Aug 23 - 29, 2007 

Book Review

Blowback

Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky

Interventions

Noam Chomsky
City Lights
paper
$15.95

For more than 50 years now, MIT linguist Noam Chomsky has been a skeptic of states—in particular, the United States—and how they use power. Why should a language guy care about such matters? "Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments,” he explained in his 1969 essay collection American Power and the New Mandarins. And as residents of a free country, he concluded, American intellectuals have even more responsibility to wisely use their freedom to expose the abuse of official power.

Say what one will about his ideas, Chomsky has taken this mandate seriously, even as his criticisms of U.S. foreign policy have marginalized him. Indeed, the 44 opinion pieces that comprise his latest collection, Interventions, were commissioned by the New York Times syndicate, but never ran there. Nor did they run in the Boston Globe, or in the Washington Post, or any other major U.S. daily. According to Peter Hart, who writes a foreword, the only publications that picked up these pieces were a few “regional papers” like the Dayton Daily News and Knoxville Voice.

So what was so inflammatory about these essays? It would appear simple skepticism of the administration’s motives was enough, in some cases, to bounce them from visible domestic rotation (they did appear in prominent European newspapers). These columns are littered with unpopular but accurate caveats to the Bush administration’s dream of unchallenged global dominance.

After the U.S. enters Baghdad, Chomsky reminds us that the war began with the largest world protest in the history of humankind. Looking back at Afghanistan, he reminds me that a majority of the world’s countries did not support U.S. bombing there, either. On the eve of Saddam’s trial, he reminds that the U.S. supported the dictator while he committed the killings we were trying him for. And finally, Chomsky reminds us that a “broad international consensus” has supported a two-state settlement in the Middle East for going on 30 years, but that plan has been routinely blocked by Israel and the U.S.

The dissident historian Chalmers Johnson has argued such sustained resistance to the will of the majority of the world leads to what the CIA calls “blowback,” terrorism being one form of it. In Chomsky’s analysis, America’s quest of power can only lead to more violence. He delivers this message in a dry, wearied style—and one can hardly blame him. Chomsky has been warning (some might say hectoring) America about the dangers of its military ambitions for decades. But he doesn’t end without hope. “The great soul of power extends far beyond states, to every form of life,” he believes. “It is not self-legitimizing.” In other words, he wants readers to take the banner that appears on the back of this book—Arm Yourself with Information—as seriously as they take their Second Amendment.

 
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