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Weekly Chomsky #2

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Issue: 2 Section: Accounts Topics: chomsky

June 20, 2003

Weekly Chomsky #2

talk on Mid-East governments given in Berkeley in March 2002.

In a situation of conflict and threat, the state authorities will resort to any means that they can get away with; that includes serious war crimes, crimes against humanity, and they will do so, as long as their crimes are tolerated and supported and sometimes encouraged by the overlord.  If the master says that's enough, they stop.  Therefore, it follows that our criticisms should be directed primarily to ourselves.  Indignation about the crimes of others is easy and cheap and not particularly attractive, sometimes even shameful.  Looking in the mirror is far more important, much more difficult.  And in these, and many other cases, our participation in crimes is quite real, and it proceeds at several different levels.

In the first place, it's a matter of government policy, decisive military, economic, diplomatic support for crimes, all with full awareness, over many decades.  At the second level, it goes on at the level of doctrinal institutions--media, schools, universities, intellectual journals, often scholarship.  That includes evasion or suppression of crucial facts, plenty of outright falsification, sometimes even unconstrained enthusiasm for atrocities.

And at the third, and most important, level, it's a matter of our own choices.  None of this is graven in stone.  There are many examples rather similar to this, where things have been changed by public action.  We may remember that this month, March, 2002, happens to be the 40th anniversary of the first public announcement of the U.S. attack against South Vietnam.  In March, 1962, the Kennedy administration announced that the U.S. Air Force would be flying missions against the South Vietnamese.  Use of chemical warfare was instituted to destroy food crops.  Hundreds of thousands, ultimately millions of people were driven into concentration camps, urban slums.  Napalm was authorized. 

All of this proceeded with no protest.  That's why there's no commemoration, today, of the 40th anniversary.  Nobody even remembers.  There was no protest, virtually none, here in Berkeley or in anyplace, for a long time.  It took years before substantial public opposition developed.  It did finally develop, as somebody, Barbara, somebody pointed out, and it made a big differences. 

One of the differences it made is that it contributed, along with the civil rights movement and other activism of the time, to making this a much more civilized country, in many ways.  I'm not talking about the leadership, I'm not talking about the intellectual classes, but the general population has changed.  No American president could dream of anything remotely like that today.  And the same is true in many other areas.  And it didn't happen by magic or "gifts from angels" or anything like that.  It came from committed, dedicated public activism on the part of millions and millions of people.  And it did make a much better country.  There's plenty wrong, but, as compared with 40 years ago, the improvement is enormous.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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