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Team of philosophers showing how to safely approach Noam Chomsky.
(Source: [broken link] www.tahsn.ca)
Recently, Mister X9, his wife and one of his buddies asked me to read the book 11/9; Autopsy of terrorisms, by Noam Chomsky. Here are a few of my impressions after reading it.
First, some warnings:
- I've only read one book by Chomsky in my life;
- This book doesn't appear to be his masterpiece (in other words, maybe I should have started with another one of his books);
- I'm a little bit competent in some subjects (like Philosophy, or the C++ programming language), but not in geopolitics;
- We must not catalog people, but Chomsky seems rather of the "anti-American lefty" type, and I'm a rather right-wing American, so it's not love on first sight for us.
- I only had the French version of his book, so all his quotes here are re-translated back into English by me.
Noam Chomsky and I agree on many items. Let's list at least:
2.1) Only truth can set us free. The lies of politicians, transmitted by the Media's leniency and swallowed up by the citizen's intellectual apathy, will never solve mankind's problems. "But it's crucial not to let ourselves be intimidated by the hysterical discourses and the lies, and to always try to come as close as possible to honesty and truth" (p. 146)
2.2) We must not assume our attacker is totally wrong, and that we're totally right. Often in a conflict, both sides have things to regret. If we want to build peace, we mustn't be afraid of doing our examination of conscience. "[Should the justice-seeking militants reduce, or increase their criticism, after the Sept. 11 attacks?] Everything depends on the objective of those militants. If they want to increase violence and the risk of seeing atrocities like those of Sept. 11 repeated [...] then yes, they should tone down their analyses and critiques, refuse to think and avoid dealing with all the serious problems they worried about. [...] If, on the other hand, these militants want [...] to increase the hopes for freedom, respect for human rights and democracy, then they should go in the opposite direction. They should push forward their study of the historical factors hidden behind such crimes, and dedicate themselves with even more energy to the just causes they already defend." (p. 143)
2.3) Terrorism must be well defined. It's ridiculous to define terrorism only as "the terrorism targeting us and our friends". (p. 91) "If we have the claim to be serious, then we must use the same rules for ourselves, always [when we are looking for those responsible for terrorist acts]" (p. 56) We must condemn "all terrorist actions, and not only those called "terrorist" for propaganda purposes". (p. 112)
2.4) George W. Bush Junior is not a choirboy. "Based on what we know, the American government will now try to use the situation in order to drive their agenda as much as possible: militarization, among others antimissile defence, weakening of social-democrat programs; diversion of concerns about the disastrous effects of globalization, or about environmental problems, or health insurance, etc.; implementation of measures to transfer even more wealth to a minimum of persons [...]; subordination of society in order to eliminate public debate and controversy." (p. 39). I myself have stated that I certainly didn't agree with everything done by George W. Bush Junior.
2.5) The history of the USA is not an uninterrupted stream of holiness. I'll examine this item in the following section.
One of Noam Chomsky's main theses in this book seems to be that American policies have largely caused the September 11 attacks in 2001, because the USA are "leaders of the terrorist States" (p. 14), that "the number of their victims is colossal" (p. 12), and that now, with these attacks, the guns are pointed in the other direction" (p. 24).
To support his thesis, Chomsky accuses the USA of a long list of crimes:
3.1) American Indians. "America has anihilated native populations (millions of people)" (p. 12).
3.2) Central America. "Also in the 1980's, Americans waged a war in Central America, which left behind about two hundred thousand tortured and mutilated bodies [...] The main target of the American attack was the Catholic Church, which had committed the mortal sin of "taking the side of the poor"." (p. 96)
3.3) Palestinians. The USA supports "the atrocities committed against Palestinians". (p. 71) Israel rejoices because it can "crush the Palestinians with impunity". (p. 23)
3.4) Afghans. The USA attracted "Russians into the "Afghan trap" in 1979" (p. 46). Today, the USA supports massacres of Afghan civilians by the Northern Alliance, and encourage starvation by blocking humanitarian aid.
3.5) Sudan. The USA bombarded the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant, therefore they killed hundreds of thousands of people who died for lack of medication. But this attack then prevented peace in Sudan, in Uganda and in the whole Nile Basin (p. 61). Moreover, Sudan wanted to give a database on Bin Laden and two hundred Al-Quaida leaders, but the USA refused it, and therefore were not able to prevent the September 11 attacks (p. 64).
3.6) South Africa. South Africa would have killed at least 1.5 million persons, thanks to support from the USA.
3.7) Indonesia. "An army supported by the USA took over Indonesia in 1965, provoked the massacre of hundreds of millions of people [...] provoking demonstrations of unbridled euphoria in the West" (p. 80).
3.8) Muslim terrorists throughout the world. Radical Islamic forces are "armed, organized and trained" by the USA (p. 73) "Hatred is exactly what is expressed by the radical Islamists mobilized by the CIA and its associates". (p. 97)
While one reads this book by Chomsky, it's hard to avoid the impression that Chomsky considers the USA as being "The Great Satan". Chomsky doesn't use such an expression, but I observe the unending stream of evermore mind-boggling accusations, the absence of a defence attorney, and the all-knowing prosecution attorney.
Are the USA really guilty of all the crimes attributed to them by Noam Chomsky? I don't currently have a brief, complete and perfect answer. I only have snippets:
4.1) Why not? Why couldn't the US government be responsible for all these crimes? If we do a quick calculation of all the supposed victims according to Chomsky, we still arrive at a far lower number than the 42 million since Roe vs. Wade, January 22, 1973. A government able to abort 42 million of its own citizens is quite capable of killing a few million foreigners. Moreover, being myself an American, I observe I'm able to commit sins just like anybody else. Unfortunately, I don't have an "Anti-Sin American Gene". When I feel like overeating, or getting up late, or vegging out on the Internet instead of doing what I'm supposed to do, there's no use sticking my US passport on my forehead: that doesn't chase away temptations.
4.2) The ultimate cause: the USA, or Original Sin? To cure a disease, we first have to correctly diagnose the cause, otherwise we run the risk of trying to cure the patient by moving him from a wooden bed to a solid gold bed. To cure geopolitics, we first have to correctly observe that the ultimate cause of its disease is "Human nature", or more strictly speaking, fallen human nature after Original Sin. When we listen to Chomsky, we have the impression that if the USA (and Israel too, of course!) could be wiped of the face of the earth, mankind would return to earthly paradise. Except even if we managed to eliminate the USA, human stupidity wouldn't be cured. People lied, stole and killed long before the USA appeared, and will continue to lie, steal and kill long after.
(Of course, Original Sin doesn't exonerate American politicians, soldiers and businessmen who commit crimes! A bomb intentionally dropped on civilians will kill them all, with or without Original Sin! And the responsibility for this crime will still fall on the pilot who pushed the button, on the general who sent this pilot, on the politician who designated this general, and on the voters who elected this politician!)
4.3) Why isn't there a Communist or Muslim Chomsky? Chomsky became rich and famous by constantly accusing the USA of the worst crimes imaginable. But we have to ask the question: Why isn't there the equivalent of a Noam Chomsky in Communist or Islamic countries? Is it because the USA are the Great Satan (and that therefore evil doesn't exist elsewhere)? Or is it because in the countries influenced by Communism and Islam, strident government critics are quickly and silently eliminated? Why are there Chomskies in Israel, but not in countries surrounding Israel, like Egypt, Syria, Iran, etc.? Why are there Chomskies in the USA and countries dominated by the USA, but that there weren't any in the USSR and in the countries dominated by the USSR?
Unfortunately, history will never be an experimental science. If a scientist claims that 2 moles of hydrogen combined to one mole of oxygen gives one mole of water, we can repeat this chemical reaction in our own laboratory, before our very eyes. But if a geopolitician claims the US government had an official policy of attacking groups of farmers and medical clinics in Nicaragua (p. 102), we can't go into our laboratory, put an extract of USA in a test tube, along with crystals of Nicaraguan farms and clinics, and observe the results. How can we determine historical truth?
I don't know about the geopolitical method, but it certainly has components of History and Sociology, which I know more about. Based on this knowledge, it appears to me that Chomsky commits several infractions to the methodological rules of geopolitics.
5.1) Audiatur et altera pars. When placed in front of a controversial historical event, a serious scientist will try to present the various positions with their arguments and their sources, before presenting what he considers as being the most probable position (here again, with supporting sources). Chomsky doesn't systematically make that effort.
5.2) Forces present on the world map. In geopolitics, there are "players" on the world map, whether they are countries, of alliances of countries, etc. To understand what is going on, we have to list all the important players, and correctly describe their characteristics. As said here above, Chomsky basically evacuates Communism and Islam. So anything the USA does becomes a pure aggression.
5.3) Selective reliability of the Media. Chomsky regularly quotes American newspapers like the New-York Times, which he considers the "greatest newspaper in the world" (p. 117). Except these newspapers are, according to him, a source of propaganda when they say things in favor of the USA, but then he treats the smallest tidbit of newsprint as pure truth, when this newsprint tidbid attacks the USA!
5.4) Bombastic assertions. Describing a little chemical reaction like 2H + O = H2O isn't easy. Describing a whole human person is even more difficult. And describing a huge group of human persons is even more difficult than that! But Chomsky manages to describe two huge groups of human persons, with an absolute certainty of results, and without even defining his terms! "Above all, no individual, insofar as he is endowed with a minimum of rationality, will define Arabs as fundamentalists. [... but] The USA, in fact, is one of the most extreme and fundamentalist cultures in the world" (p. 24). And by the way, Chomsky asserts that he "doesn't like to generalize"! (p. 66)
5.5) Paucity of references. After a big assertion, Chomsky often follows up with statements like: "There are many works on this subject, which give detailed information based on unimpeachable sources" (p. 38), or again: "it is of public notoriety [... it's] obvious, clearly expressed for people who want to hear" (p. 101). For my part, in the books I admire, the authors skip the rhetoric and just follow up their assertions with footnotes, where they give detailed sources.
5.6) Quantity, not quality. Chomsky has written a phenomenal number of works. I counted at least five dozen on Wikipedia, excluding what he wrote in linguistics. If his book 11/9; Autopsy of terrorisms is a representative sample, then the quantity doesn't surprise me. This book is only a transcription of a few interviews done with journalists. The editor himself cuts out some of Chomsky's material, when he repeats himself.
This poor quality is even more striking when you consider the severity and number of accusations formulated by Chomsky. It's a basic rule of justice that the more the accusations are serious, the less these accusations can be written up in a slovenly way.
Noam Chomsky rightly denounces many sins committed by the USA, and for this he must be thanked and encouraged. On the other hand, because of the bluntness of his approach, he is more like a virus than a cure. Readers who are not properly protected with rubber gloves and surgical masks will probably catch a dangerous virus. This virus causes a tendency to become blindly anti-American, and also to neglect the threats of Communism, Islam, and fallen human nature in general. Moreover, and more importantly, this virus causes or reinforces habits of sloppy thinking and unjust accusations.
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