sludge | 04.12.2004 10:13 | London
*AMY GOODMAN: * So how did you end up here at M.I.T.?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * How did I end up here? It was the only place could get
a job. I had no -- I had been for four years at Harvard Society of
Fellows, but I was working in topics that no one had ever heard of and
didn't exist, and I couldn't get anything published. I had no particular
interest -- no expectation of going on to a professional academic
career. The only job offer I had was to teach at Brandeis 12 hours a
week, introductory Hebrew courses. Not particularly appealing, but then
this kind of came along. The lab was open-minded. If something looked
like it might be interesting, they were willing to take a chance on it.
A lot of it didn't pan out. A lot of it turned out very interesting. We
just started here, and actually, my wife, Carol, had been working here a
couple years earlier on speech analysis.
*AMY GOODMAN: * So what were these topics that no one had ever heard of?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Well, what became modern linguistics, and a good part
of cognitive science. Those days were -- the ruling doctrines were
really dogmas, were behaviorism, various forms of behaviorism, slavery
and other -- and in linguistics, anthropology, other fields, it was
structuralist approaches, which were very data-oriented, organization of
data, and the few of us who didn't believe any of this, a couple of
graduate students at Harvard, we thought you should study language and
other cognitive capacities as basically biological organs, sort of like
the visual system or the immune system. The components of the human
organism which grow and develop ordinary ways, data and evidence, of
course, have an effect, but they have an effect on how tall you are and
that sort of thing, but the primary course of growth and development was
-- we expected was, I think by now it's agreed, was genetically
determined like everything else about the organism, and in the case of
humans, they're very special capacities. Nobody knows exactly where they
came from, but they seem to have evolved fairly suddenly, maybe pretty
recently, 50-60,000 years ago, which is nothing in evolutionary time,
and a very small breeding group of which we are all descendants, and
later on for better or for worse, what has changed the world
fantastically, human activities.
*AMY GOODMAN: * So as you watch your children grow up, your
grandchildren, are they -- are you watching how they acquire language?
Did you learn from them?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Well, actually, my wife, Carol, worked on language
acquisition. She was even doing it carefully, but yeah, we did it as
parents, because we were interested in specific aspects of the language
acquisition and growth. So, yes, we paid attention to it. By now, it's a
rich, developed experimental field with plenty of work, and we didn't --
if it's your children growing up it's fun to watch. Nothing happened
that was particularly surprising, although the growth and development of
a child's conception of the world and cognitive capacities are pretty
miraculous to observe.
*AMY GOODMAN: * How did your linguistic studies, your field, what you
were developing, this shattering of an old paradigm. Can you relate it
to what you have done in politics and political analysis?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Absolutely no relation. I was deeply involved in
political work long before I ever heard of linguistics. Just grew up
with it, and continued with it, and it just continued alongside of
intellectual interests, which went in this direction. But there's no
*AMY GOODMAN: * What got you interested as a kid?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * In political work?
*AMY GOODMAN: * Yes.
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * It was in the 1930s, so some of my earliest childhood
memories are people coming to the door selling rags or riding in a
trolley car with my mother and seeing women strikers being beaten up by
security forces outside a textile plant. A lot of my family was -- the
New York branch of my family was mostly working class: seamstresses,
shopboys. An uncle that was a newsstand owner, and newsstand -- I guess
he didn't own it, he was allowed to run it because he had a severe
disability, and under W.P.A. programs was given an opportunity. Most of
them never had a higher education or any education, but a very -- most
were unemployed in those years -- a very lively, active environment,
radical politics alongside of lots of other things.
*AMY GOODMAN: * Was this newsstand on 72nd Street?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Yeah, which I'm told it's still there. I don't know.
*AMY GOODMAN: * So you would hang out there?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * I would hang out there. It became a kind of a hangout
for a lot of emigres, particularly -- it was the 1930s, so people coming
to New York, and my uncle was very widely mind -- He collected around
him a lot of quite interesting people. You know, a lot of psychiatrists,
radicals, others. It was fun selling newspapers and listening to the
discussions. Actually for a long time, I thought that it was a funny
word in English called "newsamura." I knew that when people came out of
the subway, they would say "newsamura," and I would quickly pick up two
things and hand it to them. I noticed that they were the racing forms.
Later I learned what it is.
*AMY GOODMAN: * It is...?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * /News Mirror/. Which I guess were the tabloids in those
days. But to me it sounded like "newsamura."
*AMY GOODMAN: * Your first writing, how old were you? Were you five,
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * The first one I remember was ten. I can date it very
easily. I was editing the elementary school newspaper. Big excitement.
*AMY GOODMAN: * Do you remember the title on it?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * I don't remember the title, but I remember the topic.
It was right after the fall of Barcelona, so it was in maybe March 1939.
It was about the growth -- the spread of fascism through Europe. I
remember the first sentence.
*AMY GOODMAN: * What was the first sentence?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * I think it was something like, "Austria falls,
Czechoslovakia falls, now Barcelona falls; what's going to come next?" I
mean, at that time it felt as if this black cloud of fascism was really
spreading over the world. And it was very ominous.
*AMY GOODMAN: * Did you talk about it with your family? Were your
parents politically active?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * My parents were -- they were political liberals, like
Roosevelt New Deal liberal, and -- but they were living in a kind of a
different world, which I was also living in, an essentially a first
generation immigrant Jewish community very much involved in what
amounted to a Jewish ghetto. There was a kind of a battle going on
between the Yiddish side and the Hebrew side, and they were on the
Hebrew side. My father ran a Hebrew school system in the city and my
mother taught. We grew up in a Hebrew environment, immersed in Hebrew
culture, literature, and so on, tied to the pre-state Jewish settlement
in Israel, in what is now Israel, then Palestine. I very quickly in the
early, I guess, early 1940s was drawn into parts of what were -- I was
very active in what was then -- in the Zionist youth movement, sort of
youth leader, that sort of a thing, but in a wing of it that would now
be called anti-Zionist, then it was Zionist. This was the wing opposed
to a Jewish state. In fact, it was socialist radical, favored
Arab-Jewish class cooperation in a socialist Palestine.
*AMY GOODMAN: * You lived in Philadelphia?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Lived in Philadelphia.
*AMY GOODMAN: * And what did you want to see, especially after the war,
with the Jews looking for someplace to go?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Well, that's what I was -- same thing. I kept involved
in that. These were small groups, but they existed. I mean, there was
one fairly large group that a youth -- Hashomer Hatza'ir, which was like
about half of the kibbutz movement and had offshoots in the United
States. People being on Hachshara farms, preparation farms where they
were being prepared to go to kibbutzim in Israel, and they were
officially bi-nationalist, opposed to a state until 1948, when the
issues became moot. I could never join them, though, because they were
split into a Stalinist wing and a Trotskyist wing, and from the time
that I began to think for myself at 12 or 13, I was very anti-Leninist.
I was part of the -- to the left of Lenin, what the Bolsheviks called
ultra-leftist, anarchist, left Marxist critics of Bolshevism. So I could
never actually join the groups, but I was close to them in many
attitudes and beliefs.
*AMY GOODMAN: * Did your parents speak English at home?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Yes. Yeah. Their native language was Yiddish, but they
would never speak it. I mean that was just taboo, so we never heard a
word. But my father came over when he was about 17, so he spoke with an
accent. My mother had been here almost from birth, so she spoke ordinary
New York English.
*AMY GOODMAN: * They came from...?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * My father came from a town in the Ukraine, which was
wiped out by the Nazis. My mother came from what's now Belarus.
*AMY GOODMAN: * What effect did the Holocaust have on you? How old were
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Well, I was born in 1928, so I was an early teenager.
It's kind of surprising, but in the American Jewish community, even the
deeply Jewish committed parts of it, I mean, we were virtually an
immigrant ghetto. I mean, it was not really grasped for quite a while.
And in the Yishuv, which now Israel in the Jewish community in
Palestine, awareness of it was quite delayed, and even in a sense,
suppressed. I mean, by the late -- by the mid-1940s, you had to know,
1943, 1944, but the war itself was such an overwhelming obsession, you
know, that it really wasn't very clear until pretty far along how the
world was going to turn out. I mean, I later learned even in high level
circles, so for example, the Council on Foreign Relations and the State
Department had planning studies going on from 1939 to 1945, planning for
the post-war world. The plans were really interesting. They spell out in
close detail what later happened, which is not surprising. It's pretty
much the same people, but they assumed, they took for granted that the
United States would emerge from the war as a -- for the first time a
major global power, dominant global power, hadn't been before. And that
Britain would be sort of marginalized. The basic plan was that the U.S.
would take over what they called a "grand area" that would include the
entire Western Hemisphere, to which the U.S. had laid claim but it could
never do much about it, except in the neighboring region. So they take
over the whole Western Hemisphere, the Far East and the former British
Empire at a minimum. That was the region that was held to be necessary
for satisfying the needs of U.S. corporations, the U.S. economy, U.S.
control, strategic resources, and so on, and what they called security.
But they also assumed that there would be a German world. This was the
non-German world. At a minimum, the Western Hemisphere, the Far East and
the former British Empire, maximum everything, but they assumed it would
be a German world in Eurasia, which would be the other force in the
world. And that, well, until about 1943 or so, that was a prevailing
conception. By 1942, it was pretty clear the Japanese would be defeated,
so the U.S. would take over the Far East and would keep everyone else
out. So the Allies, Britain, France, weren't even allowed into the
postwar discussions about the peace treaty for Japan and how to organize
the Far East and so on. But Eurasia was not so clear. It really wasn't
until the huge tank battles in mid-1944 where the Russians smashed up
most of what remained of the major German armies. It wasn't clear until
about then that the Germans were going to be defeated. That's about the
time that the U.S. and Britain landed in Normandy, really the tail end
of the European battle. And just, you know, from a child's point of
view, it certainly was not obvious. I mean, of course, I didn't know any
of this stuff at the time. You just see what was happening, and the
Holocaust was definitely in the background, you could see a terrible
horror story was going on, but the real dimensions didn't sink in.
*AMY GOODMAN: * When did it sink in?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Well, by the end of the war, it was -- there was just
no question anymore. By the time the -- and in fact, towards the end of
the war, it was pretty clear, and by the end, there was never any
question. And after all, people were still dying in DP camps for a
couple of years after the war was over. Another story, which I didn't
know much about at the time, and it's pretty ugly.
*AMY GOODMAN: * Noam Chomsky, speaking in his M.I.T. offices in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, just before the 2004 election. This is
Democracy Now! Back with Professor Chomsky in a minute.
*AMY GOODMAN: * This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War
and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation
with Professor Noam Chomsky in his offices at M.I.T. We had this
conversation just before the 2004 election.
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * The obvious question about the remnants of the
Holocaust is why aren't they here? I mean, if you were -- survived
extermination camp in Poland or Germany in 1945, where would you want to
go? Well, first of all, probably half the population of Europe would
have come here if they had a chance, and I don't think there's very much
doubt that the survivors of this hideous experience, if they had had a
chance would have come to the one country in the world, one of the few
countries in the world that not only escaped the war but was enriched by
virtue of the war. The U.S. ended the war with an industrial production
roughly tripled, owning half the world's wealth, the only major country
that was untouched by war. Everyone else was seriously harmed or
devastated. This was paradise, so where would you have gone? Well, very
few came here, and I think it's not because they didn't want to. Two
forces kept them out. One is the United States didn't want them, and the
American Jewish community didn't want them. So there were immigration
proposals, legislation in the late 1940s, but the only part of the
Jewish community that lobbied for them were the anti-Zionist groups, the
American Council for Judaism. The general community didn't want them.
*AMY GOODMAN: * Because?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Well, several reasons. For one thing, anti-Semitism was
not -- you know, it wasn't like Germany, but it wasn't a joke, either. I
mean, anti-Semitism was a serious phenomenon. I can remember very well
from childhood when my father got old enough to and finally got enough
money to buy a second-hand car in the late 1930s. If we would drive up
to the nearby mountains for a weekend, he would have to check for motels
to see if they said "restricted," because "restricted" meant "no Jews."
I happened to live in a neighborhood of Philadelphia which was, to a
large extent, German and Irish American, very anti-Semitic, quite
pro-Nazi, in fact, up until Pearl Harbor. And there were kids and boys
on the streets, you know, you run into what you can expect. Never talked
to my parents about it. They never knew. In fact, my brother and I,
until about the day of their death, never told them. It wasn't -- like
your life wasn't in danger; it's not like urban society today. But it
wasn't a lot of fun. The particular paths you would take, you might get
beaten up, this sort of a thing. It was right below the surface. For a
lot of the American Jewish community it was true. Even when I got to
Harvard, which was around 1950, the anti-Semitism was so thick you could
practically cut it with a knife. Harvard was sort of distinguished,
quiet, people don't make anti-Semitic remarks in your face, but there's
no Jewish -- virtually no Jewish faculty, tiny smattering. There were
sort of -- it was kind of clubbish atmosphere; Jews just weren't in it.
There probably were not many Jewish students. Actually, one of the
reasons that M.I.T. became a great university is that lots of very
distinguished scientists who couldn't get jobs at Harvard came over here
to the engineering school down the street, which didn't have the class
attitudes, and so on. People like Norbert Wiener, for example, and quite
a few others came to the engineering school down the street because
Harvard wouldn't accept them. So the point is there was a general --
there was an undertone of anti-Semitism, which was -- and bringing over
these very skeletons from over there, just wasn't appealing. The other
factor was there was a lot of pressure to compel them to go to what was
then Palestine, later Israel. Turns out the -- we sort of half-knew
this, being inside the Zionist youth movement, but nothing like what has
since come out in the archival record. The Zionist movement in the
Yishuv, the Jewish community, essentially took over the camps and ran
them and controlled the food and resources and others. It wanted --
there was a fixed -- an official policy of getting able-bodied people,
men and women, I think it was ages 17 to 35, and getting them sent off
to Palestine, essentially to be cannon fodder. The others -- the
children, the older people -- they didn't care much about. But they
really did make efforts not to have them sent to Britain or France, to
the limited extent that they would accept them. They preferred for them
to be a kind of psychological weapon against the British, in favor of
immigration to Palestine, which was the only place that really might
welcome them, was trying in every way to get them to come. The first
study of this just came out a couple of years ago in Hebrew. A friend of
mine, Yosef Grodzinsky -- actually an English version of it has just
appeared, and Common Courage Press is publishing it. I don't know what
the English title is [ed. /In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Struggle
Between Jews and Zionists at the End of World War II/], the Hebrew title
[ed. /Chomer Enoshi Tov/] translates as "Good Human Material," meaning
the good human material we want to get over to Palestine. And, you know,
if there had been an objective investigation, which there wasn't, I
think it's hard to believe that that would have been the first choice of
many people, probably most people coming out of the concentration camps,
if they had had other choices, but they didn't.
*AMY GOODMAN: * After World War II, I mean, you talked about watching
from a young age, believing fascism was going to take over. Austria
fell, you said, Spain. Do you think a lesson learned was that fascism
must be fought?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Well, I thought in the 1930s -- by the time I was sort
of conscious politically, say late-1930s, my feeling was the U.S. should
get into the war. In fact, there wasn't any war at that time. It should
be involved in stopping the spread of fascism.
*AMY GOODMAN: * And fascism meant to you...?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Italy; Germany; Japan was -- already it was clear they
were carrying out horrible massacres.
*AMY GOODMAN: *And the term means?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Well, by now it's just used as a term for abuse, but in
the sense in the 1930s, it was used as a descriptive term for a
particular form of social organization which involved a powerful state
linked to corporate systems, organized society in corporate structures,
state -- overwhelming rule by state power, but with private enterprise
given tremendous advantages and freedom. The working class crushed, the
parliamentary systems crushed. Sometimes the use of violence to control
the population, sometimes not. In fact, the New Deal was called fascist
in those days by many people without, you know, without any particular
program. It was just one of the versions of this form of social and
economic organization that was spreading over the world with some
hideous parts like Hitler and some parts like Italy, which were actually
approved. Mussolini was quite popular in the United States over a broad
spectrum, including labor. Roosevelt called him "that admirable Italian
gentleman." As late as 1939, he was saying that fascism in Italy was an
experiment that was worthwhile and had to be carried out, and distorted
later by its association with Hitler, but -- in fact, the U.S. business
community loved it. Investment in Italy just shot up after Mussolini
took over, same after Hitler took over. In fact, if you look back at the
records, which are now available, there was really never -- what's now
called appeasement is a very misleading term. I mean, it was supported.
Hitler was described by the State Department into the late 1930s, 1937,
as kind of a moderate standing between extremes of left and right Ð
youÕve heard this many times since -- who was protecting the West
against the terrible threat of the working class and the Bolsheviks, and
a possible revolution which might overturn the core of civilization,
meaning capitalist civilization. So, appeasement is very strange. I
mean, after Munich in 1938, Roosevelt's closest associate, Sumner Wells,
reported back that itÕs a tremendous achievement. This is what destroyed
Czechoslovakia, turned it over to Hitler. Great achievement. Now we have
a chance for real peace in the world under the moderate Nazis who have
programs that we can work with. It gets worse as -- this is from memory,
it might be slightly wrong, but George Cannon, who was one of the
leading post-war planners and very much on the humanist liberal side, he
was American Consul in Berlin, I think until mid-1941, I think sending
back pretty favorable reports that you shouldn't be too extreme in
condemning the Nazis, and Italians, certainly not. I mean, in the early
1930s, I remember /Fortune/ magazine, a main business magazine, had an
issue with the cover saying something like "The wops are unwopping
themselves." These backward dirty Italians are finally learning how to
do something right. This was -- it was not -- I mean, I thought that --
I didn't know most of this, but I knew enough to see that there was no
serious opposition to fascism, and it was, for me and people like me, it
was a scandal.
*AMY GOODMAN: * The businesses that were benefiting, that remained
investing in Hitler's companies, I mean, the, you know, IBM and now the
discussion of George Bush's father, Prescott Bush.
*NOAM CHOMSKY: *The oil companies, GM, Ford. Yeah. I mean, they really
didn't see a lot wrong with it. It was giving them enormous advantages,
great investment opportunities, crushing the labor movement. They didn't
care if the parliamentary system didn't function significantly, and
through various mechanisms, it's now known they sustained contacts even
during the war. The thing with Japanese imperialism, Japan, practically
up until Pearl Harbor, the U.S. position in negotiations with the
Japanese, the official position was that the U.S. would be willing to
accept Japan's actions in Asia, which were utterly monstrous, if U.S.
business opportunities were protected, if the U.S. wasn't cut out of the
China market, say, was allowed to participate freely, just after the
Rape of Nanking, terrible atrocities all over. And you know, actually,
if you look at what the Japanese were doing, the way Americans look at
themselves today, there wasn't much to complain about. I mean, in fact,
even Pearl Harbor, by the standards that the U.S. now accepts, the
bombing of Pearl Harbor was a pretty acceptable action. It falls very
strictly within official U.S. doctrine. And it's even less contentious
than the invasion of Iraq, much less contentious. Look, in the 1930s,
the U.S. press openly -- it was nothing particularly secret, and the
Japanese were certainly reading it, the general popular press and
literature was talking about how we have to exterminate the Japanese by
massive bombing of their cities, which are made out of wood, so you can
have huge firestorms which will exterminate the whole terrible race of
yellow devils, and all we need is long distance bombers to do it. It was
discussed, and at that time they were coming out of the Boeing assembly
line, B-17s, flying fortresses were beginning to roll out of the
assembly lines in the late 1930s. They were supposed to go to military
bases in Pearl Harbor and Manila, from which they would be able to wipe
out Japan. That's a pretty serious threat, you know, far worse than any
threat the U.S. has ever faced, and under those conditions, to bomb two
military targets, which is what happened, military bases in Pearl Harbor
and Manila, there were some civilian casualties but overwhelmingly
military, by U.S. standards, we ought to be celebrating every December 7.
*AMY GOODMAN: *It is your birthday.
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * It happens to be my birthday, which is Pearl Harbor
Day, just to make it a little more ominous. Also my Bar Mitzvah day.
*AMY GOODMAN: *So, after World War II, four years after, the -- three
year after, the state of Israel was established.
*NOAM CHOMSKY: *Three.
*AMY GOODMAN: *What was your reaction at the time?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: *Well, I thought it was a tragedy. I thought it was a
terrible mistake. Having a Jewish state is a very bad mistake, and the
older people who were in the groups that I was sort of the younger part
of did treat it as a tragedy. I mean, it was kind of mixed, because
there was also joy and happiness that the Palestinian issue, Jewish
community would get some kind of, it was hoped, stability. But
fundamentally I thought it was an error.
*AMY GOODMAN: *Because?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: *Because a Jewish state is -- there shouldn't be a state
that privilege one sector of the population. For the same reason I'm
opposed to Pakistan being an Islamic state, or if the United States
turned into a Christian state in which non-Christians were second-class
citizens, deprived of all sorts of rights. It was more than symbolic.
Yeah, I'm opposed to that, too. Since I happened to be very deeply, even
emotionally involved in this one, the mistake cut deeper, you know, but
I have to say, it was mixed, because there was also a feeling of joy
that something had happened, especially with a place where Holocaust
victims could be assimilated. There was almost nowhere else where they
*AMY GOODMAN: * Noam Chomsky, sitting in his new offices at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We'll come back to this
conversation just after our break here on Democracy Now!,
*AMY GOODMAN: * This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. The War
and Peace Report. As we return to our conversation with Noam
Chomsky in his offices at M.I.T. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
*AMY GOODMAN: * And what was your understanding of what happened to the
Palestinians there at the time?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Well, I didn't know then what we know now, but it was
pretty clear there was no doubt that it was a pretty violent expulsion.
I mean, now even the major Israeli historians like, say, Benny Morris --
he's the main historian of this -- simply calls it, the phrase he uses
is translated as ethnic cleansing, but the literal meaning is ethnic
purification. That's part of the Zionist ideal. It's purification of the
land, redemption of the land, purification of the land. And to do that,
you have to get rid of this alien entity. In fact, Benny Morris, who has
done more than anyone else at recording the horrible details, praises
it. He says it didn't go far enough. That's the only way a Jewish state
could have been established. At that point, at that time, most of those
details were not known, although I must say I saw some of it, enough to
have a sense right at the time, and later when I was living -- I was
living in Israel a little bit later for a while.
*AMY GOODMAN: * When?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * 1953. In a kibbutz, a Hashomer Hatza'ir kibbutz, a very
left wing kibbutz. It was near Haifa, but everything is near a border,
so not that far from the borders. But I remember going out on guard duty
with older friends some evenings, and some of them refused to take guns.
We would talk, you know, ask them, why aren't you taking guns. They were
not then called terrorists. In fact, the word, Hebrew word for terrorist
had not been made up yet. They were called the infiltrators, but they
had to drive them out. I remember asking some of these guys, "Why don't
you take guns?" And they said, "Look, these are the people that used to
live here. From their point of view, we're harvesting their land. So I'm
not going to shoot them. I mean, I don't want them here. Terrorists.
They gotta go away, but..."
*AMY GOODMAN: * Did you understand they were Arab?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Oh, yeah. Everyone knew they were. They were the
Palestinians who lived there. I mean, once I was working in a field
with, again, an older man from the kibbutz, and we were carrying
irrigation pipes around or something like that, and I noticed a pile of
rocks on a hill, and I asked him what that was. He sort of changed the
subject and wouldn't talk about it, but later he took me aside a couple
of days later and said, "Look, that was an Arab village. It was a
friendly village, but when the fighting came close, we felt we couldn't
accept their being there, so we drove them out and destroyed the
village." This is a kibbutz way at the left, dovish, bi-nationalist end.
Actually they were Buberites, mostly came from Germany.
*AMY GOODMAN: *Martin Buber.
*NOAM CHOMSKY: *Yeah, but who was technically, at least, favored a
bi-nationalist state. But they were at the extreme and didn't like it,
but it had happened.
*AMY GOODMAN: * So --
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * It was no secret that it had happened.
*AMY GOODMAN: * When you were 25 or so, you lived in Israel in a kibbutz?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * About 25.
*AMY GOODMAN: * For how long?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Couple of months. About a month.
*AMY GOODMAN: * Why did you go there?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Well, we went -- my wife and I went, because we thought
we might stay. Actually, she went back for a longer period, and we
thought -- planned to stay. We might -- we assumed we would both might
want to stay. But if I hadn't gotten the job at M.I.T., I might well
have gone. Life is full of accidents. Actually, I don't know how long I
would have lasted. I mean, I like the life very much, but you know, even
in a place like that, the racism was very visible. And also at that
time, this was the early 1950s, it was extremely pro-Stalinist and
rigid, you know, ideologically rigid. If you remember what was happening
in those years, in 1953 was the last outburst of Stalinist horror and
atrocities, a big anti-Semitic drive in Russia called the Doctor's Plot,
which had extreme anti-Semitic -- I can't even call them overtones -- it
/was/ anti-Semitic. One of the centerpieces of the whole alleged
conspiracy was a representative of the Israeli kibbutz movement, a guy
named Mordechai Oren, who was an emissary in Czechoslovakia. He was
picked up, and they claimed he was a spy, and he was working for the
Americans, and this, that and the other thing. That was one of the
centerpieces of the trials. Now these people knew him. The kibbutz was a
close-knit, fairly intimate community. They knew he wasn't a spy, but
they supported it. I mean, when we talked about it and argued about it,
I would get answers like, "Well, you know, he did stupid things." And so
on. That was pretty hard to take, along with the just ideological
rigidity. Everyone read the same newspaper, thought pretty much the same
thoughts. So, although I had mixed feelings, I very much liked the
environment and the interactions and the -- so on, but there were a lot
of aspects to it that were hard to accept.
*AMY GOODMAN: * So then you came back here, you went to M.I.T., you were
watching that situation, and then Vietnam starts to brew.
*NOAM CHOMSKY: *Well, the late 1950s were a pretty quiescent period. In
fact, those were the days when there was a lot of crowing about the end
of history, the end of ideology. Everything is solved. All we need is a
few technocrats to tinker a little bit around the edges, but we know how
to run society perfectly. A little bit like what you heard around here
in the early 1990s. There was very little activism, so there really
wasn't much to do except sign petitions against nuclear weapons and
things like that. And then by around 1960, things were changing. First
the Civil Rights movement. Then Cuba, then by 1962, the Vietnam War was
on in full force. There was no protest. I mean, protest was virtually
zero. It's very different from today. But it took years before protests
developed. And I mean, I would give talks, and I remember giving talks
at like, say, a church with four people -- the minister, the organizer,
some drunk who walked in off the streets, and some guy who wanted to
kill me -- and these were pretty mild talks. The first time we tried,
there was -- in the October 1965, enough protest had developed so there
was an international day of protest, first international day of protest.
And Boston, liberal city, we had a march, and -- to the Boston Common,
which is the standard place for public talks, and I was supposed to be
one of the speakers, in fact, and I couldn't get a word out. The only
reason we weren't killed was there were a couple hundred state cops
around. Most of these people were students marching over from
universities. The liberal press bitterly condemned the terrible actions
of these people criticizing the United States. What we were -- what
people were saying was embarrassingly mild. I mean, we were embarrassed.
We were criticizing mostly the bombing of North Vietnam, because that
was at least an issue that somebody would listen to. But that was a side
show. I mean, the worst attack was against South Vietnam. In fact, until
the end of the war, only, you know, people who were real activists knew
that. Scholars knew it, the C.I.A. knew it, but it was not part of
popular conscience. Actually, you can see it today. Today it's very
clear. There's a lot of talk now about how the Vietnam obsession, which
is coming up in the election -- actually, I saw something on CNN or
somewhere where I was in a hotel once where Howard Kurtz -- I think he's
the media commentator at the /Post/ or something -- had a panel of
what's called "across the spectrum," and it was called "America's
Vietnam Obsession," and it was about the Vietnam obsession in the
campaign, you know, swift boat, that kind of stuff. Actually, Vietnam
doesn't arise in the campaign. I mean, I haven't seen anybody ask, "What
was John Kerry doing deep in the Delta in 1969?" You know, seven years
after Kennedy had started bombing it, it had been demolished. It was
subjected to chemical warfare. Right at the period of the peak of U.S.
atrocities after seven years of war, what was he doing there deep in the
south? You know, no North Vietnamese within hundreds of miles, if
somebody believes they don't have a right to be in Vietnam. Has anybody
ever -- has that come up? That's not even a question. The most people
will talk about is My Lai, which was like a footnote. I mean, I was
asked when My Lai was exposed by the /New York Review/, which I was then
writing for, to write an article about it, and I said I would do it only
if I mentioned it marginally, which I did. I mentioned it marginally.
Then I talked about the main atrocities going on. My Lai was part of --
at that time it was part of one of the big mass murder operations,
post-Tet classification campaigns, they were called, and which were just
horrendous. Ed Herman and I went through a lot of them in a book we
wrote. We used notes that were given to me by Kevin Buckley, who was
head of the /Newsweek/ office in Saigon, who did a very detailed
investigation of one of these campaigns of which My Lai was part, and
/Newsweek/ wouldn't publish it, so he gave me the notes, and we
published it. My Lai was literally a footnote. The reason it became --
you can talk about it, is you can blame it on people who are not like
us. You can blame My Lai on half-educated, poor G.I.s out in a field not
knowing who is going to shoot at them next. Then not knowing where they
are, and so on. Yeah, okay, they can commit a massacre, so we can talk
about how awful they are; what we can't talk about is the guy sitting in
the air-conditioned offices who were plotting B-52 raids on villages and
sending them out to carry these massacres, because those are nice folks
like us. So that part is not discussed. This is pretty typical.
Actually, Abu Ghraib is not so different. It was horrible, but look who
they're going after: people who are part of what amounts to a mercenary
army that is disadvantaged. Yeah, they were sent out there. They were
brainwashed into thinking they're getting revenge for 9/11 or something,
and they did some pretty horrible things. But the people who are
organizing and carrying out the atrocities, they're immune. I mean,
there are principles here. There was a Nuremburg Tribunal, which
established very explicitly that the supreme crime is aggression, and
that crime includes all of the evil that is contained in it as a
consequence, no matter who it's done by. That was what the Nazis were
hung -- were sentenced for, and many of them hanged at Nuremburg with a
very clear statement, yeah, this covers everybody. There couldn't be a
clearer example of aggression than this, and yes, it contains all of the
evil that follows.
*AMY GOODMAN: * John Kerry has said when he left Yale and went to
Vietnam, he already had serious questions about it, but felt that if the
U.S. was going to fight there, that he should do it. Have you heard the
speech he gave in 1971, the --
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Yes.
*AMY GOODMAN: * The speech about atrocities? And what do you think about
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * He was quite right. I was working pretty closely with
Vietnam veterans at the time, and he was in the group. I didn't happen
to know him, and he wasn't by any means the most active or involved, but
they all knew it. The investigations that went on at the time, the
winter soldier and other war crimes investigations, quite a number of
which I attended, gave detailed information, almost all of which has
been independently verified, of major atrocities, and they weren't
discussing the worst ones. The worst ones are things like the mass
bombing, saturation bombing of the Mekong Delta, which were public, like
it wasn't secret. You didn't have to expose it. It just didn't matter.
This is saturation bombing of a densely populated area where the U.S.
had simply lost control, because the population was all with the
resistance. Very few -- North Vietnamese troops, whatever you think
about North Vietnam's right to be there after we bomb North Vietnam --
it's their country after all -- but putting that aside, North Vietnamese
troops were around the periphery of the country. In fact, there were
more South Korean and Thai mercenaries up until about 1968 than there
were North Vietnamese, and they were not at the periphery of the
country. They were carrying out massacres right in the center of
country. That's putting aside the half million American troops and the
bombing and chemical warfare. The chemical warfare was going on from
1961 until 1969 when it was finally called off. There are plenty of
people still dying from the effects of chemical warfare, probably
hundreds of thousands of victims. We don't count them. We kill them. Who
*AMY GOODMAN: *Like agent orange.
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * Yes, which is a lethal chemical, contains -- they were
using very heavy concentrations of chemicals, including dioxin, which is
one of the worse carcinogens known. There's a lot of talk, correctly,
about the American soldiers who were affected, plenty of them, but what
about the Vietnamese who were getting soaked by this? I mean, there are
pretty careful studies now, some by American, U.S. public health
specialists, some by a Canadian investigating organization, which has
done very detailed work, and it's found, as you would expect, that the
dosages were hundreds of times as high as anything that's marginally
tolerated here right around, say, airbases.
*AMY GOODMAN: * Do you think part of what's going on now, aside from
trying to rework boundaries and borders is rewriting maps, is rewriting
history -- the hostility toward what John Kerry was saying at that time,
though he doesn't stand up for what he said in 1971, is to obliterate
any reference to what the U.S. did?
*NOAM CHOMSKY: * I wish I could say that, but since there was no writing
of history in the first place, you cannot really rewrite it. I mean,
among the educated sectors of the population, the liberal media and so
on and so forth, and in fact a good part of scholarship, most of this is
just unrecognized. In fact, it's rather striking. By 1969, about 70% of
the American population was saying that the war is -- the words were
"fundamentally wrong" and "immoral," not a "mistake." And those figures
are pretty stable up to the present. They are amazing figures, because
almost nobody who says that has ever heard it. You don't read it
anywhere. What you read way at the critical side is the war was a
mistake. We went in with benign intentions to do good, and we didn't
understand the Vietnamese culture, and we didn't think it through, and
it ended up being a disaster, which cost us too much, and there's some
atrocities like those carried out by those horrible uneducated G.I.s at
My Lai, but it was basically benign intentions gone awry. This you hear
from the left. Anthony Lewis, John King Fairbank, others. So there's
very little history to rewrite.
*AMY GOODMAN: * Professor Noam Chomsky, sitting in his new offices
at M.I.T., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Noam
Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics, author of scores of books on
political analysis of U.S. foreign policy. His latest book is
called /Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance/.