Tuesday, August 31, 2004
When I arrive here at four o'clock or so in the afternoon, this area is cordoned off, yellow and white crime scene ribbons stretching across the length of the road. Silence. A stunning, absolute silence. In front of the hummocks of dirt and stone stands the shell of what was once a number 12 bus. One of the new models, painted a bright blue, with tinted windows and bright yellow interior. The tinted windows are blasted out and lie in shattered heaps on the black asphalt. The front windshield is not destroyed, but a spiderweb of lines form a collage across its face. The ticket dispenser is still intact, visible just above the steering wheel. A steel beam hangs down from the ceiling of the bus, lying where it half collapsed into the belly of the vehicle. A pile of belongings, hurled out of the bus by the explosion or the rescue workers, are strewn across the street. A black backpack and what looks like, but cannot be, a green scarf are all I can recognize. The actuality of murder begins to seem ominously close.
There is an acrid smell in the air, like the remnants of a bonfire. It is the only physical indication, besides the exanguinated bodies of the buses themselves, of the horrendous violence that has just occurred. The bodies of the dead and wounded are gone, rushed to Soroka Hospital just a few moments down the street. I clamber up a short hill next to the half-built cultural center, joining a group of onlookers standing just above the scene; one ought to feel ghoulish, but one feels nothing at all.
The soundlessness is horrifying. At least a hundred people, reporters, police, rescue workers, soldiers, officials, are swirling about just below me; but one hears nothing. Only the low moan of a muted police siren and the occasional clang of falling metal. The air itself feels cavernous. Hollow. Blasted out. The ZAKA men flit like moths across the bones of a dessicated animal, their yellow and orange vests glowing in the angular sunlight.
A beautiful girl with long, brown legs spilling out of her short shorts walks by, and for a single, blasphemous moment, heads turn in her direction, until she disappears into the onlookers and a low heaviness settles back over the scene. A group of religious men stand in a circle, pointing and whispering together. A truck filled with soldiers pulls into the crowd of rescue vehicles, its siren breaking the mortal serenity for a brief moment. A photographer jumps the low fence surrounding the construction sight, and a tall man smoking a cigarette through a hole where his two front teeth should be gestures at him violently and murmurs something. A bald man stands near me, hands on his hips, his face set and furrowed; he walks in half semi-circles, as if unsure of where to plant his feet. A crowd of television trucks with their satellite dishes pointed skyward sit just a yard from us; channel 3, channel 10, no CNN, no international news. Perhaps they simply tap into the local feed. Two television helicopters circle overhead, white and bulgous. Further out, a tan military copter thuds out a wide perimeter.
Further down, in front of the city hall, in the far lane where one takes the left turn on to HaShichrorim, is the second bus, an older model, dirty and with its blue paint faded to gray. Its windows are blasted out as well, but I cannot get close enough to see anything more.
I walk the length of the construction site. A crowd of people stand along the tin wall of the site and on top of a jury-rigged platform with a crumbling roof providing a measure of shade. They whisper amongst themselves, barely audible in the crystalline air.
There is nothing left to see, so I walk the five minutes north to Soroka Hospital, to see if they need blood donations. The emergency room is cordoned off and a large crowd, probably relatives, mills about talking on their cell phones. A young girl sits on a bench and cries hysterically. An older woman tries to comfort her. I cannot find anyone to ask. An army officer shrugs and tells me to find the blood bank. I head into the main building, but can find nobody. The halls are almost totally empty. A woman working at a coffee stand fiddles with the bottles of orange juice in her refrigerator but has no idea where the blood bank is. I begin to feel in the way. I walk out across the grass promenade where a few patients are sunning themselves. I turn left and, in the middle of an enclosed field, is a massive military helicopter, sitting silently like a hornet poised on the edge of a window sill. A soldier in full battle uniform leans against a wire fence, looking restless.
I exit through the main gate of Soroka. Looking south down Rager I can see nothing but the blinking red beacon of a fire engine. The silence is the only reminder that this is not a normal late afternoon. I hear a ferocious roar above me and look up into the gauzy azure sky. Four F15 fighter planes, flying in formation, hurtle over my head in the direction of Gaza. I watch them, the setting sun stinging my eyes, until they disappear.
The news is saying at least 12 killed and 20 wounded.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
If the goal were security, Israel would have built the fence a few km inside its borders. It could then be a mile high, patrolled on both sides by the IDF, mined with nuclear weapons, utterly impenetrable. Perfect security.Chomsky's incompetence when it comes to military matters never ceases to amaze me. Mined with nuclear weapons? No serious observer would make such a transparently foolish statement. Any thinking person knows that Israel is so small that a nuclear weapon going off in its vicinity (including the territory of its Arab neighbors) would wreak major destruction on Israel itself. As for being built a few kilometers within its borders, Chomsky naturally fails to mention that, for most of the distance of the wall, Israel is only a handful of kilometers wide; a few kilometers inside its borders is the Mediterranean sea, or rather close to it; which is exactly why the Arab nations have always tried to frustrate any expansion of Israel's eastern border whatsoever: it is, for all intents and purposes, indefensible, by wall or otherwise, in its current form. The wall is being built where it is for reasons which are clear to anyone looking at a map, although not, apparently, to professors of linguistics dabbling in areas outside their purview.
The problem would be that it would not take valuable Palestinian land and resources (including control of water), drive out the population, and lay the basis for still further expansion as Palestinians flee from the dungeons that are left, like the town of Qalqilya. So to interpret as a land grab seems appropriate.Well, if so, its the most incompetent land grab in history, since even if Sharon did annex all the land behind the wall to Israel (which seems to me, barring totally unforeseen circumstances, politically impossible) it would leave the vast majority of the West Bank, including some valuable strategic terrain and such holy sites as Hebron, in Arab hands.
Doubtless a side benefit is to increase a narrow form of "security," while probably in the long run seriously increasing insecurity not only because of the regional impact but because sooner or later it is likely to inspire terrorist acts against Israelis abroad in revenge. But terror and security are not driving concerns, any more than they have a high priority in the planning of "the boss-man called 'partner'," as more astute Israeli commentators describeOnce again, we see Chomsky's fetishistic faith in the absolute power of the United States and its omnipotent machinations. Needless to say, the idea that terror and security are not major, in fact the major, considerations in Israel (and the US, for that matter) is one of those epic lies which Chomsky often tells in order to avoid dealing with the complexities of situations he prefers to see in terms of absolute Manicheanism. Anything which might arouse sympathy or understanding for Israel, or attribute to her motives other than malicious greed, must be suppressed and denied at all costs, lest Chomsky's tightly held moral absolutisms come crashing to the ground. Notice that nowhere in this post does Chomsky mention terrorism against Israeli civilians in any detail, they simply don't exist for him. Furthermore, the idea that the fence will increase insecurity is ludicrous, so far it (in combination with the IDF operations Chomsky decries as war crimes) has been an unqualified success in interdicting terrorism, which is precisely why the Palestinians, the Arab states, and their fellow travelers are fighting it tooth and nail. As for revenge attacks abroad, they are already happening and were happening long before the wall existed; they are the product of ideology and will not be affected one way or the other by the security wall. There is, moreover, a very simple way to stop such attacks: the PLO, the Arab governments, and apologists like Chomsky can stop supporting them, though I am not waiting up nights for such an eventuality.
Sharon's strategic thinking seems straightforward enough. There are excellent descriptions in recent books by Tanya Reinhart and Baruch Kimmerling. It is also not radically different from that of Rabin and Peres. The goal is to take over the valuable parts of the West Bank (Gaza is mostly a burden), and to leave the population that remains under local administration, to rot and decline.I don't know Reinhart, but I have read several of Kimmerling's articles and one of his books. He is a violently leftwing sociologist who is simply out of his depth on these issues and routinely distorts history in order to buttress his political agenda (reminiscent of someone we know, isn't it?). One of his most recent books, a political history of the Palestinians, was deconstructed by Israeli revisionist historian Benny Morris (who has, in all fairness taken a recent swing to the right, though not nearly as wide a swing as some of his critics suggest) in a lengthy article in the New Republic, where he described the book as riddled with errors and shot through with a bias which rendered the entire work practically unreadable, and certainly impossible to take seriously. (This article, by the way, also includes a long explication of Morris's own political metamorphosis which is well worth reading.) Kimmerling's book on Sharon, tendenciously titled "Politicide" (the term Kimmerling invents to describe Sharon's supposed strategy towards the Palestinians) of which I have only read excerpts, struck me as a fundamentally dishonest hatchet job, though no more so than most of what I have read on Sharon by leftwing academics. At any rate, Sharon has, thus far, not spelled out his scenario for a final settlement, so Chomsky is merely engaging in sophistry here. Neither Rabin or Peres did so either, although it seems clear to me that their intention was to withdraw from all of Gaza and most of the West Bank (not retaining "the valuable parts", but those on which the major settlements are built, 10-15% or so of the total area) in a manner which would not seriously impair Israel's security or existence. The persistent use of terror by the Palestinians and the continued attacks on Israel's legitimacy undertaken by the Palestinian government, schools, and media have greatly complicated he possibility of such a solution and will likely continue to do so for a long while. It seems to me, and I am only guessing here, that Sharon is trying to engineer as complete a withdrawal as possible while keeping in mind that the Palestinians have, thus far, not accepted Israel's right to exist and likely will not in the near future. That is, at any rate, a far more plausible scenario, to my mind, than Chomsky's ignorant rantings.
The basic principle was explained to the Cabinet of the Labor Government 30 years ago by Moshe Dayan, perhaps the most sympathetic to the Palestinians among the Israeli leadership: we should tell the Palestinians in the territories that "You shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes, may leave, and we shall see where this process will lead."I have read several books on Dayan and have never come across that quote. He very well may have said it, though I would have to see the whole statement in order to judge the accuracy of Chomsky's use of it, which, knowing Chomsky, I think we are entitled to be suspicious. Thirty years ago, Dayan was out of government and in disgrace, so I doubt this is the type of statement he was making at the time, if indeed he was making any at all. It could have come from right after the Six Day War, when Dayan was Minister of Defense and a national hero, in which case it sounds to me less like a threat of annexation and more like one of Dayan's "they can go fuck themselves until they make peace with us" comments he used to make during that period of intense euphoria which Israeli writer Amos Oz called "The Age of Arrogance". At any rate, with so tendentious an accusation, a source should have been cited. For what its worth, Dayan later resigned from the Begin government over its hardline stance on the territories. As for the quote by Ben-Gurion, I have never encountered it before either, although I know from reading his diaries (as Chomsky would know as well, had he bothered to do any actual research) that Ben-Gurion favored total withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, excepting only Jerusalem, in exchange for a peace treaty with the Arab states.
The occupation should be "permanent," he believed, in one or another form, and to the objection that Israel must consider its moral stand, he responded that "Ben-Gurion said that whoever approaches the Zionist problem from a moral aspect is not a Zionist."
There have been differences as to how these principles should apply, but a fair consensus among leading political echelons that if they can be applied, that's fine. Sharon's basic conceptions were outlined years ago, and he is pursuing them systematically, relying on the material and diplomatic support of the boss-man.Well, considering that Sharon has done a 180 degree shift from most of his former positions (and in the process alienated almost all of his former allies), it would seem that Chomsky's assertion here is less objective scholarship and more slanderous conspiracy-mongering. As for a consensus in the leading political echelons, Chomsky simply doesn't know what he's talking about; most of the Israeli political establishment, particularly in the foreign and defense ministries, supported the Oslo Accords, the Camp David offer, and the plan outlined in the Taba negotiations and do so to this day. I doubt strongly that Yossi Beilin's Geneva Accords are all that far from the Israeli elite's conception of a final settlement. In the United States, as well, the two-state solution had clearly reached a point of critical mass. Thinking otherwise may salve the egos of Chomsky and his anarchist adolescent minions by stroking their self-image as noble rebels against the evil Establishment, but it simply isn't true.
Across the spectrum, the "ideal" solution might well be something like Ben-Gurion's expansive vision that goes far beyond anything currently considered even within the realm of dreams.
As for Ben-Gurion's "expansive vision", I have already described Ben-Gurion's actual views regarding territorial accommodation. This trope is a mere retread of the old Arab propaganda line that Ben-Gurion's dream was a Jewish empire from the Nile to the Euphrates (represented by the two blue lines on the Israeli flag, no less) and thus that the Zionists were insatiably greedy imperialists rather than another people with legitimate national claims and rights. It wasn't true then and it isn't true now, much like everything else Noam Chomsky has to say.
Amritas has noted that Chomsky was probably joking about mining the wall with nuclear weapons, which I have to admit is likely true, although Chomsky does proceed from there into the rest of his argument in all apparent seriousness; your guess is as good as mine. Maybe he was trying to be smart and only succeeded in being confusing; wouldn't be the first time.
I am now convinced that Chomsky was not joking about mining the wall with nukes. This weekend's Jerusalem Post contained a review of a new book by Martin Van Creveld, an Israeli leftist military historian, who recommends this solution for the Golan Heights.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Any one of these quotes could have been culled from Hegemony or Survival. It is nothing less than extraordinary--although the same convergence has occurred between the radical Left and radical Islam--to see two ideological movements supposedly bitterly opposed to each other on every level not merely parroting each others propaganda, but in all essential aspects assimilating each other's worldview. Its always important to remember that rhetorical hysteria, anti-Americanism, and proto-totalitarian conspiracism are not confined to the political Left, but are finding a home in numerous ideologies who are united both in their rejection and fear of American society and, indeed, the very idea of the free society itself.
[The Bush Doctrine is] a prescription for permanent war for permanent peace, though wars are the death of republics. (6)
The Bush National Security Strategy is the imperial edict of a superpower out to exploit its present supremacy to make itself permanent Lord Protector of the universe. (26)
This is democratic imperialism. This will bleed, bankrupt and isolate this republic. This overthrows the wisdom of the Founding Fathers about what America should be all about. (35)
Terrorism is the price of empire. If we do not wish to pay it, we must give up the empire. (237)
America's enemy in the Islamic world is not a state we can crush with sanctions or an enemy we can defeat with force of arms. The enemy is a cause, a movement, an idea. (87)
[T]errorism is not a nation, a regime, or an army. Terrorism is a tactic, a technique, a weapon fanatics, dictators and warriors have resorted to through history. If...war is the continuation of politics by other means, terrorism is the continuation of war by other means. (89)
We are not hated for who we are. We are hated for what we do. It is not our principles that have spawned pandemic hatred of America in the Islamic world. It is our policies. (80)
U.S. dominance of the Middle East is not the corrective to terror. It is a cause of terror. Were we not over there, the 9/11 terrorists would not have been over here. (236)
Often, terrorism succeeded in the 20th century, and, when it did, the ex-terrorists achieved power, glory and immortality, with streets, towns and cities named for them....America today recognizes every regime to come out of these wars where terrorism was a common tactic. (123)
The Sharon Plan is not a peace plan. It is a unilateral solution to be imposed by Israel....A Palestinian leader who signs on to this surrender of land and rights would be signing his death warrant. (242)
Sunday, August 22, 2004
The fellow traveler never pulls the trigger himself. That much should be clear. In this sense, he is simultaneously morally superior and spiritually inferior to the executioner, at least in the sense that the executioner retains the courage to act on his beliefs. The fellow traveler is philosophically active but practically impotent; that is, he is a vicarious figure, who enacts his political and spiritual desires through others. He desires to shed blood, but does not. He desires to storm the ramparts, but does not. Whether this is a product of subconscious qualms or simple cowardice is relevant, but it is not essential to the issue. What is essential is the supreme importance of proximity; most importantly of all, the proximity to violence.
Violence in the hands of the fellow traveler--metaphorically, of course, since all fellow travelers are highly scrupulous as to their purity in this regard--is both confirmation and catalyst to their own inner sureties and the deeper crisis simultaneously at work. The intellectual man--and most fellow travelers are intellectual in nature; that is, they live most fully and confidently among the insubstantial--is a man who lives with ghosts. His thoughts lack the animating qualities of blood and sweat, those intoxicating byproducts of battle. Moreover, as the fellow traveler is, almost by definition, a man of some intelligence--although in most cases a relatively mediocre intelligence--he is hardly unaware of this terrible contradiction. The man who lives insubstantially can go farther than the man who lives resolutely in the concrete world. His mind can conjure up dreams, nightmares, fantasies, and terrors with a torturous ease. But this is a Promethean condemnation, for the intellectual is forbidden, by the very insubstantiality of his existence, from ever touching these amorphous visions; he is condemned to be tortured by their stubborn incorporeality.
To this impasse, the man of violence offers a terrible and yet irresistible consummation. The intercourse of ideology; the shared mutuality of belief, of faith; between the fellow traveler and the executioner offers to the both of them a means of escape from the weight of their respective chains. For the executioner, it offers him a transcendence which is both justification and absolution. No man who kills--except for the most redolent sociopath, who are fewer and farther between than many of us like to think--can ever fully escape the condemnation of his own memory. The blood of his victim is on his hands, and though others may not see it, he does; and the thing lives, festering in his bowels and adding weight to his every step. But the ideology of the fellow traveler, which links the act of murder to the breaking forth of new ages and new freedoms; which turns murder from an act of violence into an act of revolution; which transmutes the defiance of morality into a revolt against an unjust god; bears the executioner aloft on its wings, and leaves him with a lightness which can seem to the man of violence to be nothing less than a redemptive grace, a merciful commutation of an eternal sentence.
To the fellow traveler, however, the gift is nothing less than a new existence, an infusion of life into that which had been merely words, thoughts, dreams, easy intonations. Like the exanguinated shades of Pluto's underworld, who would come to life as they infused with blood; the intellectual, finding himself in sudden proximity to violence, indeed, to the quickening presence of death, feels himself enthralled with a new life and a new commitment. For, as every totalist movement has learned, the act of murder solidifies and commits as no other act can do. Once death has been wielded, and once one has become implicated in its excisions, there is no turning back. The beheading of kings, the concentration camp, the bullet in the back of the head in the dawn light of prison yards have all been the means by which men of violence implicated their inferiors in death; by which they bound their fellows too weak or too pure of heart to wield its power to their designs. And the fellow traveler needs this commitment. He cannot exist without it; or rather, he cannot feel his own existence without it. His is a selfish resolution, what he seeks ultimately is to satiate himself. His existence is vampiric, parasitical, pure in the sense that it is purely egotistical; it is narcissistic in the classic sense; he is drawn forth, despite his protestations of altruism, to satisfy his existential desires; and thus murder, by his witness, enters into his deepest self and resides there like a cancer, spreading until it consumes. For no one who bears witness, as so many have learned to their regret, can ever be truly innocent.
What, then, is the measure of guilt for the fellow traveler? Can we indict him with the same alacrity as we indict the executioner? Can we call him accessory? Advocate? Enabler? Is he, like the man who drives the getaway car, to be considered as fully indicted as the man who pulled the trigger?
Perhaps we must grant the fellow traveler his own special category, for his crime is a unique one. It is a crime of hypocrisy and of existential selfishness, a self-regard so total that it can encompass both murder and the negation of murder within the same sphere of mural surety without the slightest trepidation. There must be a place set aside for this manner of crime, for this form which monstrousness takes. For, in truth, the fellow travelers crime is uniquely debased, because, despite his protestations of absolute altruism, he is, in fact, utterly self-consumed. His is a crime of indifference of the most aggressive kind, an absolute indifference, a failure of empathy so total that it can countenance murder by its opposite, and embrace death by its negation.
And, in his own way, the fellow traveler indicts us all. We are not all of us men of violence, we are not all of us capable of wielding death. But we are all of us capable of indifference. And we are all, in some measure, attracted to power, attracted to the terror which murder arouses within us. We are all fellow travelers in waiting, and, if only as a warning, his condemnation ought to be the most total, the most absolute. For the fellow traveler is, finally, a man who ought to know better, a man whose intelligence and protestations of conscience are his own judgment; and in attempting to condemn the world, he condemns himself alone, and all of us with him.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
I must confess, as I read this I began to seethe with anger. Nothing is uglier than hypocrisy, especially when it results in murder; and the spectacle of this grinning clown, this king of the useful idiots, this wretched apologist for tyranny and slaughter parading himself around North Vietnam, armed with his suffocating moral self-adoration, adorning himself with the honorable title of dissident while the true dissidents, the true martyrs to human freedom, were condemned to silence and death by the very government he was busy aggrandizing; is as much of a monument to intellectual evil as the worst apologists for Hitler and Stalin. Chomsky is merely one in a long continuum of Potemkin intellectuals who began as gadflys and ended as cheerleaders to mass murder. It is up to us to see that history judges him as harshly as it has his fellow travelers.
Chomsky does not like to be reminded of, or questioned about, his April 1970 speech in Hanoi. Instead he likes to refer to his 28-page account of the visit in his book At War With Asia. Unfortunately for Chomsky, the account in the book is in many ways even more damning than the speech.
Chomsky found North Vietnam a socialist paradise. He found the country “relaxed and serene.” Everywhere he went, the people “seemed healthy, well-fed, and adequately clothed.” The only negative feelings are evoked by the damage caused by American bombing.
So far as Chomsky can tell, “the country is unified, strong though poor,and determined to withstand the attack launched against Vietnam by the strongest superpower in the world.” That is, there was no dissent whatsoever. The famous American dissenter did not find that odd in the least.
Chomsky accepted every word of his Hanoi hosts without criticism, questioning, or skepticism. Governments engage in propaganda, he loves to remind us–but not Hanoi! When they informed him that their goal for South Vietnam was a “larger coalition government” he accepted that ludicrous contention without reservation.
He called the Saigon authorities “increasingly authoritarian and repressive.” Such a comment in Hanoi, a Stalinist state, certainly raises doubts as to Chomsky’s mental balance.
Chomsky, the champion of freedom of speech, wrote admiringly of his conversation with the director of “the major newspaper of North Vietnam” without, apparently, asking about other newspapers with dissenting views–or even modest disagreement with the Party line. Was there any part of the press or other media independent of Communist control? It never occurred to him to ask, apparently, and the great free speech champion ignored the subject entirely. In a country where millions suffered–and continue to suffer–repression of free speech to a degree infinitely greater than anything that happened later to Faurisson [a French Holocaust denier notoriously defended by Chomsky -- Benjamin] in France, Chomsky managed to remain completely silent on the question of basic human rights.
The conceit that Chomsky supported “the Vietnamese people” or “the revolution” but not the regime cannot be maintained. He describes with adoration his conversations with, among other high-ranking officials, Premier Pham Van Dong. And he accepted without question the Premier's ridiculous assertions that “South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos will be neutral” after the expected reunification of the country.
He visited a hospital. It was wonderful. He visited a math class, a linguistics seminar. All equally wonderful. He writes with approval of the “achievements of the North Vietnamese in the economic field.” He looks at the phenomenon of a free agricultural market alongside the state market,and concludes that “there is little incentive for the peasants to use the free market” because the state set agricultural prices artificially high. Most peasants, he says, have joined the cooperatives, “the advantages of joining being obvious.” Not a sign of coercion here!
Chomsky tells us that “there appears to be a high degree of democratic participation at the village and regional levels.” One wonder what the evidence for that “democracy” might have been.
He goes on to explain in some detail how the Party utilizes central economic planning, and cites with approval the analysis by Le Duan–head of the Party–of the central role of the Party in managing and directing the economy. Chomsky often likes to smear those who disagree with him as Stalinists and neo-Nazis, with such lines as “a Stalinist would be proud.” Here the Stalinists actually were proud–and Chomsky gave them his approval. He goes so far as to say that Hanoi was successfully applying Mao’s principles of development.
It is at this point that the only modest disagreement surfaces between Chomsky and his government hosts: Chomsky endorses the elimination, in the long run, of “party direction” in favor of “direct popular control at all levels.” He gives no indication as to how this might happen.
There follows a discussion of the North Vietnamese “land reform” after 1954. Citing reports from the Manchester Guardian, he says that the land reform “took a fearful toll; it was a chaotic affair, with thousands of people using the opportunity to pay off old scores, and thousands were killed in an eruption of violence and terror.” But it was all worth it, says Chomsky, for the hope it gave peasants of a new society. North Vietnam has succeeded, he says, “in resolving successfully an extremely difficult problem of agricultural production.” It is not a question of human rights; as with Soviet Five-Year Plans, it is merely a question of production. The human toll is irrelevant. And of course, in Chomsky’s version, the brutality of the process had nothing to do with government policy.
We can be sure that there is another side to the “land reform” story that Chomsky will not reveal, that he wishes to consign to the memory hole: here is a slightly different description, found athttp://www.newamerica.net/index.cfm?pg=article&DocID=43:The Hanoi dictatorship instituted the Soviet and Chinese collectivization models as its disastrous "land reform program." A "Population Classification Degree" of March 2, 1953, assigned everyone to categories invented by the Soviets in the 1920s, e.g. "landlord" and "agricultural worker." Notwithstanding the fact that the average landlord in North Vietnam owned less than two acres of rice land, somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 North Vietnamese were denounced as class enemies and shot.To sum up: Chomsky, the famous dissenter and champion of human rights,visited a totalitarian country and found no dissent; and the absence of basic human freedoms did not concern him in the least. The “libertarian socialist” had nothing but good things to say about the imposition of economic, cultural, and political institutions that were and continue to be repressive, cruel, and coercive. The “independent thinker” lavished his praise on the most brutal Stalinist and Maoist policies.
During this period Ho Chi Minh and his colleagues were so impressed by Mao's large-scale class genocide that they brought in Chinese Communists to help them sort out who should live and who should die. Bui Tin, a former North Vietnamese official, described the case of Mrs. Nguyen Thi Nam. Although her sons were Communist Party officials, "the Chinese adviser concluded that she was a cruel landowner who had to be eliminated." This case was brought to Ho Chi Minh's attention, but he refused to intervene. "Mrs. Nam was quickly condemned to death on the advice of Mao Tse-tung's representative, who accused her of deceitfully entering the ranks of the revolution to destroy it from within."
Some peasants used the land reform process to settle scores, but as the imprisonment and murder grew in scale many were frightened into resistance. On November 2, 1956, villagers rebelled in Nghe-An, near Ho's birthplace,forcing the regime to send in the 325th Division of the People's Army to crush them.
As in Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China, in Ho's North Vietnam the land reform terror was called off when it had served its purpose of atomizing society and cementing the control of the communist party. Ho Chi Min admitted that "errors" had been made, but blithely dismissed the victims of the mass murder: "One cannot waken the dead."
The atrocities of the North Vietnamese government appalled many intellectuals, including some in the Communist Party. Their protest took the form of articles in two publications, Nhan Van ("The Humanities") and Giai Pham ("Masterpieces"), from which the so-called Nhan Van-Giai Pham Affair (1956-58) took its name. The regime cracked down on the dissidents, but could not kill the spirit of dissent. Nguyen Chi Thien began composing poetry critical of the regime, which was privately circulated. The authorities jailed him in 1961.
In testimony before the U.S. Congress in 1995, the poet described what happened: "In 1961 Ho Chi Minh himself signed a decree ordering the re-education of several hundred thousand people, consisting of those who had served in the military or government of the Bao Dai regime, and those in the general population who were discontented with the regime, including Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, lay Catholics, bourgeois capitalists and intellectuals. They were all corralled in hard labor camps…The vast majority of these people were never brought to trial and their fate depended entirely on the dispositions made by the Public Security cadres."
Released in 1963, Nguyen Chi Thien was arrested again in 1966 and was imprisoned until 1977. Like Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag, he had to compose his work and commit it to memory. Whether he was in the city jail of Hoa Lo (the "Hanoi Hilton" where many American POWs spent time) or hard labor camps in the countryside, he spent days reciting his poems to himself. His greatest fear was that if he lost his memory his life's work would be obliterated.
After being released in 1977, he lived with a friend and wrote down almost400 poems from memory. He chose Bastille Day, 1979 (July 14) to smuggle his work to diplomats in the French Embassy in Hanoi. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese security detail standing guard deterred him. Two days later,pursued by another security detail, he plunged into the British embassy, shouting in English, "I am not a madman, I am a poet and I have something important to give to you." To their credit, three British diplomats shut out the Vietnamese guards and asked him what he wanted. He gave them his manuscript and three photographs of himself, to establish that he did not seek to hide in anonymity. On leaving the embassy he was arrested. He spent 12 more years in prison and composed a second collection of poems. In 1991 he was released and emigrated to the United States.
So why does anyone take him seriously?
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Monday, August 16, 2004
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Like the master, Nader seems to completely lack any conscience or capacity for objective self-reflection whatsoever. Nader could easily criticize Israel without making ridiculously racist comments like claiming Israel runs the US government; and he could easily apologize for such obnoxious rhetoric like any honest person would, issue a mea culpa and be done with it. Instead, in classic Chomskyite fashion, he tries to obfuscate the issue with lousy history -- I could name numerous examples of the US government contradicting Israeli policy, the strong-arming of Yitzhak Shamir in the run up to the Madrid Conference is one of the most prominent examples -- and spurious inuenndo, i.e. claiming that AIPAC influence and Jewish lobbying success are somehow proof that Israel runs the US government. As with Chomsky, the real issue here is Nader's faith in his own infallibility and his rage at those who would dare question it; on a larger level, its a statement about the danger inherent in the authoritarian personality, in the intellectual who ascribes to himself a messianic perception of events cemented in place by a fanatic's morality.
In early July, after Nader made the "puppet" comment, Foxman and Barbara Balser, ADL's national chairman, wrote to Nader, saying, "the image of the Jewish State as a 'puppeteer,' controlling the powerful US Congress feeds into many age-old stereotypes which have no place in legitimate public discourse."
In a three-page letter dated August 5, Nader responded to Foxman by noting, "The Israelis have a joke for the obvious – that the United States is the second state of Israel." "How often, if ever, has the United States – either the Congress of the White House – pursued a course of action, since 1956, that contradicted the Israeli government's position?"
Nader lamented what he described as the lack of freedom in the US to debate and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he attacked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, for its influence on Capitol Hill.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
For those of you who are interested, I've posted some of my longer essays as permanent web pages:
- My review of Peace in the Middle East? begins here, links to the next three pages are at the bottom.
- Here There is No Why?, on Chomsky and Holocaust denial.
- Is Chomsky an Anti-Semite?
- For those interested in the occasional non-Chomsky related article, here's a piece I wrote last summer on Bruce Springsteen. I think its interesting considering some of the Boss's recent utterings.
Saturday, August 07, 2004
The Supreme Court has held that "adhering" requires an intent to help the nation's enemies. Merely knowledge that one's actions will help the enemies isn't enough. Thus, for instance, in Haupt v. United States (1947), the Court concluded that a father's sheltering his son -- a Nazi saboteur -- isn't treason if his intention was simply to help his son (as a result of "parental solicitude"). To be treasonous, the father's actions had to be intended to aid the Nazis. Likewise, in Cramer v. United States (1945), the Court held that:Obviously, the realm of protected speech in this interpretation is very wide indeed -- contradicting, amusingly enough, Chomsky's claim that the US is a totalitarian society -- but not unlimited; even the most liberal society, after all, has the right to fight for its own preservation in the face of illiberal forces. This definition of treason seems to rest on three factors:
"On the other hand, a citizen may take actions, which do aid and comfort the enemy -- making a speech critical of the government or opposing its measures, profiteering, striking in defense plants or essential work, and the hundred other things which impair our cohesion and diminish our strength -- but if there is no adherence to the enemy in this, if there is no intent to betray, there is no treason."
In wartime, many actions may help the enemy. Criticizing the government may help the enemy. Running as antiwar candidate may help the enemy (by emboldening the enemy's allies).
Raising prices, either on goods sold to the military or on goods to the public at large, may help the enemy. So can striking. So can retiring from a high-level job (in government or in essential civilian work), when one knows that one's replacement will be less effective. (None of these may help the enemy vastly, but treason law doesn't require vast assistance, only some assistance.) If all of these actions were treated as treasonous, then we would have a totalitarian regime during every war.
It's actually not clear whether even intentionally aiding the enemy should always be punishable treason, if it's done through speech. For instance, say that an American opinion leader thought during the Spanish-American War that the Spanish were in the right and deserved to win, and argued this intending to help the Spaniards -- and actually helping them, because this emboldened them, weakened domestic morale, and so on. This might well be constitutionally protected speech, though I think some other speech that aids the enemey would not be constitutionally protected; consider the Axis Sally broadcasts from Nazi Germany by Nazi employees (though U.S. citizens), or of course a government employee's revelations of nuclear secrets.
- A fealty to and desire to aid the enemies of the United States.
- The undertaking of specific actions to aid said enemies.
- Behind those actions must be the specific intention to aid said enemies and the knowledge that those actions will do so.
In Chomsky's case, the issue is complicated further by the fact that Chomsky's actions are mostly rhetorical; that is to say that -- as far as I know -- he does not undertake obviously treasonous actions such as running guns to the enemy or divulging important information. I think we can safely say, however, that Chomsky's actions quite often meet the first and second conditions, while less often skirting the edge of the third. Being as indulgent as possible -- which I think ought to be the case in a free society -- we can nonetheless find at least two instances of treasonous activity in Chomsky's career, and a few more examples which we can regard as belonging to a grayer area.
The first and most obvious is Vietnam. In this case, the fact that Chomsky committed treason against the United States is rather glaringly obvious. There can be no question that Chomsky's ideological and emotional stake was with the North Vietnamese and the cause of communism in Southeast Asia. His statements in North Vietnam were clear expressions of fealty to that cause and, indeed, his personal identification with it; Chomsky's actions during Vietnam were not directed towards an amorphous pacifism but rather specifically intended to engineer an American defeat and a communist victory. The fact that Chomsky was motivated by ostensibly good intentions is, to my mind, no excuse whatsoever. To consider the defeat of one's country a glorious victory for the cause of humanity in no way negates the legal implications of aiding and abetting in it. The obvious counterargument, one of which Chomsky is almost comedically fond, is the Nazi hypothetical; i.e. that if one is a citizen of a state like Nazi Germany, than one is not merely permitted but obligated morally to work for its defeat. My only response is to say that to draw such an analogy between Nazi Germany and the United States indicates a moral and intellectual bankruptcy so profound that it can serve only to indicate to us the degree of intellectual malfeasance at work in the mind of one who asserts it. Chomsky's claim of virtue in treason is no more admirable than his later discovery of virtue in mass murder, or its denial. His actions regarding Vietnam -- and those of a good swath of his compatriots -- are, in my opinion, inextricably equivilant to type of actions undertaken by the "Axis Sally" propagandists in WWII and other pro-Nazi citizens of Allied nations; and ought to have been treated as such.
The only reason they were not, as far as I can see, is the fact that, in a classic case of defining deviancy down, such actions among the American intellectual elite had become so ubiquitous and widespread that they had ceased to be prosecutable. It would have involved locking up a mighty swath -- though by no means all -- of the intellectual elite of the United States. (Before the denunciations start, I would like to note that I am not accusing everyone who opposed the Vietnam War of treason, only those who did so out of identification with communism and in service of engineering a total North Vietnamese victory.) As the poet said: "Treason doth never prosper, for if it prosper none dare call it treason." In this case, treason -- or, at the very least, the total negation of the most essential values of a liberal society -- had become so widespread that it ceased to be a crime; this was not due to a sudden collapse in morality but rather a negation of courage; more precisely, to support the anti-communist cause -- to put it more accurately, the anti-totalitarian cause -- required a degree of moral and political courage which most intellectuals at the time simply did not possess. Treason won out not by conviction but by density; the sheer weight of the shift in the ideological center of gravity; a phenomenon which, quite simply, rendered the law impossible to enforce.
The second case, and this is a bit less clear, is that of Afghanistan. There is no doubt that Chomsky deliberately spread false propaganda that a "silent genocide" was in the offing in Afghanistan, and that he did so for the purposes of damaging and/or interdicting America's cause in that war. This, within itself, in no way constitutes treason; though it is one of the most disgraceful moments in an already ostentiously disgraceful career. I am less indulgent regarding the manner in which Chomsky went about spreading the slander; mostly through the European media and on trips to India, Pakistan, and other highly volatile areas of the world where such propaganda could well have erupted into anti-American violence; an outcome which was, in my opinion, precisely Chomsky's intention and hope. This does not, however, necessarily fulfill the requirement of intent to aid the enemies of one's country; for it does not declare Chomsky a champion of Bin Laden and the Taliban. I think there is a case to be made, however, that Chomsky regarded the situation as "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." In Chomsky's eyes, Bin Laden's violence was a welcome response to the American imperium; "for the first time, the guns have been turned around" as Chomsky put it; and therefore its engineer ought to be defended and aided however possible. I am personally convinced that Chomsky's spreading of malicious and false propaganda was undertaken with the deliberate intention of sabotaging a military effort against Bin Laden and that this constituted an act of treason; whether such a charge would hold up in a court of law, I am less certain, though I think the basis for an indictment is probably there.
There are other, grayer areas, which skirt the line of legal treason without crossing it outright: Chomsky's support for Central American communism, for Castro's Cuba, and more than a few others. I have also personally seen tapes of Chomsky's lectures being broadcast on Syrian television, a privilege for which I am sure he is well compensated. While these lectures are mostly anti-Israel, there is a fair amount of anti-Americanism wrapped up in them as well; a fact which cannot but contribute to America's bad image in the Middle East; an outcome of which Chomsky is no doubt aware.
The question, however, ultimately comes down to the refusal of a large piece of the American intelligentsia -- with Chomsky first among them -- to openly acknowledge the rather obvious implications of their ideologies. The idea that certain positions, such as advocating the overthrow of representative democracy in the United States, are ones which any liberal society is obligated to regard as criminal seems to be lost on a generation of intellectuals for whom intellectual responsibility has ceased to mean anything more than subscribing to a list of preordained ideologies of which anti-Americanism is the supreme catechism. The common sense argument, obvious to any thinking person, that desiring and attempting to engineer the defeat of one's country in a war can, in fact must, entail consequences has been obliterated by an elite convinced of their own righteousness in the manner that only the true fanatic can be. It is the rest of us, I fear, who will reap the whirlwind.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
For readers who prefer their history to be an accurate retelling of the past rather than marching orders for the present, Zinn’s writings disappoint. While every historian has his biases, Zinn makes no effort to overcome his. What is considered vice by most historians—politically motivated inaccuracies, long-winded rants, convenient omissions, substituting partisanship for objectivity—is transformed into virtue by Zinn.This idea, the politicization of all – even truth itself – is the surest sign of the totalitarian mind. Such thinking creates a hermetically sealed world in which quite literally nothing exists beyond the dialectic at work in the mind of the intellectual. This phenomenon, the all-dominating intellectual violence of the totalitarian personality, defines the Chomskyite more than any other attribute, and is, indeed, beginning to define the American intelligentsia as a whole. Not least, perhaps, because they spend so much time reading books like these.
“Objectivity is impossible,” pop historian Howard Zinn once remarked, “and it is also undesirable. That is, if it were possible it would be undesirable, because if you have any kind of a social aim, if you think history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race; should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.”
The New York Times’ review opined that the book should be “required reading” for students. Professors have heeded this counsel. Courses at the University of Colorado-Boulder, UMass-Amherst, Penn State, and Indiana University are among dozens of classes nationwide that require the book. The book is so popular that it can be found on the class syllabus in such fields as economics, political science, literature, and women’s studies, in addition to its more understandable inclusion in history. Amazon.com reports in the site’s “popular in” section that the book is currently #7 at Emory University, #4 at the University of New Mexico, #9 at Brown University, and #7 at the University of Washington. In fact, 16 of the 40 locations listed in A People’s History’s “popular in” section are academic institutions, with the remainder of the list dominated by college towns like Binghamton (NY), State College (PA), East Lansing (MI), and Athens (GA). Based on this, it is reasonable to wonder if most of the million or so copies sold have been done so via coercion, i.e., college professors and high school teachers requiring the book. The book is deemed to be so crucial to the development of young minds by some academics that a course at Evergreen State decreed: “This is an advanced class and all students should have read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States before the first day of class, to give us a common background to begin the class.”
And what “common background” might that be?
Through Zinn’s looking-glass, Maoist China, site of history’s bloodiest state-sponsored killings, transforms into “the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.” The authoritarian Nicaraguan Sandinistas were “welcomed” by their own people, while the opposition Contras, who backed the candidate that triumphed when free elections were finally held, were a “terrorist group” that “seemed to have no popular support inside Nicaragua.” Castro’s Cuba, readers learn, “had no bloody record of suppression."
The recently released updated edition continues to be plagued with inaccuracies and poor judgment. The added sections on the Clinton years, the 2000 election, and 9/11 bear little resemblance to the reality his current readers have lived through.
In an effort to bolster his arguments against putting criminals in jail, aggressive law enforcement tactics, and President Clinton’s crime bill, Zinn contends that in spite of all this “violent crime continues to increase.” It doesn’t. Like much of Zinn’s rhetoric, if you believe the opposite of what he says in this instance you would be correct. According to a Department of Justice report released in September of 2002, the violent crime rate has been cut in half since 1993.
According to Zinn, it was Mumia Abu-Jamal’s “race and radicalism,” as well as his “persistent criticism of the Philadelphia police” that landed him on death row in the early 1980s. Nothing about Abu-Jamal’s gun being found at the scene; nothing about the testimony of numerous witnesses pointing to him as the triggerman; nothing about additional witnesses reporting a confession by Abu-Jamal—it was Abu-Jamal’s dissenting voice that caused a jury of twelve to unanimously sentence him to death.
Predictably, Zinn draws a moral equivalence between America and the 9/11 terrorists. He writes, “It seemed that the United States was reacting to the horrors perpetrated by the terrorists against innocent people in New York by killing other innocent people in Afghanistan.” Scare quotes adorn Bush’s “war on terrorism,” post-9/11 “patriotism,” and other words and phrases Zinn dislikes.
Readers of A People’s History of the United States learn very little about history. They do learn quite a bit, however, about Howard Zinn. In fact, the book is perhaps best thought of as a massive Rorschach Test, with the author’s familiar reaction to every major event in American history proving that his is a captive mind long closed by ideology...
If you’ve read Marx, there’s no reason to read Howard Zinn. In fact, reading the first line of The Communist Manifesto makes a study of A People’s History of the United States a colossal waste of time. The single-bullet theory of history offered by Marx—“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle”—is relied upon by Zinn to explain all of American history. Economics determines everything. Why study history when theory has all the answers.
Thumb through A People’s History of the United States and one finds greed motivating every major event. According to Zinn, the separation from Great Britain, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II—to name but a few examples—all stem from base motives involving rich men seeking to get richer at the expense of other men.
Zinn’s projection of Marxist theory upon historical reality begins with Columbus, who, Zinn posits, repetitiously queried the Indians: where is the gold? According to Zinn, those following Columbus to the New World did so for the same reason: profit. “Behind the English invasion of North America, behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilizations based on private profit,” maintains the octogenarian writer.
A materialist interpretation continues with the Founding. “Around 1776,” A People’s History informs, “certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years. They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from the favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership."
Zinn sarcastically adds, “When we look at the American Revolution this way, it was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have received over the centuries. They created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command.” Rather than the spark that lit the fire of freedom and self-government throughout much of the world, the American Founding is portrayed as a diabolically creative way to ensure oppression. If the Founders wanted a society they could direct, why didn’t they put forth a dictatorship or a monarchy resembling most other governments at the time? Why go through the trouble of devising a constitution guaranteeing rights, mass political participation, jury trials, and checks on power? Zinn doesn’t explain, contending that these freedoms and rights were merely a facade designed to prevent class revolution.
Zinn paints antebellum America as a uniquely cruel slaveholding society subjugating man for profit. Curiously, the war that ultimately resulted in slavery’s demise is portrayed as a conflict of oppression too. Zinn writes, “it is money and profit, not the movement against slavery, that was uppermost in the priorities of the men who ran the country.” Rather than welcoming emancipation, as one might expect, Zinn casts a cynical eye towards it. “Class consciousness was overwhelmed during the Civil War,” the author laments, placing a decidedly negative spin on the central event in American history. America is in a lose/lose situation. Both slavery and emancipation, according to Zinn, were caused by the same thing: greed. Whether the U.S. tolerates or eradicates slavery, its nefarious motives remain the same. What is significant is that Zinn’s jaundiced eye fails to see the real issues surrounding the Civil War. Instead, he envisions the chief significance of the grisly conflict as being how it served as a distraction from the impending socialist revolution.
By the time the reader reaches World War I, Zinn begins to sound like a broken record. “American capitalism needed international rivalry—and periodic war—to create an artificial community of interest between rich and poor,” the Boston University professor writes of the Great War, “supplanting the genuine community of interest among the poor that showed itself in sporadic movements.” Yet another conspiracy to distract the masses from revolution!
“A People’s War?” is Zinn’s chapter on World War II, the war in which the author served his country. Zinn suggests that America, not Japan, was to blame for Pearl Harbor by provoking the Empire of the Sun. The fight against fascism was all an illusion. While Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan may have been America’s enemies, Uncle Sam’s real goal was supposedly empire. Regarding America’s neutrality in the Spanish Civil War, Zinn asks: “was it the logical policy of a government whose main interest was not stopping Fascism but advancing the imperial interests of the United States? For those interests, in the thirties, an anti-Soviet policy seemed best. Later, when Japan and Germany threatened U.S. world interests, a pro-Soviet, anti-Nazi policy became preferable.” Reality is inverted. It’s not the Soviet Union that went from being anti-Nazi to pro-Nazi to anti-Nazi. Zinn projects the Soviet Union’s schizophrenic policies upon America. While the Hitler-Stalin Pact is awkwardly excused, Zinn all but proclaims a Hitler-Roosevelt Pact.
Like all conflicts, the reader learns that the Second World War was really about—surprise!—money. “Quietly, behind the headlines in battles and bombings,” Zinn writes, “American diplomats and businessmen worked hard to make sure that when the war ended, American economic power would be second to none in the world. United States business would penetrate areas that up to this time had been dominated by England. The Open Door Policy of equal access would be extended from Asia to Europe, meaning that the United States intended to push England aside and move in.” Yet, this didn’t happen. The English Empire expired, but no American Empire moved to take its place. Despite defeating Japan and helping to vanquish Germany, America rebuilt these countries. Both are now the chief economic rivals of the U.S., not our colonies...
By simplistically dividing groups into oppressor/oppressed classes, one will inevitably err because the individuals who constitute these groups are too diverse to be pigeonholed into this rigid dichotomy. By taking the opening chapter’s treatment of New England’s Pequot War of the late 1630s as a case study, we see how this methodology unavoidably leads to error.
The war’s most significant event was the horrible burning of the Pequot stronghold of Fort Mystic in May of 1637. Finding themselves severely outnumbered and taking casualties, the settlers set fire to the Pequot compound. The decision would prove tragic. The hellish inferno claimed hundreds of Pequot souls, including untold numbers of women and children. If Zinn sought to use the situation to discredit the white settlers, the truth would have been enough to do the trick. Yet the activist author cannot resist the temptation of piling on, so he presents a version of the Pequot War wildly at odds with the historical record, but consistent with his theory.
Pequot violence against the whites is almost entirely absent from the text. The most Zinn can bring himself to admit is that “Massacres took place on both sides.” Also briefly mentioned is the killing of John Oldham, which Zinn justifies by labeling the murder victim a “trader, Indian-kidnapper, and troublemaker.” For reasons not hard to deduce, the author details only the atrocities committed by one side: the Puritans. Pequot atrocities are brushed aside. Graphic descriptions of Puritan violence are highlighted. What did Zinn leave out that complicates matters for his thesis? “[T]hey took two men out of a boat, and murdered them with ingenious barbarity, cutting off first the hands of one of them, then his feet,” writes 19th century historian John Gorham Palfrey about the Pequots’ assaults upon settlers. “Soon after, two men sailing down the river were stopped and horribly mutilated and mangled; their bodies were cut in two, lengthwise, and the parts hung up by the river’s bank. A man who had been carried off from Wethersfield was roasted alive. All doubt as to the necessity of vigorous action was over, when a band of a hundred Pequots attacked that place, killed seven men, a woman, and a child, and carried off two girls.” One needn’t be a rocket scientist to figure out why these troublesome facts didn’t make the final cut of this “people’s” history.
The text is also mute on internecine violence among the Indians. The Pequots not only waged war on whites, but on their fellow natives as well. They were a belligerent people feared by weaker tribes. The reader is left unsupplied with these facts that might give context to the brutal assault on Fort Mystic. Instead, Zinn frames the event to fit his thesis. The early American settlers “wanted them out of the way; they wanted their land,” he writes. Leaving aside the Pequots’ aggression that contradicts this simplistic land-grab theory, there is some debate about whether the land the Pequots occupied was in fact “their land.” Some historians have contemplated the theory that like the English and the Dutch, the Pequots were newcomers to the area, and displaced other tribes. Interjecting this debate within A People’s History would have proved inconvenient, so it too is left out.
Zinn portrays the Pequot War as a Puritan-versus-Indian conflict, but both Puritans and Indians fought against the Pequots. Whites comprised less than 15% of 500-plus men who attacked the Pequots at Fort Mystic. After the horrific conflagration ended, it was the Mohegans who executed the Pequots’ captured sachem. More importantly, leading up to the battle other Indian tribes—for example, the Narragansett—repeatedly urged the English newcomers to attack their enemies, the Pequots. Zinn writes that “Indian tribes were used against one another” by the Puritans when, in fact, the reverse was true. Indian tribes used the Puritans and their superior firepower to eradicate their fellow Indians who posed a threat to them.Because the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy preordains how every story is told, the story of the Pequot War is grossly distorted. By reading A People’s History, you’d likely believe that the Pequot War was fought strictly by whites against Indians, that it was unprovoked aggression on the part of the whites, and that the Pequots were a peaceful people. In short, reading Zinn’s two pages on the Pequot War leaves the reader more ignorant than enlightened...
History is too complicated to find a perfect fit within any theory. For the true believer, this inconvenience can be overcome. When fact and theory clash, the ideologue chooses theory. To the true believer, ideology is truth. Time and again, A People’s History of the United States opts to mold the facts to fit the theory, leaving the reader to wonder what “people” he is referring to in the book’s title. Dishonest people? Left-wing people? Delusional people?
For instance, Zinn claims that “George Washington was the richest man in America.” He wasn’t, but it makes for a good story. Perhaps the wealthiest man being rewarded with the run of the government is too compelling a concept for a Marxist to discard—even when it isn’t true. Whatever the reason for the inclusion of this falsehood, it’s one that can be easily disproved. Despite having substantial debts owed to British moneylenders in the late 1760s and early 1770s, as well as having to borrow money to travel to New York upon his election to the presidency, George Washington certainly rose to accumulate great wealth in his lifetime—even if he was chronically cash-poor. His last will and testament estimates his accumulated wealth at $530,000. That certainly qualified him as rich, but clearly there were men of greater means roaming America during his lifetime. Robert Morris, who eventually lost his wealth, was the Founding era’s wealthiest merchant. Moses Brown, whose family’s name graces an Ivy League university, was another contemporary of Washington’s whose wealth in that era exceeded that of the nation’s first president. Zinn is wrong.
“When the Scottsboro case unfolded in the 1930s in Alabama,” Zinn writes, “it was the Communist party that had become associated with the defense of these young black men imprisoned, in the early years of the Depression, by southern injustice.” Perhaps the Party had become “associated” with the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, but in reality the Communists merely used the embattled youngsters. Richard Gid Powers points out in Not Without Honor that the Communists had raised $250,000 for the Scottsboro Boys’ defense, but had put-up a scant $12,000 for two appeals. At the time, a black columnist quoted a candid Party official who stated, “we don’t give a damn about the Scottsboro boys. If they burn it doesn’t make any difference. We are only interested in one thing, how we can use the Scottsboro case to bring the Communist movement to the people and win them over to Communism.” One might see an analogous situation in Zinn’s view of history. He is only interested in it so long as it serves as a weapon of socialist ideology.
“Unemployment grew in the Reagan years,” Zinn claims. Statistics show otherwise. Reagan inherited an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent in his first month in office. By January of 1989, the rate had declined to 5.4 percent. Had the Reagan presidency ended in 1982 when unemployment rates exceeded 10 percent, Zinn would have a point. But for the remainder of Reagan’s presidency, unemployment declined precipitously. While Zinn teaches history and not mathematics, one needn’t be a math whiz to figure out that 5.4 percent is less than 7.5 percent. Despite unleashing an economy that created nearly 20 million new jobs during his tenure, Reagan continues to be smeared by historians—and it’s not hard to figure out why. Reagan’s free market polices were anathema to Marxists like Zinn. Upset at the pleasant way things turned out—Reagan’s policies unleashed an economy that continuously grew from the fall of 1982 until the summer of 1990—historians have preferred to rewrite history...
By now one might be thinking: On what evidence does Zinn base his varied proclamations? One can only guess. Despite its scholarly pretensions, the book contains not a single source citation. While a student in Professor Zinn’s classes at Boston University or Spelman College might have received an “F” for turning in a paper without documentation, Zinn’s footnote-free book is standard reading in scores of college courses across the country...
More striking than Zinn’s inaccuracies—intentional and otherwise—is what he leaves out.
Washington’s Farewell Address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and Reagan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate all fail to merit a mention. Nowhere do we learn that Americans were first in flight, first to fly across the Atlantic, and first to walk on the moon. Alexander Graham Bell, Jonas Salk, and the Wright Brothers are entirely absent. Instead, the reader is treated to the exploits of Speckled Snake, Joan Baez, and the Berrigan brothers. While Zinn sees fit to mention that immigrants often went into professions like ditch-digging and prostitution, American success stories like those of Alexander Hamilton, John Jacob Astor, and Louis B. Mayer—to name but a few—are excluded. Valley Forge rates a single fleeting reference, while D-Day’s Normandy invasion, Gettysburg, and other important military battles are left out. In their place, we get several pages on the My Lai massacre and colorful descriptions of U.S. bombs falling on hotels, air-raid shelters, and markets during the Gulf War of the early 1990s...
Zinn utters perhaps the most honest words of A People’s History of the United States in the conclusion of the book’s 1995 edition, conceding that his work is “a biased account.” “I am not troubled by that,” he adds, “because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction—so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people’s movements—that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.” Two wrongs, he seems to be saying, make a right.
More recently, Zinn made clear that it is not just the idea of objectivity that he finds fault with, but facts themselves. In the current updated version of A People’s History, the author declares: “there is no such thing as pure fact.” Whether Zinn really believes this, or if it serves to rationalize intellectual dishonesty, one can only guess.
"I wanted my writing of history and my teaching of history to be a part of social struggle,” Howard Zinn candidly remarked in an interview conducted long after the release of A People’s History of the United States. “I wanted to be a part of history and not just a recorder and teacher of history. So that kind of attitude towards history, history itself as a political act, has always informed my writing and my teaching.” Indeed it has.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
As John Williamson, a contributor to the Anti-Chomsky Reader shows, Chomsky even lies about his own statements. In an email to Williamson Chomsky claimed that a statement of his quoted in a New Yorker profile by reporter Larissa MacFarquhar was "too ridiculous to merit comment...No one can seriously use this as a source...childish diatribes in journals attempting to discredit political enemies... almost all gossip...a ridiculous gossip column in the New Yorker." According to the New Yorker profile, Chomsky had made the comment to an MIT class that McFarquhar attended. Not ready to believe that anyone could be so brazen in lying about what he himself had said, Williamson contacted McFarquhar to check. She who told him that MIT had video-taped the class she had attended where Chomsky made the statement. Williamson obtained the tape and sure enough everything Chomsky had said -- every word -- was on the tape.If you're interested, I posted on the New Yorker article here. Honestly, one doesn't know whether to laugh at the titanic asininity of the man; or weep over the fact that so many in the Western intellectual elite take him seriously.
In the post 9/11 political ferment, Chomsky’s reputation, which had suffered because of his support of Pol Pot and his dalliance with figures like Faurisson, is on the upswing again. His following has grown, particularly in Europe and Asia, where his views have helped inform an inchoate anti-Americanism, and on the university campus, where divesting from Israel (a cause he has led) and attacks against the War on Terror are de rigueur. The New York Times and Washington Post, which had for the most part ignored the dozens of Chomsky books that had appeared clone-like over the past few years, both treated Hegemony or Survival as a significant work, with Pulitzer prize winner Samantha Power writing in the Times that Chomsky’s work was "sobering and instructive."The embrace of Chomsky by the mainstream liberal elite in America and the political consensus in Europe -- both Left and Right -- has to be regarded as one of the most unsettling developments in the intellectual world since 9/11; if only because, for the first time since Vietnam, the idea that America is, on a fundamental level, not merely misguided or mistaken but also evil is becoming a part of acceptable discourse. As I pointed out in my first post, its why I started this blog. I must say, its nice to see some mainstream conservative figures taking the issue seriously, instead of dismissing Chomsky as an irrelevant crank; the latter description is true, the former, unfortunately, is not.