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The Chomsky Challenge: NYU By: John Williamson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Noam Chomsky spoke at New York University on November 15, 2004. He made a number of statements critical of the U.S. government and the conduct of the war on terror.

According to Carolyn Sellke of the Washington Square News, the NYU student online daily newspaper, Chomsky's talk, “Simple Truths, Hard Problems: Some Thoughts on Terror, Justice, and Self-Defense,” was a hot ticket…in a…full-to-capacity auditorium…hundreds…were turned away…and Graduate School of Arts and Science Dean Catharine Stimpson…called Chomsky 'our favorite political dissident.' ”

Below are four quotes from Chomsky’s talk. For today’s pop quiz, see if you can spot the fallacies that the NYU students and faculty missed. Careful: some of these fallacies are so obvious you’ll pass right by them.


Quote 1. Turning his discussion on the flexibility of standards in international affairs to the U.S. fight against terrorism, Chomsky said the No. 1 problem with terrorism lies in its very definition.

“The official definitions [for terrorism] are unusable,” he said after reading the definition from a U.S. Army manual, which read: ‘The use or threat of action which is violent, damaging, or disrupting and is intended to influence the government or intimidate the public with the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological course.’

This definition, he said, “is virtually the same as the definition of the official policy of the
United States
and other states for 'counterterrorism.’”

“Therefore, the
United States is able to commit large-scale international terrorism ‘quite uncontroversially…’”


JW: Chomsky has more or less missed the point. We are not merely trying to “terrorize” our enemy. We are trying to obliterate him.


The Ba’athist fascists have made it clear that they would destroy us if they could. They’ve left their calling card in a number of places around the world, including on 9/11. They have stated that it is a fight to the death, and the president has acted as though he’s taking them at their word.


And so we, too, have made it a fight to the death – the U.S. and its allies against the Ba’athist fascists, wherever they are, wherever they choose to fight. We have stated repeatedly that we have no animosity toward the vast majority of the Muslim world, and our actions have shown that we know who our enemy is, and that our citizen-soldiers are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to stop him.


Chomsky misunderstands the nature of the conflict, which is no surprise, but if he needs to fixate on definitions of terror, here’s mine:


Terror is the last emotion our enemy should experience before

he passes through the gates of oblivion.


So that’s fallacy number one: Chomsky’s failure to recognize that an active state of war exists between the United States and the Ba’athist fascists, and that “terrorism” is merely one component of that war.


Quote 2. Speaking of the war in Iraq, Chomsky said the Bush administration's self-proclaimed immunity to universality is what led the United States to commit “grave breaches” of the Geneva Convention, such as reported torture at Abu Ghraib prison and this weekend's invasion of a Fallujah hospital.

JW: Chomsky chooses to compare the unfortunate incidents at Abu Ghraib to the torture and killing of several hundred thousand Iraqis under Saddam. As for the hospital, it was “invaded” but nobody was hurt.


Fallacy number two: Chomsky’s inability to make comparisons and analyses which are proportionate and carefully weighed. This is a failure of scholar-ship. (That one was a “gimme”, by the way. Nobody should have missed it.)


Quote 3: …[I]t has become “too ludicrous to entertain the idea that our leaders are subject to U.S. laws.” As a result, he said, the Bush administration essentially has the freedom to authorize torture and commit genocide.

JW: The intentional and wholesale destruction of three thousand innocent people on 9/11 was genocide, by any definition.


·        The destruction in war of the Taliban and the Iraqi army involved the killing of many men who led or supported totalitarian states. This is not genocide, but combat.


·        Large numbers of Ba’athist fascists (the so-called insurgents) have been killed. Again, this is not genocide, but combat.


·        Finally, there have been some Afghani and Iraqi non-combatants mistakenly or accidentally killed by Allied forces but, unlike the fascist commanders, American commanders have never authorized the intentional killing of innocents.


Fallacy number three: Chomsky misunderstands the term “genocide” and how it is applied in various situations.


Quote 4: The post-World War II Nuremberg trials set the stage for today's political unaccountability by demonstrating that “crime is a crime that you carried out and we did not,” Chomsky said.

After all, he said, the
United States
exempted itself from war crime, even though its extensive aerial bombardment killed thousands of civilians.

JW: Chomsky has a habit of using examples from World War Two to back up his anti-U.S. shtick. He really shouldn’t do that, as he has shown time and again (see The Anti-Chomsky Reader) that what he knows about World War Two you could write on the back of a post card and have room left over to make your grocery list.


No doubt the Chompster is referring to conventional bombings of various Japanese cities (whose inhabitants largely knew we were coming and thus abandoned their homes for the countryside) as well as to the firestorm at Dresden (whose inhabitants were surprised). He may also be referring to the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed hundreds of thousands and ended the war.


What he fails to point out, however, is that these U.S.-inflicted civilian deaths came at the tail end of a ten year period (1935-1945) during which the Japanese and Germans ravaged large areas of the globe and killed many millions – civilian as well as military.


How many are we talking about? Eleven million Chinese, ten million of which were civilians. Twenty-one million Soviets, seven million of which were civilians. Six million civilians in Poland alone, in the Holocaust. Londoners, the French, the Yugoslavians, the Dutch, the Rumanians, the Scandinavians, the Italians, the Koreans, and civilians all across Southeast Asia…Total war death estimates range from forty to fifty million, with perhaps three-fifths of them civilians.


Realize that the vast majority of these civilian casualties were inflicted by the Axis powers before D-Day, long before the Bulge, and years before Okinawa or Iwo Jima. Until the very end, Allied bombings – by necessity – were directed almost exclusively at military targets – railroads, supply depots, armaments factories, the entrenched lines - because that was the only way that the Allies could slow down the Axis war machine prior to sending in the landing craft.


It was only towards the end when, despite all the destruction they had wrought, despite all the vast humanity they had destroyed, despite all of that, and more, still the Axis powers would not yield, and so the decision was made to do unto the civilian populations of the Axis powers what their governments  had done unto the innocents of so many other countries. 


This action by the Allies Chomsky condemns as immoral, but it was the unwillingness of the Axis governments to capitulate, when there was not the slightest hope of victory held out to them, which burdened their own populations with untold added misery at the end of the greatest crime in history.


It is a shame that Chomsky continues to enthrall the uninformed with such profound untruths; it is a tragedy that so many willingly believe him. It is cause for despair that so many of the uninformed are associated with the great universities of this country.

John Williamson is a contributor to The Anti-Chomsky Reader.

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