Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Soon after I posted my cursory and dismissive response to an article about Noam Chomsky by George Shadroui (entitled "George Shadroui is a Dork"), I received the following email:
From: shadroui georgeSkeptical about the likelihood that this person would actually have read my blog, I replied to ask if he were that George Shadroui, or merely someone with the same name. He sent back this reply:
It is I. very funny. several of my friends got a kick out of it. Do I agree with you or the person who wrote the gloss on my article -- of course not. For example, your argument about Central America and early u.s. policy is with Lefeber, whose book I have read carefully. I don''t think he is an american apologist. If you read through the piece, it addresses some of the issues you raise. Nor do I exaggerate when I argue that Chomsky considered the Soviets and the communists illusory enemies. He downplays the Soviet threat to the point of erasing it.......that is context, which Chomsky ignores. I give examples.......Presumably, he found my post through a trackback or an ego search (probably the former) -- either way, I know he's watching.
Thus -- whereas I had previously written off Mr. Shadroui as a dork unworthy of my time, I have decided to respond at length to his article, for a number of reasons:
We can see from the very title of his article ("Dissecting Chomsky and Anti-Americanism") that a simplistic (and ludicrous) charge has been imposed over the proceedings; but insofar as I addressed the question of anti-Americanism last time, let us proceed apace.
Once we get past the name-calling (not done in good fun, from what I can tell -- "He is, in short, a crank who would not be taken seriously but for his position at MIT . . ."), Shadroui's main points center on Chomsky's lack of attention to atrocities committed by enemies of the US, especially the USSR, Cuba, and associated Communists. He labels Chomsky as one of "the blame America crowd," which others have called the "blame America first crowd." Indeed, I'm so incredibly sick of this phrase that my ladyfriend and I have joked about making a breakfast cereal called "Blame America First Cereal". It's a moron label, and one which hopefully doesn't need further analysis (although I'll probably indulge in some later on anyway).
But even more than this, Shadroui is outraged -- even, it would seem, offended -- by the fact that Chomsky rarely if ever applauds the US government for the good things it does. ("Not only do we deserve no credit for rebuilding Europe or Japan," he writes, "we were likewise wrong in Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, and now in Iraq.") Taking this a step further, Shadroui makes this bold statement at the end of his tirade:
. . . the only real hope victims facing catastrophic repression or genocide have is the United States.Since apparently Mr. Shadroui is not familiar with the important story of East Timor (there is, unsurprisingly, no mention of it in the article -- despite its central prominence in Chomsky's analysis and its obvious urgency to the discussion at hand), I will now provide a brief overview.
Until 1975, East Timor had been a Portuguese colony. (East Timor is half of the island -- the other half had been under Dutch control and became part of Indonesia with the rest of the archipelago in the 1940s.) When Portugal's empire collapsed in '75, a brief civil war erupted in East Timor, and a Catholic-populist group called Fretilin claimed victory. Their plans were a far cry from Communism, and they weren't around long enough to be pressured by the USSR or China.
Indonesia, seeking to conquer this tiny region (and believing it would take less than one day), started planning an invasion. In early December, US President Geral Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Suharto (Indonesia's murderous dictator, who came to power with US assistance in 1965) and -- according to the aforelinked National Security Archives -- Ford and Kissinger "gave the green light" to the invasion. ("the Secretary of State fully understood," says the author, "that the invasion of East Timor involved the 'illegal' use of U.S.-supplied military equipment because it was not used in self-defense as required by law.")
To make a long story short, the occupation was a horrendous, grisly bloodbath -- whereas there were an estimated 600,000 East Timorese before the invasion, over 200,000 were killed over the next 24 years, through enforced starvation and army massacres. That's a third of the population -- a figure approaching genocide by any civilized standard.
The United States government provided overwhelming political, military, economic, and diplomatic assistance to the Indonesian government throughout the occupation. When the invasion first took place on December 7, 1975, the UN did what it always does -- it passed a resolution calling on Indonesia "to withdraw without delay all its forces from the Territory".
But the US stood in the way. The US ambassador to the UN at the time was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who wrote later:
The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook [with regard to East Timor]. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with not inconsiderable success.In 1991, the world community -- which had heard rumors of hideous atrocities in East Timor but had seen no proof aside from the testimony of survivors lucky enough to escape -- was shocked to see footage of the Santa Cruz massacre, in which over 200 East Timorese men, women and children were slaughtered by Indonesian troops using US-made M-16s. (You can see pictures here and survivor testimony here. It should go without saying that these contain disturbing content.)
But while the outrage of this massacre (and the fact that it was far from an isolated incident) shocked many people into action, it did not stop the US government from continuing its support of the Indonesian military. Congress tried to end military training assistance, but the Pentagon and State Department lobbied against it and -- when they lost -- found loopholes. Meanwhile, weapons sales continued unabated (by both Republican and Democratic administrations), and while the Congress and UN pushed for a referendum (the only thing ever requested by the people of East Timor), the Executive branch refused to make it a priority.
In 1999, the Indonesian government -- wracked by economic crises and jolted by the ouster of Suharto by internal pressure -- announced that East Timor would finally be allowed to vote on its future. The UN came in and began to prepare for the September vote. Unfortunately, Indonesia had insisted on controlling security, and it began setting in motion teams of murderous paramilitary groups, who began committing more atrocities in an attempt to scare the people into voting for integration with Indonesia. The people chose indpenendence anyway, and the militia groups made good on their threats of more violence. After burning and looting and killing their way through the territory for several days, the Indonesian military and its militia groups left East Timor and a UN peacekeeping mission was finally brought in.
While all of this unbelievable horror was going on (causing nearly every reporter and most UN personnel to flee the island, scared for their lives), the US refused to pressure Indonesia to call off its dogs of war. While Indonesia wouldn't exactly take orders from the US, our government held (and continues to hold) incredible influence in the region.
And yet, when asked if we would take any kind of action to protect the innocent in East Timor (in accordance with our stated reasons for the Kosovo intervention), National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said:
[My daughter] has a very messy apartment up in college. Maybe I shouldn't intervene to have that cleaned up.All of this should prove the insulting absurdity of Shadroui's comment that "the only real hope victims facing catastrophic repression or genocide have is the United States." If nothing else, Mr. Shadroui, I would appreciate an apology to the people of East Timor for this comment of yours.
Enough about what Shadroui leaves out -- let's talk about what he says. Unfortunately, I must confess a pathetic ignorance about the Viet Nam war. I own American Power and the New Mandarins, but I haven't yet read it. I fear that there are many individuals more qualified than I to defend statements from Chomsky quoted by Shadroui such as: "Three times in a generation American technology has laid waste a helpless Asian country." Whether Viet Nam was helpless or not -- whether Communist pressure/aggression in the north merited US actions in the South -- I don't feel qualified to say.
As I see it, Chomsky was pointing out that the US was committing an act of aggression motivated by interests that had nothing to do with protecting the people of the United States (which is, as I understand it, the only type of military action allowed by the UN charter). Whether it was "an attempt to save Vietnam from the horrors of communist rule" (as Shadroui claims) or "American intervention in a civil war . . . [which] converted [it] into a colonial war of the classic type" (as Chomsky puts it) I will leave to others to decide.
But I will make some points. First, Chomsky has long made it clear that he focuses on the actions of the US government because it is supposedly our government, and we must be involved in its decisions (and, when wrong, criticize them). "It's a simple philosophical point," he says in the film Manufacturing Consent. "You are responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions. You're not responsible for the consequences of other peoples' actions."
Besides, as he goes on to say, there's no need to inform anyone (especially in the US) about Soviet atrocities in Afghanistan, for instance. Those seeking to wage war with the USSR have already made sure we know everything that happened in that grisly episode. But the atrocities of our own government -- in Viet Nam; in El Salvador; in East Timor -- don't meet with the same kind of outrage and honest inquisition, as they should.
So the question becomes one of large-scale balance. Yes, if he were writing a history book, Chomsky should definitely provide both accounts (provided they are of similar scope and brutality -- which, again, I'm not qualified to judge). But Chomsky has never claimed to be an historian; he is a critic. And as such, he is focused on US policy.
The question then becomes: Why did we take action in Viet Nam? Most Americans believe -- as Shadroui says -- that we were trying to hold off an aggressive Communist threat. But Chomsky points (rightly, in my opinion) to a history of imperialist interventions that cast a grim shadow of doubt on the official reasons given.
So who do we trust? Shadroui puts it this way:
if the sum of human suffering is reduced by an exercise in military action, can a case not be made for intervention, even if there is a human cost associated with it?This assumes that (a) we can ever know that we have reduced the "sum of human suffering" -- which is of course impossible, so let's assume we're dealing with an assumed sum; and (b) this is the real reason we went to war.
Personally, I'm doubtful. And while -- again -- I can't argue with force on Viet Nam, Chomsky often does a good job citing official sources illustrating the true aims of US power. (As in "Vietnam and United States Global Strategy" where he cites many US government documents highlighting the importance of development and industry friendly to US hegemony.)
There are lots of other things I could pick apart in the article's discussion of Viet Nam, but given my neophyte status on the matter and the appallingly late hour, I'll move on.
Again and again, Shadroui posits the theory that the US is well-intentioned and just makes "mistakes." Thus, our interference in Guatemala in 1954 was "questionable" and not illegal or immoral. He says:
Early American intervention [in Central America] was aimed less at subduing the region for economic or political purposes than it was to minimize the encroachment of the European powers into the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.Yeah, hah? And why didn't we want Europe meddling in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere? Because we respected the rights of people in South America to decide their future for themselves? Give me a break!
As with Viet Nam, Shadroui says that "it is intellectually dishonest to pretend that the United States had no reason to be concerned about communist rule in such countries." Concerned, perhaps. But worried for our safety, such that the toppling of democratically-elected governments and support for death squads is a proper response? Shocking! (As Chomsky put it at one point -- alas, I don't have the power to find it just now -- the US has as much to fear from Guatemala or Grenada as the Soviet Union did from Norway.)
Shadroui also makes this bizarre statement: " . . . Chile evolved into a democracy under the hated Pinochet . . . " I don't know what in the heck this is supposed to mean. I surely hope he isn't suggesting that Pinochet -- or our support for his murderous regime -- were good for the people of Chile.
As for Grenada, Shadroui insists that "the American intervention in Grenada . . . was welcomed by most of the governments in the region . . . ." I can't confirm or deny this, but as Andrew Reding makes clear,
This language [in the UN charter] leaves so little room for ambiguity . . . that the U.S. lost the support of even its closest allies in the United Nations. The Security Council voted 11 - l on a motion condemning the invasion, with France and the Netherlands in the affirmative, Britain abstaining, and the U.S. casting its veto. The disapproval was equally overwhelming in the General Assembly, where only El Salvador, Israel, and several Caribbean countries supported the U.S. position. Not a single member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization voted with the U.S.: Even such anticommunist allies as the Philippines and Thailand acknowledged that the U.S. action was “a flagrant violation of international law” (New York Times, Nov. 4, 1983).Whether the Grenada invasion -- or US opposition to the Sandanistas or our support for the dictatorial Duvalier family in Haiti -- was a justifiable response to realistic worries about Communist threats to US security or, rather, US imperialist aggression designed to protect our power and economic influence, I will leave to the reader.
Like the Bush administration he apparently supports, Shadroui starts his discussion about 9/11 with Saddam Hussein.
Chomsky (and many on the left) tries to implicate the United States in the behavior of Saddam Hussein because we gave him minimal support during the 1980s and the Iraq/Iran war.Yes, minimal. So very minimal.
The U.S. restored formal relations with Iraq in November 1984, but the U.S. had begun, several years earlier, to provide it with intelligence and military support (in secret and contrary to this country's official neutrality) in accordance with policy directives from President Ronald Reagan. These were prepared pursuant to his March 1982 National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM 4-82) asking for a review of U.S. policy toward the Middle East.Anyway, getting back to 9/11 -- Shadroui continues: "Chomsky's hatred of the United States is so severe that he presents even our liberation of Afghanistan, which virtually the entire world community supported, as an attempted genocide." Well, he apparently did use the G word, but he also said that
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food pleaded with the U.S. to end the bombing that was putting "the lives of millions of civilians at risk," renewing the appeal of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who warned of a Rwanda-style catastrophe.So it's not like Chomsky was just pulling these ideas out of thin air -- he was making heard voices that were being lost in the fog of war.
Another big point Chomsky made is that the US refused to seek approval from the UN for its attacks in Afghanistan, even though we would almost certainly have won it. Why? Because that would indicate that we need to get external approval to take military action (even when justified). In other words, it would show the world that we're willing to play by the rules, and we don't need to do that.
Also, Shadroui completely ignores the majority of what Chomsky said about the origins of the 9/11 atrocity, particularly with regard to US policies in the Middle East. I won't speculate on the reasons for this omission, but it's kind of sad to see that important discussion sidestepped in this "dissection".
When he gets to Chomsky's analysis of the media, Shadroui sounds like that idiot in the fraternity t-shirt asking Chomsky an incredibly idiotic question in the movie Manufacturing Consent.
To start with, that phrase is not Chomsky's -- it comes from Walter Lippman. Secondly, the idea that dissident views are not marginalized in the US as proven by the fact that "Chomsky's books are for sale in every major bookstore in the country, not to mention huge corporately-run online bookstores" is moronic to say the least. As Chomsky made clear in the film (it's a really good film, Mr. Shadroui -- you should watch it), this isn't about Noam Chomsky. It's about the narrow ideological spectrum and other much larger issues.
Furthermore, the use of the word "conspiracy" is a tried and trite way to stifle the kind of institutional analysis that we find in Manufacturing Consent. It's not a small gang of evil moustache-twiddlers, it's a media institution built on profit and maintained by entrenched power structures. To reduce it to nothing more than a "conspiracy" is to ignore 98% of the points made. (Again, East Timor is an excellent example we would take a look at if only I weren't exhausted and finding the screen harder to read by the word.)
One final word on the media: Shadroui quotes Eli Lehrer from the Anti-Chomsky Reader: "There is never an attempt to investigate the subject or in the spirit of inquiry to see if the facts fit the model." Yeah, okay. So all those pages of research and footnotes in Manufacturing Consent are -- what? Fruitcake recipes?
I made many other notes on my printed copy of Shadroui's article, but I'm really freaking tired and anyone who's made it this far is either really bored or really dedicated. If the latter, I thank you for your persistance and willingness to indulge me in this probably-pointless project. If the former, perhaps I can find something more exciting to cure your boredom.
Next time: I'm going to deconstruct -- point by idiot point -- the entire contents of the LeftWatch Chomsky Archive!
Squares 2: Black good, red bad. (TPCQ: "Always bet on black!")
Homer sleep now.
MadWomen for Peace (incl. Diane)