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Thursday, January 22, 2009

History and the "Second Superpower"

The following is the first in a series of transcriptions taken from a talk given by Noam Chomsky entitled "The Imperial Presidency". The entire talk is available for purchase from the G7 Welcoming Committee website.

Noam: ...That’s going to be a hard act to follow, but thanks. I guess I have to begin by saying that the phrase that you’ve attributed to me was actually plagiarized, “manufacturing consent” actually comes from Walter Lippmann, who is the dean of American journalism in the 20th century. He thought it was a good idea, he was coming out in favor of it.

It goes without saying that anything that goes on in the United States has an enormous impact on the rest of the world, the last election for example, and conversely, that’s important to remember, what happens in the rest of the world, can not fail to have an important, and in fact, often crucial impact in the United States, and that happens in several ways. For one thing, it sets constraints on what even the most powerful state can do, but in a more significant way what happens elsewhere, like here [Canada], influences the domestic component of what the New York Times ruefully described as “the second superpower”, namely world public opinion, after the enormous protests right before the Iraq invasion. It was the first time in hundreds of years of the history of Europe and its north American offshoots that a war was massively protested before it was officially launched, that’s a historic event, and it tells us a lot about where we’ve come, and should be encouraging, not depressing. Take, say, by comparison the, what’s called the Vietnam-war, actually the war against South Vietnam, that was launched by JFK in 1962. It was brutal, and barbaric from the outset, began with the bombing of unprotected civilian targets, chemical warfare to destroy food crops so as to starve out the civilian support for the indigenous resistance, programs to drive millions of people to virtual concentration camps, or urban slums, to eliminate the popular base for the resistance. By the time protests reached the substantial scale, 1967, the highly respected, and quite hawkish Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard Fall wondered, quoting him, “whether Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity would escape extinction, as the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area this size,” particularly South Vietnam, which was always the main target of the US assault. When protests finally did develop, many years too late, it was mostly directed against the peripheral crimes, the extension of the war to the north, and the rest of Indochina. These were terrible crimes, but lesser ones, and it’s quite important to remember how much the world has changed since then, through deeply committed popular struggle. It was far too late in developing, but it was ultimately effective.

The most interesting part of the Pentagon papers which is rarely mentioned for good reasons, is the last section; the Pentagon papers ends the middle of 1968, and as many of you will remember, January ’68 was the Tet offensive, which convinced corporate elite in the United States that the war just wasn’t worth it, and the US had won many of it’s objectives. It had destroyed any serious hope of independent successful development in Vietnam, which was its main purpose, as in many other cases, and it was just becoming too costly for the United States. Too costly because of the rising anti-war movement, which was compelling the president to fight what was called a “guns and butter” war, couldn’t declare a national mobilization, which probably would have been good for the economy, the way it was during the second world war, but kind of had to buy the population off, because there was just too much disruption, and it was just becoming too costly. That was the Tet offensive. The Pentagon papers, the sort of internal record of Pentagon history that Dan Ellsberg released, it ends a couple of months after that, and it turns out that right after the Tet offensive the president wanted to send 200,000 more troops to South Vietnam and the Joint Chiefs of Staff objected, they didn’t want to do it, and they refused. And the reason, they said, is they would need those troops for civil disorder control in the US, because of the rising protests among women, young people, minorities, in fact the large part of the population. So it was just too dangerous to send more troops to Indochina.

That continued, and grew, over the next 10 years, and elite groups thought they had it under control. When Reagan came into office, he tried to duplicate what JFK had done in South Vietnam 20 years earlier, in fact—Reagan probably didn’t know what was going—but his advisors just point by point duplicated it, this was 1981, and the target then was central America, under what was called, incidentally, a “war against terror”, which was declared in 1981, not in 2001. They had to back off because there was just too much spontaneous protest, from church groups, from—by then all over the mainstream of the country, not just young people, and so on. So they backed off, and they turned to what was called “clandestine war”, and “clandestine war” is a technical term which means “a war that everybody knows about, except the population of the United States.” They don’t know it for a good reason, about which some people have something to answer for, so the Reagan administration fought this clandestine war with a huge international terror network, so the cover “war on terror”. That was terrible enough, a couple hundred thousand people were killed, four countries devastated, but it wasn’t B-52s, which are much worse, and it wasn’t mass-murder operations, which happened to be peaking in 1969, at the time when John Kerry was deep in the Mekong delta in the south, which by then had been largely devastated. The popular reaction to even the clandestine war, as it was called, even broke new ground in history, another historically unprecedented development, and that was the origin of the solidarity movements, for Central America, which were coming right out of the mainstream. Tens of thousands of people from the US actually went to help the victims. That had never happened in the history of European imperialism, or its North American offshoots, and by now they’re all over the world, and again that’s something entirely new in western history, and another testimony to the success of these movements, which are many. And the state managers are well aware of it, when a new president comes in, first thing he does is an intelligence assessment, the intelligence community, as it’s called, gives an assessment of the world situation. And George Bush I, he did it too. So in 1989 there was an assessment of the world situation, and a piece of it leaked, and we don’t usually hear about these things for, like, 4 years, if ever. But a little part of it leaked, and was published, and hushed up, and it’s an interesting part and obviously somebody in the Pentagon, or CIA, or somewhere didn’t like it, and leaked it to the press. It was a discussion of the kinds of wars that the US would be fighting. Wars against, what it called, “much weaker enemies”, those are the only kinds of wars you fight if you have any sense. Wars against much weaker enemies, it said, in the case of such wars, the United States would have to win them “rapidly and decisively”, because there simply is no political support for anything more than that, it’s not like the sixties when you could go on for years and years with no protest and destroy a country before it significantly develops. Well, that’s significant, and the world is a pretty awful place and you can look at it and get pretty depressed, but it’s far better than it was yesterday and that’s not only with regard to the unwillingness to tolerate aggression, but also in innumerable other ways, many of which we now just take for granted, which is good, we should take it for granted, but we should remember that not many years ago, it wasn’t like that. Well these are very important lessons, and they should always be foremost in our mind.

If I had a little more time, I intended to say a little bit about Canada’s role in the Indochina wars, which is pretty interesting, but I’ll skip that, and just say that I’m being polite. But you should know about it, if you don’t already—it’s pretty ugly.

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Maxims and minims for the wise and the foolish

  • LANGUAGE IS A HIERARCHICAL AUTHORITY
    A GOVERNMENT OF THE CONSCIOUSNESS — Tezcatlipoca
  • Whoever fights against the empire, becomes the empire. [or something along those lines] — Philip K. Dick [as told to Tezcatlipoca]
    • We’re not fighting the empire! We are the empire! Go away, or we'll smack you with this stick! — Tezcatlipoca
  • You don't have to be straight to shoot straight. — Barry Goldwater
    • Indeed, we must prevent life, which is frequently fatal. — Umunmutamku
      • There are also a number of legitimate scientific reasons for it as well (though I don't know what they are) — Tezcatlipoca
  • Instead of thinking of Scripture as a manual, I try to think of the Bible as ‘a boyfriend’. — punkrainbow
    • Your feelings are lying to you. — Jer 17:9
  • READ A BOOK, I'M SURE IT'S IN ONE OF THEM. — Tezcatlipoca
    • Books are full of bullshit and lies! — Tezcatlipoca
      • We will lie to you but we will lie to ourselves as well. You will, however, see through our lies and grasp the shining truth within. — The KLF
  • A Gnostic is by definition a knower, and since knowledge supersedes belief, a knower cannot very well be a believer. — Stephan A. Hoeller
    • talking about the great unknown is ridiculous. it’s THE GREAT UN-FUCKING-KNOWN — Anonymous
      • The enemy knows the system. — Claude Shannon

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