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Chomsky Replies to Some Queries

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First was a question originating from Germany about some arguments advanced by German Greens for invasion of Yugoslavia and military solutions, generally.

Some of the statements you report are accurate. Kosovars have certainly been subject to repression -- at about the level of US-backed atrocities in Colombia prior to the NATO bombings; and after the bombings, perhaps at a level that might ultimately approach US-supported Turkish atrocities against the Kurds in the mid-90s. I won't add other comparable examples. Have the Greens and others who feel troubled about atrocities urged that Germany bomb Ankara, Bogota, Washington,...? Or only Belgrade? Does something in German history begin to come into focus at this point?

The German advocates of violence deny "that the intensification of serbian terror has anything to do with the bombings. no one will let this argument count, because there is no proof that terror wouldn't have intensified anyway."

That's a wonderful argument. By the same argument the US should bomb Germany, because if there is a violent reaction, then "there is no proof that it wouldn't have intensified anyway." I doubt that even Stalinist propaganda descended to this level. The fact that arguments of this kind are offered is very clear evidence that the people presenting them have abandoned any pretense of intellectual independence or moral concern, and are simply doing what they are told. That seems rather clear, doesn't it?

You refer to my statement that (in your words) "the bombings are an attack against the institutions of world order. that's perfectly true. they negate anything the u.n. or the world court, for instance, stand for. but those arguments doesn't count if world order prevents someone of putting an end bloody terror of a state against a people."

Look back at what I wrote, and you'll find that it is virtually the same as your response to it. To repeat what I wrote, there is a tension between (I) the UN Charter and other institutions of world order which ban the threat or use of force apart from narrow circumstances that don't hold here, and (II) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which calls for protection of human rights against violent states. But you are mistaken in concluding from the tension between (I) and (II) that the arguments for world order (namely (I)) "don't count"; it would be equally wrong to conclude that the arguments for human rights (II) "don't count." Rather, there is a tension, which has to be resolved, case by case.

For example, no one could have produced more uplifting rhetoric about defense of human rights than Hitler when he occupied parts of Czechoslovakia, to recall one of the cases in the statement you read. Are we impressed? No, we first have to ask the obvious questions. And in this case too. We ask, for example, about the record of the self-appointed guardians of human rights. How do they react, for example, when they are decisively contributing to human rights violations that go vastly beyond anything attributed to Milosevic in Kosovo at the time of the NATO bombing -- in Turkey for example? Note that in that as in numerous other cases defense of human rights is remarkably easy and costless: just stop contributing to the assault against them. Note also that this is current events, not history. And we may ask how the same noble souls reacted when they themselves were condemned for "unlawful use of force" by the World Court, ordered to terminate these crimes and pay huge reparations. And how they reacted when they were conducting vastly greater crimes that the UN and World Court were afraid even to address, such as the US wars in Indochina (was Germany refusing to provide arms?).

And most obviously, we ask whether the actions taken were designed to protect people from human rights violations, or were they taken with considerable confidence that they would lead to a radical escalation of such violations -- a consequence that was "entirely predictable," according to US/NATO commander Wesley Clark (as you recall from my post on March 27), exaggerating no doubt, though they were surely highly likely. And are they contributing to human rights by destroying the very promising and courageous democratic movement in Serbia, surely the best way of ridding the world of Milosevic? And on, and on.

And those with a little memory may ask some questions about the enthusiasm for Luftwaffe bombing of Belgrade, and possible Wehrmacht invasion of Serbia, where some 2/3 of adult males (15-55) were killed or wounded by the Wehrmacht not all that long ago -- I can remember it well. Does that ring any bells in Germany? If not, why not?

You say you do not agree with the Hippocratic Principle: First, do no harm. I wonder whether you have thought the matter through. If you deny that principle then you are upholding the principle: First, do harm. I don't think you mean that. Nor do I think you really mean that if peaceful means fail, "you should use force" no matter what the consequences. Suppose you see a crime in the streets, and you can't convince the criminal to stop; peaceful means have failed so you pick up an assault rifle and kill everyone involved: criminal, victim, maybe a few bystanders for good measure. And when asked why you did it, you respond: "if peaceful means fail, I can't just stand by and see crimes committed, but must use force, whatever the consequences." Is that a good answer? How is it different in the case you are discussing?

I'm sure you don't mean that, but notice that that is what you are saying. In fact, that is what rejection of the Hippocratic Principle means.

You might also ask whether you advocate bombing Ankara, Washington, London,... and a whole host of others who have been engaged in awesome crimes, after all peaceful means failed (e.g., the World Court). And if not, why not? Why just in this one case, where the marching orders from the state authorities are: "Attend to this, nothing else, and crucially don't use your mind to perceive the absurdity of the arguments being proposed."

I think it's worth asking these questions.

Note incidentally that it is quite natural for the powerful states to reject the founding principles of world order that ban the threat or use of force, just as it is natural for most of the rest of the world to uphold them (exactly what we are seeing now). While these principles are far from perfect, and are not a priori truths that must be accepted in all cases, they do offer at least some protection for the weak (not for the strong, who don't need the protection). The only "really existing" alternative is that the powerful will do what they like -- naturally, an idea that has considerable appeal to NATO leaders, and their predecessors.

You say you were shocked at my statement that World War II was not fought to stop Hitler. I'm sorry that you are shocked, and in a sense I agree: the facts are indeed shocking (though I understand that that is not what you mean). I mentioned a few of the relevant facts in the comments that shocked you. Your reasons for being shocked are different, not the shocking facts but your belief that "whatever the motives were for the allies to go into this war, if they could have acted earlier or save more lifes, the outcome of this war was the end of hitler and of fascism in germany. and i am very grateful that i was able to grow up in a somewhat free and democratic country." That's all perfectly true, but not in the least relevant to the statement of fact that you say you found shocking.

I'd suggest again that you think it through. These are important issues, and it is simply irresponsible, a violation of our most elementary moral obligations, to react thoughtlessly and irrationally. You don't help anyone that way.

You say that a Serbian friend says that Milosevic will never yield and the Serbs will fight to the last man, "so what if the international community just sat by and watched and Milosevic continued his terror anyway?" Right now, an American friend is telling you -- and he has the documentary evidence to prove it -- that the official doctrine of the Clinton Administration is that the US should:

...exploit its nuclear arsenal to portray itself as "irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked." That "should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries," particular the "rogue states." "It hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed," let alone committed to such silliness as international law and treaty obligations. "The fact that some elements" of the US government "may appear to be potentially `out of control' can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary's decision makers."

Pardon me for quoting myself, to save time (from Z, "Rogue States," last spring). And you know as well as I that there is a record to support that stance. So should the international community bomb Washington?

Suppose that a Turkish friend, or a Colombian friend, or a ... (fill in the blank) were to tell you the same thing. Would it then follow that Germany should be dropping bombs all over the world?

Again, these are important issues, and the decision to use force and violence carries a heavy burden of proof -- at least for people who don't share the values of Saddam Hussein or Hitler. Sometimes the burden can be met, in my opinion; I'm not a committed pacifist. But not by arguments of the kind you report from advocates of violence in Germany. Those arguments are utterly pathetic -- and for those who remember a little history, a good bit worse than that, I'm sorry to have to say.

 

Second was a multi-part question about media and the war effort...

You say that "in the eyes of most people, the evidence for the claim that in their reporting about Kosovo, the mainstream media is acting as an organ of, or in collusion with, US foreing policy is weak and circumstantial."

That's a little misleading. To my knowledge, no one has so far even bothered to make a case for this proposition in the particular instance of Kosovo, and unless one takes the trouble to present a claim and substantiate it empirically, the evidence for it will naturally seem weak. There is, however, massive confirming evidence for the same general thesis in a very wide range of other cases; in fact, it seems to me one of the best substantiated theses of the social sciences (admittedly, that's not saying a lot).

You say that "absent a concrete, plausible mechanism showing how this alleged collusion actually works, most people will focus on the pictures of carnage and the eyewitness accounts of armed brutality, and not on what comes across, in comparison, as a very academic concern. Both the gruesomeness of the spectacle and Occam's razor tell the public that the coverage is as it is simply because what is happening in Kosovo is atrocious."

I'm not sure I understand. There are highly concrete, very plausible mechanisms showing how the corporate media product relates to state and private power. They have been discussed in considerable detail, though not using this particular example, as yet; perhaps some one (not I) will take the trouble to add this to the substantial array of cases already studied in some depth. As for the pictures of carnage, etc., they are certainly quite real, and people are quite right to be concerned by them -- particularly the people who are responsible for them. So we now are back to asking the serious questions: what was the carnage, etc., before the NATO bombing? What is it after the NATO bombing? Is the radical change a colossal coincidence? Was it predictable? What is the record of the self-appointed saviors in comparable current cases where they could very easily mitigate or terminate comparable or far worse atrocities? Etc. That is, we are back to all the real questions -- and with regard to the matter you raise here, we can ask why the media are avoiding the questions that any sane person would ask.

You request that I "use the ongoing media coverage of Kosovo to illustrate exactly how the interests of the media corporations and those of the US foreign policy and military establishments are coordinated to bring forth this propaganda campaign." I'm afraid I won't. Frankly, I've lost interest in the topic, long ago. The basic theses have been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, and I don't see much point to adding yet another example. That can readily be done, if anyone wants to take the trouble. Thus following the (quite sound) method that Ed Herman and I have followed jointly and separately in books and articles, one can compare cases that really are comparable, apart from a crucial factor: who bears responsibility, and what does it (therefore) take to mitigate or terminate the atrocities. Thus we can compare Kosovo and Colombia or Laos (pre-bombing). Or we can compare Kosovo and Turkey (post-bombing). The cases differ: in the case of Kosovo, it's easy to blame someone else, and the reaction is US violence. In the case of Turkey (etc.) it's only possible to blame the US, and the easy solution is to stop contributing to huge atrocities, going far beyond Kosovo (though maybe we will manage to escalate there to the Turkish level). We then ask the obvious questions: (1) what would the media response be on the assumption of elementary morality and intellectual integrity? (2) what is the actual response? The answers are clear. The answer to (1) is that US-backed Turkish atrocities would have been the prime focus, with gruesome pictures of carnage, etc. The reason is obvious: we bear responsibility and can act swiftly and easily to mitigate or terminate the atrocities. The answer to (2) you know. QED.

One can easily continue. Consider for example the situation on March 23. The US had presented a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum. The Serb National Assembly (called "Milosevic" in US propaganda) rejected it. That much was reported. What was not reported, however, was that they made a counterproposal. Was it reasonable? Could it have led somewhere? We can't know because the two warrior states preferred violence (with the predictable radical escalation of atrocities against Kosovars) to diplomacy. How did the media handle it? Easy enough to answer.

Or, take this morning's (April 18) NY Times, just as an example at random. A front-page think piece by Craig Whitney informs us that "the greatest concern" of NATO leaders "is bringing an end to the ordeal of the refugees" -- that is, the people who became refugees after NATO started bombing. There are also extraordinary absurdities about the Vietnam War, and "liberals," and a host of other topics, all pretty impressive, and perhaps worth a point-by-point reaction. The lead editorial tells us that the NATO bombing is justified because "the savage assault on Kosovo demands a response," namely, the savage assault that took place after (and as they know in reaction to) the bombing. The editorial also gives a very revealing insight into the liberal interpretation of the Vietnam war: wrong because of its costs to us, but not because of 4 million dead Indochinese and three devastated countries as a result of our aggression; Hitler would have been impressed. A leading Times intellectual, Judith Miller, informs us of the fact -- NB, FACT, it's not arguable but TRUE by definition -- that the US "has long been an aggressive promoter of human rights," a statement that would embarrass anyone but the most dedicated commissar. Among other amusing contributions, she also explains how sanctions finally got the evil Qaddafi to agree to surrender the two men accused of bombing PANAM 103 -- namely, on virtually the terms that he proposed in Dec. 1991, but that the US adamantly refused to consider until a few months ago. And on, and on, column by column.

Maybe it is worthwhile going through the exercise once again, and demonstrating what has already been demonstrated with a level of evidence and argument quite rare in the social sciences (again, not a huge claim). And maybe it's worth laying out, once again, the mechanisms by which all of this happens, which are pretty close to a null hypothesis, as Ed Herman and I pointed out 10 years ago. But I don't feel that it is a useful expenditure of time for me. Others might want to undertake it.

If the "confluence in the interests of a few powerful actors" is "just too tenuous to convince the majority of the public," then the majority of the public should rethink matters of evidence and argument. There's nothing tenuous about it at all. The basic insight is as old as Adam Smith, and by now it has been spelled out over and over again in substantial detail. _