And we can go on.
The invasion of Panama, for example, what was that? That was kind of a minor act in U.S. history in the region, but it was an invasion aimed at kidnapping a thug, Noriega, not a thug of Saddam Hussein's ranking but a serious one. In the course of the invasion, the U.S. killed, according to the Panamanians, 3,000 civilians. Maybe they're right. We don't investigate our own crimes, so nobody knows. But they certainly killed plenty of people - on the scale of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, roughly the same casualties, plus or minus. They kidnapped Noriega from the Vatican embassy. The U.S. had to veto Security Council resolutions, vote against General Assembly resolutions, the usual business. He was brought back to Florida - all hopelessly illegal -, tried in a ridiculous trial in which he was convicted of crimes which he had indeed committed, almost all of them when he was on the CIA payroll. It was just like the trial of Saddam Hussein will be, if he ever comes to trial: he will be convicted of crimes that the U.S. supported, but that part won't be mentioned. So that's aggression. And we can go on and on. The case of Iraq was a bit unusual, for a lot of reasons - for one reason, because it was over such overwhelming international opposition. I don't think there has ever been a case where global opinion was so overwhelmingly against the action. Actually, that was most strikingly true in the countries where the governments agreed to go along, like Spain and Italy, where the populations were even more opposed than they were in France and Germany. Just about every act that's taken by any state is under the pretext of defense. You can hardly find an exception to that. Hitler, Stalin, Japanese fascists were all defending themselves. So this was also under the pretext of self-defense. Under the doctrine that Kissinger describes as revolutionary, namely, we have the right to use force to defend ourselves against potential enemies, again, if that doctrine were universalized, everything goes out the window.
How does the international law community deal with this? That's quite interesting. In fact, if you have the time, I would suggest reading professional journals like The Journal of the American Society of International Law. When something like this takes place, the international law professionals have a complicated task. There is a fringe who just te3ll the truth. Look, it's a violation of international law. But most have to construct complex arguments to justify it as defense counsel. That's basically their job, defense counsel for state power. And the justifications are kind of interesting. They range from -- people are pretty honest, like Michael Glennon, at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, who simply says, Look, international law and the U.N. Charter are a lot of "hot air." It's time to get rid of them. They're not worth keeping because they impose -- he says, yes, of course, this is in violation of those laws, but they are ridiculous. They are not worth keeping because they restrict the ability of the United States to use force, and that suffices to show that they are hot air and must be eliminated. Furthermore, he says - this is a standard principle of law - law is a living doctrine. Its meaning depends on practice as well as words, and so on. It's an evolving, living doctrine. That's called legal positivism, a big theory, and has some sense to it. But, again, that's very refined. So in this case, his argument, and many other defenders of the U.S. action like Ruth Wedgewood, is that while the U.S. has been carrying out actions like this for some time, the bombing of Serbia and so on, that has changed the nature of law, because law is a living doctrine, is a living system of principles. When it's changed by international practice, it's modified.
Was it modified by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait? No. Was it modified by Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, one of the few actions in modern history that might be called a humanitarian intervention? It's very hard to find others that were, but this pretty clearly was. They got rid of Pol Pot at the peak of his atrocities. That was bitterly condemned. The U.S. supported an invasion of Vietnam to punish them - embargos and so on. So that didn't change, that didn't create new norms of international law. Or India's invasion of East Pakistan, Bangladesh, which put an end to huge atrocities, that didn't change anything. Also condemned. We're back to the unilateralism. The positivist doctrine, the profound doctrine that law is a living instrument that changes with practice refers to the practice of the super-powerful and the super-violent. They are the ones who change the law, not anybody else. So we're back to McNamara. It's unilateral. Some of justifications are kind of interesting, interesting to look at for a philosophy seminar. So the current issue of The Journal of the American Society of International Law has a complex, thoughtful article quoting Habermas and all sorts of big thinkers. And the argument comes down to this. It says, When the U.S. invaded Iraq, it actually was abiding by the U.N. Charter because we have to recognize that there are two interpretations of it. There is the kind of literal interpretation, which is for small minds, which says that the use of force in international affairs is criminal, except under circumstances which don't apply. But that's kind of trivial and uninteresting. But then there is the communitarian interpretation of the Charter, which says that an act is legitimate if it's carrying out the will of the community of nations. It then goes on to say that the Security Council doesn't have the military force to carry out the will of the community of nations, so therefore it implicitly delegates this to states that do have the force, meaning the United States. And therefore, the U.S., by invading Iraq, under the communitarian interpretation of the Charter, was actuality fulfilling the will of the international community. It's irrelevant that 90% of the population and almost all states bitterly condemned it. They just don't understand their own will. But their actual will was expressed in Security Council resolutions that Iraq didn't fully comply with, and so on; therefore, the U.S. was, in fact, using force with the authorization of the Security Council, even though the Security Council denied it, under the subtle and complex communitarian interpretation. This is a large part of what the academic profession does. They make up complex, subtle arguments that are childishly ridiculous but are enveloped in sufficient profundity and footnotes and references to allegedly deep thinkers so that you can construct a framework which has, in some strange universe, a kind of plausibility. But it comes down to what McNamara said, very straight: When they do it it's a crime; when we do it, it's not. And more generally, it's the defeated who are tried, not the victors. All of these trials, every one of them, almost without exception, is victors' justice. Sometimes they're legitimate, but that's kind of incidental. The basic principle is that the losers have to confess, not the victors. They're free.
Again, Orwell, in his classic essay "Politics and the English Language," said, "Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
There are so many examples that it's hard to even pick any, but, yes, of course.
The current rhetoric around Iraq is that the country was "liberated." My understanding of that term is when another country invades a country and occupies it, and an outside force then comes in and liberates it. A classic example that's always given is, France was invaded in 1940 and was liberated four years later.
If you had bothered to check with the French population then, they were quite split on that. Many supported the Nazis. That was true of every occupied country in Europe. But I think it's fair to say France was liberated. If you want to know whether a country was liberated, you ask the population. They're the ones to decide, not intellectuals and politicians of the invading country. There are Western-run polls in Iraq. They are not run by Al-Jazeera, they are run by the State Department and other Western organizations - Gallup, Oxford Research Institute. One of the questions they ask people in Iraq is, Is it an occupying force or a liberating force? And by about 5 to 1 they say it's an occupying force. About 80% say they don't trust the U.S. military or the CPA, the civilian authority. So-called civilian; they answer to the Pentagon. One of the most remarkable poll results that I saw was people were asked, What foreign head of state do you have the most favorable opinion of? Jacques Chirac, who was president of France, who was the symbol of opposition to the war, far above Bush. And the pathetic Blair was trailing even farther behind. In fact, in some of the polls, to my utter astonishment, a substantial majority says the U.S. forces should leave. I find that pretty hard to believe, because the invasion created such a situation of chaos and destruction. But 95% in the same poll say their greatest concern is just security. And if the occupying army were to leave, it would get much worse at this point. Nevertheless, in at least some of the polls, the majority is calling for them to leave.
There are still more revealing ones. President Bush, back in November, gave a speech in which he declared that we're setting out on a new course of nobility and magnificence, we're going to bring democracy to Iraq and to the Middle East and to the world and to Mars. The speech was greeted with the usual reverential awe in the United States. David Ignatius, in the Washington Post, maybe was the extreme. He said, Oh, that shows that the Iraq invasion - he didn't use invasion - the Iraq war was the most noble act of war in human history; the grand visionary; Paul Wolfowitz, whose heart "bleeds" for the suffering of poor Arabs, is the one who is in charge in bringing democracy, and on and on. There were critics, but the critics, as far as I know, invariably took for granted the authenticity of the claim. All the criticism I could find said, Yes, it's true, Bush is trying to bring democracy to Iraq, but it's beyond our means or we're ambitious or they're not ready for it, or something like that. I was unable - maybe you could - to find one comment, one word in the mainstream press and commentary in journals that even questioned the validity of the claim. That's kind of remarkable, because everyone claims to be doing that. Stalin, for example, was passionately declaring his wish to save the democracies of Eastern Europe from the fascist threat. Do we take it seriously? You should never take pronouncements of heads of state seriously. But in this case reverential awe is an absolute requirement. You can't even question it. So the critics accept it and then criticize it as overreaching. Just like the war in Vietnam was the defense of South Vietnam: you can say we made a mistake or this or that, but you can't question it. Here, too. I was able to find only one exception to this, incidentally. In the Washington Post, about a week after the president's speech. They did report that there are people who don't believe it - Iraqis. They reported a poll -- it wasn't connected to the speech but a separate article. But if you look at it, Iraqis were asked in a Western poll, Why do you think the U.S. entered Iraq? They didn't say invade. And there were some who agreed with Bush and 100% of Western commentators. One percent said that the goal was to establish democracy. Seventy percent said that the goal was to take over Iraq's resources and to reorganize the Middle East - they agreed with Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and others in the interests of the United States and Israel. That was the overwhelmingly dominant position.
Actually, if you look at the poll results, they show a much more sophisticated understanding of the West. It's very common for the victims to understand a system better than the guys who hold the stick. You want to learn about patriarchal families, you don't ask the father, you ask the mother. Then maybe you will learn something. Here, too, they had a sophisticated response. One percent said the U.S. intends to establish democracy, 50%, approximately, said the U.S. wants democracy but will not permit the democratic Iraqi government to carry out its own policies without U.S. influence. In other words, they understand that the U.S. wants democracy as long as the U.S. can control it. And that's correct. Bush's call for enhancing democracy just repeats what Reagan said 20 years earlier: Our goal was enhancing democracy, primarily in Central America. And from the U.S. point of view, democracies were established, by violence. And democracies, their own scholars concede, had to be "top down" democratic systems, in which traditional elites linked to U.S. power remain in control. That's a democracy. In other words, a democracy is a system in which you're free to do whatever you like as long as it's what we tell you. That ought to be taught in elementary schools here. The evidence for that is so overwhelming that it's boring to repeat it. But American commentators cannot understand it. On the other hand, Iraqis seem to understand it, not because they know the history of Central America but because they know their own history. The British carved out Iraq in 1920 artificially. They set the borders so that Britain would get control of the oil in the north, not Turkey, and that Iraq would be a dependent. And they ensured that it be a dependency by cutting off access to the sea. That's the point of the British colony of Kuwait. And it was a free country. They declared it to be a free, independent country, running its own affairs. Until you look at the British colonial office records, secret but now public, in which they say, Yes, Iraq will be a free country: there will be an "Arab facade," like the other countries of the region, where the British will rule behind various colonial "constitutional fictions." Iraqis don't have to read the secret records. They have their own history. They know how free they were.
Furthermore, they can open their eyes right now. It's kind of striking to see the U.S. press and commentators try to evade the fact that while we're dedicated passionately to democracy, the U.S. is also desperately trying to evade an election that the Iraqis are calling for. So we want democracy, but not elections, because elections we won't be able to control. So there has to be some complicated system where we can manage to control it. This is pretty hard to miss. Like the London Financial Times, not a particularly radical journal. Its editorial points out, Look, the choice is straight. Is Iraq going to be run by Iraqis elected by Iraqis, or is it going to be run by Iraqis who will have nominal sovereignty within a system constructed by the occupiers? That's exactly right. They can see that. They don't have to read the Washington Post to discover that the U.S. is constructing the biggest embassy in the world, right in Baghdad or that the U.S. is insisting on some kind of status-of-forces agreement in which the sovereign government will grant the U.S. the right to keep as many military forces and bases as it wants there forever. And they don't have to read the business press in the United States to discover that the occupying authorities have imposed an economic regime of a kind that no sovereign state would accept for a moment, which opens up Iraq totally to takeover by foreign corporations. The only thing they left out is the oil, because that would have been too blatant. But that will work, too. You read between the lines, and you see Halliburton executives explaining that the work we're doing now on nice taxpayer subsidies will put us in a good position to manage and control the oil resources. So they know all of this. They also know that the economic system that was imposed on them is a Bush Administration dream. The highest tax rate is 15%. So basically no taxes. No constraints on foreign investment; hence full foreign takeover. Iraqi businessmen are screaming about it, because they know they will never be able to compete.
It's almost exactly the same program that the U.S. imposes when it has total control. Haiti is now blowing up. Why? Because the grand restoration of democracy in 1994, of which the press and commentators are very proud, also required that President Aristide accept a program very much like the one imposed on Iraq: a harsh neoliberal program which opens the country up totally to a U.S. takeover. It already was close to that, but this eliminated all limits and ensured that the economy would be totally devastated, as it was. So, for example, peasant rice production in Haiti, which is pretty efficient, couldn't possibly compete with highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness exports, so, of course, it was wiped out. It went down to tiny details. One of the few industries that was sort of working in Haiti was making chicken parts. But it turns out that Americans don't like dark meat. So Tyson and those other corporations have a ton of dark meat on their hands that they would love to dump somewhere. They tried to dump it in Canada and Mexico, but they're sovereign countries and they blocked it. So they dumped it in Haiti - which, of course, wipes out the chicken parts industry. Does anybody notice? It's reported, but so what? And so it goes, point by point. The country is devastated. Now, for some odd reason, it's blowing up, because they have bad genes or no matter how much we tried we couldn't bring them democracy. You have to be purposely blind not to see this.
The framework goes back to the 18th century. That's how the Third World became the Third World and the First World became the First World. If you go back to the 18th century, India, for example, was a major commercial and industrial center, England was kind of on the periphery. But England had more violence, so they forced India to adopt pretty much these programs. What's now the Third World became what economic historians call an ocean of liberalism, meaning no constraints on foreign investment, no protection for local industry, nothing. So they got wiped out and they became the Third World. Meanwhile, England didn't. England had very high tariffs, massive state intervention, just as the U.S. did later, and every other developed country.
And the U.S. still does. People talk about agricultural subsidies, which are bad, but that's minor. Much more important than agricultural subsidies are institutions like where you and I are now sitting, MIT, which is one of the many devices by which the U.S. ensures that the rich and powerful won't face market discipline, because the public pays the costs of research and development and takes the risk, and after the work is done and the public has paid for it, then you hand it over to private enterprise, which will make the profits. That's the way the whole system works, virtually. These are such radical violations of market principles, you can't even use the word. That's precisely the kind of thing that has been denied to the Third World, what we now call the Third World, for hundreds of years. It's now built into the World Trade Organization rules. Of course, the powerful don't accept them. And we're now seeing it in Iraq. We just saw it in Haiti. You see it over and over again. It's a major element of modern history. The fact that these things aren't taught in elementary school is shocking. There are all kinds of complications. If you look closely, there is a footnote that we have to say it didn't quite happen this way, but these are overwhelming tendencies of contemporary and past history. And Iraqis don't have to study economic history to know it. It's their lives. So they can see the extent to which the U.S. is bringing democracy and exactly how. Therefore, 1% of them agree with 100% of sophisticated Western commentators. That fact ought to interest us. It's public. And I read it in the Washington Post. It's not exactly a secret document. See if you can find a comment on it. How come 100% of us take the President's pronouncements with reverential awe and 1% of Iraqis do. Does that suggest something?
I think that awe and reverence is showing signs of withering now. You don't think so?
No. The withering does not question the assumption. It says, yes, that's what you're trying to do, but you're doing it badly. Let's go back to McNamara. McNamara, when he sort of came out with his apologetics, the apologia, the book and the film, was highly praised by humanist doves. They said, Okay, we're vindicated. He finally came around and agreed we were right all along. What did he say? He apologized to the American people because he didn't tell them soon enough that the war was going to be costly for Americans, and he's really sorry about this, he deserves punishment, this horrible crime. Did he apologize to the Vietnamese? There is not a word in there of apology to the Vietnamese. Okay, we killed a couple million of them, we destroyed the country, they're still dying from the chemical warfare that I initiated. None of those. The premises are accepted across the board. We were trying to defend South Vietnam, maybe noble, maybe not noble, but it was costly to us so we had to stop. And within that framework you can have criticism.
The same now. Bush didn't tell us the truth about weapons of mass destruction. Suppose he had told us the truth. Would it change anything? Or suppose he had found them. Would that change anything? If you want to find weapons of destruction, you can find them all over the place. Take, say, Israel. There is a great concern right now about proliferation of nuclear weapons, as there should be. This morning's New York Times has an op-ed by Mohammed Al-Baradei, of the international agency, starting off by saying weapons proliferation is increasing, this is an extremely dangerous threat to the world. Yes, it's increasing. Why? Lots of reasons. One of them is that -- actually, we were informed about it by the head of the Strategic Command, the U.S. agency responsible for nuclear weapons, General Lee Butler, who said that it is dangerous in the extreme for one country in the Middle East - he didn't mention it, but he meant Israel - to have, apparently, hundreds of nuclear weapons, incidentally, also chemical and biological weapons, which is not only a threat in itself but encourages others to proliferate in reaction and in self-defense. And that's absolutely true. Is anybody saying anything about this? In fact, it may be worse. We don't know, because it's not investigated.
But just a few days ago the leading Israeli journal, Ha'aretz, in its Hebrew edition - they didn't have it in the English edition - published a very interesting leak from some unidentified military source, which is obscure but would be investigated by anyone concerned with proliferation. The leak said that the U.S. is providing the Israeli air force with -- and they used a Hebrew phrase which translates roughly as "special weapons," which is some kind of code word, and it may very well be a code word for nuclear warheads for missiles for the advanced U.S. aircraft that Israel flies. Maybe reporters and commentators here don't want to talk about it, but you can bet your life that Iranian intelligence is reading it. They're certainly reading that the main Israeli newspaper says that the U.S. government is providing Israel with special weapons for aircraft which can't be identified, and it's hard to imagine what else they might be.
So how are they going to respond? Yes, by proliferation. So if you want to worry about countries with weapons of mass destruction, you will find them. In fact, we don't have to look very far. Right here. The U.S. is increasing proliferation itself by rejecting treaties, by barring any effort to stop militarization of space, as it did again at the U.N. last December in the General Assembly, by developing new nuclear weapons, what they call small, which means massive destructive nuclear weapons, of course encouraging others to do so. Al-Baradei, in his column today, says politely that we should be working on trying to implement the treaty for imposing mechanisms to block transmission of materials for developing enriched uranium. He didn't say that the world has been pressing for that for some time but the Bush Administration isn't participating. He gave mild praise for the U.S.-Russian agreement to limit nuclear weapons, but he didn't say what he certainly knows, that it did nothing. It was completely symbolic. It keeps the nuclear weapons level at a ridiculously high level; it doesn't change them. In fact, technically it's in force for one day, in about ten years. He knows all that. But you don't say that. Yes, those are all very serious problems.
And militarization of space alone is an extremely serious problem. The U.N. disarmament commissions have been immobilized for years. This goes back to the Clinton years, by U.S. refusal to permit measures to ban militarization of space. They all know the U.S. is going to do it. In fact, right after the national security strategy was announced in September of 2002 with great fanfare, and the invasion of Iraq was virtually announced as an implementation of it, another announcement was made which may be even more important and received no coverage. The Air Force Space Command, which is in charge of advanced space-age-type nuclear and other weaponry, released its projection for the next several years, in which it said, in accordance with the security strategy, that the United States is going to move on from control of space to ownership of space. Ownership of space means what the security strategy says: No potential challenge will be tolerated. If anyone challenges it, we'll destroy them. So we own space. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Chinese moon shot is a reaction to this, saying, "We're not going to allow you to own space." And that can have great dangers. What does ownership of space mean? That is spelled out in high-level documents, some leaked, some public. It means putting platforms in space for highly destructive weapons, probably nuclear, and others, laser weapons and others, which can be launched instantaneously, without warning, anywhere in the world. There are also hypersonic drones, which are supposed to keep the whole world under photo surveillance, with high-resolution devices that can tell you if a car is going across the street in Ankara, or whatever you happen to be interested in, meaning the whole world is under surveillance. We intend to have, out of our ownership of space, means to destroy anything with massive destruction anytime we like, instantaneously, without warning. We probably ultimately won't even need forward bases, because it can all be done from a command post in Colorado in the mountains.
How do you think the world reacts to this? We know. Russia has already reacted, even before this came out, by a very sharp increase, I think about a 30% increase, in its military spending for offensive military weapons. It's shifted its missile system to launch on warning, meaning automated response. Extremely dangerous. It was always dangerous. Now, with deteriorating command and control systems, it's even more dangerous. Just to give you an indication of how dangerous, in 1995 - that's before the systems had deteriorated, the Russian economy was still somewhat functioning - we came two minutes from a nuclear war. Russian computerized systems interpreted a rocket - I think it was some space rocket shot, U.S.-Norwegian or something - as a first strike, and they went into action. It's a ten-minute gap before the missiles go off. It was aborted by human intervention after eight minutes, meaning in two more minutes it's all gone. Now the systems are much worse. The U.S. has a far more aggressive posture. They're increasing the use of these systems. For all I know, now they're down to six minutes, not ten minutes, in which case we will all be dead if this happens again. They've adopted Bush's first-strike doctrine. The Chinese are going to be doing the same. There is no doubt about that. More money is now going into so-called missile defense in the new budget. Everyone interprets that as an offensive weapon, whether it's U.S. analysts or Chinese analysts. It's an offensive weapon that is supposed to provide protection against retaliation to a first strike. And everyone knows - the intelligence agencies are happy to tell you - how other countries respond, say, China, namely, by increasing their offensive military capacities. The other mode of response is terror. Those are the weapons available to the potential targets. So we're asking for an increase in terror, increase in proliferation, increase in threat to us. That is the exact meaning of these programs. And it's not particularly secret. Why do it? For short-term gain. If it leads to long-term disaster, that's somebody else's department.
The same is true in other domains. The concern over global warming has now reached a stage where even the Pentagon is producing studies about the severe threat, not very long-range, maybe 20 or 30 years. Nobody knows exactly. But among the predictions taken seriously is that there could be a fairly sudden shift in the Gulf Stream, which would turn northern Europe into Labrador and Greenland, might turn large parts of the United States into desert, would wipe out places in many other parts of the world. Rising sea levels are probably going to wipe out Bangladesh and kill who knows how many people. The most arable lands in Pakistan may become like the Sahara. The effects of all of this in not a very long time are indescribable. Are we doing anything about it? No. We don't care. We, meaning planners, don't care. It's not part of their framework. It's basically part of the fanatic ideology of the corporate system from which they come. If you're a corporate manager, you don't care about what's going to happen ten years from now. You have to make sure you get your big bonus and stock options next year, not ten years from now. That's somebody else's department. This is built into the institutional structure. You can't even blame individuals for it, any more than you can blame McNamara for doing a cost-benefit analysis that shows how to maximize the number of Japanese civilians you can murder. It's like what Hannah Arendt said about Eichmann: It's just part of the institutional structure. You fit into it, you do your job. Other considerations aren't part of your domain. And, going back to the beginning, this is based on a framework of assumptions, among them that we have unilateral rights to do whatever we want. It shows up in the war crimes trial, it shows up in the revolutionary new doctrines of aggression at will or harboring terrorists. In fact, everywhere you look.
Take the reaction to 9/11. The reaction to it around the world, which was barely reported here, was horror, sympathy for the victims, and, Welcome to the club. This is what you've been doing to us for hundreds of years. We're sorry it happened to you, but you can't expect us to be very surprised by it. We're used to this. Why was it such a shock in the West? Because the guns were turned the wrong way. Not because it's new. It's not. It's because the guns were turned the wrong way. This is what we do to them; this is not what they do to us. That's a traditional reaction. Take, say, the British in India again. In 1857, there was a rebellion in India. In England it's called "the mutiny," because you can't have a rebellion against benevolent England. So there was a rebellion in India, with pent-up rage and anger, and there were terrorist acts. Some whites were killed brutally. The reaction in England was hysteria. In India itself, the British military had carried out massive atrocities. The population actually declined in several provinces for a generation or two. But in England there was fantastic hysteria. Look what they're doing to us. We're supposed to do it to them; they don't do it to us. That's a very traditional reaction of those who have power. And it goes from personal life to international affairs. We have the power, we do it to them. If they resist, it's an atrocity. The same wherever you look. Israel-Palestine.
About this issue of they don't care, they have short-range vision. They have children, they have grandchildren. Are they totally dismissing their futures? And why would the elites, whose power is not being challenged at this moment, risk their very survival in pursuing these new developments as you've just described them?
We can ask why, but if we want to look into it, we should recognize that, again, it's close to a historical universal. That's common. When Hitler started a two-front war, there was a very strong chance that Germany would be destroyed. Did it stop him from starting a two-front war? No. The calculation was, Maybe we'll get away with it now, in which case I'll be the greatest leader in German history.
Just take our own recent history. Go back to 1950. Around 1950, the U.S. had a position of security that's unparalleled in human history. It controlled the hemisphere, controlled both oceans, controlled the opposite sides of both oceans. There wasn't a threat within shouting distance - except for one. There was a potential threat. The potential threat was intercontinental ballistic missiles with thermonuclear warheads. They weren't yet available, but they were beginning to be developed. And that would be a threat to the U.S. heartland. It could destroy it, in fact. If you care about your children and your grandchildren, you would do something to prevent that threat from developing. Could it have been done? It wasn't tried, so we don't know. But it would at least have been possible to explore treaties that would have blocked the development of these weapons. In fact, it's not unlikely that the Russians would have agreed. They were so far behind, and legitimately frightened and threatened, that they might well have agreed to not developing these weapons. They also understood that the U.S. was trying to spend them into economic destruction. They understood that perfectly well. We know it from the released Russian archives. They understood that the U.S. economy, which was, of course, much larger, was trying to compel them to enter into an arms race that they couldn't survive. So it's possible, in fact likely, that they would have accepted it. What's the historical record on this? There is a standard magisterial history of all of this by McGeorge Bundy, a national security adviser, who had access to declassified records and so on. And he mentions, more or less in passing, that he was unable to find any mention of even the possibility of pursuing this option. It's not that it was suggested and rejected; he said it wasn't mentioned. Did you have to be some kind of a genius to understand in the early 1950s that that's the one potential threat to the United States and that it might destroy your grandchildren? No, you didn't have to be a genius. You had to have the intelligence, the knowledge of the world of a normal high school student. These were not stupid people. Acheson, Nitze, Kennan and the rest. But it didn't occur to them, because it doesn't occur to you that you might try to save a world in which your children and grandchildren can survive when you have higher aims, like maximizing short-term power and privilege.
If you look over history, you just find this all the time, Take, say, Israel. A lot of what's happening in Israel right now is a consequence of a decision that was made in 1971. In 1971, Egypt offered a full peace treaty to Israel, no mention of the Palestinians, nothing about the West Bank. Egypt is the one Arab military force. In internal discussion, some of it public, some since declassified, the Israeli leaders understood that this would have meant security, the end of conflict. They could have been integrated into the region, become the technological, financial center and so on, but no security problems anymore. The Palestinians at that point were not a security problem. In fact, for decades they didn't become one. But they decided to reject it, on the grounds that they preferred to expand into the northeastern Sinai. Not even the occupied territories. This was a Labor government, the so-called doves. They were driving thousands of Arab farmers, so-called Bedouins, out of their homes, destroying their towns, destroying mosques, planning to build an all-Jewish city, Yamit, in the northeastern Sinai, and they preferred that to security. The immediate effect of that was the 1973 war, which was a very close thing for Israel. And the long-term effect is everything that's followed since. But the short-term gain of settling the northeastern Sinai was just a lot more important than security.
Which they then abandoned after the Sadat-Begin accord.
In 1982, they were forced to abandon it. But that's after a war in 1973, which was extremely threatening and might have destroyed them, and years of conflict, brutality, suffering, and murder. Finally they abandoned it, in 1982. It's interesting the way that's described here. The way all this is described here is that there was a tremendous U.S. diplomatic triumph at Camp David in 1978-79. Carter won the Nobel Prize for it. Kissinger is very proud of having led the way to a great diplomatic triumph, a peace treaty with Sadat. Sadat became man of the year. What actually happened? What actually happened was that the U.S. and Israel were compelled to accept Sadat's 1971 offer, which they had rejected. It was a diplomatic catastrophe. They had the offer in 1971. They decided to reject it, mostly on racist grounds. They figured they could handle Egypt, that Arabs didn't know which end of a gun to hold. They learned otherwise in 1973 and then gradually came to accept a version of Sadat's offer. Actually, the offer that they accepted finally, reluctantly, in 1978 and 1979, was harsher from their point of view than what Sadat proposed in 1971, because by the late 1970s Palestinian rights had become an issue. They weren't in 1971. And there was an overwhelming international consensus, which the U.S. unilaterally blocked - Security Council resolutions, - which called for a Palestinian state. And Sadat insisted on that. He didn't get it, but he insisted on it. That's his famous trip to Jerusalem, which we're supposed to be amazed about. In his trip to Jerusalem, he offered Israel harsher terms than those he had offered in 1971, harsher from Israel's point of view because it meant recognition of Palestinian rights. There is nothing controversial about this. It's like 2 plus 2 equals 4: all perfectly uncontroversial facts. Does it appear anywhere in the interpretation of what's happened? No. The interpretation is that Sadat suddenly had an epiphany, became a man of peace. If only other Arabs could be so wonderful. He accepted our peace offers. We had an amazing diplomatic triumph. We get the Nobel Peace Prize.
That's the way history is reconstructed by the powerful, in their own interests, of course. Not conscious deceit. It's just, again, unconscious, tacit acceptance of principles about our magnificence and everyone else's evil, which is, again, universal, not unique to the United States. What's striking about the United States and England and other Western countries is that this traditional stand is taken without coercion. If you're living in a dictatorship or under kings and princes or in a place run by murderous bishops or something, you'd better take that view or you're in deep trouble. You get burned at the stake or thrown into the gulag or something. In the West, you don't get in any trouble if you tell the truth, but you still can't do it. Not only can't you tell the truth, you can't think it. You can't think the truth. It's just so deeply embedded, deeply instilled, that without any meaningful coercion it comes out the same way it does in a totalitarian state. That's interesting. Not that these attitudes are taken - they just go all the way back through history - but that they are taken without coercion, without pressure. There is mild pressure, but nothing. Maybe you lose your job, maybe somebody calls you bad names or something.
You're describing an Orwellian world of groupthink and mind control.
In fact, Orwell had some words about it in his unpublished introduction to Animal Farm - which is not a very good essay, I should say. But it was about censorship in England, and they didn't print it - he says straight, Look, in England what comes out in a free country is not very different from this totalitarian monster that I'm describing in the book. It's more or less the same. How come in a free country? He has two sentences, which are pretty accurate. One, he says, the press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. And second - and I think this is much more important - is a good education, which instills in you the intuitive understanding that there are certain things it just wouldn't do to say. I don't think he goes far enough. It wouldn't do to think. A good education instills in you the intuitive comprehension - it becomes unconscious and reflexive - that you just don't think certain things, things that are threatening to power interests. Not everyone accepts this. That's why we have taxi drivers and janitors and people like that. Many of them just don't accept it, so they're going to get weeded out somewhere along the line. But every one of us, if we are honest with ourselves - me, probably you, almost everyone - you look back at your own history, personal history. How did we get into good colleges and get into the professions? Did we get into it by, if the high school history teacher told us some ridiculous lie about American history, standing up and saying, "That's a ridiculous lie. You're an idiot"? No. We said, "All right, I'll keep quiet, and I'll write it in the exam and I'll think, yes, he's an idiot." That's how we got into the good colleges. Not everyone did. There were behavior problems that weeded out one or another along the line.
I'm afraid I was in the latter category.
You were in the latter category? (Laughter) Okay. But most of us just decided, Okay, we'll accept it. There is a very striking phenomenon, which, again, we're all aware of, that it's very hard to say one thing and believe another. You end up believing what you say. And it's easy to say and believe things that improve your self-image and your career and that are in other ways beneficial to yourselves. It's very hard to look in the mirror. We all know this. It's much easier to have illusions about yourself. And in particular, when you think, Well, I'm going to believe what I like, but I'll say what the powerful want, you do that over a time, and you believe what you say.
It was Orwell in 1984 with the idea of doublethink, the ability to hold simultaneously two totally contradictory ideas and believe both were correct. That was echoed in the 1960,s with cognitive dissonance.
That's right in the front pages today. In the last year, we have had right in the headlines two themes: one, we are passionately dedicated to bringing democracy to the world; another, bitter denunciation of the countries where the governments took the same position as the mass of the population instead of following orders from Crawford, Texas, and great praise for the new, Churchillian figures like Berlusconi, who overruled an even larger proportion of the population and followed their orders. Those two go side by side. The same in Iraq. Reverential awe for the president's magnificent new doctrine. Take this business about Chirac. The reaction to that was interesting. Patrick Tyler, the Times correspondent, did report it. The headline of the article was "Iraqis Pleased to Get Rid of Saddam Hussein," or something like that. You didn't need a poll to tell you that. Of course they are. Then you read down, and he has a poll with questions about foreign leaders. Chirac comes first, Bush lower, Blair much lower. He didn't say anything about it, but it was obviously bothering him. And in another column a couple of weeks later, he came back to it in another context and repeated those results. And he has one two-word comment," Go figure." You can decide what that means. I think I know what it means. Here we expended all this effort to liberate the Iraqis, and their favorite foreign leader is Chirac. What's the matter with these crazy Arabs? What's wrong? Not, Does that mean something? What might it mean? You can imagine what it might mean. But, no. However, it did bother him.
Someone who is reading this interview is saying, "That Chomsky has got a lot on the ball, an MIT professor, has this command of information and facts and history. What do I make of it? What do I do as an individual?"
The first thing you ought to do is verify it. Just because I say it doesn't make it true. So the first thing you ought to do, if you find it interesting, is ask if it's true. There are ways to do that. You can check it out. I'm sure if you look closely at this transcript, you will find things in it which weren't quite accurate. That's almost inevitable in an informal discussion. You don't have all the minor details right. So check it out, see what looks correct, what looks wrong, look at other material which wasn't discussed, figure out what the truth really is. That's what you've got a brain for. If you think that the general thrust of it is correct, we have no problem in doing something about it. We're not going to be thrown into prison and face torture. We're not going to get assassinated. We have enormous privilege, we have tremendous freedom. That means endless opportunities. I should tell you that every night I get many letters and after every talk I get many questions from people who say, "What can I do? I want to change things. What can I do?" I never hear these questions from peasants in southern Colombia or Turks and Kurds in southeastern Turkey under miserable repression or anybody who is suffering. They don't ask what they can do; they tell you what they're doing. Somehow the fact of enormous privilege and freedom carries with it a sense of impotence, which is a strange, but striking, phenomenon. We're thinking about it. The fact is we can do just about anything. There is no difficulty, wherever you are, in finding and joining groups that are working hard on things that concern you. But that's not the kind of answer that people want. The answer that they want, I think, in the back of their minds is, what can I do that will be quick and easy and bring about an end to these problems? Like Columbia University students whom I used to argue with back in 1968, who literally thought, Look, we're sitting in the president's office for a couple of weeks. After that it's all going to be peace and love. Or, I went to a demonstration, and it’s the same as it was before. Fifteen million people marched in the streets on February 15, and the war went on. It's hopeless.
That's not the way things work. If you want to make changes in the world, you're going to have to be there day after day doing the boring, straightforward work of getting a couple of people interested and building a slightly bigger organization and carrying out the next move and suffering frustration and finally getting somewhere. That's how the world changes. That's how you get rid of slavery, that's how you get women's rights, that's how you get the vote, that's how you get protection for working people on the job. Everything you can point to has been gotten that way, not by going to one demonstration, and it didn't work, so I'll go home, or tell me who I should vote for and then I'll go away. Elections are a perfectly good example. It's okay to get a better or maybe less worse candidate in, but that's the beginning, not the end. If you end there, you might as well not have voted. Unless you develop the ongoing, live democratic culture that is going to compel those candidates to do the things that you voted for, they're not going to do it. Pushing a button and then going home and watching the Super Bowl, that's not going to do it.
War Crimes & Imperial Fantasies: Part Two
I want to ask you about a painting that hangs in your office. It's rather gruesome. You've commented to me that mostly U.S. citizens don't seem to know who it is, but most foreigners that come to visit you and see it recognize it immediately.
It's not exactly accurate. Just about everyone from south of the Rio Grande knows what it is. Almost no one from north of the Rio Grande does. Among Europeans it's maybe 10%. I haven't tried Asians. Probably not. It's actually quite a propos. It's about the Reagan presidency, and starting slightly before. It's a picture of the angel of death standing over Archbishop Romero, who was assassinated in 1980. So that's on Carter's watch. He was assassinated a few days after he had written a letter to President Carter pleading with him not to send aid to the military junta in El Salvador, which will be used to crush people struggling for their elementary human rights. The aid went. He was assassinated. Then Reagan took over. The kindest thing you can say about Reagan is he may not have known what the policies of his administration were, but I'll pretend he did. The Reagan years was a period of devastation and disaster in El Salvador. Maybe 70,000 people were slaughtered. The decade began with the assassination of the archbishop. It ended, rather symbolically, with the brutal murder of six leading Latin American intellectuals, Jesuit priests, by an elite battalion, trained, armed, run by the U.S., which had a huge, bloody trail of murders and massacres behind it. The priests are also shown in the picture along with their housekeeper and daughter, who were also murdered by the same elite battalion, and in between of tens of thousands of the usual victims. That was El Salvador. And, as I say, people south of the border know what it is; people north of the border haven't a clue. Just imagine that something comparable had happened, say, in Czechoslovakia, that the decade of the 1980s had opened with the murder of an archbishop by forces closely tied to the Russians, an archbishop who was called a voice for the voiceless. Then his successor denounced the Russian government for supporting a war of extermination and genocide against a defenseless civilian population, which is what happened in El Salvador, then went on with a war of extermination and assassination, and the decade ended with the blowing out of the brains of Vaclav Havel and half a dozen of his associates, and meanwhile, 70,000 other Czechs. Would we know about it? Chances are we wouldn't, because it probably would have led to a nuclear war and there would be nobody around to know anything. But assuming we survived, yes, we would know about it. That's a striking difference.
And it illustrates something quite general. When enemies commit crimes, they're crimes. In fact, we're allowed to expand them, lie about them, make up stories about them and so on, but surely to get angry and infuriated about them. When we commit crimes, they didn't happen. And you see that very strikingly in the Reagan worship that has been created as a cult through the 1990s by a massive propaganda campaign. Take a look at what's happening now. No mention of this. Of course, in the Latin American press they mention it. In fact, the Salvadoran press condemned Reagan rather sharply. In Nicaragua, even the right wing, pro-Contra press, that was supported and funded by the U.S., condemned Reagan, which is pretty shocking. And, of course, throughout the continent, the same, because his regime was one of murder and brutality and violence, which probably left a couple hundred thousand people dead, hundreds of thousands of orphans, widows, devastated the countries.
But this can't be mentioned here, because it didn't happen. So, for example, there was one well-known specialist in international law, actually, one of the historians of the World Court, who did write a short letter - he sent me a copy of it – to The New York Times after their rapturous editorial in which he said they had omitted to point out that Reagan was the only world figure - who had rejected World Court orders. In this case, to terminate an international terrorist campaign against Nicaragua, which, of course, the U.S. disregarded. It also vetoed two Security Council resolutions affirming it and immediately went on to escalate the war, for the first time officially authorizing attacks on what the Southern Command called "soft targets," undefended civilian targets Historians, who regard themselves as neo-Reaganites, accurately pointing out that in per capita terms the death toll in Nicaragua would have been roughly 2 1/2 million in the U.S., higher than the total number of deaths in all American wars of the 20th century and the 19th century, including the Civil War. But it doesn't exist. Of course, the letter wasn't published, but there is also no reference to it, and it doesn't matter.
And it gets much worse than that. The person responsible for the war on the ground was the person who was called the proconsul of Honduras. Honduras was the base for the terrorist army attacking Nicaragua. The proconsul was John Negroponte. He had two tasks as proconsul. First, to lie to Congress about atrocities carried out by the Honduran security services so that the military aid could continue to flow to Honduras, not because Honduras is of any significance but because it was the base for attacking Nicaragua. And second, to supervise the training camps where the mercenary army was being trained, armed, and organized to carry out the atrocities, the terrorist war for which it was condemned by the World Court and the Security Council, absent the veto. He's now the proconsul of Iraq. In fact, The Wall Street Journal, to its credit, had an article headed "Modern Proconsul," pointing out that Negroponte is going to Iraq as a modern proconsul and that he learned his trade in Honduras in the early 1980s. They didn't go into it, but that's accurate. In Honduras, I might add, he was in charge of the biggest CIA station in the world. He's now in charge of the biggest embassy in the world. And all of this didn't happen and it doesn't matter, because we did it. And that's a sufficient reason for effacing it from history.
In between Negroponte's service in Honduras and his appointment as ambassador to Iraq, he was Colin Powell's deputy on the National Security Council, and later he was appointed by Bush II as ambassador to the U.N. What you're saying kind of reminds me of an Orwell quote from 1984. "Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth." We're sitting here on Friday, June 11, looking at the front page of The New York Times, It's full of the solemnity and pageantry of a state funeral honoring President Reagan, someone who proudly declared, "I am a Contra," and then went on to compare the Contras as "the moral equivalent of the founding fathers." In the front-page story "Legacy of Reagan Now Begins the Test of Time," R. W. Apple Jr. writes, "What will history, with its privileged vantage point far from the heat of partisan battles, conclude about him?"
The only addition one should make to the Orwell quote is that nothing had to be effaced because it was effaced instantly. It didn't happen. I won't go into that. But it was all blocked at once. In R. W. Apple's column, which is typical, you can't pick him out except that he happens to be there, the entire record of Reaganite atrocities is completely effaced. For example, you mentioned that Negroponte went on to become Colin Powell's deputy. What was Colin Powell doing, the official moderate, as national security adviser? Well, for one thing, let's take Africa, which he's supposed to be concerned with. During the Reagan years, there was a policy called constructive engagement. There was very strong opposition to apartheid. Congress even passed legislation banning aid and support for South Africa. The Reaganites had to find devious ways to get around the congressional legislation in order to in fact increase their trade with South Africa. And the reason was that South Africa was defending itself against what was identified during Powell's tenure, 1988, as one of the more notorious terrorist organizations in the world, namely Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. During those eight years, U.S.-backed South Africa, British backed as well, killed an estimated million and a half people just in the surrounding countries, Angola and Mozambique, putting aside what was going on in South Africa. That's in Reagan's years and with Powell being a high official, in fact, at the end, the national security adviser and Negroponte his associate. And we can go on to other areas of the world. This was a period of massacre, devastation, destruction, all of which is effaced, not a word.
Apple continues in his column talking about Reagan's "extraordinary political gifts" that "carried him through" his presidency and "his talents as a communicator, his intuitive understanding of the average American...." One of the things that happened during that period was the invasion of Grenada. I remember you were in Boulder on that day, October 25, 1983, and you began your talk by saying, "The latest U.S. intervention as of this morning is Grenada." Reagan called the island a "Soviet-Cuban beachhead."
Again, the kindest thing you can say about Reagan is that he probably didn't know what he was saying. He was handed his notes by speechwriters, including his jokes, incidentally. But, again, pretending that he knew, yes, the claim was this was a Soviet-Cuban beachhead because an air base was being built by a couple of dozen Cuban contractors, under British planning and authorization. And the claim was that the Russians, if they could somehow find Grenada on a map, were going to use it as an air base to attack the U.S. In a sense, Apple is right in saying that Reagan touched a chord in the population. For whatever reason, it's been a very frightened and terrified country for a long time; there is an undercurrent of fear. And Reagan exhibited it. He was an incredible coward. Somebody who could believe that an air base in Grenada could be used to attack the U.S. does not even reach the level of laughing stock. And it was the same with Nicaragua. Reagan declared a national emergency because the government of Nicaragua poses an unusual and extraordinary threat to the U.S. Again, that doesn't even begin to approach the laugh test. He then explained, after all, they are only "two days' driving time from Harlingen, Texas." Those hordes might come soon, waving their copies of Mein Kampf, as George Shultz, the secretary of state, put it. Reagan went on to say, Even though we're facing this immense danger from Nicaragua, I'm going to be brave. I remember Winston Churchill, who said, No matter how great the odds, we have to keep on struggling. So, like Churchill against Hitler, I'm going to defend this country against all odds against the massive Nicaraguan hordes who are about to overwhelm us. Anyone looking at this wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, you have to end up crying, because, of course, it was a way of destroying that country and very seriously harming this one. But the streak of extreme cowardice does run through.
After the invasion of Grenada, there was what The New York Times called recently a grand Reaganesque gesture; namely, Reagan stood up and said, We are "standing tall." 6,000 U.S. Special Forces won, I think, 8,000 medals for overcoming the resistance of a couple of dozen Cuban construction workers, meanwhile killing dozens of other American soldiers in the process. The press had to play a role, too. They had to suppress, and did suppress, the fact that Cuba had made offers instantly to negotiate the whole issue. The claim was the U.S. was protecting American students in a medical school. Cuba, said, Fine, take over the medical school. All of that had to be suppressed by the press. It was kind of leaked quietly after it was all over and it was too late. But, yes, that was the grand event. And, of course, the reason for it was not very obscure. Just a couple of days before, there had just been a bombing in Lebanon where 240 American marines were murdered. And they kind of had to cover this up with a grand gesture defending us from destruction by Grenada and then again standing tall. This was typical of what was going on through the Reagan years.
And the idea that he struck a chord among the American people is simply not true. He was not a popular president. In fact, the press sometimes now even has to concede. Take a look at the Gallup polls. His poll ratings through his years were roughly average, below every one of his successors, except this one. By 1992, a couple of years later, Reagan had become the most unpopular living ex-president apart from Nixon. Then came the immense propaganda campaign, which has been going on for about ten years, to try and turn him into a semi-divinity. And it's been played out quite successfully. And as you follow the propaganda campaign and you check the polls, you see that the reverence for the imperial leader has increased roughly as the propaganda campaign mounted. It's true, people are susceptible to imperial propaganda. This event today in Washington is intriguing. As the Times pointed out, it's following the script of a 300-page book, which spells out in precise detail what happens every minute of the imperial ceremony. There has been nothing like it in American history. People can go to some reference made to the Kennedy assassination. But that's totally different: that's the assassination of a living president. In comparison to this, there is absolutely nothing until you go back to the outlandish George Washington cult that was cultivated in the early 19th century, when Washington was turned into the perfect human being, the most amazing creature who ever walked the face of the earth like what you might find in North Korea about Kim Il Sung. But that was during a period when there was an effort being made to try to create a unified country out of separated colonies. In fact, remember, even the term "United States" was plural, not singular. Until the Civil War, approximately, it was the United States, the states that are united. And the effort to forge a nation did require what by early 19th century standards was major propaganda. And it turned Washington into a divine cult figure in a manner that was really embarrassing to read. But from then until the Reagan propaganda - now, of course, with a very sophisticated and huge public relations industry- there is just nothing comparable to it.
Someone who is described as the father of the public relations industry is Edward Bernays. He wrote in the opening lines of his 1928 book Propaganda, "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."
He was one of the early founders, gurus, of the public relations industry. Incidentally, we have to place him in the spectrum. He's way on the left, a Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy liberal, and an active and honored one. So he's not talking from the right-wing extreme. He's expressing the standard liberal view, that democracy is an extremely dangerous thing, we must prevent it. By Bernays’s period it was understood, both in Britain and the U.S., that people have won too much freedom for the state to repress them by violence, and therefore, both in Britain and the U.S., the two most democratic countries, there was a growth of the public relations industry, to try to control attitudes and beliefs, since you can't control people by force. And Bernays was a leading figure.
In fact, his first great achievement, that sort of made a star out of him, was a public relations campaign trying to get women to smoke. So he had models walking down Fifth Avenue smoking cigarettes and showing how it makes you beautiful and slim. I can't estimate how many tens of millions of people he managed to kill by that, but a substantial number. And that put him on the map.
His next famous achievement was Guatemala. He took over, at the request of the United Fruit Company, public relations activities to try to lay the basis for the U.S.-backed invasion, which destroyed an experiment in Guatemalan democracy and opened up 40 years of extreme terror and violence. And he's greatly praised for that. But, remember, all this is at the left, liberal extreme of the spectrum. His background was in Woodrow Wilson's Committee on Public Information, which is the first official state propaganda agency in the U.S. Its goal was to drive a relatively pacifist population into becoming hysterical anti-German fanatics. It succeeded. And that success impressed a lot of people. Bernays took that success and mentions it in the same book as the basis of his recognition that you can control and manipulate attitudes and in that way, undermine democracy, what he calls build democracy, but it means undermine it. The dean of American journalism, Walter Lippmann, came from the same committee, drew the same conclusions. The business world, of course, did. Adolph Hitler was much impressed by the committee and suggested, probably accurately, that the Germans lost the First World War because they could not match Anglo-American propaganda achievements, and he vowed that next time Germany would be ready. It had a big impact on future developments.
Your office here in a new building at MIT is opposite, actually, another new one that’s curiously, called the Center for Learning and Memory. One can only speculate as to what goes on there. But I'd like you to talk about memory and knowledge of history as a tool of resistance to propaganda.
It was well understood, long before Orwell, that memory must be repressed. Not only memory but consciousness of what's happening in front of you must be repressed, because if the public comes to understand what's being done in its name, it probably won't permit it. That's the main reason for propaganda. Otherwise there is no point in it. Why not just tell the truth? It's easier to tell the truth than to lie. You don't get caught. You don't have to put any effort into it. But power systems never tell the truth, if they can get away with it, because they simply don't trust the public. And this happens every minute. What we were talking about is an example; the appointment of Negroponte is a perfect example. And it just goes on and on.
On May 27, The New York Times published one of the most incredible sentences I've ever seen. They ran an article about the Nixon-Kissinger interchanges. Kissinger fought very hard through the courts to try to prevent it, but the courts permitted it. You read through it, and you see the following statement embedded in it. Nixon at one point informs Kissinger, his right-hand Eichmann, that he wanted a massive bombing campaign of Cambodia. He said, "I want them to hit everything." And Kissinger transmits the order to the Pentagon to carry out "A massive bombing campaign against Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves." That is the most explicit call for what we call genocide when other people do it that I've ever seen in the historical record.
Right at this moment there is a prosecution of Milosevic going on in the international tribunal, and the prosecutors are kind of hampered because they can't find direct orders, or a direct connection even, linking Milosevic to any atrocities on the ground. Suppose they found a statement like this. Suppose a document came out from Milosevic saying, "Reduce Kosovo to rubble. Anything that flies on anything that moves." They would be overjoyed. The trial would be over. He would be sent away for multiple life sentences — if it was a U.S. trial, immediately the electric chair. But they can't find any such document. In fact, nobody has even found a document like that connecting Hitler to the Holocaust. Scholars have been working on it for years. I can't remember an example of such a direct order to carry out what amounted to a huge massacre, way beyond the level of anything we call genocide when other people do it. Was there any reaction to the Nixon-Kissinger transcript? Did anybody notice it? Did anybody comment on it? Actually, I've brought it up in talks a number of times, and I've noticed that people don't understand it. They understand it the minute I say it, but not five minutes later, because it's just too unacceptable. We cannot be people who openly and publicly call for genocide and then carry it out. That can't be. So therefore, it didn't happen. And therefore, it doesn't even have to be wiped out of history, because it will never enter history, any more than the World Court hearing did. I suspect if you went to Harvard Law School and you asked students or, for that matter, faculty if they know about the World Court judgment, probably they wouldn't, even though the Nicaragua team was led by a distinguished Harvard law professor with long government service, who constructed an extremely narrow case because he just wanted to keep to uncontroversial facts so that the case would be won as it was. Incidentally, that is used by apologists of violence and atrocities to argue that the court didn't really condemn the whole range of U.S. international terrorist activities, just the specific case that was brought, which is sort of accurate until you read the court ruling, which was far broader than the small point that was brought. But try an experiment: Ask at Harvard Law School how many know about it. Presumably, none. Ask R. W. Apple if he knows about it. If you kind of stir his memory, he may recall that something like that happened. But this is not insignificant. After all, here is Ronald Reagan, the one world leader who rejected World Court orders not on an insignificant matter, but on an international terrorist campaign which practically destroyed a country. And recall that in 1981 - not 2001, but in 1981 - the U.S. declared that a war on terror was going to be a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. And it became a massive terrorist war. Gone. Gone. It didn't happen, can't talk about it, it doesn't exist.
In your essay "On War Crimes" from At War with Asia, that came out in 1970, you cited Bertrand Russell from the international war crimes tribunal on Vietnam. Russell says, "It is in the nature of imperialism that citizens of the imperial power are always among the last to know-or care-about circumstances in the colonies."
I disagree with him about care. I think they do care, and I think that's why they're the last to know. They're the last to know because of massive propaganda campaigns that keep them from knowing. Propaganda can be either explicit or silent. Silence is a kind of propaganda. So when you're silent about your own crimes, that's propaganda, too. And I think the reason for the propaganda, both kinds, is that people do care, and if they find out, they're not going to let it happen. In fact, we actually see that right in front of us. You won't read it in the headlines. But take, say, the recent events in Falluja in Iraq. There was a marine invasion of Falluja. They killed nobody knows how many people, hundreds, let's say, of people. We never investigate our own victims, so we don't know the numbers. The U.S. had to back off and they won't say it but effectively conceded defeat and turned the city over to what amounts to the former Saddam army pretty much. Why did that happen? Suppose that there had been a Falluja event in the 1960s. It would have been settled very simply with B52s, massive ground operations to wipe the place out. Why not this time? Because the public won't tolerate it now.
In the 1960s, executive power was so extreme, it could get away with anything. The public didn’t know, maybe even didn’t care, because it was just taken for granted that it’s our right to massacre and destroy at will. So there was virtually no protest against the Vietnam War for years, and operations like this went on constantly. Not anymore. Now the public won’t tolerate it. Therefore, that's one major reason why the U.S. cannot carry out the kinds of murderous operations that it was easily able to carry out. I think it's because the public does care. I spend a lot of time looking at declassified documents. You take a look at secret documents from the U.S. or, to the extent that I know, other countries. Are they protecting secrets? In a sense, yes. But who are they protecting them from? Mostly the domestic population. A very small proportion of them have anything to do with security, no matter how broadly you interpret it. They primarily have to do with ensuring that the major enemy, namely, the domestic population, does not find out what power systems are doing. And that's because people in power, whether it's business power or government power or doctrinal power, whatever, simply are afraid that people do care, and therefore you have to, as Bernays said, consciously manipulate their attitudes and beliefs - for their own good, of course, always for their own good.
U.S. dedication to democracy is a staple of discourse among elites and in the corporate media. Here and there are acknowledgments that there are occasional mistakes but the doctrine is one of constant good intentions. June 2004 marks the fiftieth anniversary of what you mentioned earlier, Operation Success in Guatemala, the U.S. coup overthrowing the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. Eisenhower, after the coup, said to the assembled CIA chiefs, "Thanks to all of you. You've averted a Soviet beachhead in our hemisphere." Again connecting beachheads in Grenada with beachheads in Guatemala. Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer wrote a book on the coup called Bitter Fruit. Schlesinger in a Nation article called it "one of the blackest episodes in the CIA's history...." Could you comment on that? It wasn't one of the blackest episodes in U.S. history; it was this rogue agency out of control.
That's a good book. It was written before a lot was known, but it's basically on target. However, this was not the CIA's history. It's the history of the White House. The CIA acted, as it constantly acts, as an agency of the White House to carry out actions where you can have what's called plausible deniability. Kissinger-style orders are rare. They're usually given quietly. Actually, this one, too, was given quietly, but it was exposed. The CIA is assigned the responsibility of carrying out the crimes and atrocities. And then if anything goes wrong, you can blame it on the CIA, sort of rogue elements out of control. But that's a joke. It's very hard to find a case where the CIA acted outside presidential authority. And this is a clear case. Eisenhower gave the orders. The beachhead story doesn't mention the fact that Eisenhower knew perfectly well that his administration had been trying very hard to force Guatemala to accept East European arms. Guatemala had a democratic government. In fact, it was a brief interlude. A Guatemalan poet called it years of spring in a history of tyranny, or something like that. There was a brief interlude of democracy, to which the U.S. was strongly opposed.
After the dictatorship was overthrown in 1944, Guatemala finally got an authentic democratic government, which had enormous popular support. Schlesinger and Kinzer didn't know at the time they wrote their book, but since then CIA and other documents have been released. That state that the great fear in the U.S. administration was the enormous popular support that the democratic government had because of its progressive social policies. It was mobilizing peasants for the first time to participate in the political system. And that was just considered an incredible crime, because a real democracy was developing, which might even influence others. So Dulles and Eisenhower, in secret discussions, were profoundly concerned. The main threat they could see in Guatemala was that it might be supporting strikes in nearby Honduras or it might be supporting Jose Figueres, the leading figure of Central American democracy, who was trying to overthrow a dictatorship in Costa Rica, and it might be that Guatemala was supporting it. So those were the threats. They threatened Guatemala very clearly with attack. Guatemala tried to get military aid from Europe. The U.S. blocked that. Finally, Guatemala made the tactical mistake of accepting military aid from the only country that would give it to it. It happened to be Czechoslovakia. And the U.S. triumphantly discovered that Czech arms were going to Guatemala to defend itself from an attack by the hemispheric superpower, and that was trumpeted as a threat to the U.S.. How can the U.S. survive if Guatemala gets a rifle from Czechoslovakia? And it was used as the pretext for the invasion, which of course was covered up. It wasn't called a U.S.-backed invasion, although that's in fact what it was.
Incidentally, although we have an enormous amount of information about Guatemala, it is nevertheless limited. Part of the reason is that the Reaganites, who were not conservatives, they were extreme statist reactionaries, believed in a powerful interventionist state, which intervened massively in the domestic economy and in international affairs. They also had to prevent the public from knowing what it was doing. So one of the achievements of the Reagan administration was to block the regular release of archival records. There are U.S. laws that require the State Department to declassify and release records after a 30-year period. There are some constraints, but basically to release them. The Reagan administration for the first time blocked that because they didn't want the public to know what had happened in Guatemala and Iran. So either they destroyed them or they hid them, but they didn't release them. That was considered so outrageous that the State Department historians, who are a pretty conservative bunch, resigned in protest and made a public protest about it. This is a kind of a fascist streak in the Reagan administration and demonstrates their enormous fear of the public. The public simply must not be allowed to know what happened 30 years ago at that time. That's more about the popularity among the public. They hated and feared the public. And rightly, because the public did get to know what had happened in Guatemala and Iran. And they were by no means the most extreme cases, I might say. People would learn something about the truth about what the state is up to and wouldn't accept it.
The coup in Iran occurred the year before, in 1953, Operation Ajax. The newspaper of record also had a role in the 1954 Guatemala coup. The New York Times was contacted by the Eisenhower administration and kept its correspondent, Sydney Gruson, away from the story. And the editors at 43rd Street went along with that.
The Times also applauded the Iran coup and was a cheerleader for the one in Guatemala. Thomas McCann, the public relations officer of the United Fruit Company actually wrote an interesting book (An American Company) about this, in which he describes the propaganda efforts led by Bernays to get the public and the press to support the coup. And then he says, Well, we're accused of manipulating the press, but it's not really fair because, he says, they were "so eager for the experience." You really can't blame us for just letting them do what they really wanted to do, namely, to support state violence, terror, overthrow democracy, and institute a vicious and brutal dictatorship. They wanted it, so we helped them. But that's not our fault. And he's basically accurate.
Earlier, you mentioned Bernays being a Cambridge liberal. He said that in Guatemala "liberals must play a decisive role." There is an interesting fellow who turns up in Guatemala right around that time. A young doctor from Argentina, Che Guevara, who is radicalized by his experience in Guatemala.
He was. And, in fact, that's a little bit like the painting on the wall. Maybe people in North America are prevented from knowing the facts, but people in Latin America know. And, yes, Guatemala had a big effect. It had an effect on Cuba. And the facts go all the way to Nicaragua. So let's go back to Reagan. The Reagan administration tried to duplicate what Kennedy had done in South Vietnam but also what Eisenhower had done in Guatemala. So they tried very hard to force the Nicaraguans to receive Soviet arms. They wanted to be able to portray it as a threat, this story about the national emergency. Nicaragua was under attack. You have to remember what was happening. The CIA, meaning the White House, had total control of Nicaraguan air space, and they were using that control to send communications to the terrorist army, which was an odd guerilla army. It had computers and helicopters. U.S. air cover was able to direct the mercenary forces away from the Nicaraguan army so they could attack undefended targets and not "duke it out" with the Sandinistas. As the head of the Southern Command put it, Just attack soft targets. Don't duke it out with the Sandinistas. And they were able to do that, thanks to U.S. control of the air. Of course, Nicaragua wanted to somehow defend its own air space. They tried to get planes from France and other European powers. The Reaganites put plenty of pressure on the Europeans not to send them arms, because they wanted them to get arms from the Russians. They wanted them to do what Guatemala had done so they could then portray them as an existential threat to the U.S.. Well, they didn't do it; they didn't fall into the trap. So therefore, the Reagan administration had to constantly invent tales about MiGs being detected in cartons on the waterfront. One of those concocted threats came at a very important moment.
In 1984, Nicaragua carried out a democratic election, the only real democratic election in its history, It was very intensely observed. The professional Latin American Society had a big delegation. It was there for weeks. A British parliamentary human rights group was there as well as a very hostile Dutch government group. They all recognized that it was, by Latin American standards, a free election. In the U.S., the election didn't happen. It cannot have happened, because the wrong people won. Therefore, it didn't happen. Incidentally, none of these reports appeared, including even those of the Latin American scholars, the professional association. But what the Reaganites did was conjure up a MiG scare, so any possibility that somebody might have by accident reported the unacceptable election was blocked by a MiG scare. Containers arrived containing MiGs. The reaction to that was quite interesting. The hawks, of course, exulted. For one thing, everyone exulted, because they could suppress the election. The hawks exulted because it proved the U.S. was in danger of destruction by Nicaragua. The doves were kind of cautious. They said, It may be just a ploy, and we don't really know that there actually were MiGs there. Of course, it was a lie. But they said, to quote Massachusetts liberal Paul Tsongas said, If there really are MiGs, we will have to bomb Nicaragua, because those planes might be used to attack us. In other words, if Nicaragua gets planes to defend its air space from a U.S. attack, which was going on, that's unacceptable. We have to bomb them because they might be used against us. That's the left in our sense, the extreme left. The idea that Nicaragua might have a right to defend itself was literally inexpressible. I once asked my friend, Ry Ryan, who has since died, who was an editor of The Boston Globe and one of the journalists who really did try hard to write about Nicaragua - that's probably why he was kicked out as editor - to check the Globe files - and this is the most liberal paper in the country - and see if he could find any place where anyone ever suggested that Nicaragua has a right to defend itself. He went through the files. He found one draft of an editorial, which I don't think was published, which mentioned that maybe Nicaragua has a right to defend itself. But you just can't find that expressed. No country has a right to defend itself against U.S. attack. If it does so, that's a crime. Eisenhower was able to manipulate the Guatemalans into trying to defend themselves, and that was the justification for destroying them.
Reagan had to invent the air base on Grenada as another existential threat that we could overcome, because then we could attack. Nicaragua is a much worse case. But even the idea that a country might have the right to defend itself against a U.S. attack is unacceptable. We see that going on right now in Guantanamo. So, for example, this morning they said that an Australian citizen being held at Guantanamo - there was a little bit of an international incident about this - will be charged with fighting with the Taliban. That's a war crime, they say. Whatever you think about the Taliban, what does it mean for the Taliban to be fighting? It means they're resisting the U.S. attack. The U.S. is invading Afghanistan, it's bombing them to smithereens in the mountains. And if somebody is found there who sort of survived the bombing, he's guilty of a war crime because he participated in the defense of a country against a U.S. invasion. Can you find a word anywhere suggesting there is something a little bit odd about this? I can't.
Just going back to Eisenhower, occasionally you see his farewell address quoted, where he said, "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence...by the military-industrial complex." Forty-plus years have passed since that warning by Eisenhower. The U.S. military has increased exponentially. It now has what Chalmers Johnson calls an empire of bases. What are your views on the military-industrial complex?
I think Eisenhower's warning was appropriate, but either he didn't understand or else commentators don't understand, but the military-industrial complex, as he called it, is actually the core of the modern economy. It's not military. The reason we have computers, the Internet, telecommunications, lasers, satellites, an aeronautical industry, tourism, run down the list, is because of a technique to ensure that the U.S. is not a free-enterprise economy. Some are more extreme than others in this respect.
So the Reaganites were extreme in opposition to free enterprise, exactly contrary to what's being said. They virtually doubled import restrictions, more than all American presidents combined in the postwar era. They poured government money into the economy in an effort to carry out the project that was then called reindustrializing America. You have to recall that in the early 1980s there was great fear that U.S. industry was being undermined by much more efficient Japanese production, and American corporate managers had completely failed to adopt the modern techniques, such as lean manufacturing, that the Japanese had perfected. And they were, in fact, undermining American industry. Well, you can't allow that. So the Reaganites poured government money into it to reindustrialize America. And that's the way the economy works. The core of it is the state sector. Right where we're sitting is a good example. What's MIT? When Eisenhower was making his speech, MIT was working hard, just like Harvard with government research funds to reduce computers from massive creatures that filled all of these office spaces to something small enough so you could sell it to a company as a mainframe. When they got to that point, right about the time of Eisenhower's speech, the head of one of the big projects pulled out and formed the first mainframe producer. Meanwhile, IBM was in there learning, on public funds, how to move from punch cards to computers. By the early 1960s, they were able to produce more advanced computers of their own, but not for the public. There is no consumer choice in this. They were doing it for the National Security Agency and other government agencies. In fact, it was years, it was literally decades, before private tyrannies, what's called free enterprise, were able to take the results of public funding and market them. When Alan Greenspan talks about it, it's the marvels of entrepreneurial initiative and consumer choice, which was approximately zero.
The same is true of the Internet. It was in the public system for 30 years. We're supposed to be excited about trade and how wonderful it is. Maybe it is or maybe it isn't, but trade is based on containers, which are developed at public cost in the U.S. Navy. Dave Noble did a very important piece of work on an important part of the economy, basically, computer-controlled machine tools, which is a way of deskilling machinists and placing more authority in the hands of managers. The technology didn't have to be used that way. It could have been used the opposite way, as he points out. But it was used that way, and it was developed within the military, where just about everything innovative is developed, under military cover. This has nothing to do with military industry. In fact, it's kind of interesting to look at the records of DARPA, the advanced research agency of the Pentagon. In, I think it was, 1971, in the context of a lot of antiwar pressure, Mike Mansfield introduced legislation called the Mansfield Amendment, which required that military funding by the Congress be used for military purposes. You take a look at the ARPA and DARPA reports before and after. They're interesting. I did it once. Before that, they simply reported what they were doing, namely, creating the economy of the future. After that, the reports are divided sort of into two parts. The first part talks about possible military applications, which mostly are imaginary, and the second part is like the old reports: Here's what we're doing. It's the economy of the future.
It's going on this minute. MIT has projects right now on efforts to try to control the motions of animals by computers, and maybe even to pick up neurosignals from human brains and translate them into commands to control what other organisms do. This is presented - and maybe people believe it - as the great new frontier in fighting wars. You will be able to get a commander to tell a pilot, just by thinking, "Anything that flies on anything that moves," or something like that. That's pretty unlikely. But the point is, it is contributing directly to what may be the next advanced stage of technology and profits. If you walk around MIT today, around Kendall Square, you see small biotech companies, spin-offs of government-sponsored research in what will be the cutting edge of the economy, namely, biology-based industries. If you went around 40 years ago, you would have seen small electronics firms, spin-offs of what was then the cutting edge of the economy, electronics, under military cover. So Eisenhower's military-industrial complex is not what he described. In part, yes, it's military. But a main function of the military, or the National Institutes of Health or the rest of the federal system, is to provide some device to socialize costs, get the public to pay the costs, the public to take the risks. Ultimately, if anything comes out, you put it into private pockets. And, again, this has to be done in a way that protects state power and private power from the domestic enemy. You have to say it's to defend ourselves against Grenada or Russia or Guatemala or somebody. If you get people frightened enough, they won't notice that their taxes are going into creating the profits of IBM and Merck 20 years from now. Why not tell them the truth? Because then they might not make these decisions. You might argue that these were good decisions, like it's nice to have computers. But that's not really the point. The point is, Who should make those decisions? Suppose you would ask people in the 1950s. Suppose there was some pretense among the educated classes or the power system, some belief that we ought to have something like a democracy. So then you would ask people, you would try to get an informed public to decide, Do you want computers 25 years from now, or do you want health services now and schools today and jobs today and a livable environment for your children? What's your choice? I can make my guesses. But the point is that anybody with power was afraid of that choice. They're deathly afraid of democracy, and therefore you can't make the choice, and you must manipulate attitudes in the way Bernays described. You must pretend that we're under threat of attack by Guatemala if they get a MiG in order to frighten the public into accepting what's actually happening. That's the real military-industrial complex.
Returning again to Ronald Reagan, I'm looking at a book by Eqbal Ahmad called Terrorism: Theirs & Ours. The cover shows the great communicator sitting in the White House with Afghan mujahideen. This is not a photograph that is being widely circulated in any of the major media. The Reagan administration was instrumental in supporting the mujahideen, elements of which later morphed into the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
They went beyond supporting them. They organized them. They collected radical Islamists from around the world, the most violent, crazed elements they could find, and tried to forge them into a military force in Afghanistan. You could argue that would have been legitimate if it had been for the purpose of defending Afghanistan. But it wasn't. In fact, it probably prolonged the war in Afghanistan. It looks from the Russian archives as though they were ready to pull out in the early 1980s, and this prolonged the war. But that wasn't the point. The point was to harm the Russians, not to defend the Afghans. So, in fact, the mujahideen were carrying out terrorist activities right inside Russia, based in Afghanistan. Incidentally, those terrorist activities stopped after the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan, because what they were trying to do is just what they say, in their terminology, protect Muslim lands from the infidels. When the infidels pulled out, they stopped carrying out terrorist attacks in Russia from Afghanistan. They're now carrying them out from Chechnya, where Russia is carrying out a murderous, devastating repression with U.S. support. And, yes, Islamists were brought to Afghanistan. They were armed, trained, directed by Pakistani intelligence mainly, but under CIA supervision and control, with the support of Britain and other powers, incidentally, for the purpose of trying to harm the Russians as much as possible at that time. And, yes, they morphed into what became al-Qaeda.
Actually, al-Qaeda, if you look back, was barely mentioned in U.S. intelligence reports until 1998. Clinton put it on the map. Clinton's bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 effectively created al-Qaeda, both as a known entity in the intelligence world and also in the Muslim world. It was an enormous boost. In fact, it put bin Laden on the map. Before that, he was regarded as a kind of minor financier of some kind. But that created him as a major symbol, it led to a very sharp increase in recruitment, financing for al-Qaeda-style networks, and it also tightened relations between bin Laden and the Taliban, which had been quite hostile before but they became close after the bombing. The bombing of Sudan in particular infuriated people throughout the Arab world. It's another one of those things that didn't happen because we did it. They knew perfectly well it was the major producer of pharmaceutical and veterinary supplies for a poor African country. They may have believed it was producing chemical weapons or maybe not - that's what people talk - but it doesn't matter. They knew they were bombing a core part of the pharmaceutical industry. Of course, that's going to have devastating effects. It was known instantly. We don't know how much, because, again, we don't investigate or care about the results of our crimes, which didn't exist. But the few credible estimates that are available from the German ambassador - actually in a paper published in the ultra-left Harvard International Review, and another in the Boston Globe by a researcher there - both estimate several tens of thousands of deaths, which is plausible, maybe more, maybe less. Here, that's not an issue. You can read in The New Yorker a distinguished literary critic saying, Why does anybody care about this? One person died." No, not one person. One person may have died in the missile attack, but probably tens of thousands died as a result. If al-Qaeda blew up half the pharmaceutical supplies in some country that mattered, like, say, the U.S. or England or Israel, we wouldn't say, Oh, well, a minor thing. But when we did it, it didn't happen, and the consequences didn't occur. And if anybody even dares to mention them, it just leads to hopeless tantrums, because you're not allowed even to mention the fact that the U.S. can just thoughtlessly - they didn't even plan to - carry out major crimes. But it did put al-Qaeda on the map.
Osama bin Laden himself was not anti-American until about 1991, for several reasons. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia refused to allow him to carry out a jihad against Saddam Hussein. He wanted to lead an attack against Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. The Saudis and the U.S. didn't want him to. He was irritated at that. But the main reason for what he says and what Western experts believe is the same as in Afghanistan. The infidels were occupying Muslim land, namely, Saudi Arabia. He was talking about U.S. bases there. And, of course, Saudi Arabia is vastly more important in their theology than Afghanistan. That's the site of the two holy cities. Paul Wolfowitz finally agreed that this is correct when they decided to pull out the American bases from Saudi Arabia. He said, Well, we have to remove this element that's supporting al-Qaeda propaganda. It's more than propaganda; it's probably belief. So, yes, it then became anti-American, as it had been anti-Russian. Incidentally, those terrorist attacks in Russia were no joke. They almost led to a Pakistan-Russia confrontation. And those are two nuclear powers. Another achievement of Ronald Reagan was to pretend that the Pakistanis were not developing nuclear weapons. Of course, they were. The U.S. was strongly supporting the vicious Zia ul Haq dictatorship in Pakistan. Among other things, it was developing nuclear weapons. And in order to keep supporting it and maintain their support for the jihadis in Afghanistan, they had to pretend they didn't know anything about it - which, was, of course, a lie. They knew everything about it. Also, Zia ul Haq was turning Pakistan into a kind of Taliban-style country. He was undermining the educational system, which was reasonably advanced by allowing Taliban-style types to take over a good part of it. The Reagan administration looked the other way. They didn't care. As long as they were supporting U.S. goals, fine. Their legacy? We don't have to wait for history to tell us what it was. You go wherever you like, South Asia, Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East. It's atrocious.
I interviewed Eqbal Ahmad in August, 1998, a couple of weeks after the Clinton cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan, which were, according to the U.S., in response to the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and in Kenya. And he said, "Osama bin Laden is a sign of things to come." I asked him to explain. And he responded," The U.S. has sowed in the Middle East and in South Asia very poisonous seeds. These seeds are growing now. Some have ripened and others are ripening. An examination of why they were sown, what has grown, and how they should be reaped is needed. Missiles won't solve the problem."
That's a very perceptive statement. And, in fact, by now there is quite good analytic literature on how they developed. The best book on that is by a British investigator, Jason Burke, called Al-Qaeda. And he simply confirms what Eqbal predicted. He reviews a whole series of acts in the development of al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is not an organization; it's a loose network of very loosely affiliated, mostly independent organizations that have a kind of a similar ideology. He calls it a network of networks. And as Eqbal predicted, it became a major symbol and bin Laden himself became a major symbol as a result of these bombings. Before, it hadn't been.
Take a look at Richard Clarke's book. He says the same thing about U.S. intelligence. Until 1988, there was no special attention to al-Qaeda or bin Laden. They were kind of marginal factors. In fact, they didn't even use the word al-Qaeda. But, yes, Eqbal is correct. What Burke points out is that every single U.S. act of violence has been a very welcome gift to bin Laden. He says, Every use of violence is a small victory for bin Laden. It helps him mobilize the constituency that will, he hopes, join him in seeing the West as crusaders who are trying to destroy the Muslim world, saying, they must defend themselves. The attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan, the invasion of Afghanistan again led to a big increase in recruitment and financing. The war in Iraq had exactly the same effect. Just this morning the State Department conceded that, as they politely put it, they were mistaken, in other words, lying outright, in their report a couple of months ago claiming that terror had been reduced thanks to Bush. In fact, it had sharply increased, they now concede quietly, which had been known before. And one of the increases was the war in Iraq. Furthermore, it was predicted in advance that that was going to happen. It wasn't any surprise. Intelligence agencies and analysts were predicting, If you invade Iraq, you're going to increase terrorism, for pretty obvious reasons.
There is a kind of an odd charade going on now in the intellectual world and in Washington based on the so-called revelations of Clarke and O'Neill and others that the neocons in the administration ranked invading Iraq higher than the war on terror. The only thing surprising about these revelations is that anybody is surprised. How can you be surprised? They invaded Iraq, after all, knowing that it was very likely to increase the threat of terror. End of story. That demonstrates what their priorities are. Furthermore, they're perfectly reasonable priorities. They don't care that much about terror. What they care a lot about - I'll go back to Chalmers Johnson - is having military bases in a dependent client state right at the heart of the oil-producing region. That's important. Not because the U.S. wants the oil - it's going to get it one way or the another on the market - but it wants to control the oil. A totally different matter. Those things are constantly obscured. Control of the oil, it has been known since the 1940s, is a major lever of world control against your enemies. And U.S. enemies are Europe and Asia. Those are the regions of the world that could move towards independence. One of the ways to prevent that is to keep your hand on the spigot. It was understood long ago.
Paul O'Neill being the Bush secretary of the treasury. The book about him by Ron Suskind is The Price of Loyalty. Richard Clarke, the top Bush counterterrorism official, is the author of Against All Enemies. One of the things that comes up in talks around the country during questions and answers is a great deal of concern about where the country is heading. The Patriot Act has given cause for people to be worried about a huge increase in government surveillance and intrusion on their private lives and undermining of civil liberties. Fascism is a term that is often attached to this, and it's used rather loosely. Orwell wrote that it is understood to be "something not desirable." Mussolini, who knew a bit about the topic, said, "Fascism should be more properly called corporatism, since it's the merger of state and corporate power." For most Americans it's usually associated with despotic regimes in the 1930s and 1940s in Japan, Italy, and Germany. It's not something that can happen here, is the kind of hope, at least. And Huey Long, the self-styled populist governor of Louisiana, once warned, "If fascism ever comes to America, it will come wrapped in an American flag."
In fact, the Roosevelt administration was described as part of the general fascist growth throughout that period by pretty serious commentators, and not without reason. Taking fascism in Mussolini's sense, it was a mode of -- by now it's just used as a curse word. You hate something, you say it's fascist. It doesn't mean anything. So people have tantrums about Islamic fascism, whatever that's supposed to mean. It's just kind of like a four-letter word, so it's lost its meaning. But it had a meaning. The meaning was some integration of state and corporate power with controls over the population to ensure that they didn't interfere with state corporate management. And the New Deal was described, not without reason, as part of this general development, wrapped in an American flag, adapted to local conditions. This was more or less pointed out by some of the most important political economists in the country, who wrote very well about it. It's worth remembering that Roosevelt himself didn't see anything wrong with fascism. He described Mussolini as "that admirable Italian gentleman." As late as 1939, Roosevelt was informing his staff that fascism in Italy was an important experiment worth carrying out. It was distorted by the connection to Hitler, but apart from that it was fine. The State Department, certainly as late as 1937, was supporting Hitler. Hitler was a moderate who was standing between the forces of left and right. And, crucially, Hitler was crushing the labor movement. That's very important. As the State Department put it, he's blocking the masses - internal documents always read like vulgar Marxist literature - and the disillusioned middle classes who might join to do all sorts of terrible things. And Hitler was preventing that.
As late as 1941, the U.S. consul in Berlin, whose name was George Kennan, was sending back favorable reports about Nazi Germany to Washington, saying, Don't believe all these things about how terrible they are. After the Munich agreement, which essentially gave Hitler Czechoslovakia, Sumner Welles, who was Roosevelt's most trusted adviser, wrote about how this opens the way to a new era of peace and justice in which Germany will join with us in creating all sorts of wonderful things. Fascism at that point was not considered a bad thing. The love of Mussolini was extraordinary. It went across the spectrum, including the American labor movement, who admired the corporatism. The business world was ecstatic. There was a wonderful issue of Fortune magazine - I think it was around 1934 - which had a front cover with a headline something like "the wops are unwopping themselves," meaning finally those stupid Italian idiots are getting their act together under Mussolini, crushing labor unions, destroying parliament, getting the trains to run on time. In fact, U.S. investment shot up in Italy after the fascist takeover. The same thing happened in Germany. After Hitler took over investment shot up. The British even more so. Now people talk about appeasement as if it was a bad thing. It was regarded then as a progressive thing. It wasn't hidden. Britain needed an alliance with Germany, and German industry, as part of maintaining their own domestic conservative social order against the threat of the rising masses and also in maintaining the empire. You could like it or not, but it wasn't an irrational position.
Furthermore, it just picked up again right after the war. The first U.S. landing in Europe was in Italy. We just commemorated the liberation of Rome. It wasn't that simple. The first thing they did when they liberated Rome was put in an Italian leader, namely, Field Marshal Badoglio, a fascist war hero, who was responsible for the invasion of Ethiopia. He was put in by the American troops as the new ruler of Italy. They brought back the king, who was a fascist supporter. They reinstalled a lot of the traditional fascist order. This is under the Democrats here and the Labor Party in England. The American and British troops moved up north which had been to a large extent liberated by the Resistance. They had driven out the Nazis, and they had established an independent Italian society up in the north, which was left, labor, and peasant based, cooperatives, labor-run industries. The U.S. and the British were utterly appalled. That can't happen. It's interfering with the rights of private ownership. So they destroyed it and reinstated something like the traditional fascist order. And it continues. Until the 1970s, which is when the record runs dry, Italy was the major target of CIA subversion, meaning White House subversion, aimed at trying to prevent Italian democracy. In fact, they were supporting fascist militarist groups, which came close to a military coup in Italy. The same in Greece. The U.S. openly supported the straight fascist government in Greece, which was finally overthrown in 1974. What happened from that point on, we don't really have a record, so we don't know. But that is what was going on until then. Yes, liberation sounds nice, and we have parades and so on, but there is another streak to it. This other streak was restoring the policies that were under way in the 1930s and that did not regard fascism as much of a danger, they regarded it as a potential ally, until they infringed on our interests.
It's the same in Asia. The U.S. did not seriously object to Japan's huge atrocities. There was one point of contention. It went right up to a few days before Pearl Harbor in the negotiations. Will the Japanese respect U.S. commercial and trade interests in China? If they will, then fine. Go ahead, carry out the Nanking massacre, anything you want to do. The crucial thing is, Will you respect our interests in China? Actually, by our standards today, the Japanese were entirely justified in bombing Pearl Harbor and Hawaii. It's really a case of, by our standards, a completely justifiable preemptive attack. The Japanese were reading the American press. It was widely publicized in the 1930s that the U.S. was planning to exterminate the Japanese by bombing raids on their wooden cities, which would incinerate them, and the bombers would take off from Hawaii and Manila. They would be flying fortresses, B17s, which were just then rolling off the Boeing assembly lines. Compare that with the threat from Iraq. I didn't even know this; I just learned about it from a great book by Bruce Franklin called War Stars, which is really very important.
Every four years Americans, those who vote, are faced with what is often called the lesser of two evils as their presidential options. Dave Dellinger, who passed away in May, used to call it "the evil of two lessers." You say that there is "a fraction" of difference between George Bush and John Kerry. And this raised some eyebrows. I heard, "It sounds like Chomsky is coming out for Kerry." Could you expand on your position.
There are differences. They have different constituencies. There are different groups of people around them. On international affairs I wouldn't expect any major policy changes. It would probably be more like back to the Clinton years, when you have sort of the same policies, but more modulated, not so brazen and aggressive, less violent. And I would expect a kind of return to that.
On domestic issues there could be a fairly significant difference - it's not huge - but difference in its outcomes. The group around Bush are real fanatics. They're quite open. They're not hiding it; you can't accuse them of that. They want to destroy the whole array of progressive achievements of the past century. They've already more or less gotten rid of progressive income tax. They're trying to destroy the limited medical care system. The new pharmaceutical bill is a step towards that. They're going after Social Security. They probably will go after schools. They do not want a small government, any more than Reagan did. They want a huge government, and massively intrusive. They hate free markets. But they want it to work for the rich. The Kerry people will do something not fantastically different, but less so. They have a different constituency to appeal to, and they are much more likely to protect some limited form of benefits for the general population.
There are other differences. The popular constituency of the Bush people, a large part of it, is the extremist fundamentalist religious sector in the country, which is huge. There is nothing like it in any other industrial country. And they have to keep throwing them red meat to keep them in line. While they're shafting them in their economic and social policies, you've got to make them think you're doing something for them. And throwing red meat to that constituency is very dangerous for the world, because it means violence and aggression, but also for the country, because it means harming civil liberties in a serious way. The Kerry people don't really have that constituency. They would like to have it, but they're never going to appeal to it much. They have to appeal somehow to working people, women, minorities, and others, and that makes a difference. These may not look like huge differences, but they translate into quite big effects for the lives of people. Anyone who says "I don't care if Bush gets elected" is basically telling poor and working people in the country, "I don't care if your lives are destroyed. I don't care whether you are going to have a little money to help your disabled mother. I just don't care, because from my elevated point of view I don't see much difference between them." That's a way of saying, "Pay no attention to me, because I don't care about you." Apart from its being wrong, it's a recipe for disaster if you're hoping to ever develop a popular movement and a political alternative.
On my way here, I stopped at the Someday Cafe in Davis Square for some coffee. I noticed graffiti in the bathroom. It said, "I love Noam Chomsky!"
You're really in business when your name is on bathroom walls. (laughs)
There are a lot of people who really appreciate what you're doing. I hope that sustains you in some way.
Yes, sure it does.
Thanks for your time.
Good to talk to you.(Due to time constraints some portions of these interviews were not included in the broadcasts. They are included in this transcript.)