Monday, September 20, 2004

Chomsky and the Sanctification of Rage

Oliver Kamm posted this recent deconstruction of a recent Chomsky attempt to slander Nixon, Kissinger, and, of course, the United States itself:
On May 27, the New York Times published one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever seen. They ran an article about the Nixon-Kissinger interchanges. Kissinger fought very hard through the courts to try to prevent it, but the courts permitted it. You read through it, and you see the following statement embedded in it. Nixon at one point informs Kissinger, his right-hand Eichmann, that he wanted bombing of Cambodia. And Kissinger loyally transmits the order to the Pentagon to carry out "a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves." That is the most explicit call for what we call genocide when other people do it that I’ve ever seen in the historical record.

Right at this moment there is a prosecution of Milosevic going on in the international tribunal, and the prosecutors are kind of hampered because they can’t find direct orders, or a direct connection even, linking Milosevic to any atrocities on the ground. Suppose they found a statement like this. Suppose a document came out from Milosevic saying, "Reduce Kosovo to rubble. Anything that flies on anything that moves." They would be overjoyed. The trial would be over. He would be sent away for multiple life sentences–if it was a U.S. trial, immediately the electric chair. But they can’t find any such document. In fact, nobody has even found a document like that connecting Hitler to the Holocaust. Scholars have been working on it for years. I can’t remember an example of such a direct order to carry out what amounted to a huge massacre, way beyond the level of anything we call genocide when other people do it.
Of course, as we all know, the only genocide which occured in Cambodia was the one committed by the communist Khmer Rouge and energetically denied by Chomsky himself. (Armchair psychologists may commence their theorizing.) Needless to say, Kamm deals rather summarily with all this nonsense.
The "anything that flies on anything that moves" remark, in context, is not a literal instruction; it is an ironic rendition by his national security adviser of a Presidential outburst that invites, deserves and receives derision. In the circumstances, Chomsky's horrified description of it as "one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever seen" is, well, one of the most incredible sentences I've ever seen.

It would be tempting to attribute the use Chomsky makes of this material to intellectual idleness and incompetence, but I fear this is too generous a judgement. There's a pattern and a method here. Chomsky's rhetorical attacks on the western democracies, and especially the United States, increasingly outdo anything else to be found in the adversary culture of far-Left politics. Charging President Bush and Tony Blair with war crimes for excising Baathist tyranny from Iraq, and even depicting the Bush administration as (in John Pilger's phrase) "the new Third Reich", may be absurd and offensive, but Chomsky takes hysteria beyond these by now commonplace tropes to a new plane altogether. His effect - and I have to assume his purpose too, for he must be aware he's doing it - is to depict the US as even worse than Nazi Germany.

Look carefully at Chomsky's use of language. His description of Kissinger as Nixon's "Eichmann" - frivolous, repugnant and a gross affront to the victims of the Holocaust as it is - is a mere softener for the assertion that "nobody has even found a document like that connecting Hitler to the Holocaust. Scholars have been working on it for years." That remark is disgraceful. Nobody has found a signed document in which Hitler explicitly orders the destruction of the Jews, but of course scholars have found harrowing documents incontrovertibly "connecting Hitler to the Holocaust"...

Chomsky is an intelligent man who knows how to use language. In this case he is using language to depict the United States as incomparably evil; in order to do that he must distort not only the US record in foreign policy, but also the historical record of the regime in recent history that really was incomparably evil. And that is what Chomsky does...

To describe such notions as those of a crank is to understate their toxicity. To take them seriously requires something more sinister than mere monomania. It's hardly surprising that those who do are to be found among the very worst elements in politics, namely those who believe Nazi Germany has been unfairly condemned by history. Here, for example, is the web site of what used to be known as the Union Movement, and before that - in the 1930s - the British Union of Fascists (BUF). The site reproduces certain disgustingly self-serving remarks made in 1947 by the movement's leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, about what the site coyly describes as "the whole moral issue regarding wartime atrocities, which are committed by all sides" - in other words, exculpation of Nazi atrocities by denying their uniqueness. To introduce this argument - if one can dignify it with that term - these latter-day Mosleyites have found an appropriate dictum, and here it is:

"If the Nuremberg laws were applied today, then every Post-War American president would have to be hanged." - Noam Chomsky
This underlines one of the most important results of the influence Chomsky has had on today's Left: the ascension of an absolute faith in the capacity of rhetorical violence and agression. Here we have Chomsky lying outright and distorting the historical record with an astonishing alacrity - a fact of which he is certainly aware - and yet he still manages to work himself up into a self-righteous lather that ends with him giving the United States the short end of the stick in a comparison with Nazi Germany. It seems clear that what we're dealing with here is not rational but emotional. What is important to Chomsky is not the facts, nor any fealty to moral principles, but his own ferocious rage and desperate belief - and need to believe - in his own moral righteousness. Like all fanatics, it is his faith in his own rectitude and his own purity that not only gives him license to violate basic tenants of truth and logic, but also justifies the extraordinary leaps of moral bankruptcy in which we see him here, and not for the first or last time, indulging. This, unfortunately, has been his foremost gift to his fellow ideologues.