chomsky on current events (pt2)

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fred f and the lot

3. What is the War Against Terrorism?

Well, let’s go to the third question, ‘What is the war against terrorism?’ and a side question,

‘What’s terrorism?’. The war against terrorism has been described in high places as a

struggle against a plague, a cancer which is spread by barbarians, by “depraved opponents

of civilization itself.” That’s a feeling that I share. The words I’m quoting, however,

happen to be from 20 years ago. Those are…that’s President Reagan and his Secretary of

State. The Reagan administration came into office 20 years ago declaring that the war

against international terrorism would be the core of our foreign policy….describing it in

terms of the kind I just mentioned and others. And it was the core of our foreign policy.

The Reagan administration responded to this plague spread by depraved opponents of

civilization itself by creating an extraordinary international terrorist network, totally

unprecedented in scale, which carried out massive atrocities all over the world,

primarily….well, partly nearby, but not only there. I won’t run through the record, you’re

all educated people, so I’m sure you learned about it in High School. [crowd laughter]

Reagan-US War Against Nicaragua

But I’ll just mention one case which is totally uncontroversial, so we might as well not

argue about it, by no means the most extreme but uncontroversial. It’s uncontroversial

because of the judgments of the highest international authorities the International Court of

Justice, the World Court, and the UN Security Council. So this one is uncontroversial, at

least among people who have some minimal concern for international law, human rights,

justice and other things like that. And now I’ll leave you an exercise. You can estimate the

size of that category by simply asking how often this uncontroversial case has been

mentioned in the commentary of the last month. And it’s a particularly relevant one, not

only because it is uncontroversial, but because it does offer a precedent as to how a law

abiding state would respond to…did respond in fact to international terrorism, which is

uncontroversial. And was even more extreme than the events of September 11th. I’m

talking about the Reagan-US war against Nicaragua which left tens of thousands of people

dead, the country ruined, perhaps beyond recovery.

Nicaragua’s Response

Nicaragua did respond. They didn’t respond by setting off bombs in Washington. They

responded by taking it to the World Court, presenting a case, they had no problem putting

together evidence. The World Court accepted their case, ruled in their favor, ordered

the…condemned what they called the “unlawful use of force,” which is another word for

international terrorism, by the United States, ordered the United States to terminate the

crime and to pay massive reparations. The United States, of course, dismissed the court

judgment with total contempt and announced that it would not accept the jurisdiction of

the court henceforth. Then Nicaragua then went to the UN Security Council which

considered a resolution calling on all states to observe international law. No one was

mentioned but everyone understood. The United States vetoed the resolution. It now

stands as the only state on record which has both been condemned by the World Court for

international terrorism and has vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on states to

observe international law. Nicaragua then went to the General Assembly where there is

technically no veto but a negative US vote amounts to a veto. It passed a similar resolution

with only the United States, Israel, and El Salvador opposed. The following year again, this

time the United States could only rally Israel to the cause, so 2 votes opposed to observing

international law. At that point, Nicaragua couldn’t do anything lawful. It tried all the

measures. They don’t work in a world that is ruled by force.

This case is uncontroversial but it’s by no means the most extreme. We gain a lot of insight

into our own culture and society and what’s happening now by asking ‘how much we

know about all this? How much we talk about it? How much you learn about it in school?

How much it’s all over the front pages?’ And this is only the beginning. The United States

responded to the World Court and the Security Council by immediately escalating the war

very quickly, that was a bipartisan decision incidentally. The terms of the war were also

changed. For the first time there were official orders given…official orders to the terrorist

army to attack what are called “soft targets,” meaning undefended civilian targets, and to

keep away from the Nicaraguan army. They were able to do that because the United States

had total control of the air over Nicaragua and the mercenary army was supplied with

advanced communication equipment, it wasn’t a guerilla army in the normal sense and

could get instructions about the disposition of the Nicaraguan army forces so they could

attack agricultural collectives, health clinics, and so on…soft targets with impunity. Those

were the official orders.

What was the Reaction Here?

What was the reaction? It was known. There was a reaction to it. The policy was regarded

as sensible by left liberal opinion. So Michael Kinsley who represents the left in

mainstream discussion, wrote an article in which he said that we shouldn’t be too quick to

criticize this policy as Human Rights Watch had just done. He said a “sensible policy”

must “meet the test of cost benefit analysis” -- that is, I’m quoting now, that is the

analysis of “the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in, and the likelihood that

democracy will emerge at the other end.” Democracy as the US understands the term,

which is graphically illustrated in the surrounding countries. Notice that it is axiomatic that

the United States, US elites, have the right to conduct the analysis and to pursue the

project if it passes their tests. And it did pass their tests. It worked. When Nicaragua

finally succumbed to superpower assault, commentators openly and cheerfully lauded the

success of the methods that were adopted and described them accurately. So I’ll quote

Time Magazine just to pick one. They lauded the success of the methods adopted: “to

wreck the economy and prosecute a long and deadly proxy war until the exhausted natives

overthrow the unwanted government themselves,” with a cost to us that is “minimal,” and

leaving the victims “with wrecked bridges, sabotaged power stations, and ruined farms,”

and thus providing the US candidate with a “winning issue”: “ending the impoverishment

of the people of Nicaragua.” The New York Times had a headline saying “Americans

United in Joy” at this outcome.

Terrorism Works – Terrorism is not the Weapon of the Weak

That is the culture in which we live and it reveals several facts. One is the fact that

terrorism works. It doesn’t fail. It works. Violence usually works. That’s world history.

Secondly, it’s a very serious analytic error to say, as is commonly done, that terrorism is

the weapon of the weak. Like other means of violence, it’s primarily a weapon of the

strong, overwhelmingly, in fact. It is held to be a weapon of the weak because the strong

also control the doctrinal systems and their terror doesn’t count as terror. Now that’s close

to universal. I can’t think of a historical exception, even the worst mass murderers view the

world that way. So pick the Nazis. They weren’t carrying out terror in occupied Europe.

They were protecting the local population from the terrorisms of the partisans. And like

other resistance movements, there was terrorism. The Nazis were carrying out counter

terror. Furthermore, the United States essentially agreed with that. After the war, the US

army did extensive studies of Nazi counter terror operations in Europe. First I should say

that the US picked them up and began carrying them out itself, often against the same

targets, the former resistance. But the military also studied the Nazi methods published

interesting studies, sometimes critical of them because they were inefficiently carried out,

so a critical analysis, you didn’t do this right, you did that right, but those methods with

the advice of Wermacht officers who were brought over here became the manuals of counter

insurgency, of counter terror, of low intensity conflict, as it is called, and are the manuals,

and are the procedures that are being used. So it’s not just that the Nazis did it. It’s that it

was regarded as the right thing to do by the leaders of western civilization, that is us, who

then proceeded to do it themselves. Terrorism is not the weapon of the weak. It is the

weapon of those who are against ‘us’ whoever ‘us’ happens to be. And if you can find a

historical exception to that, I’d be interested in seeing it.

Nature of our Culture – How We Regard Terrorism

Well, an interesting indication of the nature of our culture, our high culture, is the way in

which all of this is regarded. One way it’s regarded is just suppressing it. So almost nobody

has ever heard of it. And the power of American propaganda and doctrine is so strong that

even among the victims it’s barely known. I mean, when you talk about this to people in

Argentina, you have to remind them. Oh, yeh, that happened, we forgot about it. It’s

deeply suppressed. The sheer consequences of the monopoly of violence can be very

powerful in ideological and other terms.

The Idea that Nicaragua Might Have The Right To Defend Itself

Well, one illuminating aspect of our own attitude toward terrorism is the reaction to the

idea that Nicaragua might have the right to defend itself. Actually I went through this in

some detail with database searches and that sort of thing. The idea that Nicaragua might

have the right to defend itself was considered outrageous. There is virtually nothing in

mainstream commentary indicating that Nicaragua might have that right. And that fact was

exploited by the Reagan administration and its propaganda in an interesting way. Those of

you who were around in that time will remember that they periodically floated rumors that

the Nicaraguans were getting MIG jets, jets from Russia. At that point the hawks and the

doves split. The hawks said, ‘ok, let’s bomb ‘em.’ The doves said, `wait a minute, let’s see

if the rumors are true. And if the rumors are true, then let’s bomb them. Because they are a

threat to the United States.’ Why, incidentally were they getting MIGs. Well they tried to

get jet planes from European countries but the United States put pressure on its allies so

that it wouldn’t send them means of defense because they wanted them to turn to the

Russians. That’s good for propaganda purposes. Then they become a threat to us.

Remember, they were just 2 days march from Harlingen, Texas. We actually declared a

national emergency in 1985 to protect the country from the threat of Nicaragua. And it

stayed in force. So it was much better for them to get arms from the Russians. Why would

they want jet planes? Well, for the reasons I already mentioned. The United States had

total control over their airspace, was over flying it and using that to provide instructions to

the terrorist army to enable them to attack soft targets without running into the army that

might defend them. Everyone knew that that was the reason. They are not going to use

their jet planes for anything else. But the idea that Nicaragua should be permitted to defend

its airspace against a superpower attack that is directing terrorist forces to attack

undefended civilian targets, that was considered in the United States as outrageous and

uniformly so. Exceptions are so slight, you know I can practically list them. I don’t suggest

that you take my word for this. Have a look. That includes our own senators, incidentally.

Honduras – The Appointment of John Negroponte as Ambassador to the United


Another illustration of how we regard terrorism is happening right now. The US has just

appointed an ambassador to the United Nations to lead the war against terrorism a couple

weeks ago. Who is he? Well, his name is John Negroponte. He was the US ambassador in

the fiefdom, which is what it is, of Honduras in the early 1980’s. There was a little fuss

made about the fact that he must have been aware, as he certainly was, of the large-scale

murders and other atrocities that were being carried out by the security forces in Honduras

that we were supporting. But that’s a small part of it. As proconsul of Honduras, as he

was called there, he was the local supervisor for the terrorist war based in Honduras, for

which his government was condemned by the world court and then the Security Council in

a vetoed resolution. And he was just appointed as the UN Ambassador to lead the war

against terror. Another small experiment you can do is check and see what the reaction was

to this. Well, I will tell you what you are going to find, but find it for yourself. Now that

tells us a lot about the war against terrorism and a lot about ourselves.

After the United States took over the country again under the conditions that were so

graphically described by the press, the country was pretty much destroyed in the 1980’s,

but it has totally collapsed since in every respect just about. Economically it has declined

sharply since the US take over, democratically and in every other respect. It’s now the

second poorest country in the Hemisphere. I should say….I’m not going to talk about it,

but I mentioned that I picked up Nicaragua because it is an uncontroversial case. If you

look at the other states in the region, the state terror was far more extreme and it again

traces back to Washington and that’s by no means all.

US & UK Backed South African Attacks

It was happening elsewhere in the world too, take say Africa. During the Reagan years

alone, South African attacks, backed by the United States and Britain, US/UK-backed

South African attacks against the neighboring countries killed about a million and a half

people and left 60 billion dollars in damage and countries destroyed. And if we go around

the world, we can add more examples.

Now that was the first war against terror of which I’ve given a small sample. Are we

supposed to pay attention to that? Or kind of think that that might be relevant? After all

it’s not exactly ancient history. Well, evidently not as you can tell by looking at the current

discussion of the war on terror which has been the leading topic for the last month.

Haiti, Guatemala, and Nicaragua

I mentioned that Nicaragua has now become the 2nd poorest country in the hemisphere.

What’s the poorest country? Well that’s of course Haiti which also happens to be the

victim of most US intervention in the 20th century by a long shot. We left it totally

devastated. It’s the poorest country. Nicaragua is second ranked in degree of US

intervention in the 20th century. It is the 2nd poorest. Actually, it is vying with

Guatemala. They interchange every year or two as to who’s the second poorest. And they

also vie as to who is the leading target of US military intervention. We’re supposed to

think that all of this is some sort of accident. That is has nothing to do with anything that

happened in history. Maybe.

Colombia and Turkey

The worst human rights violator in the 1990’s is Colombia, by a long shot. It’s also the, by

far, the leading recipient of US military aid in the 1990’s maintaining the terror and human

rights violations. In 1999, Colombia replaced Turkey as the leading recipient of US arms

worldwide, that is excluding Israel and Egypt which are a separate category. And that tells

us a lot more about the war on terror right now, in fact.

Why was Turkey getting such a huge flow of US arms? Well if you take a look at the flow

of US arms to Turkey, Turkey always got a lot of US arms. It’s strategically placed, a

member of NATO, and so on. But the arms flow to Turkey went up very sharply in 1984.

It didn’t have anything to do with the cold war. I mean Russian was collapsing. And it

stayed high from 1984 to 1999 when it reduced and it was replaced in the lead by

Colombia. What happened from 1984 to 1999? Well, in 1984, [Turkey] launched a major

terrorist war against Kurds in southeastern Turkey. And that’s when US aid went up,

military aid. And this was not pistols. This was jet planes, tanks, military training, and so

on. And it stayed high as the atrocities escalated through the 1990’s. Aid followed it. The

peak year was 1997. In 1997, US military aid to Turkey was more than in the entire period

1950 to 1983, that is the cold war period, which is an indication of how much the cold war

has affected policy. And the results were awesome. This led to 2-3 million refugees. Some

of the worst ethnic cleansing of the late 1990’s. Tens of thousands of people killed, 3500

towns and villages destroyed, way more than Kosovo, even under NATO bombs. And the

United States was providing 80% of the arms, increasing as the atrocities increased, peaking

in 1997. It declined in 1999 because, once again, terror worked as it usually does when

carried out by its major agents, mainly the powerful. So by 1999, Turkish terror, called of

course counter-terror, but as I said, that’s universal, it worked. Therefore Turkey was

replaced by Colombia which had not yet succeeded in its terrorist war. And therefore had

to move into first place as recipient of US arms.

Self Congratulation on the Part of Western Intellectuals

Well, what makes this all particularly striking is that all of this was taking place right in the

midst of a huge flood of self-congratulation on the part of Western intellectuals which

probably has no counterpart in history. I mean you all remember it. It was just a couple

years ago. Massive self-adulation about how for the first time in history we are so

magnificent; that we are standing up for principles and values; dedicated to ending

inhumanity everywhere in the new era of this-and-that, and so-on-and-so-forth. And we

certainly can’t tolerate atrocities right near the borders of NATO. That was repeated over

and over. Only within the borders of NATO where we can not only can tolerate much

worse atrocities but contribute to them. Another insight into Western civilization and our

own, is how often was this brought up? Try to look. I won’t repeat it. But it’s instructive.

It’s a pretty impressive feat for a propaganda system to carry this off in a free society. It’s

pretty amazing. I don’t think you could do this in a totalitarian state.

Turkey is Very Grateful

And Turkey is very grateful. Just a few days ago, Prime Minister Ecevit announced that

Turkey would join the coalition against terror, very enthusiastically, even more so than

others. In fact, he said they would contribute troops which others have not willing to do.

And he explained why. He said, We owe a debt of gratitude to the United States because

the United States was the only country that was willing to contribute so massively to our

own, in his words “counter-terrorist” war, that is to our own massive ethnic cleansing and

atrocities and terror. Other countries helped a little, but they stayed back. The United

States, on the other hand, contributed enthusiastically and decisively and was able to do so

because of the silence, servility might be the right word, of the educated classes who could

easily find out about it. It’s a free country after all. You can read human rights reports. You

can read all sorts of stuff. But we chose to contribute to the atrocities and Turkey is very

happy, they owe us a debt of gratitude for that and therefore will contribute troops just as

during the war in Serbia. Turkey was very much praised for using its F-16’s which we

supplied it to bomb Serbia exactly as it had been doing with the same planes against its

own population up until the time when it finally succeeded in crushing internal terror as

they called it. And as usual, as always, resistance does include terror. Its true of the

American Revolution. That’s true of every case I know. Just as its true that those who

have a monopoly of violence talk about themselves as carrying out counter terror.

The Coalition – Including Algeria, Russia, China, Indonesia

Now that’s pretty impressive and that has to do with the coalition that is now being

organized to fight the war against terror. And it’s very interesting to see how that coalition

is being described. So have a look at this morning’s Christian Science Monitor. That’s a

good newspaper. One of the best international newspapers, with real coverage of the

world. The lead story, the front-page story, is about how the United States, you know

people used to dislike the United States but now they are beginning to respect it, and they

are very happy about the way that the US is leading the war against terror. And the prime

example, well in fact the only serious example, the others are a joke, is Algeria. Turns out

that Algeria is very enthusiastic about the US war against terror. The person who wrote the

article is an expert on Africa. He must know that Algeria is one of the most vicious terrorist

states in the world and has been carrying out horrendous terror against its own population

in the past couple of years, in fact. For a while, this was under wraps. But it was finally

exposed in France by defectors from the Algerian army. It’s all over the place there and in

England and so on. But here, we’re very proud because one of the worst terrorist states in

the world is now enthusiastically welcoming the US war on terror and in fact is cheering on

the United States to lead the war. That shows how popular we are getting.

And if you look at the coalition that is being formed against terror it tells you a lot more. A

leading member of the coalition is Russia which is delighted to have the United States

support its murderous terrorist war in Chechnya instead of occasionally criticizing it in the

background. China is joining enthusiastically. It’s delighted to have support for the

atrocities it’s carrying out in western China against, what it called, Muslim secessionists.

Turkey, as I mentioned, is very happy with the war against terror. They are experts.

Algeria, Indonesia delighted to have even more US support for atrocities it is carrying out

in Ache and elsewhere. Now we can run through the list, the list of the states that have

joined the coalition against terror is quite impressive. They have a characteristic in

common. They are certainly among the leading terrorist states in the world. And they

happen to be led by the world champion.

What is Terrorism?

Well that brings us back to the question, what is terrorism? I have been assuming we

understand it. Well, what is it? Well, there happen to be some easy answers to this. There

is an official definition. You can find it in the US code or in US army manuals. A brief

statement of it taken from a US army manual, is fair enough, is that terror is the calculated

use of violence or the threat of violence to attain political or religious ideological goals

through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear. That’s terrorism. That’s a fair enough

definition. I think it is reasonable to accept that. The problem is that it can’t be accepted

because if you accept that, all the wrong consequences follow. For example, all the

consequences I have just been reviewing. Now there is a major effort right now at the UN

to try to develop a comprehensive treaty on terrorism. When Kofi Annan got the Nobel

prize the other day, you will notice he was reported as saying that we should stop wasting

time on this and really get down to it.

But there’s a problem. If you use the official definition of terrorism in the comprehensive

treaty you are going to get completely the wrong results. So that can’t be done. In fact, it is

even worse than that. If you take a look at the definition of Low Intensity Warfare which is

official US policy you find that it is a very close paraphrase of what I just read. In fact,

Low Intensity Conflict is just another name for terrorism. That’s why all countries, as far

as I know, call whatever horrendous acts they are carrying out, counter terrorism. We

happen to call it Counter Insurgency or Low Intensity Conflict. So that’s a serious

problem. You can’t use the actual definitions. You’ve got to carefully find a definition that

doesn’t have all the wrong consequences.

Why did the United States and Israel Vote Against a Major Resolution Condemning


There are some other problems. Some of them came up in December 1987, at the peak of

the first war on terrorism, that’s when the furor over the plague was peaking. The United

Nations General Assembly passed a very strong resolution against terrorism, condemning

the plague in the strongest terms, calling on every state to fight against it in every possible

way. It passed unanimously. One country, Honduras abstained. Two votes against; the

usual two, United States and Israel. Why should the United States and Israel vote against a

major resolution condemning terrorism in the strongest terms, in fact pretty much the terms

that the Reagan administration was using? Well, there is a reason. There is one paragraph in

that long resolution which says that nothing in this resolution infringes on the rights of

people struggling against racist and colonialist regimes or foreign military occupation to

continue with their resistance with the assistance of others, other states, states outside in

their just cause. Well, the United States and Israel can’t accept that. The main reason that

they couldn’t at the time was because of South Africa. South Africa was an ally, officially

called an ally. There was a terrorist force in South Africa. It was called the African National

Congress. They were a terrorist force officially. South Africa in contrast was an ally and

we certainly couldn’t support actions by a terrorist group struggling against a racist regime.

That would be impossible.
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