Noam Chomsky

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Noam Chomsky (born 7 December, 1928) is an American professor of linguistics, anarchist thinker, human rights activist, and political analyst.

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The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, party dictatorships, or modern corporations.

On politics and economics

  • Unfortunately, you can't vote the rascals out, because you never voted them in, in the first place.
    • Talk titled "Government in the Future" at the Poetry Center of the New York YM-YWHA, February 16, 1970 [1]
  • Roughly speaking, I think it's accurate to say that a corporate elite of managers and owners governs the economy and the political system as well, at least in very large measure. The people, so-called, do exercise an occasional choice among those who Marx once called "the rival factions and adventurers of the ruling class."
    • Talk titled "Government in the Future" at the Poetry Center of the New York YM-YWHA, February 16, 1970 [2]
  • The consistent anarchist, then, should be a socialist, but a socialist of a particular sort. He will not only oppose alienated and specialized labor and look forward to the appropriation of capital by the whole body of workers, but he will also insist that this appropriation be direct, not exercised by some elite force acting in the name of the proletariat.
  • The long tradition of naiveté and self-righteousness that disfigures our intellectual history, however, must serve as a warning to the third world, if such a warning is needed, as to how our protestations of sincerity and benign intent are to be interpreted.
    • From The Responsibility of Intellectuals by Noam Chomsky, The New York Review of Books, February 23, 1967 [4]
  • A lot of the people who call themselves Left I would regard as proto-fascists.
  • In the United States, the political system is a very marginal affair. There are two parties, so-called, but they're really factions of the same party, the Business Party. Both represent some range of business interests. In fact, they can change their positions 180 degrees, and nobody even notices. In the 1984 election, for example, there was actually an issue, which often there isn't. The issue was Keynesian growth versus fiscal conservatism. The Republicans were the party of Keynesian growth: big spending, deficits, and so on. The Democrats were the party of fiscal conservatism: watch the money supply, worry about the deficits, et cetera. Now, I didn't see a single comment pointing out that the two parties had completely reversed their traditional positions. Traditionally, the Democrats are the party of Keynesian growth, and the Republicans the party of fiscal conservatism. So doesn't it strike you that something must have happened? Well, actually, it makes sense. Both parties are essentially the same party. The only question is how coalitions of investors have shifted around on tactical issues now and then. As they do, the parties shift to opposite positions, within a narrow spectrum.
    • Interview by Adam Jones, February 20, 1990 [6]
  • Thomas Jefferson, the leading Enlightenment figure in the United States, along with Benjamin Franklin, who took exactly the same view, argued that dependence will lead to "subservience and venality", and will "suffocate[s] the germs of virtue". And remember, by dependence he meant wage labor, which was considered an abomination under classical liberal principles. There's a modern perversion of conservatism and libertarianism, which has changed the meanings of words, pretty much the way Orwell discussed. So nowadays, dependence refers to something else. When you listen to what's going in Congress, and people talk about dependence, what they mean by dependence is public support for hungry children, not wage labor. Dependence is support for hungry children and mothers who are caring for them. [...] We see this very dramatically right at this moment in Congress, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, who quite demonstrably is the leading welfare freak in the country. He is the most avid advocate of welfare in the country, except he wants it to go to the rich. His own district in Cobb County Georgia gets more federal subsidies than any suburban county in the country, outside of the federal system itself... And it's supposed to continue, because this kind of welfare dependency is good. Dependent children, that's bad. But dependent executives, that's good. You gotta make sure they keep feeding at the public trough. [...] the nation is not an entity, it's divided into economic classes, and the architects of policy are those who have the economic power. In his days, he said, the merchants and manufacturers of England, who make sure that their interests are "most peculiarly attended to", like Gingrich. Whatever the effect on others, including the people of England. To Adam Smith, that was a truism. To James Madison, that was a truism. Nowadays, you're supposed to recoil in horror and call it vulgar Marxism or something, meaning that Adam Smith and James Madison must have been disciples of Marx. And if you believe the rest of the story, you might as well believe that. But those are facts which you can easily discover if you bothered reading the sacred texts, that you're supposed to worship, but not read.
  • I compared some passages of articles of [Robert McNamara] in the late 1960s, speeches, on management and the necessity of management, how a well-managed society controlled from above was the ultimate in freedom. The reason is if you have really good management and everything's under control and people are told what to do, under those conditions, he said, man can maximize his potential. I just compared that with standard Leninist views on vanguard parties, which are about the same. About the only difference is that McNamara brought God in, and I suppose Lenin didn't bring God in. He brought Marx in.
    • Class Warfare, 1995 [7]
  • "Tough love" is just the right phrase: love for the rich and privileged, tough for everyone else.
    • Powers and Prospects, 1996 [8]
  • The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, party dictatorships, or modern corporations.
    • Z Magazine, May 1998 [9]
  • No individual gets up and says, I'm going to take this because I want it. He'd say, I'm going to take it because it really belongs to me and it would be better for everyone if I had it. It's true of children fighting over toys. And it's true of governments going to war. Nobody is ever involved in an aggressive war; it's always a defensive war -- on both sides.
    • Interview by Tor Wennerberg, November 1998 [10]
  • ...jingoism, racism, fear, religious fundamentalism: these are the ways of appealing to people if you’re trying to organize a mass base of support for policies that are really intended to crush them.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002 [11]
  • Well, law is a bit like a printing press -- it’s kind of neutral, you can make it do anything. I mean, what lawyers are taught in law school is chicanery: how to convert words on paper into instruments of power. And depending where the power is, the law will mean different things.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002 [12]
  • See, people with power understand exactly one thing: violence.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002
  • The United States is deeply in debt -- that was part of the whole Reagan/Bush program, in fact: to put the country so deeply in debt that there would be virtually no way for the government to pursue programs of social spending anymore. And what "being in debt" really means is that the Treasury Department has sold a ton of securities -- bonds and notes and so on -- to investors, who then trade them back and forth on the bond market. Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, by now about $150 billion a day worth of U.S. Treasury securities alone is traded this way. The article then explained what this means: it means that if the investing community which holds those securities doesn’t like any U.S. government policies, it can very quickly sell off just a tiny signal amount of Treasury bonds, and that will have the automatic effect of raising the interest rate, which then will have the further automatic effect of increasing the deficit. Okay, this article calculated that if such a "signal" sufficed to raise the interest rate by 1 percent, it would add $20 billion to the deficit overnight -- meaning if Clinton (say in someone’s dream) proposed a $20 billion social spending program, the international investing community could effectively turn it into a $40 billion program instantly, just by a signal, and any further moves in that direction would be totally cut off.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002 [13]
  • long as power remains privately concentrated, everybody, everybody, has to be committed to one overriding goal: and that’s to make sure that the rich folk are happy -- because unless they are, nobody else is going to get anything. So if you’re a homeless person sleeping in the streets of Manhattan, let’s say, your first concern must be that the guys in the mansions are happy -- because if they’re happy, then they’ll invest, and the economy will work, and things will function, and then maybe something will trickle down to you somewhere along the line. But if they’re not happy, everything’s going to grind to a halt, and you’re not even going to get anything trickling down.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002 [14]
  • The World Bank is not the IMF. It is considerably more responsive to popular forces, and has a mixed history. A great deal of what it has done has been awful. Some is quite constructive. There has been a shift in policy in recent years towards poverty reduction, support for popular initiatives, etc., I think a response to very powerful popular currents around the world. In some cases I know of personally it has gone well beyond rhetoric. To what extent this is true is another matter. [...] Many of its projects are highly meritorious. Just to mention one example, where I happened to have some personal contact, there is a fine project in Colombia, directed by a very courageous priest who has been a leader in human rights activities for years, to try to carve out a "zone of peace" in a huge area, about the size of El Salvador -- that is, an area in which towns and villages refuse to participate with any of the terrorist groups -- the military, paramilitary, the guerrillas -- and ask to be left alone by them and pursue their own social and economic projects in peace. That takes plenty of courage in Colombia. It has had some success. It relies heavily on World Bank grants. Do we want that terminated? Do we have some suggestion as to how to replace it?
    • ZNet forum reply, March 17, 2004 / July 29, 2004 [15] [16]
  • I mean, what's the elections? You know, two guys, same background, wealth, political influence, went to the same elite university, joined the same secret society where you're trained to be a ruler - they both can run because they're financed by the same corporate institutions. At the Democratic Convention, Barack Obama said, 'only in this country, only in America, could someone like me appear here.' Well, in some other countries, people much poorer than him would not only talk at the convention - they'd be elected president. Take Lula. The president of Brazil is a guy with a peasant background, a union organizer, never went to school, he's the president of the second-biggest country in the hemisphere. Only in America? I mean, there they actually have elections where you can choose somebody from your own ranks. With different policies. That's inconceivable in the United States.
  • The death penalty can be tolerated only by extreme statist reactionaries, who demand a state that is so powerful that it has the right to kill.
    • ZNet forum reply, December 19, 2004 [18]
  • The Bush Administration do have moral values. Their moral values are very explicit: shine the boots of the rich and the powerful, kick everybody else in the face, and let your grandchildren pay for it. That simple principle predicts almost everything that's happening.
    • Interview by Steve Scher on KUOW, in Seattle, Washington, April 20, 2005 [19]


  • The political policies that are called conservative these days would appall any genuine conservative, if there were one around to be appalled. For example, the central policy of the Reagan Administration - which was supposed to be conservative - was to build up a powerful state. The state grew in power more under Reagan than in any peacetime period, even if you just measure it by state expenditures. The state intervention in the economy vastly increased. That's what the Pentagon system is, in fact; it's the creation of a state-guaranteed market and subsidy system for high-technology production. There was a commitment under the Reagan Administration to protect this more powerful state from the public, which is regarded as the domestic enemy. Take the resort to clandestine operations in foreign policy: that means the creation of a powerful central state immune from public inspection. Or take the increased efforts at censorship and other forms of control. All of these are called "conservatism," but they're the very opposite of conservatism. Whatever the term means, it involves a concern for Enlightenment values of individual rights and freedoms against powerful external authorities such as the state, a dominant Church, and so on. That kind of conservatism no one even remembers anymore.
    • Interview by Adam Jones, February 20, 1990 [20]
  • There are no conservatives in the United States. The United States does not have a conservative tradition. The people who call themselves conservatives, like the Heritage Foundation or Gingrich, are believers in -- are radical statists. They believe in a powerful state, but a welfare state for the rich.
    • Interview by Ira Shorr, February 11, 1996 [21]
  • If there was anyone who actually fit the category of conservative, if there was such a category of people, they would have a very easy way to deal with the fact that 60% of the children under 2 [in Nicaragua] are suffering probable brain damage. Namely, by paying their debts. Simple conservative principle. But that's beyond unthinkable. Compassionate conservatives might want to go beyond that, if they existed. But they're much more interested in making political capital over the fact that a woman in a vegetative state shouldn't be allowed to die in dignity.


  • Personally I'm in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions in the society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism we can't have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist; that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level -- there's a little bargaining, a little give and take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward. Just as I'm opposed to political fascism, I'm opposed to economic fascism. I think that until major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it's pointless to talk about democracy.
    • Business Today, May 1973 [23]
  • ...capitalism is basically a system where everything is for sale, and the more money you have, the more you can get. And, in particular, that's true of freedom. Freedom is one of the commodities that is for sale, and if you are affluent, you can have a lot of it. It shows up in all sorts of ways. It shows up if you get in trouble with the law, let's say, or in any aspect of life it shows up. And for that reason it makes a lot of sense, if you accept capitalist system, to try to accumulate property, not just because you want material welfare, but because that guarantees your freedom, it makes it possible for you to amass that commodity. [...] what you're going to find is that the defense of free institutions will largely be in the hands of those who benefit from them, namely the wealthy, and the powerful. They can purchase that commodity and, therefore, they want those institutions to exist, like free press, and all that.
    • Interview by David Dobereiner, John Hess, Doug Richardson & Tom Woodhull, January 1974 [24]
  • Modern industrial civilization has developed within a certain system of convenient myths. The driving force of modern industrial civilization has been individual material gain, which is accepted as legitimate, even praiseworthy, on the grounds that private vices yield public benefits, in the classic formulation. Now, it has long been understood, very well, that a society that is based on this principle will destroy itself in time. It can only persist, with whatever suffering and injustice that it entails, as long as it is possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, and that the world is an infinite garbage can. At this stage of history either one of two things is possible. Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests, guided by values of solidarity, sympathy and concern for others, or alternatively there will be no destiny for anyone to control. As long as some specialized class is in a position of authority, it is going to set policy in the special interests that it serves. But the conditions of survival, let alone justice, require rational social planning in the interests of the community as a whole, and by now that means the global community. The question is whether privileged elite should dominate mass communication and should use this power as they tell us they must -- namely to impose necessary illusions, to manipulate and deceive the stupid majority and remove them from the public arena. The question in brief, is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided. In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than values to be treasured; they may well be essential to survival.
  • Ricardo's "science" was founded on the principle that capital is more or less immobile and labor highly mobile. We are enjoined today to worship the consequences of Ricardo's science, despite the fact that the assumptions on which they are based have been reversed: capital is highly mobile, and labor virtually immobile -- libertarian conservatives lead the way in rejecting Adam Smith's principle that "free circulation of labor" is a cornerstone of free trade, in keeping with their contempt for markets (except for the weak).
    • Z Magazine, February 1995 [25]
  • Property rights are not like other rights, contrary to what Madison and a lot of modern political theory says. If I have the right to free speech, it doesn't interfere with your right to free speech. But if I have property, that interferes with your right to have that property, you don't have it, I have it. So the right to property is very different from the right to freedom of speech. This is often put very misleadingly about rights of property; property has no right. But if we just make sense out of this, maybe there is a right to property, one could debate that, but it's very different from other rights.
    • The Common Good, September 24, 1997 [26]
  • I should say that when people talk about capitalism it's a bit of a joke. There's no such thing. No country, no business class, has ever been willing to subject itself to the free market, free market discipline. Free markets are for others. Like, the Third World is the Third World because they had free markets rammed down their throat. Meanwhile, the enlightened states, England, the United States, others, resorted to massive state intervention to protect private power, and still do. That's right up to the present. I mean, the Reagan administration for example was the most protectionist in post-war American history. Virtually the entire dynamic economy in the United States is based crucially on state initiative and intervention: computers, the internet, telecommunication, automation, pharmaceutical, you just name it. Run through it, and you find massive ripoffs of the public, meaning, a system in which under one guise or another the public pays the costs and takes the risks, and profit is privatized. That's very remote from a free market. Free market is like what India had to suffer for a couple hundred years, and most of the rest of the Third World.
  • Remember, every business firm, like even a mom and pop grocery store, is a market imperfection. A firm is defined in economic theory as a market imperfection introduced to deal with transaction costs. And the sort of theory is that the imperfections, the firms, are kinda like little islands in a free market sea. But the problem with that is that the sea doesn't remotely resemble a free market, and the islands are bigger than the sea; so that raises some questions about the picture. But these market imperfections, like a firm, or a transnational corporation, or a strategic alliance among them, this is a form of administering interchanges. And there's a real question about whether we want to accept that. Why, for example, should the international socioeconomic system, or for that matter our own society, be in the hands of unaccountable private tyrannies? That's a decision, it's not a law of nature.
  • Take the Kyoto Protocol. Destruction of the environment is not only rational; it's exactly what you're taught to do in college. If you take an economics or a political science course, you're taught that humans are supposed to be rational wealth accumulators, each acting as an individual to maximize his own wealth in the market. The market is regarded as democratic because everybody has a vote. Of course, some have more votes than others because your votes depend on the number of dollars you have, but everybody participates and therefore it's called democratic. Well, suppose that we believe what we are taught. It follows that if there are dollars to be made, you destroy the environment. The reason is elementary. The people who are going to be harmed by this are your grandchildren, and they don't have any votes in the market. Their interests are worth zero. Anybody that pays attention to their grandchildren's interests is being irrational, because what you're supposed to do is maximize your own interests, measured by wealth, right now. Nothing else matters. So destroying the environment and militarizing outer space are rational policies, but within a framework of institutional lunacy. If you accept the institutional lunacy, then the policies are rational.
    • Interview by Yifat Susskind, August 2001 [28]
  • See, capitalism is not fundamentally racist -- it can exploit racism for its purposes, but racism isn't built into it. Capitalism basically wants people to be interchangeable cogs, and differences among them, such as on the basis of race, usually are not functional. I mean, they may be functional for a period, like if you want a super exploited workforce or something, but those situations are kind of anomalous. Over the long term, you can expect capitalism to be anti-racist -- just because it's anti-human. And race is in fact a human characteristic -- there's no reason why it should be a negative characteristic, but it is a human characteristic. So therefore identifications based on race interfere with the basic ideal that people should be available just as consumers and producers, interchangeable cogs who will purchase all the junk that's produced -- that's their ultimate function, and any other properties they might have are kind of irrelevant, and usually a nuisance.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002 [29]
  • ...there are no two points of view more antithetical than classical liberalism and capitalism -- and that's why when the University of Chicago publishes a bicentennial edition of Smith, they have to distort the text (which they did): because as a true classical liberal, Smith was strongly opposed to all of the idiocy they now sprout in his name.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002 [30]
  • During the early stages of the industrial revolution, as England was coming out of a feudal-type of society and into what's basically a state-capitalist system, the rising bourgeoisie there had a problem. In a traditional society like the feudal system, people had a certain place, and they had certain rights - in fact, they had what was called at the time a "right to live." I mean, under feudalism it may have been a lousy right, but nevertheless people were assumed to have some natural entitlement for survival. But with the rise of what we call capitalism, that right had to be destroyed: people had to have it knocked out of their heads that they had any automatic "right to live" beyond what they could win for themselves on the labor market. And that was the main point of classical economics. Remember the context in which all of this was taking place: classical economics developed after a period in which a large part of the English population had been forcibly driven off the land they had been farming for centuries - that was by force, it wasn't a pretty picture. In fact, very likely one of the main reasons why England led the industrial revolution was just that they had been more violent in driving people off the land than in other places. For instance, in France a lot of people were able to remain on the land, and therefore they resisted industrialization more. But even after the rising bourgeoisie in England had driven millions of peasants off the land, there was a period when the population's "right to live" still was preserved by what we would today call "welfare." There was a set of laws in England which gave people rights, called the "Poor Laws" - which essentially kept you alive if you couldn't survive otherwise; they provided sort of a minimum level of subsistence, like subsidies on food and so on. And there was something called the "Corn Laws", which gave landlords certain rights beyond those they could get on the market - they raised the price of corn, that sort of thing. And together, these laws were considered among the main impediments to the new rising British industrial class - so therefore they just had to go. Well, those people needed an ideology to support their effort to knock out of people's heads the idea that they had this basic right to live, and that's what classical economics was about - classical economics said: no one has any right to live, you only have a right to what you gain for yourself on the labor market. And the founders of classical economics in fact said they'd developed a "scientific theory" of it, with - as they put it - "the certainty of the principle of gravitation." Alright, by the 1830s, political conditions in England had changed enough so that the rising bourgeoisie were able to kill the Poor Laws, and then later they managed to do away with the Corn Laws. And by around 1840 or 1845, they won the elections and took over the government. Then at that point, a very interesting thing happened. They gave up the theory, and Political Economy changed. It changed for a number of reasons. For one thing, these guys had won, so they didn't need it so much as an ideological weapon anymore. For another, they recognized that they themselves needed a powerful interventionist state to defend industry from the hardships of competition in the open market - as they always had in fact. And beyond that, eliminating people's "right to live" was starting to have some negative side-effects. First of all, it was causing riots all over the place: for a long period, the British army was mostly preoccupied with putting down riots across England. Then something even worse happened - the population started to organize: you got the beginnings of an organized labor movement, and later the Chartist movement, and then a socialist movement developed. And at that point, the elites in England recognized that the game just had to be called off, or else they really would be in trouble - so by the time you get to the second half of the nineteenth century, things like John Stuart Mill's Principles of Political Economy, which gives kind of a social-democratic line, were becoming the reigning ideology. See, the "science" happens to be a very flexible one: you can change it to do whatever you feel like, it's that kind of "science." So by the middle of the nineteenth century, the "science" had changed, and now it turned out that laissez-faire was a bad thing after all - and what you got instead were the intellectual foundations for what's called the "welfare state." And in fact, for a century afterwards, "laissez faire" was basically a dirty word - nobody talked about it anymore. And what the "science" now said was that you had better give the population some way of surviving, or else they're going to challenge your right to rule. You can take away their right to live, but then they're going to take away your right to rule - and that's no good, so ways have to be found to accommodate them. Well, it wasn't until recent years that laissez-faire ideology was revived again - and again, it was a weapon of class warfare. As far as I can see, the principles of classical economics in effect are still taught: I don't think what's taught in the University of Chicago Economics Department today is all that different, what's called "neo-liberalism". And it doesn't have any more validity than it had in the early nineteenth century - in fact, it has even less. At least in the early nineteenth century, Ricardo's and Malthus' assumptions had some relation to reality. Today those assumptions have no relation to reality. Look: the basic assumption of the classical economists was that labor is highly mobile and capital is relatively immobile - that's required, that's crucial to proving all their nice theorems. That was the reason they could say, "If you can't get enough to survive on the labor market, go someplace else" - because you could go someplace else: after the native populations of places like the United States and Australia and Tasmania were exterminated or driven away, then yeah, poor Europeans could go someplace else. So in the early nineteenth century, labor was indeed mobile. And back then, capital was indeed immobile - first because "capital" primarily meant land, and you can't move land, and also because the extent that there was investment, it was very local: like, you didn't have communications systems that allowed for easy transfers of money all around the world, like we do today. So in the early nineteenth century, the assumption that labor is mobile and capital is immobile was more or less realistic - and on the basis of that assumption, you could try to prove things about comparative advantage and all this stuff you learn in school about Portugal and wine and so on. Incidentally, if you want to know how well those theorems actually work, just compare Portugal and England after a hundred years of trying them out - growing wine versus industrializing as possible modes of development. But let's put that aside... Well, by now the assumptions underpinning these theories are not only false - they're the opposite of the truth. By now labor is immobile, through immigration restrictions and so on, and capital is highly mobile, primarily because of technological changes. So none of the results work anymore. But you're still taught them, you're still taught the theories exactly as before - even though the reality today is the exact opposite of what we assumed in the early nineteenth century. I mean, if you look at some of the fancier economists, Paul Krugman and so on, they've got all kinds of little tricks here and there to make the results not quite so grotesquely ridiculous as they'd otherwise be. But fundamentally, it all just is pretty ridiculous. If capital is mobile and labor is immobile, there's no reason why mobile capital shouldn't seek absolute advantage and play one national workforce against another, go wherever the labor is cheapest and thereby drive everybody's standard of living down. In fact, that's exactly what we're doing in NAFTA and all these other international trade agreements which are being instituted right now. Nothing in these abstract economic models actually works in the real world. It doesn't matter how many footnotes they put in, or how many ways they tinker around the edges. The whole enterprise is totally rotten at the core: it has no relation to reality anymore - and furthermore, it never did.
  • In fact, just take a look at the history of "trucking and bartering" itself; look at the history of modern capitalism, about which we know a lot. The first thing you'll notice is, peasants had to be driven by force and violence into a wage-labor system they did not want; then major efforts were undertaken - conscious efforts - to create wants. In fact, if you look back, there's a whole interesting literature of conscious discussion of the need to manifacture wants in the general population. It's happened over the whole long stretch of capitalism of course, but one place where you can see it very nicely encapsulated is around the time when slavery was terminated. It's very dramatic too at cases like these. For example, in 1831 there was a big slave revolt in Jamaica - which was one of the things that led the British to decide to give up slavery in their colonies: after some slave revolts, they basically said, "It's not paying anymore." So within a couple of years the British wanted to move from a slave economy to a so-called "free" economy, but they still wanted the basic structure to remain exactly the same - and if you take a look back at the parliamentary debates in England at the time, they were talking very consciously about all this. They were saying: look, we've got to keep it the way it is, the masters have to become the owners, the slave have to become the happy workers - somehow we've got to work it all out. Well, there was a little problem in Jamaica: since there was a lot of open land there, when the British let the slaves go free they just wanted to move out onto the land and be perfectly happy, they didn't want to work for the British sugar plantations anymore. So what everyone was asking in Parliament in London was, "How can we force them to keep working for us, even when they're no longer enslaved into it?" Alright, two things were decided upon: first, they would use state force to close off the open land and prevent people from going and surviving on their own. And secondly, they realized that since all these workers didn't really want a lot of things - they just wanted to satisfy their basic needs, which they could easily do in that tropical climate - the British capitalists would have to start creating a whole set of wants for them, and make them start desiring things they didn't then desire, so then the only way they'd be able to satisfy their new material desires would be by working for wages in the British sugar plantations. There was very conscious discussion of the need to create wants - and in fact, extensive efforts were then undertaken to do exactly what they do on T.V. today: to create wants, to make you want the latest pair of sneakers you don't really need, so then people will be driven into a wage-labor society. And that pattern has been repeated over and over again through the whole entire history of capitalism. In fact, what the whole history of capitalism shows is that people have had to be driven into situations which are then claimed to be their nature. But if the history of capitalism shows anything, it shows it's not their nature, that they've had to be forced into it, and that that effort has had to be maintained right until this day.
    • In Understanding Power (pp. 203-204), 2002

Libertarianism (U.S. variant)

  • By comparative standards, the country is undertaxed. And it's also regressively taxed, the tax burden falls mostly on the poor. What we need is a progressive tax system, of, incidentally, the kind that Jefferson advocated. You know, traditional libertarians, like Jefferson, advocated sharply progressive taxes, because they wanted a system of relative equality, knowing that that's a prerequisite for democracy. Jefferson specifically advocated it. We don't have it anymore, it's sort of there in legislation but it's gone. What we need is different social policies. And social policies which ought to be funded by the people who are gonna benefit from it, that's the general public. So we'd be a lot better off if we were higher taxed, and it was used for proper purposes. And we know what those are. I mean, for example, for women taking care of children. You know, it makes sense to pay them for that work, they're doing important work for the society. [applause] And they should be paid for it, but that requires tax payments. And the same is true about protection of the environment.
  • In a dictatorship, taxation is theft. In a true democratic community, people make decisions, including decisions about how to deal with problems of concern to the community, like schools, health services, transportation, etc. Insofar as this leads to expenditures, they make decisions about taxes or some counterpart. There is no theft. Societies like ours are somewhere in between. To take your case, suppose your neighbor never uses a road or a bus at the other end of town. Why should he fund it? Maybe we should each just pay for the roads we use -- and that means, of course, that we have to prevent others from using them, so we hire private armies, and if someone comes along with a bigger army we get nuclear weapons to keep them from using our road, and... Actually, proposals like this are made, in all seriousness, in literature that is taken seriously. And it extends to everything else, leading to a world in which no sane person would want to live, even if it would be possible to survive in it.
    • ZNet forum reply, June 28, 2004 [31]

On education

  • If you quietly accept and go along no matter what your feelings are, ultimately you internalize what you're saying, because it's too hard to believe one thing and say another. I can see it very strikingly in my own background. Go to any elite university and you are usually speaking to very disciplined people, people who have been selected for obedience. And that makes sense. If you've resisted the temptation to tell the teacher, "You're an asshole," which maybe he or she is, and if you don't say, "That's idiotic," when you get a stupid assignment, you will gradually pass through the required filters. You will end up at a good college and eventually with a good job.
  • There is a noticeable general difference between the sciences and mathematics on the one hand, and the humanities and social sciences on the other. It's a first approximation, but one that is real. In the former, the factors of integrity tend to dominate more over the factors of ideology. It's not that scientists are more honest people. It's just that nature is a harsh taskmaster. You can lie or distort the story of the French Revolution as long as you like, and nothing will happen. Propose a false theory in chemistry, and it'll be refuted tomorrow.
    • In Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, July 22, 1992 [33]
  • Most problems of teaching are not problems of growth but helping cultivate growth. As far as I know, and this is only from personal experience in teaching, I think about ninety percent of the problem in teaching, or maybe ninety-eight percent, is just to help the students get interested. Or what it usually amounts to is to not prevent them from being interested. Typically they come in interested, and the process of education is a way of driving that defect out of their minds. But if children['s] [...] normal interest is maintained or even aroused, they can do all kinds of things in ways we don't understand.
    • Conference titled "Creation & Culture" in Barcelona, Spain, November 25, 1992 [34]
  • Mass education was designed to turn independent farmers into docile, passive tools of production. That was its primary purpose. And don't think people didn't know it. They knew it and they fought against it. There was a lot of resistance to mass education for exactly that reason. It was also understood by the elites. Emerson once said something about how we're educating them to keep them from our throats. If you don't educate them, what we call "education," they're going to take control -- "they" being what Alexander Hamilton called the "great beast," namely the people. The anti-democratic thrust of opinion in what are called democratic societies is really ferocious. And for good reason. Because the freer the society gets, the more dangerous the great beast becomes and the more you have to be careful to cage it somehow.
    • Class Warfare, 1995 [35]
  • Because they don't teach the truth about the world, schools have to rely on beating students over the head with propaganda about democracy. If schools were, in reality, democratic, there would be no need to bombard students with platitudes about democracy. They would simply act and behave democratically, and we know this does not happen. The more there is a need to talk about the ideals of democracy, the less democratic the system usually is.
    • Chomsky on Miseducation, 1999 [36]
  • So when you go to graduate school in the natural sciences, you're immediately brought into critical inquiry - and, in fact, what you're learning is kind of a craft; you don't really teach science, people sort of get the idea how to do it as apprentices, hopefully by working with good people. But the goal is to learn how to do creative work, and to challenge everything [...] people have to be trained for creativity and disobedience - because there is no other way you can do science. But in the humanities and social sciences, and in fields like journalism and economics and so on [...] people have to be trained to be managers, and controllers, and to accept things, and not to question too much.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002 [37]
  • There's a good reason why nobody studies history, it just teaches you too much.
  • To tell you the honest truth, I don’t really have a lot of respect for intellectuals. I mean history is written by intellectuals, by definition. So if you look at the history of intellectuals, intellectual history, they look pretty good. But you have to ask who’s writing the history. If you look at the actual history, it’s quite different. The actual history of intellectuals is quite sordid. Overwhelmingly, there are exceptions, but overwhelmingly intellectuals have been supporters of state violence, of terror, power, atrocities, and so on. There’s usually a margin of dissidents, a fringe of intellectuals who condemn these crimes, and they are usually treated pretty badly. How badly they’re treated depends on the society, so in El Salvador they had their brains blown out. In Eastern Europe in the same years, they were imprisoned and exiled. In the United States, I say Russell and others, are vilified and denounced. But overwhelmingly, the intellectuals supported power. I mean, after all, that was true in Eastern Europe too. There were well-known dissidents, but they were by no means the majority. Most intellectuals were subordinate to power, the same in the United States, the same almost everywhere. In fact, this goes back through history as far back as you can go. So just to take one example, which then perpetuates itself though history, take the oldest historical records, actually partly invented because it’s folk history, take the Bible. Let’s consider it to be a historical record. There were intellectuals: they were called prophets. The word “prophet” is a bad translation of an obscure Hebrew word: if you look at the prophets, they were what we would call dissident intellectuals. They were carrying out geopolitical critique of power, they were warning the kings that they were bringing disaster to the people, they were calling for justice, proper treatment of suffering people—widows and orphans and so on—they were typical of what we nowadays call dissident intellectuals. How were they treated? Well, we know from the biblical record, they were imprisoned, they were driven into the desert, they were vilified and attacked. Centuries later, many centuries later, they were honored, but that’s centuries later. At the actual time of the prophets, there were others, other intellectuals, who were very much honored: they were the flatterers at the court. Centuries later, they were criticized as false prophets, but not at the time. At the time, the flatterers at the court were the one who were honored and received the privileges. The critics were very harshly treated. History’s judgment, centuries later, was the opposite, but that’s not at the time. And that pattern perpetuates itself pretty well through history. And there’s a reason for it. How do you become an intellectual? I mean, it’s not that you have different genes. Being an intellectual means sharing in a certain amount of privilege. You have the privilege to be able to speak too—you have training, education, resources—you can have opportunities to speak and act that most people don’t have. You know, it’s pretty typical for privilege and power to be associated with conformity and obedience, people who—there is, throughout the whole educational system, there is a kind of selection for obedience—people who are properly obedient tend to get ahead and get to the next stage and go on to the professions and so on. People who are dissident, who just refuse—as children would, say—to obey, people who stand up and tell the history teacher I’m not going to do this assignment, because it’s too stupid. Those people tend to get/have/face problems. They’re, in the United States, they’re called behavior problems, and maybe given pills or something like that. But there are rarely any rewards for honesty, integrity, challenge, and so on. But there are always rewards, almost always rewards, for obedience and subordination. So there’s a tendency over time, not a hundred percent, but there’s a tendency for those who make it to the level of intellectual prestige, there’s a tendency for them to be people who have accepted the discipline imposed at every stage of a system that has hierarchy and authority. And every system has some level of that. So I don’t think there’s much of a surprise, if you actually look at history, this is almost always true. Let’s take the Dreyfus Affair in France, which is almost the origin of modern intellectuals, well, the way history’s written, it looks as though the French intellectuals were strongly supporting Dreyfus. You look at the actual history, it was not like that at all. There was a fringe of people, like Émile Zola, who were defending Dreyfus, most of them were supporting state power. But the history is reshaped. And just about everything you look at is like this. Actually, I know of a few striking exceptions, one of them I’ll mention because it’s quite relevant to current European policy. There’s a lot of debate now, as you know, as to whether Turkey should be allowed to enter the European Union. And the argument, in cultivated European circles, is that they may not be advanced enough and enlightened enough to join us Europeans. The facts are almost the opposite. Turkey is one of the very few—in fact, about the only country, one of the very few countries I know (I know of a few others)—where leading intellectuals really are dissidents and face enormous risks constantly. So in Turkey where there’s plenty of crimes and atrocities—which the West supports, incidentally—the leading writers, artists, journalists, academics, not only protest atrocities and crimes, but they are constantly carrying out civil disobedience against them, and facing very severe risks, sometimes enduring severe punishment. And they’re doing it all the time. I don’t know of anything like that in Western Europe or the United States, and very few examples in history. So actually I think Turkey has a lot to teach Western Europe about enlightened civilized behavior.
    • Forgotten History, March 29, 2005 [39]

On media and propaganda

  • Here is what [George Kennan] had to say, and it's revealing: "[...] we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. [...] In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity [...] We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction. We should cease to talk about vague and [...] unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better." Now of course, the idealistic slogans are still needed for the media, for a lot of scholarship, for the schools, and so on. But, where the serious people are, the problem is that we have to maintain this disparity, and obviously it's gotta be maintained by force. So none of the idealistic slogans at home. So when you're setting up death squads in El Salvador under the Alliance for Progress, you're not hampered by these idealistic slogans - that's for the masses, for us. Well, given this kind of thinking, it's not too surprising that President Kennedy should say, with regard to El Salvador after supporting a military coup there, that "Governments of the civil-military type of El Salvador are the most effective in containing communist penetration in Latin America." This at the time when he organized the basic framework for the death squads that have been torturing and murdering ever since, and which we attribute to some kind of extreme right-wingers who somehow we can't get under control.
    • Talk at UC Berkeley on U.S. foreign policy in Central America, May 14, 1984 [40]
  • We have a big argument here about whether Nicaragua and Cuba are sending arms to El Salvador. Well, I don't know, so far there's no evidence that they are, but that's not really the interesting question. I mean, you gotta watch the way questions are framed by the propaganda system. The way it's framed is, the doves say they're not sending arms, and the hawks say they are sending arms. But the real question, which is being suppressed in all of this, is, "Should they be sending arms?" And the answer is of course, "Yes." [applause] Everybody should be sending arms. You see, that question is not raised. Just as if, somebody was talking in, say, the Soviet Union, and the question came up, "Should somebody send arms to Afghan rebels?" Well, of course not, you know, that's terrorism or something like that. The point is that it's perfectly legitimate to send arms to people who finally try to use violence in self-defense against a gang of mass murderers installed by a foreign power. Of course it's legitimate to send them arms.
    • Talk at UC Berkeley on U.S. foreign policy in Central America, May 14, 1984 [41]
  • On September 1st of last year, the Soviet Union shot down Korean KAL 007, killing 269 people, and the immediate response here was that this proves that the Russians are the most barbaric people since Attila the Hun or something, and therefore we have to step up the attack against Nicaragua, set in MX missiles, put Pershings in West Germany, and increase the military system. In fact, the immediate main reaction here was great euphoria on Wall Street, where commentators pointed out that defense stocks have never looked better, you know, the big rise in defense stocks. All of this was because of this barbarous act, which is the worst thing that ever happened in human history. The story was given unbelievable coverage. Not only the story, but the American government interpretation of it, which is roughly what I've just said, was given the kind of coverage that I doubt has ever been given to any story in history... Just to give you an indication, the New York Times publishes an index volume, very densely printed thing, you practically need a magnifying glass to read it, big pages... For the month of September alone, the index volume is 7 pages, just on this... And it's all from the standpoint of the government, namely, here're these unbelievable monsters, for no reason other than sadistic love of massacre, killed 269 innocent people. Well, the government story gradually eroded and collapsed, and now basically nothing's left of it, except some funny questions. Like, what was that Korean airliner actually doing over the most sensitive area of Russian airspace? And why didn't the American reconnaissance jets nearby, RC-135 or... Why didn't they signal to the plane, as they certainly had the ability to do, to get out of the region? And what was it doing there in the first place, how come it was on a great circle route? It's very hard to imagine by a navigational error. There're all kinds of questions like that, and those questions have essentially collapsed the government case, as was sort of quietly admitted in the small print after the political capital has been made. But there're some other things, which are never discussed, which I think are even more important. So let me mention a couple. Right in the middle of all of this furor about the Korean airliner, on November 11th in fact, there was a 100 word item in the New York Times, devoted to the interesting fact that UNITA, which is a group that we call "freedom fighters", supported by us and South Africa, in Angola, they took credit for shooting down a civilian Angolan jet, killing 126 people. Now, there was no RC-135 in the area, confusing the issue, maybe jamming radar. It was just pure, plain, premeditated murder. Got 100 words in the New York Times. February 9th this year, UNITA took credit for downing another civilian jet. That one wasn't even mentioned, you gotta read the foreign press to find that one out. Now, under the very confused circumstances of KAL 007, if that was the worst atrocity in human history, well, what about the freedom fighters that we support along with South Africa? Who did something much worse, they just purposely shot down a civilian jet. I mean, granted, the only people killed were black or something, but putting that aside, why is it any different? In fact, it's a lot worse. And in fact, since we're the ones who support them, we're the worst barbarians in history, way worse than the Russians. So let's go back a little further, those who have a little bit of memory could remember some other cases. For example, in October 1976, a Cubana airliner was blown up, with 76 people killed, including the Olympic gold medal winning fencing team of Cuba, and the bomb was placed on the plane by the CIA. It was placed by a CIA agent, he's known, he continued to be a CIA agent, continued to carry out other atrocities... Or let's go back a little further. In February 1973, Israel shot down a civilian jet over the Sinai, killing 110 people. The plane was lost in a sand storm. It was about 2 minutes flight time away from Cairo. No confusion, no ambiguity. The orders came from the highest center of the high command. Now this was sort of noticed, there were a couple of references to this in the middle of the KAL 007 business. Predictably, a series of lies were produced, in the New York Times and elsewhere, saying that the situation was totally different because Israel has taken responsibility and paid compensation. If you look back, you find that Israel did not take responsibility, and refused to pay compensation. They agreed to something else, what's called ex gratia compensation, meaning just sort of pure humanitarian aid, which is easy enough because we paid for it. But they refused to pay compensation, because that would imply responsibility, and they refused any responsibility. In fact, what they did is exactly what the Russians did: they put a couple of pilots on television, and they told how what they did was exactly right and just, and they tried to blame the French pilot, he didn't know how to fly... Couple of days after that, Golda Meir came to Washington. She was asked no embarrassing questions about this; the press didn't bother. And she returned home with new military aircrafts. That's the way we responded in that case. There was also editorial comment. The New York Times, which was outraged beyond anything about the Russians, it also had something to say in this case. It had an editorial saying that "No useful purpose is served by acrimonious debate over assignment of blame". That was the phrase in this situation of tension... Well, if you look back a little further, you can find other things too. For example, in 1955 an Air-India plane was blown up, with many people killed. In fact, including the people killed was the whole Chinese delegation to the Bandung Conference, the neutralist conference that was held in Indonesia. Turned out the bomb was planted by a CIA agent, who later defected and told the story... The purpose of the operation was to kill Zhou Enlai, who was supposed to be on the plane but by accident had gotten off. So they killed the rest of the delegation, plus everybody else, but not him... And if you bother, you'll find other cases too. All of this is ignored. The one case which was even mentioned, the Israeli one, was falsified... While we have this huge hysteria whipped up about the worst monsters in history... And the press went along with this, virtually 100%. The LA Times is the only newspaper in the US that I know of, that published an honest account of the Israeli case, by Robert Scheer. He published a straight factual account, which gave essentially what I've just said. The other cases were never mentioned -- maybe there's something that I've missed -- but the rest of the press didn't mention any of this stuff. Now, here is an example of the way a really well-disciplined propaganda system works. Total obedience, total subservience to state propaganda. When the state says, "Whip up hysteria against the evil empire", everybody starts yelling, jumping up and down, and screaming about the evil empire... [Q: how do you pull that off?] That's a very interesting question. See, if it happened in, say, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, we know how they pulled it off. Namely, an order came from the Ministry of Truth, and everybody had to obey it. Now that didn't happen here. Here it happened in the way American propaganda always works: by servility and cowardice and class interest. In other words, we have a relatively centralized media, and there are great advantages to subordinating yourself to external power, which in fact represents your interests anyhow. The mass media are basically big corporations, and they share the interests of other major corporations, which means the interests represented by the state. So it's not too surprising that they'd tend to support state power; what is interesting is the uniformity, the virtual lack of deviance. The fact that in a country as complex as this, one article should appear, referring to one of these incidents, and the others I suppose were barely reported at all. This is something that you find over and over again when looking at the American propaganda system. So for example, take the invasion of South Vietnam. How did we succeed, for 22 years, in preventing essentially 100% of scholarship from referring to a historical event that occurred. Namely, the American invasion of South Vietnam. There is no such event. Take a look in the encyclopedias, the history books, the specialized monographs, and you'll see that there's no such event as the invasion of South Vietnam in 1962, or aggression against South Vietnam - it's just not there... We have a very intricate system, and it does it with consummate skill, and with great success. So on major issues, you just get no deviation at all.
    • Talk at UC Berkeley on U.S. foreign policy in Central America, May 14, 1984 [42]
  • The uniformity and obedience of the media, which any dictator would admire, [...]
    • Commonly rephrased as: "Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the [U.S.] media."
    • Turning the Tide, 1985
  • As early as World War I, American historians offered themselves to President Woodrow Wilson to carry out a task they called "historical engineering," by which they meant designing the facts of history so that they would serve state policy. In this instance, the U.S. government wanted to silence opposition to the war. This represents a version of Orwell's 1984, even before Orwell was writing.
    • Propaganda Review, 1987 [43]
  • ...Board of Directors have to make certain kinds of decisions, and those decisions are pretty narrowly constrained. They have to be committed to increasing profit share and market share. That means they're going to be forced to try to limit wages, to limit quality, to use advertising in a way that sells goods even if the product is lousy. Who tells them to do this? Nobody. But if they stopped doing it, they'd be out of business. Similarly, if an editorial writer for the New York Times were to start, say, telling the truth about the Panama invasion -- which is almost inconceivable, because to become an editorial writer you'd already have gone through a filtering process which would weed out the non-conformists -- well, the first thing that would happen is you'd start getting a lot of angry phone calls from investors, owners, and other sectors of power. That would probably suffice. If it didn't, you'd simply see the stock start falling. And if they continued with it systematically, the New York Times would be replaced by some other organ. After all, what is the New York Times? It's just a corporation. If investors and advertisers don't want to support it, and the government doesn't want to give it the special privileges and advantages that make it a "newspaper of record," it's out of business.
    • Interview by Adam Jones, February 20, 1990 [44]
  • ...the point of public relations slogans like "Support Our Troops" is that they don't mean anything [...] that's the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody is gonna be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything. But its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something, do you support our policy? And that's the one you're not allowed to talk about.
  • ...propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state and that's wise and good because the common interests elude the bewildered herd... The public relations industry not only took this ideology on very explicitly, but also acted on it... In the 1930s big problems arose again as they had during the First World War. There was huge depression, there was substantial labor organizing, in fact in 1935 labor won its first major legislative victory, namely the right to organize with the Wagner Act, and that raised two serious problems. For one thing, Democracy was misfunctioning, the bewildered herd was actually winning legislative victories and it's not supposed to work that way. The other problem was, it was becoming possible for people to organize and people have to be atomized and separated and alone. They're not supposed to organize because then they might be able to actually exert some, they might be something beyond spectators of action they might actually be participants if many people with limited resources could get together to enter the political arena. That's really threatening and a major response was taken on the part of business to ensure that this would be the last legislative victory for labor and that it would be the beginning of the end of this democratic deviation of popular organization, and in fact it worked. That was the last legislative victory for labor and from that point on ... the capacity to act through the unions began a steady drop.
  • Walter Lippmann ... described what he called “the manufacture of consent” as “a revolution” in “the practice of democracy”... And he said this was useful and necessary because “the common interests” - the general concerns of all people - “elude” the public. The public just isn't up to dealing with them. And they have to be the domain of what he called a "specialized class" ... [Reinhold Niebuhr]'s view was that rationality belongs to the cool observer. But because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason, but faith. And this naive faith requires necessary illusion, and emotionally potent oversimplifications, which are provided by the myth-maker to keep the ordinary person on course. It's not the case, as the naive might think, that indoctrination is inconsistent with democracy. Rather, as this whole line of thinkers observes, it is the essence of democracy. The point is that in a military state or a feudal state or what we would now call a totalitarian state, it doesn't much matter because you've got a bludgeon over their heads and you can control what they do. But when the state loses the bludgeon, when you can't control people by force, and when the voice of the people can be heard you have this problem -- it may make people so curious and so arrogant that they don't have the humility to submit to a civil rule [Clement Walker, 1661], and therefore you have to control what people think. And the standard way to do this is to resort to what in more honest days used to be called propaganda, manufacture of consent, creation of necessary illusion. Various ways of either marginalizing the public or reducing them to apathy in some fashion.
  • ...sectors of the doctrinal system serve to divert the unwashed masses and reinforce the basic social values: passivity, submissiveness to authority, the overriding virtue of greed and personal gain, lack of concern for others, fear of real or imagined enemies, etc. The goal is to keep the bewildered herd bewildered. It's unnecessary for them to trouble themselves with what's happening in the world. In fact, it's undesirable -- if they see too much of reality they may set themselves to change it.
    • What Uncle Sam Really Wants, 1993 [47]
  • I never criticized United States planners for mistakes in Vietnam. True, they made some mistakes, but my criticism was always aimed at what they aimed to do and largely achieved. The Russians doubtless made mistakes in Afghanistan, but my condemnation of their aggression and atrocities never mentioned those mistakes, which are irrelevant to the matter -- though not for the commissars. Within our ideological system, it is impossible to perceive that anyone might criticize anything but "mistakes" (I suspect that totalitarian Russia was more open in that regard).
    • In Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, March 31, 1995 [48]
  • [The "liberal media"] love to be denounced from the right, and the right loves to denounce them, because that makes them look like courageous defenders of freedom and independence while, in fact, they are imposing all of the presuppositions of the propaganda system.
    • Interview by Ira Shorr, February 11, 1996 [49]
  • I don't say you're self-censoring - I'm sure you believe everything you're saying; but what I'm saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn't be sitting where you're sitting.
  • Reform is a word you always ought to watch out for. Like, when Mao started the Cultural Revolution it wasn't called a reform; reform is a change that you're supposed to like. So as soon as you hear the word reform you can reach for your wallet and see who's lifting it. [...] Subsidy is another interesting word, kinda like reform. It's a subsidy if public funds are used for public purposes, that's called a subsidy. It's not called a subsidy when it goes to private wealth, that's reform or something.
  • The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
    • The Common Good, 1998 [52]
  • Stability means we run it. There are countries that are very stable. Cuba is stable, but that’s not called stability.
    • Interview by Hugh Gusterson, November 2000 [53]
  • It is only in folk tales, children's stories, and the journals of intellectual opinion that power is used wisely and well to destroy evil. The real world teaches very different lessons, and it takes willful and dedicated ignorance to fail to perceive them.
    • Talk titled "The World After September 11th", AFSC Conference at Tufts University, Massachusetts, December 8, 2001 [54]
  • Remember that the media have two basic functions. One is to indoctrinate the elites, to make sure they have the right ideas and know how to serve power. In fact, typically the elites are the most indoctrinated segment of a society, because they are the ones who are exposed to the most propaganda and actually take part in the decision-making process. For them you have the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, and so on. But there’s also a mass media, whose main function is just to get rid of the rest of the population -- to marginalize and eliminate them, so they don’t interfere with decision-making. And the press that’s designed for that purpose isn’t the New York Times and the Washington Post, it’s sitcoms on television, and the National Enquirer, and sex and violence, and babies with three heads, and football, all that kind of stuff.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002 [55]
  • ...evidence-based approach, the U.S. negotiators argued, is interference with free markets, because corporations must have the right to deceive. [...] the claim itself is kind of amusing, I mean, even if you believe the free market rhetoric for a moment. The main purpose of advertising is to undermine markets. If you go to graduate school and you take a course in economics, you learn that markets are systems in which informed consumers make rational choices. That's what's so wonderful about it. But that's the last thing that the state corporate system wants. It is spending huge sums to prevent that, which brings us back to the viability of American democracy. For many years, elections here, election campaigns, have been run by the public relations industry and each time it's with increasing sophistication. And quite naturally, the industry uses the same technique to sell candidates that it uses to sell toothpaste or lifestyle drugs. The point is to undermine markets by projecting imagery to delude and suppressing information, and similarly, to undermine democracy by same method, projecting imagery to delude and suppressing information. The candidates are trained, carefully trained, to project a certain image. Intellectuals like to make fun of George Bush's use of phrases like “misunderestimate,” and so on, but my strong suspicion is that he's trained to do that. He's carefully trained to efface the fact that he's a spoiled frat boy from Yale, and to look like a Texas roughneck kind of ordinary guy just like you, just waiting to get back to the ranch that they created for him...
    • 25th anniversary of the International Relations Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, January 26, 2005 [56]
  • The dominant propaganda systems have appropriated the term "globalization" to refer to the specific version of international economic integration that they favor, which privileges the rights of investors and lenders, those of people being incidental. In accord with this usage, those who favor a different form of international integration, which privileges the rights of human beings, become "anti-globalist." This is simply vulgar propaganda, like the term "anti-Soviet" used by the most disgusting commissars to refer to dissidents. It is not only vulgar, but idiotic. Take the World Social Forum, called "anti-globalization" in the propaganda system -- which happens to include the media, the educated classes, etc., with rare exceptions. The WSF is a paradigm example of globalization. It is a gathering of huge numbers of people from all over the world, from just about every corner of life one can think of, apart from the extremely narrow highly privileged elites who meet at the competing World Economic Forum, and are called "pro-globalization" by the propaganda system. An observer watching this farce from Mars would collapse in hysterical laughter at the antics of the educated classes.
    • Interview by Sniježana Matejčić, June 2005 [57]
  • When you try to look honestly at your own society—its history, its actions, and so on—you are facing a massive deluge of propaganda and indoctrination that is trying to create a delusionary picture.
    • Chomsky's Basic View of the World, October 25, 2005 [58]
  • In my view Columbia completely disgraced itself, as did the media and commentary generally... The morning of Ahmadenijad's speech at Columbia, the university welcomed the President of Turkmenistan for a speech at a world leaders conference; an outstanding democracy, with a stellar human rights record -- and, incidentally, plenty of natural gas that the US covets. As Ahmadinejad visited New York, Pakistani riot police were beating lawyers and other demonstrators protesting the dictator Musharraf's organization of his forthcoming election -- which might remind us of President Bollinger's effusive praise for the dictator in introducing him for a talk at Columbia. Of course Pakistan is not suspected of developing nuclear weapons. Rather, it developed them, while the Reagan administration politely looked the other way and pretended it did not know, and also harbors the leading nuclear proliferator, Abdul Qadeer Khan. And if we go farther back, we can recall the warm welcome Columbia gave to the Shah of Iran, right after the tyrant was installed in power by a US-UK military coup, overthrowing the parliamentary government. The Shah was presented with an honorary degree as he delivered the Gabriel Silver Lecture Dedicated to International Peace, in which he urged that "We must be strong enough internally and externally so that the temptation of subversion from within, supported from without, can be obliterated." Delightful timing... Since Ahmadinejad was not as offensive as was hoped, the press had to seize on his silly remark about homosexuality (see, e.g., the infantile New Yorker cover) -- deeply offensive to countries like ours and Britain that have been so supportive of gay rights since they gained independence centuries ago. For example when the British government forced the great mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing to undergo "hormone therapy" to cure his disease, leading to his suicide. Just at about the time that the US-UK were installing the Shah and Columbia was inviting him to present deep thoughts on the dangers of "subversion from within, supported from without." It was a pathetic display.
    • ZNet forum reply, October 8, 2007 [59]

On wars, interventions, and terrorism

  • I would feel no hesitation in saying that it is the responsibility of a decent human being to give assistance to a child who is being attacked by a rabid dog, but I would not intend this to imply that in all imaginable circumstances one must, necessarily, act in accordance with this general responsibility. One can easily concoct imaginary situations in which it would be inadvisable, even immoral to do so [...] the assumption that it is reprehensible for a powerful nation to invade a weak and tiny neighbor in order to impose on it an "acceptable" government [...] I did not, and will not defend, just as I would not take the trouble to justify my belief that one should assist a child being attacked by a rabid dog.
    • New York Review of Books, April 20, 1967 [60]
  • I'm of course opposed to terror, any rational person is, but I think that if we're serious about the question of terror and serious about the question of violence we have to recognize that it is a tactical and hence moral matter. Incidentally, tactical issues are basically moral issues, they have to do with human consequences. And if we're interested in let's say diminishing the amount of violence in the world, it's at least arguable and sometimes true that a terroristic act does diminish the amount of violence in the world hence a person who is opposed to violence will not be opposed to that terroristic act.
  • The Cold War ideology and the international communist conspiracy function in an important way as essentially a propaganda device to mobilize support at a particular historical moment for this long-time imperial enterprise. In fact, I believe that this is probably the main function of the Cold War: it serves as a useful device for the managers of American society and their counterparts in the Soviet Union to control their own populations and their own respective imperial systems.
    • Talk titled "Government in the Future" at the Poetry Center of the New York YM-YWHA, February 16, 1970 [62]
  • Of course, everybody says they're for peace. Hitler was for peace. Everybody is for peace. The question is: what kind of peace?
  • Non-violent resistance activities cannot succeed against an enemy that is able freely to use violence. That's pretty obvious. You can't have non-violent resistance against the Nazis in a concentration camp, to take an extreme case...
    • Chronicles of Dissent, December 13, 1989 [64]
  • Naturally, any conqueror is going to play one group against another. For example, I think about 90% of the forces that the British used to control India were Indians. [...] It was true when the American forces conquered the Philippines, killing a couple hundred thousand people. They were being helped by Philippine tribes, exploiting conflicts among local groups. There were plenty who were going to side with the conquerors. But forget the Third World, just take a look at the Nazi conquest of nice, civilized Western Europe, places like Belgium and Holland and France. Who was rounding up the Jews? Local people, often. In France they were rounding them up faster than the Nazis could handle them. The Nazis also used Jews to control Jews. If the United States was conquered by the Russians, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Elliott Abrams and the rest of them would probably be working for the invaders, sending people off to concentration camps. They're the right personality types.
    • Keeping the Rabble in Line, January 14, 1993 (note: Reagan's role was edited to "would be reading their ads on TV") [65]
  • A good way of finding out who won a war, who lost a war, and what the war was about, is to ask who's cheering and who's depressed after it's over - this can give you interesting answers. So, for example, if you ask that question about the Second World War, you find out that the winners were the Nazis, the German industrialists who had supported Hitler, the Italian Fascists and the war criminals that were sent off to South America - they were all cheering at the end of the war. The losers of the war were the anti-fascist resistance, who were crushed all over the world. Either they were massacred like in Greece or South Korea, or just crushed like in Italy and France. That's the winners and losers. That tells you partly what the war was about. Now let's take the Cold War: Who's cheering and who's depressed? Let's take the East first. The people who are cheering are the former Communist Party bureaucracy who are now the capitalist entrepreneurs, rich beyond their wildest dreams, linked to Western capital, as in the traditional Third World model, and the new Mafia. They won the Cold War. The people of East Europe obviously lost the Cold War; they did succeed in overthrowing Soviet tyranny, which is a gain, but beyond that they've lost - they're in miserable shape and declining further. If you move to the West, who won and who lost? Well, the investors in General Motors certainly won. They now have this new Third World open again to exploitation - and they can use it against their own working classes. On the other hand, the workers in GM certainly didn't win, they lost. They lost the Cold War, because now there's another way to exploit them and oppress them and they're suffering from it.
  • Actually, on humanitarian intervention in general, I guess my view is not unlike the view that was attributed to Gandhi, accurately or not, when he was supposedly asked what he thought about western civilization. He is supposed to have said that he thought it would be a good idea. Similarly, humanitarian intervention would be a good idea, in principle. [...] can we expect that with the existing power structure, distribution of power in the world, there will be humanitarian intervention? There is nothing new about the question, of course. The idea of humanitarian intervention goes back to the days of the Concert of Europe a century ago - in the 19th Century there was lots of talk about civilizing missions and interventions that would do good things. The US intervened in the Philippines to "uplift and christianize" the backward people, killing a couple of hundred thousand of them and destroying the place. The same thing happened in Haiti, the same thing happened with other countries. We cannot disregard the historical record and talk about an ideal world. It makes sense to work towards a better world, but it doesn't make any sense to have illusions about what the real world is.
  • Armies usually aren’t interested in wars. They like preparation for war. But they have an understandable reluctance to fight a war. So I think if you look at, at least the history that I know, it’s usually the civilian leadership who is pushing the military to do something. It was the case in the early days of the Vietnam War.
    • Interview by Hugh Gusterson, November 2000 [68]
  • We cannot say much about human affairs with any confidence, but sometimes it is possible. We can, for example, be fairly confident that either there will be a world without war, or there won't be a world -- at least, a world inhabited by creatures other than bacteria and beetles, with some scattering of others.
    • Talk titled "A World Without War" at the 2nd World Social Forum, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, January 31, 2002 [69]
  • [Q: when do you think is it right to intervene in the affairs of another nation?] I think there are conditions under which that would be possible. One basic condition is that nonviolent -- you mean violent intervention? -- that nonviolent means have been exhausted. That's one condition. A second condition is that the people of the country in which you're intervening support the intervention. Under those conditions -- and you can think of others -- intervention would be justified. However, we don't ever apply those conditions.
  • [Q: can you conceive of any form in which you might support American military action taken, like the President's justification, in anticipation of an imminent and dangerous threat?] Why don't you generalize it, and say, can you conceive of any action which any state might take? Sure, you can imagine such things. Let's say you're in Iran right now. [audience laughter] It's under attack by the world's superpower, with embargoes... It's surrounded by states either occupied by its superpower enemy, or having nuclear weapons. Little way down the road is the regional superpower, which has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and other WMDs, and is essentially an offshore US military base. And has a bigger and more advanced air force than any NATO power, outside the United States. And in the past year has been supplied by the global superpower with 100 advanced jet bombers, openly advertised as able to fly to Iran and back to bomb it. And also provided with what the Hebrew press calls special weaponry, nobody knows what that means, but if you're an Iranian intelligence analyst you gonna give a worst case analysis, of course. And has actually been publicly provided with smart bombs, and deep penetration weapons... They have a terrific justification for anticipatory self defense, better than any other case I can think of. But would I approve of their bombing Israel, or carrying out terrorist acts in Washington? No, even though they have a pretty strong case, better than anything I can think of here. Just as the Japanese had a much better case than any that I can think of here, but I don't approve of Pearl Harbor. So yeah, we can conceive of cases, and in fact some of them are right in front of our eyes, but none of us approve of them. None of us. So if we don't approve of them in real cases, why discuss hypothetical cases that don't exist? We can do that in some philosophy seminar, but in the real world there're real cases that ought to concern us.

World War II

  • Yet to enter approved memory is the "finale" described in the official Air Force history, a 1000-plane raid on civilian targets organized by General "Hap" Arnold to celebrate the war's end, five days after Nagasaki. According to survivors, leaflets were dropped among the bombs announcing the surrender.
    • Z Magazine, July 1995 [72]

Vietnam War

  • The war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men, including all of us who have allowed it to go on and on with endless fury and destruction - all of us who would have remained silent had stability and order been secured.
    • American Power and the New Mandarins, 1969 [73]
  • What can one say about a country where a museum of science in a great city can feature an exhibit in which people fire machine guns from a helicopter at Vietnamese huts, with a light flashing when a hit is scored? What can one say about a country where such an idea can even be considered? You have to weep for this country.
    • American Power and the New Mandarins, 1969 [74]
  • It goes back to the days when we were defending ourselves against the internal aggression of the Native American population, who we incidentally wiped out in the process. In the post World War II period, we've frequently had to carry out defense against internal aggression, that is against Salvadorans in El Salvador, Greeks in Greece, against Filipinos in the Philippines, against South Vietnamese in South Vietnam, and many other places. And the concept of internal aggression has been repeatedly invoked in this connection, and quite appropriately. It's an interesting concept, it's one that George Orwell would certainly have admired, and it's elaborated in many ways in the internal documentary record.
    • Talk titled "The Lessons of Vietnam", March 31, 1985 [75]
  • The Tet Offensive in January of 1968 [...] made the war unpopular. American corporate elites decided at that point that it just wasn't worth it, it was too costly, let's pull out. So at that time everybody became an opponent of the war because the orders from on high were that you were supposed to be opposed to it. And after that every single memoirist radically changed their story about what had happened. They all concocted this story that their hero, John F. Kennedy, was really planning to pull out of this unpopular war before he was killed and then Johnson changed it. If you look at the earlier memoirs, not a hint, I mean literally.
  • Reactions to our adversity are not entirely uniform. At the dovish extreme, we find Senator John Kerry, who warns that we should never again fight a war "without committing enough resources to win"; no other flaw is mentioned. And there is President Carter, the noted moral teacher and human rights apostle, who assured us that we owe Vietnam no debt and have no responsibility to render it any assistance because "the destruction was mutual," an observation so uncontroversial as to pass with no reaction. [...] Properly statesmanlike, President Bush announces that "It was a bitter conflict, but Hanoi knows today that we seek only answers without the threat of retribution for the past." Their crimes against us can never be forgotten, but "we can begin writing the last chapter of the Vietnam war" if they dedicate themselves with sufficient zeal to the MIAs. We might even "begin helping the Vietnamese find and identify their own combatants missing in action," [New York Times Asia correspondent] Crossette reports. The adjacent front-page story reports Japan's failure, once again, to "unambiguously" accept the blame "for its wartime aggression."
    • Year 501, 1993 [77]
  • The doves are pleased that [Robert McNamara] finally concedes that "our blundering efforts to do good" turned into a "dangerous mistake," as Anthony Lewis put the matter long after corporate America had determined that the game was not worth the candle. As the doves had by then come to recognize, although we had pursued aims that were "noble" and "motivated by the loftiest intentions," they were nevertheless "illusory" and it ended up as a "failed crusade" (Stanley Karnow). McNamara has now "paid his debt," Theodore Draper writes in the New York Review, finally recognizing that "The Vietnam War peculiarly demanded a hardheaded assessment of what it was worth in the national interest of the United States," just as the invasion of Afghanistan "peculiarly demanded" such an assessment in the Kremlin. Draper is outraged by the "vitriolic and protracted campaign" against McNamara by the New York Times. "The case against McNamara largely hinges on the premise that he did not express his doubts" about "whether American troops should continue to die" early on, but the Times did not either (though Draper did, he proudly reminds us). Could there be another question?
    • Z Magazine, July 1995 [78]
  • The criticisms were so tepid they were embarrassing. Almost nobody, including me, dared to criticize the U.S. attack on South Vietnam. That's like talking Hittite. Nobody even understood the words.
    • Class Warfare, 1995 [79]
  • Every year thousands of people, mostly children and poor farmers, are killed in the Plain of Jars in Northern Laos, the scene of the heaviest bombing of civilian targets in history it appears, and arguably the most cruel: Washington's furious assault on a poor peasant society had little to do with its wars in the region. The worst period was from 1968, when Washington was compelled to undertake negotiations (under popular and business pressure), ending the regular bombardment of North Vietnam. Kissinger-Nixon then decided to shift the planes to bombardment of Laos and Cambodia. The deaths are from "bombies," tiny anti-personnel weapons, far worse than land-mines: they are designed specifically to kill and maim, and have no effect on trucks, buildings, etc. The Plain was saturated with hundreds of millions of these criminal devices, which have a failure-to-explode rate of 20%-30% according to the manufacturer, Honeywell. The numbers suggest either remarkably poor quality control or a rational policy of murdering civilians by delayed action. These were only a fraction of the technology deployed, including advanced missiles to penetrate caves where families sought shelter. Current annual casualties from "bombies" are estimated from hundreds a year to "an annual nationwide casualty rate of 20,000," more than half of them deaths, according to the veteran Asia reporter Barry Wain of the Wall Street Journal -- in its Asia edition. A conservative estimate, then, is that the crisis this year is approximately comparable to Kosovo, though deaths are far more highly concentrated among children -- over half, according to analyses reported by the Mennonite Central Committee, which has been working there since 1977 to alleviate the continuing atrocities. There have been efforts to publicize and deal with the humanitarian catastrophe. A British-based Mine Advisory Group (MAG) is trying to remove the lethal objects, but the US is "conspicuously missing from the handful of Western organizations that have followed MAG," the British press reports, though it has finally agreed to train some Laotian civilians. The British press also reports, with some anger, the allegation of MAG specialists that the US refuses to provide them with "render harmless procedures" that would make their work "a lot quicker and a lot safer." These remain a state secret, as does the whole affair in the United States. The Bangkok press reports a very similar situation in Cambodia, particularly the Eastern region where US bombardment from early 1969 was most intense.
    • ZNet, March 1999 [80]
  • The most important victory, in fact, was in Indonesia. In 1965 there was a military coup, which instantly carried out a Rwanda-style slaughter, and it's not an exaggeration. Rwanda-style slaughter, which wiped out the only mass-based political organization, killed mostly landless peasants, and instituted a brutal and murderous regime. There was total euphoria in the United States. So happy, they couldn't contain it. When you read the press, it was just ecstatic. It's kind of suppressed now because it doesn't look pretty in retrospect, but it was understood. Years later, McGeorge Bundy, who was the national security advisor, recognized that, he said, and I think he's right, the U.S. should have stopped the war in Vietnam in 1965, because we basically won. By 1965 South Vietnam was largely destroyed, most of the rest was gonna quickly be destroyed, and we had saved the major prize, Indonesia. The rot wasn't gonna spread to Indonesia after this delightful Rwanda-style slaughter.
    • Teach-in on the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, in New York, April 2000 [81]

Gulf War

  • Strikingly, no concern was voiced over the glaringly obvious fact that no official reason was ever offered for going to war -- no reason, that is, that could not be instantly refuted by a literate teenager.
    • Z Magazine, May 1991 [82]
  • The crisis began with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait a year ago. There was some fighting, leaving hundreds killed according to Human Rights groups. That hardly qualifies as war. Rather, in terms of crimes against peace and against humanity, it falls roughly into the category of the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus, Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1978, and the U.S. invasion of Panama. In these terms it falls well short of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and cannot remotely be compared with the near-genocidal Indonesian invasion and annexation of East Timor, to mention only two cases of aggression that are still in progress, with continuing atrocities and with the crucial support of those who most passionately professed their outrage over Iraq's aggression. During the subsequent months, Iraq was responsible for terrible crimes in Kuwait, with several thousand killed and many tortured. But that is not war; rather, state terrorism, of the kind familiar among U.S. clients. The second phase of the conflict began with the U.S.-U.K. attack of January 15 (with marginal participation of others). This was slaughter, not war.
    • Z Magazine, August 31, 1991 [83]

1992 intervention in Somalia

  • Regarding Operation Provide Relief/Operation Restore Hope/Battle of Mogadishu: [Q: what did the United States have to gain by intervening in Somalia?] In Somalia, we know exactly what they had to gain because they told us. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, described this as the best public relations operation of the Pentagon that he could imagine. His picture, which I think is plausible, is that there was a problem about raising the Pentagon budget, and they needed something that would be, look like a kind of a cakewalk, which would give a lot of prestige to the Pentagon. Somalia looked easy. Let's look back at the background. For years, the United State had supported a really brutal dictator, who had just devastated the country, and was finally kicked out. After he's kicked out, it was 1990, the country sank into total chaos and disaster, with starvation and warfare and all kind of horrible misery. The United States refused to, certainly to pay reparations, but even to look. By the middle of 1992, it was beginning to ease. The fighting was dying down, food supplies were beginning to get in, the Red Cross was getting in, roughly 80% of their supplies they said. There was a harvest on the way. It looked like it was finally sort of settling down. At that point, all of a sudden, George Bush announced that he had been watching these heartbreaking pictures on television, on Thanksgiving, and we had to do something, we had to send in humanitarian aid. The Marines landed, in a landing which was so comical, that even the media couldn't keep a straight face. Take a look at the reports of the landing of the Marines, it must've been the first week of December 1992. They had planned a night, there was nothing that was going on, but they planned a night landing, so you could show off all the fancy new night vision equipment and so on. Of course they had called the television stations, because what's the point of a PR operation for the Pentagon if there's no one to look for it. So the television stations were all there, with their bright lights and that sort of thing, and as the Marines were coming ashore they were blinded by the television light. So they had to send people out to get the cameramen to turn off the lights, so they could land with their fancy new equipment. As I say, even the media could not keep a straight face on this one, and they reported it pretty accurately. Also reported the PR aspect. Well the idea was, you could get some nice shots of Marine colonels handing out peanut butter sandwiches to starving refugees, and that'd all look great. And so it looked for a couple of weeks, until things started to get unpleasant. As things started to get unpleasant, the United States responded with what's called the Powell Doctrine. The United States has an unusual military doctrine, it's one of the reasons why the U.S. is generally disqualified from peace keeping operations that involve civilians, again, this has to do with sovereignty. U.S. military doctrine is that U.S. soldiers are not permitted to come under any threat. That's not true for other countries. So countries like, say, Canada, the Fiji Islands, Pakistan, Norway, their soldiers are coming under threat all the time. The peace keepers in southern Lebanon for example, are being attacked by Israeli soldiers all the time, and have suffered plenty of casualties, and they don't like it. But U.S. soldiers are not permitted to come under any threat, so when Somali teenagers started shaking fists at them, and more, they came back with massive fire power, and that led to a massacre. According to the U.S., I don't know the actual numbers, but according to U.S. government, about 7 to 10 thousand Somali civilians were killed before this was over. There's a close analysis of all of this by Alex de Waal, who's one of the world's leading specialists on African famine and relief, altogether academic specialist. His estimate is that the number of people saved by the intervention and the number killed by the intervention was approximately in the same ballpark. That's Somalia. That's what's given as a stellar example of the humanitarian intervention.

Kosovo War

  • Let me just put the whole thing in a kind of mundane level. Like, suppose you walk out in the street, this evening, and you see a crime being committed, you know, somebody is robbing someone else. Well, you have three choices. One choice is to try to stop it, maybe you call 911 or something. Another choice is to do nothing. A third choice is to pick up an assault rifle and kill 'em both, and kill a bystander at the same time. Well, suppose you do that, and somebody says, "Well, you know, why did you do that?" And you say, "Look, I couldn't stand by and do nothing." I mean, is that a response? If you can think of nothing that wouldn't do harm, then do nothing. And the same is true, magnified, in international affairs. Apart from the fact that there were things that could have been done.
  • The United States is not going in there to save the oppressed. If we wanted to save the oppressed we could have supported the nonviolent movement instead of selling them out at Dayton. Any kind of turbulence in the Balkans is a threat to the interests of rich, privileged, powerful people. Therefore, any turbulence in the Balkans is called a crisis. The same circumstances would not be a crisis were they to occur in Sierra Leone, or Central America, or even Turkey. But in Europe, the heartland of American economic interests, any threat in the Balkans has the possibility of spilling over.
  • ...the argument is that by bombing at a time when most of the atrocities were attributed to the KLA guerrillas, with the anticipation that the bombing would lead to far worse atrocities, NATO was preventing atrocities. The fact that this is the strongest argument that can be contrived by serious analysts, and I stress serious because there's plenty of nonsense, that tells us a good deal about the decision to bomb, particularly when we recall that there apparently were diplomatic options.
  • We might add now that we do have an authoritative account of why the United States bombed Serbia in 1999. It comes from Strobe Talbott, now the director of the Brookings Institution, but in 1999 he was in charge of the State Department-Pentagon team that supervised the diplomacy in the affair. He wrote the introduction to a recent book by his Director of Communications, John Norris, which presents the position of the Clinton administration at the time of the bombing. Norris writes that "it was Yugoslavia's resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform - not the plight of Kosovar Albanians - that best explains NATO's war". In brief, they were resisting absorption into the U.S. dominated international socioeconomic system. Talbott adds that thanks to John Norris, anyone interested in the war in Kosovo "will know ... how events looked and felt at the time to those of us who were involved" in the war, actually directing it. This authoritative explanation will come as no surprise at all to students of international affairs who are more interested in fact than rhetoric. And it will also come as no surprise, to those familiar with intellectual life, that the attack continues to be hailed as a grand achievement of humanitarian intervention, despite massive Western documentation to the contrary, and now an explicit denial at the highest level; which will change nothing, it's not the way intellectual life works.
  • ...obviously the Serbs had contingency plans, as every sane person knew. The US has contingency plans to invade Canada. Israel has contingency plans to expel Palestinians, and few sane people doubt that they would carry them out if under attack. That's what military planners do for a living. [...] In that book I reviewed the kind of material selected from the OSCE report by the Irish TV announcer, but also reviewed the material that would have been selected by his exact counterpart in Belgrade, and the full conclusions.
    • ZNet forum reply, April 24, 2006 [88]

September 11, 2001 attacks

  • The September 11 attacks were major atrocities. In terms of number of victims they do not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton's bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and probably killing tens of thousands of people (no one knows, because the US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it). Not to speak of much worse cases, which easily come to mind. But that this was a horrendous crime is not in doubt. The primary victims, as usual, were working people: janitors, secretaries, firemen, etc. It is likely to prove to be a crushing blow to Palestinians and other poor and oppressed people. It is also likely to lead to harsh security controls, with many possible ramifications for undermining civil liberties and internal freedom.
    • A Quick Reaction, September 12, 2001 [89]
  • It was a historic event. Not unfortunately because of its scale. Unpleasant to think about, but in terms of the scale it’s not that unusual. I did say it’s the worst, probably the worst instant human toll of any crime. And that may be true. But there are terrorist crimes with effects a bit more drawn out that are more extreme, unfortunately. Nevertheless, it’s a historic event because there was a change. The change was the direction in which the guns were pointing. That’s new. Radically new.
    • Talk titled "The New War Against Terror" at MIT, October 18, 2001 [90]
  • Right after September 11, the U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, said the first thing that had to be done to combat terrorism was to pass fast-track. Now that should really make Osama bin Laden tremble in his boots - that the President has Kremlin-style authority to sign economic agreements.
    • Interview by V. K. Ramachandran in Frontline, November 11, 2001 [91]
  • Nothing can justify crimes such as those of September 11, but we can think of the United States as an "innocent victim" only if we adopt the convenient path of ignoring the record of its actions and those of its allies, which are, after all, hardly a secret.
  • Moral equivalence is a term of propaganda that was invented to try to prevent us from looking at the acts for which we are responsible. [...] There is no such notion. There are many different dimensions and criteria. For example, there's no moral equivalence between the bombing of the World Trade Center and the destruction of Nicaragua or of El Salvador, of Guatemala. The latter were far worse, by any criterion. So there's no moral equivalence.
  • The Americans didn't even think about the outcome of the bombing, because the Sudanese were so far below contempt as to be not worth thinking about. Suppose I walk down the sidewalk in Cambridge and, without a second thought, step on an ant. That would mean that I regard the ant as beneath contempt, and that's morally worse than if I purposely killed that ant.
  • September 11 shocked many Americans into an awareness that they had better pay much closer attention to what the US government does in the world and how it is perceived. Many issues have been opened for discussion that were not on the agenda before. That's all to the good. It is also the merest sanity, if we hope to reduce the likelihood of future atrocities. It may be comforting to pretend that our enemies "hate our freedoms," as President Bush stated, but it is hardly wise to ignore the real world, which conveys different lessons. The president is not the first to ask: "Why do they hate us?" In a staff discussion 44 years ago, President Eisenhower described "the campaign of hatred against us [in the Arab world], not by the governments but by the people". His National Security Council outlined the basic reasons: the US supports corrupt and oppressive governments and is "opposing political or economic progress" because of its interest in controlling the oil resources of the region.
    • The Guardian, September 9, 2002 [95]
  • After September 11th I had tons of interviews everywhere, except the United States of course, and often it was national radio and TV. A couple of times it turned out to be Irish television and BBC back to back, and the difference in reaction was startling. If I said this much on Irish TV, OK, discussion over, everyone understands what I'm talking about. You try to say it on BBC, you have to go on for like about an hour to explain to them what you mean. The Irish sea is a chasm, and it just depends who's been holding the whip for 800 years and who's been under it for 800 years.
    • In Noam Chomsky - Rebel Without a Pause, 2003 [96]
  • Even if [9/11 conspiracy theories] were true, which is extremely unlikely, who cares? It doesn't have any significance. It's a little bit like the huge energy that's put out on trying to figure out who killed John F. Kennedy. Who knows? And who cares? Plenty of people get killed all the time, why does it matter that one of them happened to be John F. Kennedy? If there was some reason to believe that there was a high level conspiracy, it might be interesting. But the evidence against that is just overwhelming. And after that, if it happened to be a jealous husband, or the mafia, or someone else, what difference does it make? It's just taking energy away from serious issues onto ones that don't matter. And I think the same is true here; it's my personal opinion.
  • Such attacks are morally outrageous and politically imbecilic. They are the best gift one can give to the most hardline and brutal elements -- exactly as happened, exactly as was predictable.
  • a number the specialists have pointed out, Bush is Osama bin Laden's best ally... [9/11] was bitterly condemned by the jihadi movement around the world. The leading figures, the radical clerics and others, were denouncing it. Well, there was an opportunity to make some moves towards the Muslim world, and in fact even the radical Islamic extremist elements of the Muslim world, and undermine support for Al-Qaeda. What Bush did was the opposite: resorted to violence, particularly in Iraq, which simply mobilized support for Osama bin Laden. That's the way to deal with terrorism if you want to escalate it.

U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

  • Wanton killing of innocent civilians is terrorism, not a war against terrorism.
  • What will happen we don’t know, but plans are being made and programs implemented on the assumption that they may lead to the death of several million people in the next couple of weeks. Very casually, with no comment, no particular thought about it, that’s just kind of normal, here, and in a good part of Europe.
    • Talk titled "The New War Against Terror" at MIT, October 18, 2001 (further details: 2001, 2005) [101]
  • Let us turn now to the most elementary principle of just war theory, universality. Those who cannot accept this principle should have the decency to keep silent about matters of right and wrong, or just war. If we can rise to this level, some obvious questions arise: for example, have Cuba and Nicaragua been entitled to set off bombs in Washington, New York, and Miami in self-defense against ongoing terrorist attack? Particularly so when the perpetrators are well known and act with complete impunity, sometimes in brazen defiance of the highest international authorities, so that the cases are far clearer than Afghanistan? If not, why not?
    • Hegemony or Survival, 2003

2003 invasion of Iraq

  • We certainly shouldn't trust to deal with [Saddam Hussein] anyone who supported him through his worst crimes, that's insane. (i.e. The US, who in the 1980's supported Saddam as he perpetrated many crimes and war-crimes.)
  • [Q: isn't there a certain calculus that someone who is sitting in the shoes of a Condoleezza Rice can make, that they're responsible for the best outcome for American citizens, and there's an upside of going into Iraq which is we get one of the greatest material possessions in world's history, and there're downsides which are: we upset the international community, and maybe there's more terrorism. Couldn't you envision a calculus where they say, sure, that's the reason, and it's a good reason, let's do it. What's the flaw in the calculus?] Oh, I think that's exactly their calculus. But then we ought to just be honest and say, "Look, we're a bunch of Nazis." So fine, let's just drop all the discussion, we save a lot of trees, we can throw out the newspapers and most of the scholarly literature, and just come out, state it straight, and tell the truth: we'll do whatever we want because we think we're gonna gain by it. And incidentally, it's not American citizens who'll gain. They don't gain by this. It's narrow sectors of domestic power that the administration is serving with quite unusual dedication...
  • To gain control over this resource, and have probably military bases there, is a tremendous achievement for world control. You read counter-arguments to this, and they're worth looking at. So it's argued that it can't be true, because the costs of reconstruction are gonna be greater than the profits that will be made. Well, maybe that's true, maybe it isn't, but it's totally irrelevant. And the reason is because the costs of reconstruction are gonna be paid by the taxpayer, by you, and the profits are gonna go right into the pockets of the energy corporations. So yeah, it doesn't matter how they balance out, it's just another taxpayer subsidy to the rich.
  • Somebody's paying the corporations that destroyed Iraq and the corporations that are rebuilding it. They're getting paid by the American taxpayer in both cases. So we pay them to destroy the country, and then we pay them to rebuild it.
  • In September [2002] the government announced the national security strategy. That is not completely without precedent, but it is quite new as a formulation of state policy. What is stated is that we are tearing the entire system of the international law to shreds, the end of UN charter, and that we are going to carry out an aggressive war - which we will call "preventive" - and at any time we choose, and that we will rule the world by force. In addition, we will assure that there is never any challenge to our domination because we are so overwhelmingly powerful in military force that we will simply crush any potential challenge. That caused shudders around the world, including the foreign policy elite at home which was appalled by this. It is not that things like that haven't been heard in the past. Of course they had, but it had never been formulated as an official national policy. I suspect you will have to go back to Hitler to find an analogy to that. Now, when you propose new norms in the international behavior and new policies you have to illustrate it, you have to get people to understand that you mean it. Also you have to have what a Harvard historian called an "exemplary war", a war of example, which shows that we really mean what we say. And we have to choose the right target. The target has to have several properties. First it has to be completely defenseless. No one would attack anybody who might be able to defend themselves, that would be not prudent. Iraq meets that perfectly... And secondly, it has to be important. So there will be no point invading Burundi, for example. It has to be a country worthwhile controlling, owning, and Iraq has that property too.
  • I think that the polls taken in Baghdad explain it very well, they seem to understand. The United States invaded Iraq to gain control of one of the major sources of the world’s energy, right in the heart of the world’s energy producing regions. To create, if they can, a dependent client state. To have permanent military bases. And to gain what’s called “critical leverage” - I’m quoting Zbigniew Brzezinski - to gain critical leverage over rivals, the European and Asian economies. It’s been understood since the Second World War, that if you have your hand on that spigot, the main source of the world’s energy, you have what early planners called “veto power” over others. Iraq is also the last part of the world where there are vast, untapped, easily accessible energy resources. And you can be sure that they want the profits from that to go primarily to U.S.-based multinationals and back to the U.S. Treasury, not to rivals. There are plenty of reasons for invading Iraq.
  • It’s certainly true that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein, and also without the people who supported him through his worst atrocities, and are now telling us about them.
  • The big debate in Washington is totally pointless. And the media, about whether Bush downgraded terror in order to invade Iraq. There's nothing to debate. He invaded Iraq. That proves beyond doubt that he downgraded the threat of terror in favor of invading Iraq. They anticipated, and their own intelligence agencies told them, and everyone else did too, that invasion of Iraq was likely to increase the threat of terror. It's not a high priority, so they invaded Iraq because that's much higher priority.
  • The crucial question for us is not whether they have a theocratic government. I'd personally prefer not, but I can think of a lot of places where I'd prefer not, like here. But, the question is whether the US will agree to let Iraq alone. That means to make it very clean and explicit, both in word and in action, that the US will withdraw, set a timetable for it, will not influence what goes on in Iraq, will not leave military bases, will let the country go off on its own. I think we also ought to pay massive reparations, but I'll stop short of that. Those are the crucial issues. It's not up to Rumsfeld what kind of government they have, it's up to him to get out.
  • I think murdering Iraqi union leaders is criminal, for example. And a lot of what the insurgents have done is criminal. But, you know, you rank the priorities. Our priority is to stop major war crimes, like Fallujah for example. So yeah, what the resistance is doing, one can also criticize, harshly in fact. But in any kind of ranking, even if we're on Mars, and certainly if we're in the United States, what vastly more important is our own crimes, which are much worse, and they're ours.
  • After the invasion, there was sophisticated massive looting of the installations that were constructed in the 1980s - that includes high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear and chemical weapons and missiles, and also toxins for biological weapons. Prior to the US-British invasion, these sites had been monitored by UN inspectors, but they were quickly kicked out of the country and have not been back since, while the occupation forces left the sites unguarded, and very sophisticated looting operations took place. Where this huge massive equipment has gone no one knows, and it's uncomfortable to guess. The ironies are almost inexpressible. The US and Britain invaded to prevent the use of WMDs that did not exist, and they succeeded in providing the terrorists that they had mobilized with the means to develop WMDs that the US and Britain had provided to Saddam Hussein.
  • The US-UK would, doubtless, be as eager to draw their troops down in Iraq as Hitler was in occupied France and Norway, and the Russians were in Eastern Europe. And on the same condition. That local authorities will be able to ensure order and obedience to the master.
    • ZNet forum reply, July 22, 2005 [113]
  • It should have been the easiest invasion in history, and the incompetence and arrogance of the Pentagon planners turned it into a total catastrophe. So yes, it hasn't worked out the way they wanted, but that has nothing to do with their plans. It would be like saying that Hitler didn't intend to conquer the world because he failed. They actually succeeded in creating an insurgency, which didn't exist, there was no basis for it and no outside support. In fact, the U.S. and Britain were compelled to allow elections. The elections in Iraq are a triumph of mass popular nonviolent resistance. Washington and London tried in every way they could to evade elections. You go back through 2003, there was one after another scheme proposed, to try to avoid elections. But they couldn't do it, there were mass demonstrations, partially led by Ayatollah Sistani. Finally they had to back down, and allow elections. Now they're trying in every way to subvert them.
  • If the country had been flooded with several 100,000 troops, as Shinseki advised, and if the orders had not been so grotesque (stand by quietly while the cultural wealth of Iraq, and humanity, was destroyed in a way reminiscent of the Mongol invasion; treat the population with contempt and brutality; allow the society to reconstruct instead of imposing ultra-liberal measures bound to destroy it, etc.), then the place might have been pacified as well as northern Europe was under the Nazis -- or the Philippines, after a decade of extreme brutality, victory having been declared repeatedly during those years. Just how one judges such an outcome depends on other choices.
    • ZNet forum reply, April 24, 2006 [115]
  • An extensive and detailed poll was released by ABC, BBC, and Japan's NHK, on September 10. The media had to labor overtime to keep it out of sight, because it sharply contradicted the message presented by the divine Petraeus in the carefully staged extravaganza timed -- by mere coincidence -- on Sept. 11, one day later. If Maliki reflected the will of the people he would be denouncing the "surge" because it undermined security everywhere, calling on the US to withdraw either now or soon, and supporting attacks on US soldiers.
    • ZNet forum reply, October 8, 2007 [116]

On war crimes

  • If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.
  • On May 27, the New York Times published one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever seen. They ran an article about the Nixon-Kissinger interchanges. Kissinger fought very hard through the courts to try to prevent it, but the courts permitted it. You read through it, and you see the following statement embedded in it. Nixon at one point informs Kissinger, his right-hand Eichmann, that he wanted bombing of Cambodia. And Kissinger loyally transmits the order to the Pentagon to carry out "a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves." That is the most explicit call for what we call genocide when other people do it that I’ve ever seen in the historical record. Right at this moment there is a prosecution of Milošević going on in the international tribunal, and the prosecutors are kind of hampered because they can’t find direct orders, or a direct connection even, linking Milošević to any atrocities on the ground. Suppose they found a statement like this. Suppose a document came out from Milošević saying, "Reduce Kosovo to rubble. Anything that flies on anything that moves." They would be overjoyed. The trial would be over. He would be sent away for multiple life sentences - if it was a U.S. trial, immediately the electric chair.
  • Clinton, Kennedy, they all carried out mass murder, but they didn't think that that was what they were doing - nor does Bush. You know, they were defending justice and democracy from greater evils. And in fact I think you'd find it hard to discover a mass murderer in history who didn't think that-
  • Nobody doubts that the Russians committed aggression, that Saddam Hussein committed aggression. We attribute to them rational goals, maybe they wanted to control the energy of the Middle East or something. With regard to ourselves, it's impossible... We just cannot adopt towards ourselves the same sane attitudes that we adopt easily, in fact reflexively, when others commit crimes... And if anyone says it, educated people, liberal intellectuals, are infuriated. Because it suggests that we could do something that's not noble. We can make mistakes, that's easy. You can criticize mistakes. You can criticize low-level crimes, like Abu-Ghraib, you can criticize that. You can criticize My Lai. But not the educated, civilized people, the kind of people we have dinner with, see at concerts, sitting in air-conditioned offices planning mass-murder. So that's beyond criticism. On the other hand, if it's half-crazed G.I.s in the field, uneducated, don't know who's gonna shot at 'em next, you can blame them, you can say how awful they are. You can criticize Lynndie England, disadvantaged young woman, very different from us. But how about the guys who organized and planned it? No.

On a military draft

  • I was very much involved in the resistance movement in the 1960's. In fact, I was just barely -- the only reason I missed a long jail sentence is because the Tet Offensive came along and the trials were called off. So I was very much involved in the resistance, but I was never against the draft. I disagreed with a lot of my friends and associates on that, for a very good reason, I think at least, as nobody seems to agree. In my view, if there's going to be an army, I think it ought to be a citizens' army. Now, here I do agree with some people, the top brass, they don't want a citizens' army. They want a mercenary army, what we call a volunteer army. A mercenary army of the disadvantaged. And in fact, in the Vietnam War, the U.S. military realized, they had made a very bad mistake. I mean, for the first time I think ever in the history of European imperialism, including us, they had used a citizens' army to fight a vicious, brutal, colonial war, and civilians just cannot do that kind of a thing. For that, you need the French Foreign Legion, the Gurkhas or something like that. Every predecessor has used mercenaries, often drawn from the country that they're attacking, like England ran India with Indian mercenaries. You take them from one place and send them to kill people in the other place. That's the standard way to run imperial wars. They're just too brutal and violent and murderous. Civilians are not going to be able to do it for very long. What happened was, the army started falling apart. One of the reasons that the army was withdrawn was because the top military wanted it out of there. They were afraid they were not going to have an army anymore. Soldiers were fragging officers. The whole thing was falling apart. They were on drugs. And that’s why I think that they're not going to have a draft. That's why I’m in favor of it. If there's going to be an army that will fight brutal, colonial wars... it ought to be a citizens' army so that the attitudes of the society are reflected in the military.
    • 25th Anniversary of Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, New Jersey, November 14, 2004 [121]
  • My feeling then, and now, is that IF there is to be an army, then the burden of service should be shared, not assigned to the disadvantaged by one or another means, as in the case of all onerous tasks. That does not imply that those called upon to share the burden should necessarily agree. There are always cases where refusal is justified, and refusal to serve in Vietnam was, in my opinion, one such case. Same always. Garbage collection should be shared, not assigned to the disadvantaged, but if someone is ordered to dump toxic wastes in a schoolyard, he or she should refuse.
    • ZNet forum reply, February 3, 2005 [122]

On countries

  • ...roughly speaking, states are violent to the extent that they have the power to act in the interests of those with domestic power...
    • In C. P. Otero (ed.), Language and Politics, June 13, 1983 [123]
  • States are violent institutions. The government of any country, including ours, represents some sort of domestic power structure, and it's usually violent. States are violent to the extent that they're powerful, that's roughly accurate.
  • Independent nationalism is unacceptable to the West, no matter where it is, and it has to be driven back into subordination. In the case of Grenada, you can do it in a weekend; in the case of the Soviet Union it may take 70 years. But these are matters of scale, the logic is essentially the same.
  • If, say, you say that Iran is a terrorist state, you don't need evidence. If you say that the US is a terrorist state, you need plenty. Here, that is. In Iran it's reversed.
    • ZNet forum reply, December 18, 2005 [125]


  • For example, take Suharto's Indonesia, which is a brutal, murderous state. I think Canada was supporting it all the way through, because it was making money out of the situation. And we can go around the world. Canada strongly supported the US invasion of South Vietnam, the whole of Indochina. In fact Canada became the per capita largest war exporter, trying to make as much money as it could from the murder of people in Indochina. In fact, I'd suggest that you look back at the comment by a well known and respected Canadian diplomat, I think his name was John Hughes, some years ago, who defined what he called the Canadian idea, namely "we uphold our principles but we find a way around them". Well, that's pretty accurate. And Canada is not unique in this respect, maybe a little more hypocritical.


  • ...I don't feel that they deserve a blanket condemnation at all. There are many things to object to in any society. But take China, modern China; one also finds many things that are really quite admirable. [...] There are even better examples than China. But I do think that China is an important example of a new society in which very interesting positive things happened at the local level, in which a good deal of the collectivization and communization was really based on mass participation and took place after a level of understanding had been reached in the peasantry that led to this next step.
    • Debate with Hannah Arendt et al., in New York, December 15, 1967 [127]
  • The threat of China is not military. The threat of China is they can't be intimidated... Europe you can intimidate. When the US tries to get people to stop investing in Iran, European companies pull out, China disregards it. You look at history and understand why — they've been around for 4,000 years, they have contempt for the barbarians, they just don't give a damn. OK, you scream, we'll go ahead and take over a big piece of Saudi or Iranian oil. And that's the threat, you can't intimidate them — it's driving people in Washington berserk. But, you know, of all the major powers, they've been the least aggressive militarily.
  • China is the center of the Asian energy security grid, which includes the Central Asian states and Russia. India is also hovering around the edge, South Korea is involved, and Iran is an associate member of some kind. If the Middle East oil resources around the Gulf, which are the main ones in the world, if they link up to the Asian grid, the United States is really a second-rate power. A lot is at stake in not withdrawing from Iraq.


  • Cuba has probably been the target of more international terrorism than the rest of the world combined and, therefore, in the American ideological system it is regarded as the source of international terrorism, exactly as Orwell would have predicted.


  • In certain intellectual circles in France, the very basis for discussion -- a minimal respect for facts and logic -- has been virtually abandoned.
    • In C. P. Otero (ed.), Language and Politics, October 26, 1981 [131]
  • There are significant strategic interests [in Oceania], and there's a lot of stuff going on that's important. Not just the United States. For example, France is doing some really vicious things there, in fact they're just wiping out islands because they want them for nuclear tests. And when the socialist government in France is asked, "Why to do this?", they say, "Well look, we have to have nuclear tests." Well, if you have to have nuclear tests, why not have them in southern France? [audience laughter] Why have them in some island in the Pacific? Well, the answer to that is clear, after all they're just a bunch of little brown people or something. But you can't say that exactly, especially if you're a socialist, so something else is said.
  • The Grand Inquisitor explains that you have to create mysteries because otherwise the common people will be able to understand things. They have to be subordinated so you have to make things look mysterious and complicated. That's the test of the intellectual. It's also good for them: then you're an important person, talking big words which nobody can understand. Sometimes it gets kind of comical, say in post-modern discourse. Especially around Paris, it has become a comic strip, I mean it's all gibberish. But it's very inflated, a lot of television cameras, a lot of posturing. They try to decode it and see what is the actual meaning behind it, things that you could explain to an eight-year old child. There's nothing there. But these are the ways in which contemporary intellectuals, including those on the Left, create great careers for themselves, power for themselves, marginalize people, intimidate people and so on.
    • In Chomsky on Anarchism, 2005


  • In the American Jewish community, there is little willingness to face the fact that the Palestinian Arabs have suffered a monstrous historical injustice, whatever one may think of the competing claims. Until this is recognized, discussion of the Middle East crisis cannot even begin.
    • Peace in the Middle East? Reflections on Justice and Nationhood, 1974 [133]
  • Israel is an embattled country. They rely very heavily on U.S. support. So they have developed a very sophisticated system of propaganda. They don't call it propaganda. They call it hasbarah. It is the only country I know of in the world that refers to propaganda as explanation. The Ministry of Propaganda is the Ministry of Explanation. The idea being that our position on everything is so obviously correct that if we only explain it to people, they will see that it is right.
    • Interview by Burton Levine in Shmate: A Journal of Progressive Jewish Thought, May 1988 [134]
  • The Oslo agreements did represent a shift in U.S.-Israeli policy. Both states had by then come to recognize that it is a mistake to use the Israel Defense Forces to run the territories. It is much wiser to resort to the traditional colonial pattern of relying on local clients to control the subject population, in the manner of the British in India, South Africa under apartheid, the U.S. in Central America, and other classic cases. That is the assigned role of the Palestinian Authority, which like its predecessors, has to follow a delicate path: it must maintain some credibility among the population, while serving as a second oppressor, both militarily and economically, in coordination with the primary power centers that retain ultimate control. The long-term goal of the Oslo process was described accurately by Shlomo Ben-Ami shortly before he joined the Barak government: it is to establish a condition of permanent neo-colonialist dependency. The mechanisms have been spelled out explicitly in the successive interim agreements; and more important, implemented on the ground.
  • [Q: Zionism=racism?] It's necessary, first of all, to distinguish between Zionism and the practices of the State of Israel. The practices are undoubtedly racist. As for Zionism as such, a more accurate charge would be that it was colonialist, in some ways the last episode of old-fashioned European colonialism. But even that somewhat overstates, because the ideology covered a lot of ground, as nationalist ideologies commonly do. And in this case, as in all, there are particularities to consider. That aside, the condemnation of the policies of Israel as racist, while correct, reeks of hypocrisy. Simply look at the practices of those who are issuing the charges.
    • ZNet forum reply, August 20, 2001 [136]
  • [Israel's military occupation is] in gross violation of international law and has been from the outset. And that much, at least, is fully recognized, even by the United States, which has overwhelming and, as I said, unilateral responsibility for these crimes. So George Bush No. 1, when he was the U.N. ambassador, back in 1971, he officially reiterated Washington's condemnation of Israel's actions in the occupied territories. He happened to be referring specifically to occupied Jerusalem. In his words, actions in violation of the provisions of international law governing the obligations of an occupying power, namely Israel. He criticized Israel's failure "to acknowledge its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as its actions which are contrary to the letter and spirit of this Convention." [...] However, by that time, late 1971, a divergence was developing, between official policy and practice. The fact of the matter is that by then, by late 1971, the United States was already providing the means to implement the violations that Ambassador Bush deplored. [...] on December 5th [2001], there had been an important international conference, called in Switzerland, on the 4th Geneva Convention. Switzerland is the state that's responsible for monitoring and controlling the implementation of them. The European Union all attended, even Britain, which is virtually a U.S. attack dog these days. They attended. A hundred and fourteen countries all together, the parties to the Geneva Convention. They had an official declaration, which condemned the settlements in the occupied territories as illegal, urged Israel to end its breaches of the Geneva Convention, some "grave breaches," including willful killing, torture, unlawful deportation, unlawful depriving of the rights of fair and regular trial, extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. Grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, that's a serious term, that means serious war crimes. The United States is one of the high contracting parties to the Geneva Convention, therefore it is obligated, by its domestic law and highest commitments, to prosecute the perpetrators of grave breaches of the conventions. That includes its own leaders. Until the United States prosecutes its own leaders, it is guilty of grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, that means war crimes. And it's worth remembering the context. It is not any old convention. These are the conventions established to criminalize the practices of the Nazis, right after the Second World War. What was the U.S. reaction to the meeting in Geneva? The U.S. boycotted the meeting [..] and that has the usual consequence, it means the meeting is null and void, silence in the media.
  • [Q: do you think the Palestinian suicide bombers are freedom fighters or terrorists?] They're terrorists - they're both, actually. They're trying to fight for freedom, but doing it in a totally unacceptable immoral way. Of course they're terrorists. And there's been Palestinian terrorism all the way through. I have always opposed it, I oppose it now. But it's very small as compared with the US-backed Israeli terrorism. Quite typically, violence reflects the means of violence. It's not unusual. State terror is almost always much more extreme than retail terror, and this is no exception.
  • Before there were any suicide bombers, it was also reported by the same sources that Saddam Hussein was giving $10,000 to the families of anyone who was killed by Israeli atrocities, and there were plenty of them. Well, should he've been doing that? So let's take the first month of the current intifada. I'm just relying now on IDF sources. What they say is, that in the first few days of the intifada, the Israeli army fired a million bullets. One of the high military officers said 'that means one bullet for every child'. Within the first month of the intifada, they killed about 70 people. Using U.S. helicopters, and in fact Clinton shipped new helicopters to Israel as soon as they started using them against civilians. That's just the first month. And it goes on, no suicide bombers. At the time, it was reported that Saddam Hussein was giving $10,000 to every family. Well, is that supporting terror? It seems to me, sending helicopters to Israel when they're using them to attack apartment complexes, that's supporting terror.
  • The US and Israel have demanded further that Palestinians not only recognize Israel's rights as a state in the international system, but that they also recognize Israel's abstract "right to exist," a concept that has no place in international law or diplomacy, and a right claimed by no one. In effect, the US and Israel are demanding that Palestinians not only recognize Israel in the normal fashion of interstate relations, but also formally accept the legitimacy of their expulsion from their own land. They cannot be expected to accept that, just as Mexico does not grant the US the "right to exist" on half of Mexico's territory, gained by conquest.
  • The whole question of recognizing the right of a state to exist was invented solely for Israel. People, on the other hand, have a right to exist. So the people who live on the land - Israelis and Palestinians - have a right to live in security and peace.
  • On the moral implications, the plans were reported on Feb. 14 in the front-page lead story in the New York Times. Two days earlier, the Times published a blistering review of Osama bin Laden's "morally outrageous" pronouncements, which reached the ultimate depth of depravity in 2002, with a message that put forth "the perverse claim that since the United States is a democracy, all citizens bear responsibility for its government's actions, and civilians are therefore fair targets." The reviewer, law professor Noah Feldman, is correct in describing this as ultimate depravity. The Feb. 14 story, and subsequent ones, have provided details on how the US and Israel have adopted Osama's "perverse claim," descending to ultimate depravity, and are proceeding to implement it. The announced plans are intended to impose suffering and starvation on Palestinian civilians because they voted the wrong way, and to ensure that others do not come to their relief (the goal of a trip to the Middle East by Condoleezza Rice, according to the Times). We may also note that this is nothing new. Osama's "perverse claim" has been official US policy for at least 45 years, often formulated in virtually his words.
    • ZNet forum reply, February 20, 2006 [142]
  • Personally I'm very much opposed to Hamas' policies in almost every respect. However, we should recognize that the policies of Hamas are more forthcoming and more conducive to a peaceful settlement than those of the United States or Israel... So, for example, Hamas has called for a long-term indefinite truce on the international border. There is a long-standing international consensus that goes back over thirty years that there should be a two-state political settlement on the international border, the pre-June 1967 border, with minor and mutual modifications. That's the official phrase. Hamas is willing to accept that as a long-term truce. The United States and Israel are unwilling even to consider it... The demand on Hamas by the United States and the European Union and Israel [...] is first that they recognize the State of Israel. Actually, that they recognize its right to exist. Well, Israel and the U.S. certainly don't recognize the right of Palestine to exist, nor recognize any state of Palestine. In fact, they have been acting consistently to undermine any such possibility. The second condition is that Hamas must renounce violence. Israel and the United States certainly do not renounce violence. The third condition is that Hamas accept international agreements. The United States and Israel reject international agreements. So, though the policies of Hamas are, again in my view, unacceptable, they happen to be closer to the international consensus on a political peaceful settlement than those of their antagonists, and it's a reflection of the power of the imperial states - the United States and Europe - that they are able to shift the framework, so that the problem appears to be Hamas' policies, and not the more extreme policies of the United States and Israel... And we must remember that in their case it's not just policies. It's not words - it's actions.
  • Virtually all informed observers agree that a fair and equitable resolution of the plight of the Palestinians would considerably weaken the anger and hatred of Israel and the US in the Arab and Muslim worlds – and far beyond, as international polls reveal. Such an agreement is surely within reach, if the US and Israel depart from their long-standing rejectionism.
  • In order to make it look dramatic, they staged what was ridiculed by some Israeli commentators, correctly, they staged a national trauma... There was a huge media extravaganza, you know, pictures of a little Jewish boy try to hold back the soldiers destroying his house... And a lot of the settlers were allowed in, so there could be a pretense of violence, though there wasn't any... The withdrawal could have been done perfectly quietly. All that was necessary was for Israel to announce that on August 1st the army will withdraw. And immediately the settlers, who had been subsidized to go there in the first place, and to stay there, would get on to the trucks that are provided for them and move over to the West Bank where they can move into new subsidized settlements. But if you did that way, there wouldn't have been any national trauma, any justification for saying, "never can we give up another 1 mm² of land". What made all of this even more ridiculous was that it was a repetition of what was described in Haaretz as "Operation National Truama 1982". After Israel finally agreed to Sadat's 1971 offer, they had to evacuate northeastern Sinai, and there was another staged trauma, which again was ridiculed by Israel commentators. By a miracle, none of the settlers who were resisting needed a Band-Aid, while Palestinians were being killed all over the place.
    • Talk titled "The Current Crisis in the Middle East" at MIT, September 21, 2006 [145]
  • The Report calls for direct talks for Palestinians who "accept Israel's right to exist" (an absurd demand) but does not restrict Israelis to those who accept the right of a Palestinian state to exist, which would, for example, exclude Israel's Prime Minister Olmert, who received a rousing ovation in Congress when he declared that Israel's historic right to the land from Jordan to the sea is beyond question.
    • Interview by Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, December 26, 2006 [146]


  • There's nothing nice that you can say about any of [the Arab countries]. Syria, for example, is one of the most violent terrorist regimes in the world. But it doesn't happen to be aggressive. Maybe it would like to be, but it isn't. For objective reasons. There's virtually no correlation between the internal nature of some country and its commitment to external violence. And I think if you look back over history you'll never find a correlation, back to the Greeks.

United States

  • There have been times, however, when US officials have described what's going on in relatively frank terms; sometimes quite clearly. One put the matter in these words: "The Central American area down to and including the Isthmus of Panama constitutes a legitimate sphere of influence for the United States [...] We do control the destinies of Central America and we do so for the simple reason that the national interest absolutely dictates such a course [...] We must decide whether we shall tolerate the interference of any other power in Central American affairs, or insist upon our own dominant position [...] Until now, Central America has always understood that governments that we recognize and support stay in power, while those we do not recognize and support fall [...] Nicaragua has become a test case, it is difficult to see how we can afford to be defeated." That's fairly familiar. These remarks were made by Under Secretary of State Robert Olds in 1927, and the outside power that he was concerned about was Mexico. [audience laughter] Mexico at that time was a Russian proxy. We were no longer fighting Huns in the Dominican Republic, now we were fighting Russians in Nicaragua, and in particular the Russian proxy Mexico. Mexico was then a proxy of the Bolsheviks, so the Marines had to be sent in, once again, and they established Somoza, and established the National Guard which was the basis for American power throughout the region, and in fact one of the most effective murder-incorporated forces down there for many years. They killed Sandino, he was killed off by stealth couple of years later, the guerilla leader. As President Coolidge sent the Marines in, he made the following declaration: "Mexico is on trial before the world." Mexico is on trial before the world as a proxy of the Soviet Union when we send the Marines into Nicaragua. Now things have changed a little bit, now it's Nicaragua that's threatening Mexico as a Russian proxy... But again there's the same conclusion, you know, kill the spics and the niggers and so on. That follows no matter who's the proxy for who. And all of this is repeated at every moment of history with great seriousness and awe and so on as if it had some meaning, as if it wasn't just some black comedy.
    • Talk at UC Berkeley on U.S. foreign policy in Central America, May 14, 1984 [148]
  • ...immediately after the 1954 Geneva Accords on a peaceful settlement for Indochina, which Washington refused to accept, the National Security Council secretly decreed that even in the case of "local Communist subversion or rebellion NOT CONSTITUTING ARMED ATTACK" (my emphasis) the US would consider the use of military force, including an attack on China if it is "determined to be the source" of the "subversion"; the NSC also called for converting Thailand into "the focal point of U.S. covert and psychological operations in Southeast Asia," undertaking "covert operations on a large and effective scale" throughout Indochina, and in general, acting forcefully to undermine the Accords and the UN Charter. The wording, repeated verbatim annually in planning documents, was chosen so as to make explicit the US right to violate Article 51 of the Charter, which permits the use of force only in immediate self-defense against "armed attack." The US proceeded to define "aggression" to include "political warfare, or subversion," what UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson called "internal aggression" while defending JFK's escalation in South Vietnam. US attacks were therefore transmuted into "self-defense" against "internal aggression." When the US bombed Libyan cities in 1986, the official justification was "self defense against future attack," a ludicrous distortion of the Charter applauded by legal specialists in the national press. The US invasion of Panama was defended in the Security Council by appeal to Article 51, which, US Ambassador Pickering declared, "provides for the use of armed force to defend a country, to defend our interests and our people," and permits the U.S. to invade Panama to prevent its "territory from being used as a base for smuggling drugs into the United States" -- an astonishing concept of "armed attack," which passed without criticism. In June 1993, when Clinton launched a missile attack on Baghdad, killing civilians, UN Ambassador Albright appealed to Article 51, explaining that the bombing was in "self-defense against armed attack" -- namely, an alleged attempt to assassinate former president Bush two months earlier. The claim would have been remarkable even if the US had had credible evidence of Iraqi involvement, which, officials conceded, they did not. These and innumerable other examples illustrate far-reaching contempt for the rule of law. The US has always relied on the rule of force in international affairs. International law, treaties, the World Court, War Crimes Tribunals, moral judgment, etc., are regularly invoked against enemies, often quite accurately.
  • The list of the states that have joined the coalition against terror is quite impressive. They have a characteristic in common. They are certainly among the leading terrorist states in the world. And they happen to be led by the world champion.
    • Talk titled "The New War Against Terror" at MIT, October 18, 2001 [150]
  • Remember, the U.S. is a powerful state, it's not like Libya. If Libya wants to carry out terrorist acts, they hire Carlos the Jackal or something. The United States hires terrorist states.
  • I choose to live in what I think is the greatest country in the world, which is committing horrendous terrorist acts and should stop.
  • The Japanese could read the US press, with its lurid discussion of how US bombing could exterminate this inferior and vicious race by burning down Japan's wooden cities, and they knew that flying fortresses capable of bombing Japan from Pearl Harbor and Manila were coming off the Boeing Assembly line, so they "knew" that there was a serious threat of extermination, not just terror. Therefore, according to the "Bush doctrine," shared by Kerry and elites generally, Japan had every right to bomb Pearl Harbor and Manila. In fact, they had a far stronger case than the one enunciated by Colin Powell, etc.: that "intent and ability" suffice to allow the US to attack a country, committing the "supreme crime" of Nuremberg, which encompasses all the evil that follows -- the crime for which any participants, such as the German foreign minister, were hanged. In 1945 the US was not willing to tolerate principles that would justify the Pearl Harbor attack. Today, it insists on principles that permit far more freedom to resort to violence and aggression, though of course there is a reservation, usually tacit but sometimes made explicit by the more honest commentators, like Henry Kissinger. He approves of the doctrine, but adds that it must not be "universalized": the right to commit the supreme crime for which Nazi leaders were hanged must be reserved to the United States, perhaps delegated to its clients.
  • ...I think the basic question you ask is a good one: if we were to withdraw our own beating people over the heads with clubs, would it necessarily follow that somebody else would take that role, or are there other alternatives? Well yeah, there are other alternatives. For example, the alternatives that are favored by the overwhelming majority of the population of the United States. I mentioned one piece of it: let the UN function. The UN isn't perfect, a lot of things wrong with it, just like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights isn't perfect... But one step would be to pay some respect to the "decent opinion of mankind", to quote the famous author, and let international institutions function so as to reduce the likelihood that anybody will use force...
    • Talk titled "The Idea of Universality in Linguistics and Human Rights" at MIT, March 15, 2005 [154]
  • How could US leaders promote democracy in principle? They are opposed to it within the US, for obvious reasons [...] for example: the sharp divergence between public opinion and the policies they implement. Sometimes the visceral hatred of democracy becomes so dramatic that it takes real talent to miss it, as in the New-Old Europe farce of the past few years. The distinguishing criterion is very precise: Old Europe, the bad guys to be reviled, are the governments that took the same position as the large majority of their populations; New Europe, the grand hope for democracy, are the governments that overruled an even larger majority of their populations and took their orders from Crawford Texas. Really impressive discipline was required to "miss it," and even more, to identify Paul Wolfowitz as the "idealist in chief" whose "passion for democracy" brings tears to one's eyes -- as illustrated, for example, by his bitter denunciation of the Turkish military in 2003 for not compelling the government to overrule the will of 95% of the population and follow Washington's orders.
    • ZNet forum reply, May 23, 2005 [155]
  • I mean there were planning sessions of high State Department officials and Council on Foreign Relations—it’s the main, so-called private, input into foreign affairs. They were having study groups from 1939 through 1945, in which they recognized, clearly, that the US would emerge from the Second World War as the world dominant power, and they made extensive plans about how it should use that power. And if you look at the years that followed—when many of the same people were in government, in corporations, in planning and decision-making positions—in various ways they implemented similar plans. And it continues pretty much until the present. Now of course plans always change, circumstances change, you need different tactics, there are different pretexts, and so on, but the basic themes remain pretty much the way they were articulated in the war-time studies groups, of which we have the documents, you can read them. And they’re not terribly surprising; they are that, the basic idea is that the United States should create a system of global order, extending as far as possible, which would operate for the benefit of privileged sectors of power within the United States, and their counterparts elsewhere. Well, that means primarily the corporate sector, which pretty much dominates American society and is closely linked to similar sectors in other societies. And that means a world of a kind of liberal internationalism in which countries are compelled, in one way or another, to subordinate themselves to the economic and political and social arrangements that are supportive of US-power interests. That means opportunities to invest, exploitation of the populations, access to resources and markets, control of the central resources—like energy. It was understood, clearly in the Second World War and before, that the control of the energy resources of the world is a major instrument of global power. The Middle East oil-producing regions were described in the mid-1940s as “a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the great material prizes in world history”: the most strategically important part of the world. And of course, the US was going to take control over that. That’s what a lot of contemporary developments are about. That’s a major theme that runs through the whole period. Europe and Japan had to be reconstructed in certain ways, in ways which undermine the labor movements from the left and restored the traditional societies pretty much. With regard to the third world, it simply had to be kept under control. So if moves toward independent development took place, they had to be stopped. And if it looked as if they might be successful, and influence others, they might be what planners call “a virus that might infect others.” Then, they have to be really destroyed. And so we have a brutal history of intervention and violence to try to ensure that the South will subordinate itself to the interests of the major sectors of power in the rich, developed countries, and the United States is foremost among them. I mean, those are basic themes of policy. They don’t explain everything that happens, but policy rarely departs very far from those major themes. Now they can be implemented in different ways: so if the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration are not identical—they’re somewhat different, in fact, in the ways they proceed—but the basic dominating themes have not changed very much. I mean, to call this a conspiracy theory is utterly insane. I mean, it’s like saying that governments and corporations and the other institutions are engaged in conspiracies when they do planning. I mean, it’s like saying that General Motors is involved in conspiracy when it tries to sell cars. That’s just a, the word is just a way of trying to, sort of, prevent rational analysis. There’s no conspiracy. I mean if US planners and Australian planners and others try to develop international or domestic programs that will serve the interests of their constituency, which are usually the wealthy and the privileged, there’s no conspiracy, any more than there’s a conspiracy when General Motors tries to sell cars.
    • Chomsky's Basic View of the World, October 25, 2005 [156]
  • There's basically two principles that define the Bush Administration policies: stuff the pockets of your rich friends with dollars, and increase your control over the world. Almost everything follows from that. If you happen to blow up the world, well, you know, it's somebody else's business. Stuff happens, as Rumsfeld said.
    • Interview by Geov Parrish, December 23, 2005 [157]

On corruption

  • My view, for what it's worth, is that Kennedy was probably the most dangerous president we've had. [applause] There was a really dangerous, macho streak there, which was kind of fanatic. A lot of it is coming out now in the coverage of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is quite revealing. It looks even worse than it looked before. And an awful lot of this willingness to drive the world to total destruction looks like a matter of protecting your macho image. Now, that kind of stuff is really dangerous. It's much better -- the best political leaders are the ones who are lazy and corrupt. It's the ones who are after power - they are the dangerous ones. So the guys who want to watch television and sleep and so on, they are no big problem. I should say the same about corruption. Corruption is a very positive sign of government. You should always be in favor of corruption. If people are interested in enriching themselves or in sex or something like that, then they are not interested in power. And the most dangerous thing is the guys that want power. That's what Kennedy was like, I think. Furthermore, corruption has a way of being exposed for quite simple reasons. When people are corrupt, they are usually robbing other rich people. Therefore they are going to block people and when corruption gets exposed it weakens power. And so that's one of the ways you can defend yourself. The same is true of the evangelicals. If we had evangelicals who were really after power, we'd be in trouble. If all they want is gold Cadillacs and sex and so on, no big problem. That's good.
    • Talk titled "Necessary Illusions" at MIT, May 10, 1989
  • If Hitler had been a crook... We're very fortunate in the United States, we've never had a charismatic leader who weren't a gangster. Every one of them was a thug, or a robber, or something. Which is fine, then they don't cause a lot of trouble. If you get one who's honest, like Hitler, then you're in trouble - they just want power.
  • The Ottoman Empire was an ugly affair, but they had the right idea. The rulers in Turkey were fortunately so corrupt that they left people alone pretty much -- were mostly interested in robbing them -- and they left them alone to run their own affairs, and their own regions and their own communities with a lot of local self determination.

Watergate scandal

  • If we try to keep a sense of balance, the exposures of the past several months are analogous to the discovery that the directors of Murder, Inc. were also cheating on their income tax. Reprehensible, to be sure, but hardly the main point.
    • New York Review of Books, September 20, 1973 [160]
  • Watergate was a matter of a bunch of guys from the Republican National Committee breaking in a Democratic Party office for essentially unknown reasons and doing no damage. OK, that's petty burglary ... Well, at the exact time that Watergate was discovered, there were exposures in the courts and through FOIA of massive FBI operations to undermine political freedom in the United States, running through every administration back to Roosevelt, but really picking up under Kennedy. It was called "COINTELPRO" ... It included Gestapo-style assassination of a Black Panther leader; it included organizing race riots in an effort to destroy the black movements; it included attacks on the American Indian Movement, on the women's movement, you name it. It included fifteen years of FBI disruption of the Socialist Workers Party -- that meant regular FBI burglaries, stealing membership lists and using them to threaten people, going to businesses and getting members fired from their jobs, and so on. Well, that fact alone ... is already vastly more important than the fact that a bunch of Keystone Kops broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters one time. The Socialist Workers Party is a legal political party, after all -- the fact that they're a weak political party doesn't mean they have less rights than the Democrats. And this wasn't a bunch of gangsters, this was the national political police ... And keep in mind, the Socialist Workers Party episode is just some tiny footnote to COINTELPRO. In comparison to this, Watergate is a tea party. ... The Democratic Party represents about half of corporate power, and those people are able to defend themselves; the Socialist Workers Party represents no power, the Black Panthers don't represent any power, the American Indian Movement doesn't represent any power ... Or take a look at the Nixon administration's famous "Enemies List," which came out in the course of Watergate. You've heard of that, but did you hear about the assassination of Fred Hampton? No. Nothing ever happened to any of the people who were on the Enemies List, which I know perfectly well, because I was on it ... The real lesson of Nixon's fall is that the President shouldn't call Thomas Watson and McGeorge Bundy bad names -- that means the Republic's collapsing. And the press prides itself on having exposed this fact. On the other hand, if you want to send the FBI to organize the assassination of a Black Panther leader, that's fine by us; it's fine by the Washington Post too. Incidentally, I think there is another reason why a lot of powerful people were out to get Nixon ... it had to do with ... tearing apart the Bretton Woods system ... multinational corporations and international banks relied on that system, and they did not like it being broken down. So if you look back, you'll find that Nixon was being attacked in places like the Wall Street Journal at the time ... Watergate just offered an opportunity. In fact, in this respect, I think Nixon was treated extremely unfairly. There were real crimes of the Nixon administration, and he should have been tried -- but not for any of the Watergate business. Take the bombing of Cambodia, for instance: the bombing of Cambodia was infinitely worse than anything that came up in the Watergate hearing -- this thing they call the "secret bombing" of Cambodia, which was "secret" because the press didn't talk about what they knew... The bombing of Cambodia did not even appear in Nixon's Articles of Impeachment. It was raised in the Senate hearing, but only in one interesting respect -- the question that was raised was, why hadn't Nixon informed Congress? It wasn't, why did you carry out one of the most intense bombings in history in densely populated areas of peasant country, killing maybe 150,000 people? That never came up. In fact, that whole thing was a gag -- because there was no reason for Congress not to have known about the bombing, just as there was no reason for the media not to have known: it was completely public. So in terms of all the horrifying atrocities the Nixon government carried out, Watergate isn't even worth laughing about. It was a triviality. Watergate is a very clear example of what happens to servants when they forget their role and go after the people who own the place: they are very quickly put back into their box, and somebody else takes over. You couldn't ask for a better illustration of it than that -- and it's even more dramatic because this is the great exposure that's supposed to demonstrate what a free and critical press we have. What Watergate really shows is what a submissive and obedient press we have, as the comparisons to COINTELPRO and Cambodia illustrate very clearly.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002 [161]

On freedom of speech

  • Nothing should be done to impede people from teaching and doing their research even if at that very moment it was being used to massacre and destroy. [...] the radical students and I wanted to keep the labs on campus, on the principle that what is going to be going on anyway ought to be open and above board, so that people would know what is happening and act accordingly.
    • In Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, referring to 1969 [162]
  • If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.
  • If we don't believe in free expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
  • It's extremely important to preserve freedom of speech, and not to grant the state the right to determine what is or isn't said. A sometimes conflicting right is privacy and protection against verbal or other forms of violence. Once the state is granted the right to prevent speech (writing, songs, etc.) that it claims might precipitate harm, we're on a very dangerous slope. That's why the Supreme Court, in 1969, finally reached the standard of protection of speech that was proposed during the Enlightenment (and I believe may be unique to the US): speech is protected until the point where it is part of imminent criminal acts. So if you and I go into a store to rob it, you have a gun, and I say "shoot," that's not protected speech. How far should it go? Very delicate questions, and my personal feeling is that one should err on the side of restricting state power, as a general rule.
    • ZNet forum reply, August 7, 2005 [164]
  • Demonstrations against such talks are legitimate. Shouting down is not, in my opinion.
    • ZNet forum reply, November 29, 2006 [165]
  • There's one aspect of the right-wing fury about cutting off Imus that I agree with. They argue, I suppose rightly, that Imus was pulled off because of pressure from advertisers. Correct me if I missed something, but in the coverage and debate over this matter I failed to notice the observation that it is indeed wrong for advertisers to have any influence whatsoever on media content, one of the aspects in which the media depart very far from any ideal of freedom of press.
    • ZNet forum reply, April 16, 2007 [166]

On social change

  • No less insidious is the cry for 'revolution,' at a time when not even the germs of new institutions exist, let alone the moral and political consciousness that could lead to a basic modification of social life. If there will be a 'revolution' in America today, it will no doubt be a move towards some variety of fascism. We must guard against the kind of revolutionary rhetoric that would have had Karl Marx burn down the British Museum because it was merely part of a repressive society. It would be criminal to overlook the serious flaws and inadequacies in our institutions, or to fail to utilize the substantial degree of freedom that most of us enjoy, within the framework of these flawed institutions, to modify them or even replace them by a better social order. One who pays some attention to history will not be surprised if those who cry most loudly that we must smash and destroy are later found among the administrators of some new system of repression.
    • American Power and the New Mandarins, 1969
  • If you had asked my grandmother whether she is oppressed, she probably wouldn't have understood what you are talking about; that's life. If you'd asked my mother, you'd have found that she resented it, but accepted it, as life. If you'd ask my daughters, they'd tell you to get lost. That reflects hard-won victories for freedom.
    • ZNet forum reply, December 26, 2004 [167]
  • Mass non-violent protest is predicated on the humanity of the oppressor. Quite often it doesn't work. Sometimes it does, in unexpected ways. But judgements about that would have to be based on intimate knowledge of the society and its various strands.
    • 'Resonant and unwavering', Interview with Stuart Alan Becker, Bangkok Post [168] [169]

On intelligence agencies

  • If any of you have ever looked at your FBI file, you discover that intelligence agencies in general are extremely incompetent. That's one of the reasons why there are so many intelligence failures. They just never get anything straight, for all kinds of reasons. Part of it is because of the information they get. The information they get comes from ideological fanatics, typically, who always misunderstand things in their own crazy way. If you look at an FBI file, say, about yourself, where you know what the facts are, you'll see that the information has some kind of relation to the facts, you can figure out what they're talking about, but by the time it works its way through the ideological fanaticism of the intelligence agencies, there's always weird distortion.
    • Q&A with community activists, February 10, 1989
  • ...the incompetence of intelligence agencies is legendary. Every one of which you have records at all, whether it's the CIA, or the Israeli Mossad, or British M-6 or whatever they're called, they're just error after error... Some of them are almost unimaginable. [...] Just take Vietnam. That was the top issue in American international affairs for, you know, 30 years. And we have a record of intelligence, very unusual record of intelligence, because it was not released by the government, it was stolen from them. So it's like capturing enemy archives. That's the Pentagon Papers. That's a 25-year record of high level intelligence, raw intelligence, CIA, DIA, whole bunch, State Department intelligence. A lot of it is in there, and it's very intriguing to look at it. In fact, the most interesting revelation of the Pentagon Papers in my view by far is the intelligence record. Here's roughly what happened, if you're interested I've gone through it in print in detail, but here's the main story. In the late 1940s, the United States was kind of unclear about which side to support. That was true in Indonesia, it was true in Vietnam. You know, do you support the colonial power that's trying to reconquer it, or do you support the indigenous government and then try to take them over, that was their question. [audience laughter] And they made different decisions in different places. In the case of Indochina, for whatever reason, they decided at one point to support France, in it's reconquest of Indochina. Well, at that point, essentially orders went to the U.S. intelligence communities, CIA and others, to demonstrate what was required. What was required to justify the support of France was that Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh were agents of either the Russians or the Chinese, didn't really matter, one or the other. But they had to be agents of the international communist conspiracy. OK, that would then justify support of the French reconquest. Everyone knew that was untrue, but that was plainly required for doctrinal reasons in order to support France and it's reconquest. OK, then comes a comic opera scene, for about 3 years, in which U.S. intelligence tries to prove what is necessary, that Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh are agents of the international communist conspiracy. And they tried, and tried, either China or Russia, they didn't care, anything would do. They couldn't do it, they couldn't find anything. They came back, occasionally they'd say, 'Well we think we found copy of Pravda in the Bangkok legation', or something. But finally the intelligence concluded, look, this is very weird, but that is the only place in South East Asia where a nationalist movement has no connections at all with China or Russia. OK, what was the conclusion? The conclusion in the State Department was, OK, this proves that they're agents of the international communist conspiracy. Ho Chi Minh is such a loyal slave of, pick it, Mao or Stalin, that he doesn't even need orders. [audience laughter] He just does it automatically, so you don't even have to have connections. From that point on, U.S. intelligence never investigated the question of whether the North Vietnamese, the Vietnamese but that's what they were, were following their own national interest. That issue was not discussable. In fact, in this 25-year record, turns out there's one staff paper, which was never even submitted, that raises the possibility that Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh were concerned with their own national interests instead of acting as agents of the international communist conspiracy. Well you know, anybody with a head screwed on knew that they were following national interests, but U.S. intelligence could not contemplate that possibility because it was doctrinally unacceptable. That's very similar to what was going on in the academic world, I should say. And you can't imagine a more dramatic case, I don't know which to call it, incompetence or whatever, doctrinal control. And this happens all the time. Take, say, the Israeli Mossad, which has a reputation for fantastic insights and so on. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 with the intention of destroying secular Palestinian nationalism, that was the goal, it was basically an attack on the PLO. OK, what did they get? Well, they ended up with a fundamentalist islamic movement which drove them out of Lebanon, Hezbollah. Israel's major defeat, they were expelled from most of Lebanon by resistance movement which was basically islamic fundamentalist. OK, they did destroy the secular PLO and instead what they got was a islamic fundamentalist movement that they couldn't control, drove them out of most of Lebanon. What did they do next? They did exactly the same thing in the West Bank. They undermined the secular PLO, and they ended up with Hamas on their hands, which they can't control. And they don't understand it, they just keep making the same mistake over and over again. It's just out of ideological fanaticism. And I think you find that wherever you look at intelligence activities.

On drugs

  • One might ask why tobacco is legal and marijuana not. A possible answer is suggested by the nature of the crop. Marijuana can be grown almost anywhere, with little difficulty. It might not be easily marketable by major corporations. Tobacco is quite another story.
    • Deterring Democracy, 1992 [170]
  • As for drugs, my impression is that their effect was almost completely negative, simply removing people from meaningful struggle and engagement. Just the other day I was sitting in a radio studio waiting for a satellite arrangement abroad to be set up. The engineers were putting together interviews with Bob Dylan from about 1966-7 or so (judging by the references), and I was listening (I'd never heard him talk before -- if you can call that talking). He sounded as though he was so drugged he was barely coherent, but the message got through clearly enough through the haze. He said over and over that he'd been through all of this protest thing, realized it was nonsense, and that the only thing that was important was to live his own life happily and freely, not to "mess around with other people's lives" by working for civil and human rights, ending war and poverty, etc. He was asked what he thought about the Berkeley "free speech movement" and said that he didn't understand it. He said something like: "I have free speech, I can do what I want, so it has nothing to do with me. Period." If the capitalist PR machine [term used in the question] wanted to invent someone for their purposes, they couldn't have made a better choice.
  • As the most powerful state, the U.S. makes its own laws, using force and conducting economic warfare at will. It also threatens sanctions against countries that do not abide by its conveniently flexible notions of "free trade." In one important case, Washington has employed such threats with great effectiveness (and GATT approval) to force open Asian markets for U.S. tobacco exports and advertising, aimed primarily at the growing markets of women and children. The U.S. Agriculture Department has provided grants to tobacco firms to promote smoking overseas. Asian countries have attempted to conduct educational anti-smoking campaigns, but they are overwhelmed by the miracles of the market, reinforced by U.S. state power through the sanctions threat. Philip Morris, with an advertising and promotion budget of close to $9 billion in 1992, became China's largest advertiser. The effect of Reaganite sanction threats was to increase advertising and promotion of cigarette smoking (particularly U.S. brands) quite sharply in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, along with the use of these lethal substances. In South Korea, for example, the rate of growth in smoking more than tripled when markets for U.S. lethal drugs were opened in 1988. The Bush Administration extended the threats to Thailand, at exactly the same time that the "war on drugs" was declared; the media were kind enough to overlook the coincidence, even suppressing the outraged denunciations by the very conservative Surgeon-General. Oxford University epidemiologist Richard Peto estimates that among Chinese children under 20 today, 50 million will die of cigarette-related diseases, an achievement that ranks high even by 20th century standards.
    • In Tony Evans (ed.), Human Rights Fifty Years on: A Reappraisal, 1997 [172]
  • If you look into the history of what is called the CIA, which means the US White House, its secret wars, clandestine warfare, the trail of drug production just follows. It started in France after the Second World War when the United States was essentially trying to reinstitute the traditional social order, to rehabilitate Fascist collaborators, wipe out the Resistance and destroy the unions and so on. The first thing they did was reconstitute the Mafia, as strikebreakers or for other such useful services. And the Mafia doesn't do it for fun, so there was a tradeoff: Essentially, they allowed them to reinstitute the heroin production system, which had been destroyed by the Fascists. The Fascists tended to run a pretty tight ship; they didn't want any competition, so they wiped out the Mafia. But the US reconstituted it, first in southern Italy, and then in southern France with the Corsican Mafia. That's where the famous French Connection comes from. That was the main heroin center for many years. Then US terrorist activities shifted over to Southeast Asia. If you want to carry out terrorist activities, you need local people to do it for you, and you also need secret money to pay for it, clandestine hidden money. Well, if you need to hire thugs and murderers with secret money, there aren't many options. One of them is the drug connection. The so-called Golden Triangle around Burma, Laos and Thailand became a big drug producing area with the help of the United States, as part of the secret wars against those populations.
  • Having a substance should not be considered a crime, because so far it's victimless. If you want to talk about distributing substances that are lethal, yeah, that oughta be brought up, but then, let's be serious. Tobacco is far ahead of anything else. Alcohol is second. Hard drugs are way down the bottom, and furthermore most drug use, though it's very harmful for the person, has very little social effect. The crime associated with hard drugs is mostly a consequence of criminalization. [Q: so should we go after the people who make cigarettes?] If the principle is, let's not get lethal substances out to the public, the first one you'd go after is tobacco, the next one you'd go after is alcohol, way down the list you'd get to cocaine, and sort of invisibly low you'd get to marijuana. [Q: a lot more violence comes from someone snorting some coke?] No, it doesn't. It comes from purchasing coke and selling coke, but that's because it's illegal. That's because of the criminalization of it, not the effect. There're good studies of this. Tobacco doesn't happen to cause violence, but alcohol definitely does. The deaths that are alcohol related are way beyond the deaths that are hard drugs related, if you separate, in the hard drugs case, the deaths that are the result of criminalization. So yeah, when you have drug gangs and narcotraffickers fighting for turfs and so on, sure, then there's gonna be plenty of killings. Just like when you had Al Capone running Chicago. But that's a consequence of the criminalization, not the drugs. What drugs tend to do is make people passive. Alcohol on the other hand makes them violent. There're extensive studies in the criminality literature, and you can take a look at the results. The basic result is that tobacco related deaths are way beyond anything else, just an order of magnitude greater. Furthermore those are not just to the user, they're to everybody else. So deaths from passive smoking alone are much higher than drug related deaths. Furthermore they're transferred on to the next generation. Alcohol is the next biggest killer, and it's a killer not only to the people who use it, which is bad enough, but also to others, because of its relation to violence. Next is things like hard drugs, and they are rarely harmful to others, they're harmful to the user. When you get down to marijuana, last time I looked there had been about 60 million users and not one known case of overdose. I mean it's not good for you, undoubtably, but it's probably at the level of coffee. And in fact notice that there has never been a medical reason for criminalizing marijuana. I've looked through the history of this if you're interested, I don't know if you want me to run through it, but it's an interesting history. Very commonly substances are criminalized because they're associated with what's called the dangerous classes, you know, poor people, or working people. So for example in England in the 19th century, there was a period when gin was criminalized and whiskey wasn't, because gin is what poor people drink. That's kinda like the sentencing for crack and powder. In the early stages of Prohibition in the United States, one of the targets was immigrant workers, these guys hanging around the saloons in New York, gotta go after them. The rich guys in upstate New York, they're gonna drink no matter what, you know, they wanna come home after work, they'll drink. But, go after those guys. What about marijuana? Marijuana was brought in by Mexicans, and the first criminalization of marijuana was in the southwest, in the states. It was in New Mexico, later Utah, and so on, and it was specifically targeted against Mexicans. It didn't get criminalized in the United States until shortly after Prohibition ended. After Prohibition ended we had this huge bureau of narcotics, and it had to do something. So they discovered, you know, that marijuana is gonna do all kind of terrible things to you. The Senate testimony about this is mind-boggling. They did have a representative of the American Medical Association, who said we don't have any medical evidence about this. He was shut up, denounced, you know, get rid of him right away. Then they found somebody else, this is literally true, they found a pharmacologist, a guy teaching at Temple University, who was doing experiments with marijuana and dogs. The testimony is hilarious, you really have to read it. They brought this guy and he testified that when he gave marijuana to dogs they went insane, you know, they'd do all kind of things. And then, some senator or somebody asked him, this is from memory, so it's probably a little off, but something like this, it's in the thirties. They asked the guy, well have you ever tried marijuana on humans? So he said, yeah, he tried it on himself. And he said, well, what happened? He said, I turned into a vulture, I started flying around the room. So they, oh my god, this stuff is terrible, it makes people insane. And it was declared by Congress that marijuana makes people insane. But then something happened. It turned out that lawyers, defense lawyers, got the idea, OK, I can use this for an insanity defense. So if a guy who killed 3 cops, his lawyer would say, well, you know, he had marijuana before so he was insane, so you can't do anything. And people were getting off on charges, like cop killing for example, on the claim that they had marijuana. So all of a sudden it was discovered that marijuana doesn't make you insane. Congress decided, sorry, it doesn't make you insane, because we wanna wipe that out. The next idea was, marijuana is an entry drug, it's the drug you take and then you go on to something else. Well, there was never any evidence for that, but that was decided. And then in the early fifties, something else happened, marijuana is being brought in here by Red Chinese to poison the American population and destroy us. So therefore we gotta stop marijuana. And it kinda goes on like this. Actually, the peak of marijuana use was as I said, in the seventies, but that was rich kids, so you don't throw them in jail. And then it got seriously criminalized, you know, you really throw people in jail for it, when it was poor people.
    • Dialogue with trade unionists, February 2, 1999 [174]
  • There's one white powder which is by far the most lethal known, it's called sugar. If you look at the history of imperialism, a lot of it has to do with that. A lot of the imperial conquest, say in the Caribbean, set up a kind of a network... The Caribbean back in the 18th century was a soft drug producer: sugar, rum, tobacco, chocolate. And in order to do it, they had to enslave Africans, and it was done largely to pacify working people in England who were being driven into awful circumstances by the early industrial revolution. That's why so many wars took place around the Caribbean.

On sports

  • ...another thing you sometimes find in non-literate cultures is development of the most extraordinary linguistic systems: often there's tremendous sophistication about language, and people play all sorts of games with language. So there are puberty rites where people who go through the same initiation period develop their own language that's usually some modification of the actual language, but with quite complex mental operations differentiating it -- then that's theirs for the rest of their lives, and not other people's. And what all these things look like is that people just want to use their intelligence somehow, and if you don't have a lot of technology and so on, you do other things. Well, in our society, we have things that you might use your intelligence on, like politics, but people really can't get involved in them in a very serious way -- so what they do is they put their minds into other things, such as sports. You're trained to be obedient; you don't have an interesting job; there's no work around for you that's creative; in the cultural environment you're a passive observer of usually pretty tawdry stuff; political and social life are out of your range, they're in the hands of the rich folks. So what's left? Well, one thing that's left is sports -- so you put a lot of the intelligence and the thought and the self-confidence into that. And I suppose that's also one of the basic functions it serves in the society in general: it occupies the population, and keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter.
    • In Understanding Power, 2002
  • I've often been struck by the extensive knowledge that people have of sports, and particularly, their self-confidence in discussing it with "experts." While driving, I sometimes turn on radio talk shows on sports, and am always struck by this. People calling in have no hesitation in criticizing the coaches, the judgments of the people running the shows, etc. In contrast, when discussing matters of concern to human lives -- their own and others -- people tend to defer to "experts," though for the most part the expert knowledge is no more beyond them than how the local professional sports team should play their next game. That's where the indoctrination comes in: in the intensive training that brings people to feel that they must defer to alleged "experts" on matters of very direct concern to them, far more so than sports. I do, however, agree that there can be negative aspects to the heavily promoted frenzy on spectator sports, loyalty to the home team, etc. Depends very much on how it is carried out.
    • ZNet forum reply, November 21, 2004 [176]

On religion

  • Prophet just means intellectual. They were people giving geopolitical analysis, moral lessons, that sort of thing. We call them intellectuals today. There were the people we honor as prophets, there were the people we condemn as false prophets. But if you look at the biblical record, at the time, it was the other way around. The flatterers of the Court of King Ahab were the ones who were honored. The ones we call prophets were driven into the desert and imprisoned.
    • Interview by Harry Kreisler, March 22, 2002 [177]
  • Take any country that has laws against hate crimes, inspiring hatred and genocide and so on. The first thing they would do is ban the Old Testament. There's nothing like it in the literary canon that exalts genocide, to that extent. And it's not a joke either. Like where I live, New England, the people who liberated it from the native scourge were religious fundamentalist lunatics, who came waving the holy book, declaring themselves to be the children of Israel who are killing the Amalekites, like God told them.
  • You can find things in the traditional religions which are very benign and decent and wonderful and so on, but I mean, the Bible is probably the most genocidal book in the literary canon. The God of the Bible - not only did He order His chosen people to carry out literal genocide - I mean, wipe out every Amalekite to the last man, woman, child, and, you know, donkey and so on, because hundreds of years ago they got in your way when you were trying to cross the desert - not only did He do things like that, but, after all, the God of the Bible was ready to destroy every living creature on earth because some humans irritated Him. That's the story of Noah. I mean, that's beyond genocide - you don't know how to describe this creature. Somebody offended Him, and He was going to destroy every living being on earth? And then He was talked into allowing two of each species to stay alive - that's supposed to be gentle and wonderful.

On moral responsibility

  • It is the fundamental duty of the citizen to resist and to restrain the violence of the state. Those who choose to disregard this responsibility can justly be accused of complicity in war crimes, which is itself designated as ‘a crime under international law’ in the principles of the Charter of Nuremberg.
  • Rio de Janeiro, incidentally, is not the poor part of the country, that sort of the rich part of the country. It's not the northeast, where 35 million people or so, nobody knows what happens to them, or cares. But Rio de Janeiro, that's where people are looking, the rich parts. And this journal is a science journal, kinda like Science in the United States. It was studying malnutrition. And here's the figures it had for Rio de Janeiro: infants from 0 to 5 months, severe malnutrition, meaning medically severe, 67%; 5 months to a year, 41%; a year to 5 years, 11%. Now the reason of course for the decline, from 67 to 41 to 11, is that they will die. So that's what happens under the conditions of the economic miracle, like in Guatemala. Now, it's a little wrong to say that the people die. The fact is, they don't die. We kill them, that's what happens. We kill them by carrying out policies, supporting the regimes of the kind that I've described. And by intervening with force and violence to suppress and destroy any attempt, however minimal, even on a speck like Grenada, we've got to stop any attempt to bring some change into this. That's the history of our hemisphere.
    • Talk at UC Berkeley on U.S. foreign policy in Central America, May 14, 1984 [181]
  • We're not analyzing the media on Mars or in the eighteenth century or something like that. We're dealing with real human beings who are suffering and dying and being tortured and starving because of policies that we are involved in, we as citizens of democratic societies are directly involved in and are responsible for, and what the media are doing is ensuring that we do not act on our responsibilities, and that the interests of power are served, not the needs of the suffering people, and not even the needs of the American people who would be horrified if they realized the blood that's dripping from their hands because of the way they are allowing themselves to be deluded and manipulated by the system.
  • Of course it's extremely easy to say, the heck with it. I'm just going to adapt myself to the structures of power and authority and do the best I can within them. Sure, you can do that. But that's not acting like a decent person. You can walk down the street and be hungry. You see a kid eating an ice cream cone and you notice there's no cop around and you can take the ice cream cone from him because you're bigger and walk away. You can do that. Probably there are people who do. We call them "pathological." On the other hand, if they do it within existing social structures we call them "normal." But it's just as pathological. It's just the pathology of the general society.
  • I think we can be reasonably confident that if the American population had the slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be utterly appalled.
    • Interview by Svetlana Vukovic & Svetlana Lukic on Radio B92, Belgrade, Serbia, September 19, 2001 [184]
  • [Q: do you believe that a nation should suffer a detrimental cost in order to compensate for wrongs committed by the governors of that nations, or by segments of that nation in the past?] Suppose you're living under a dictatorship, and the dictators carry out some horrendous acts. So you're living in Stalinist Russia, let's say, and Stalin carries out horrible crimes. Are the people of Russia responsible for those crimes? Well, to only a very limited extent, because living under a brutal, harsh, terrorist regime, there isn't very much they can do about it. There's something they can do, and to the extent that you can do something, you're responsible for what happens. Suppose you're living in a free, democratic society, with lots of privilege, enormous, incomparable freedoms, and the government carries out violent, brutal acts. Are you responsible for it? Yeah, a lot more responsible, because there's a lot that you can do about it. If you share responsibility in criminal acts, you are liable for the consequences.
  • The past month was the 10th anniversary of the massacres in Rwanda, and there was much soul-searching about our failure to do anything about them. So headlines read "To Say `Never Again' and Mean it; the 1994 Rwandan genocide should have taught us about the consequences of doing nothing" (Richard Holbrooke, Washington Post); "Learn from Rwanda" (Bill Clinton, Washington Post). So what did we learn? In Rwanda, for 100 days people were being killed at the rate of about 8000 a day, and we did nothing. Fast forward to today. In Africa, about 10,000 children a day are dying from easily treatable diseases, and we are doing nothing to save them. That's not just 100 days, it's every day, year after year, killing at the Rwanda rate. And far easier to stop then Rwanda: it just means pennies to bribe drug companies to produce remedies. But we do nothing. Which raises another question: what kind of socioeconomic system can be so savage and insane that to stop Rwanda-scale killings among children going on year after year it's necessary to bribe the most profitable industry that ever existed? That's carrying socioeconomic lunacy beyond the bounds that even the craziest maniac could imagine? But we do nothing.
    • ZNet forum reply, May 9, 2004 [186]
  • Say, take Rachel Corrie, local young woman, she was extremely courageous. She's a martyr for peace and justice. We happened to kill her too, even if we don't like to admit it. She was killed by U.S. sent equipment, which is Caterpillar... [Q: you draw that line right back to you and me sitting here?] Absolutely, we're responsible for it. I mean, we didn't drive the bulldozer, but why is it there? What's it doing? Who provides the military, economic, and diplomatic support for destroying the occupied territories?
    • Interview by Steve Scher on KUOW, in Seattle, Washington, April 20, 2005 [187]

On artificial intelligence

  • The question of whether a computer is playing chess, or doing long division, or translating Chinese, is like the question of whether robots can murder or airplanes can fly -- or people; after all, the "flight" of the Olympic long jump champion is only an order of magnitude short of that of the chicken champion (so I'm told). These are questions of decision, not fact; decision as to whether to adopt a certain metaphoric extension of common usage.
    • Powers and Prospects, 1996 [188]
  • A lot of sophistication has been developed about the utilization of machines for complex purposes, and it doesn't make sense not to use it if you can think of a good question to ask. Playing chess is about the dumbest question you can ask. But, if you want, maybe can make money that way, or something. In fact, what's going on with the chess is about as interesting as the fact that a front-end loader can lift more than an Olympics champion, weight lifter, or something. Probably so, but, you know, these are just not serious questions.

Quotes about Noam Chomsky

Political leaders

  • Why won't Chomsky come to Iraq? --Ibrahim al-Jaafari, February 2006 [189]
  • Representatives of the governments of the world, good morning to all of you. First of all, I would like to invite you, very respectfully, to those who have not read this book, to read it. Noam Chomsky, one of the most prestigious American and world intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, and this is one of his most recent books, 'Hegemony or Survival: The Imperialist Strategy of the United States.' It's an excellent book to help us understand what has been happening in the world throughout the 20th century, and what's happening now, and the greatest threat looming over our planet. --Hugo Chávez, September 20, 2006 [190]
  • This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn't like those who give advice. --Osama bin Laden, September 2007 [191]


  • Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today. He is also a disturbingly divided intellectual. On the one hand there is a large body of revolutionary and highly technical linguistic scholarship, much of it too difficult for anyone but the professional linguist or philosopher; on the other, an equally substantial body of political writings, accessible to any literate person but often maddeningly simple-minded. The 'Chomsky problem' is to explain how these two fit together. --Paul Robinson/New York Times, February 25, 1979 [192]
  • Yet [Chomsky's The Responsibility of Intellectuals essay] defined the peace movement as much as any document and pushed the name Chomsky up there with Thoreau and Emerson in the literature of rebellion. --Rolling Stone, May 28, 1992 [193]
  • Reading Chomsky is like standing in a wind tunnel. With relentless logic, Chomsky bids us to listen closely to what our leaders tell us--and to discern what they are leaving out. The answers become clear enough, he says. The catch is they won't be the ones we want to hear. [...] Chomsky, as he often does, has a voice problem. He is shrill and sarcastic--chiefly because he's angry with what he sees as rampant American hypocrisy. [...] If there is anything new about our age, it is that the questions Chomsky raises will eventually have to be answered. Agree with him or not, we lose out by not listening. --BusinessWeek, April 17, 2000 [194]
  • How did we ever get to be an empire? The writings of Noam Chomsky -- America's most useful citizen, in my opinion -- are the best answer to that question. --Boston Globe, April 25, 2004 [195]
  • It's a real shame that only Mr. Chomsky's tedious harangues against America get any attention. His body of work deserves more serious treatment. The interesting yet overlooked aspects of his political philosophy cannot easily fit into the left-right dichotomy. What makes Mr. Chomsky unique is that his criticism of the capitalist economic order takes its point of departure from the classical liberal thinkers of the Enlightenment. His heroes are not Lenin and Marx but Adam Smith and Wilhelm von Humboldt. He argues that the free market envisaged by these thinkers has never materialized in the world and that what we have gotten instead is a collusion of the state with private interests. Moreover he has repeatedly stressed that the attacks on democracy and the market by the big multinationals go hand in hand. The rich, he claims, echoing Adam Smith, are too keen to preach the benefits of market discipline to the poor while they reserve for themselves the right to be bailed out by the state whenever the going gets rough. As he puts it: "The free market is socialism for the rich. Markets for the poor and state protection for the rich." He has spoken positively about the work of Peruvian liberal economist Hernando De Soto who sees the problem of poverty in the Third World as being related to the fact that the poor usually lack clearly defined property rights. --Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2005 [196]

Political writers (left-wing)

  • Chomsky's morally impassioned and powerfully argued denunciation of American aggression in Vietnam and throughout the world is the most moving political document I have read since the death of Leon Trotsky. It is inspiring to see a brilliant scientist risk his prestige, his access to lucrative government grants, and his reputation for Olympian objectivity by taking a clearcut, no-holds-barred, adversary position on the burning moral-political issue of the day, and by castigating the complacent mythology of "specialized expertise" under which many academic intellectuals shrug off the crimes committed by their government, only provided they are not naked enough (e.g., the Dominican intervention) to defy the most accomplished casuistry. --Raziel Abelson, April 20, 1967 [197]
  • The major international campaign orchestrated against Chomsky on completely false pretexts was only part - though perhaps a crucial part - of the ambitious campaign launched in the late 70s with the hope of reconstructing the ideology of power and domination which had been partially exposed during the Indochina war. The magnitude of the insane attack against Chomsky, which aimed at silencing him and robbing him of his moral stature and his prestige and influence, is of course one more tribute to the impact of his writings and his actions - not for nothing he was the only one singled out. --Carlos P. Otero, Language and Politics, 1988 [198]
  • Chomsky proceeds on the almost unthinkably subversive assumption that the United States should be judged by the same standards that it preaches (often at gunpoint) to other nations— he is nearly the only person now writing who assumes a single standard of international morality not for rhetorical effect, but as a matter of habitual, practically instinctual conviction. --Christopher Hitchens, For the Sake of Argument ("The 'We' Fallacy"), February 1988
  • [Chomsky's work was] subjected to an ongoing and intense scrutiny for any literal errors or bases of vulnerability, a scrutiny from which establishment experts are entirely free. This search was perhaps more intense in the United States and among its allies in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with a growing body of hard-liners anxious to overcome the Vietnam syndrome, revitalize the arms race, strengthen support for Israel's rejectionism and policy of force and involve the United States in more aggressive actions towards the Soviet bloc and Third World. [...] The Cambodia and Faurisson disputes imposed a serious personal cost on Chomsky. He put up a diligent defence against the attacks and charges against him, answering virtually every letter and written criticism that came to his attention. He wrote many hundreds of letters to correspondents and editors on these topics, along with numerous articles, and answered many phone enquiries and queries in interviews. The intellectual and moral drain was severe. It is an astonishing fact, however, that he was able to weather these storms with his energies, morale, sense of humour and vigour and integrity of his political writings virtually intact. --Edward S. Herman, In Otero (ed.), Noam Chomsky: Critical Assessments (Vol. III), 1994 [199]
  • Those who challenge the 'Right to Lie', as Chomsky describes it, can expect to be met with vilification and distortion. Such vilification campaigns succeed by making the accusation against the critics the topic of debate. By forcing critics into an endless defence of their position, the propaganda system distracts attention from the substantive issues. --Milan Rai, Chomsky's Politics, 1995 [200]
  • His focus, almost exclusively, has been on U.S. foreign policy, a narrowness that would exert a conservative influence even for a radical thinker. If urging increased involvement in politics goes against the potentially subversive tide toward less and less involvement, Chomsky's emphasis on statecraft itself gravitates toward acceptance of states. And completely ignoring key areas (such as nature and women, to mention only two), makes him less relevant still. --John Zerzan, 1996 [201]
  • Chomsky's truly great contribution to the struggle for human freedom is that he has taken what we have been persuaded to believe is an insane idea, a product only of individual neurosis - the idea that society is not free and quite possibly not even sane - and shown it to be empirically, demonstrably true; he has provided the vital support for the individual to be able to declare him - and herself - sane against the insanity of society, despite a million voices declaring that it is the occasional doubter who is mad. --David Edwards, Burning All Illusions, 1996 [202]
  • Unlike many leftists of his generation, Chomsky never flirted with movements or organizations that were later revealed to be totalitarian, oppressive, exclusionary, antirevolutionary, or elitist. Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, and Maoism offered to many of Chomsky's disillusioned contemporaries an alternative to what they saw as blatantly exclusionary American-style capitalism. When reports about what had actually occurred in the former Soviet Union and China began to filter through, many felt betrayed. We now hear a lot about how the left has been discredited, the hopelessness of utopian thinking, the futility of activist struggle, but little about the libertarian options that Chomsky and others have so consistently presented. The type of dismay that has permeated contemporary intellectual circles has not touched Chomsky. He has very little to regret. His work, in fact, contains some of the most accurate analyses of this century. And yet, most of his criticisms of American policy, past and present, are seldom mentioned in the mainstream press or by the instructors and professors who teach history or politics. Political science departments rarely use his material on Vietnam, the Cold War, Central America, or Israel. --Robert Barsky, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, 1997 [203]
  • Noam Chomsky, who is an inexhaustible fount of anticommunist caricatures, offers this comment about Leninism: "Western and also Third World intellectuals were attracted to the Bolshevik counterrevolution because Leninism is, after all, a doctrine that says that the radical intelligentsia have a right to take state power and to run their countries by force, and that is an idea which is rather appealing to intellectuals." Here Chomsky fashions an image of power-hungry Leninists, villains seeking not the revolutionary means to fight injustice but power for power's sake. When it comes to Red-bashing, some of the best and brightest on the Left sound not much better than the worst on the Right. [...] According to Noam Chomsky, communism "was a monstrosity," and "the collapse of tyranny" in Eastern Europe and Russia is "an occasion for rejoicing for anyone who values freedom and human dignity." I treasure freedom and human dignity yet find no occasion for rejoicing. The postcommunist societies do not represent a net gain for such values. If anything, the breakup of the communist states has brought a colossal victory for global capitalism and imperialism, with its correlative increase in human misery, and a historic setback for revolutionary liberation struggles everywhere. --Michael Parenti, Blackshirts and Reds, 1997 [204]
  • ...the problem lies in Chomsky's description of Serb atrocities as "quite real" and "often ghastly". "Quite real ' is a cop-out for very real. Atrocities "sharply escalated" after Nato's bombardment, he says, but does not explain what these were: mass executions, rape, torture. The index refers to "atrocities" in Africa, Columbia, East Timor and Turkey without the appearance of "Serbia". --Robert Fisk, December 15, 1999 [205]
  • There's a humbling insight into the US pretension of occupying the moral high ground in Chomsky's work. Part of what he's saying is true. Objectively viewed, the United States isn't the victim but in many contexts, including its response to terrorism, the perpetrator. [But he's] so preoccupied with the evils of US imperialism that it completely occupies all the political and moral space, and therefore it's not possible for him to acknowledge that even without intending to do so, some US military interventions may actually have a beneficial effect. --Richard Falk, September 5, 2002 [206]
  • Even a quarter of the evidence he had compiled would have been enough to convince me. I used to wonder why he needed to do so much work. But now I understand that the magnitude and intensity of Chomsky's work is a barometer of the magnitude, scope, and relentlessness of the propaganda machine that he's up against. He's like the wood-borer who lives inside the third rack of my bookshelf. Day and night, I hear his jaws crunching through the wood, grinding it to a fine dust. It's as though he disagrees with the literature and wants to destroy the very structure on which it rests. --Arundhati Roy, August 24, 2003 [207]
  • Regarding his personal character traits the most outstanding is that he is absolutely faithful, which is something very few people possess... Professor Chomsky will never betray you, never, it is impossible. --Norman Finkelstein, November 24, 2003 [208]
  • [Bush Administration neoconservatives are] the ones who broke nearly every precedent of foreign policy in the post-Cold-War world. They're the ones who chose preventative war over international law. That's what I view as destructive, not Noam Chomsky pointing it out. --Chalmers Johnson, February 2005 [209]
  • He would have us believe that Israel’s occupation and harsh actions against the Palestinians, its invasions and undeclared 20-year war on Lebanon, and its arming of murderous regimes in Central America and Africa during the Cold War, has been done as a client state in the service of US interests. In Chomsky’s worldview, that absolves Israel of responsibility and has become standard Chomsky doctrine. --Jeffrey Blankfort, May 25, 2005 [210]
  • The best thing about Chomsky is that he raises the blood pressure anti-Lefties far more than he deserves. Still, Chomsky's about as challenging as Mr. Rogers. "Hi kids, won't you be my Culturally Sensitive Leftie Neighbor? Good, today kids, we're gonna talk about the evil things America has done in Nicaragua. Can you say Nee-karrrrooah-ooah?" In a word, Chomsky is why the Left stumbled through the 90s righteously gumming its enemies rather than raptor-gutting them. --Mark Ames, December 2, 2005 [211]

Political writers (liberals)

  • The Americans' very conviction that their goals are good blinds them to the consequences of their acts. To focus on intentions is to prolong a futile clash of inflamed self-righteousness; to focus on behavior and results could get us somewhere. I detect in Professor Chomsky's approach, in his uncomplicated attribution of evil objectives to his foes, in his fondness for abstract principles, in his moral impatience, the mirror image of the very features that both he and I dislike in American foreign policy. To me sanity does not consist of replying to a crusade with an anti-crusade. As scholars and as citizens, we must require and provide discriminating and disciplined reasoning on behalf of our values. --Stanley Hoffmann, March 1969 [212]
  • [Noam Chomsky] seems to feel licensed to forget or distort the truth whenever it suits his polemical convenience. He begins as a preacher to the world and ends as an intellectual crook. --Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., December 1969 [213]
  • The three paragraphs of Mr. Chomsky to which I have referred constitute less than five percent of his article. I do not know if the level of veracity which he achieves in them is typical of the entire piece. If these paragraphs are representative, however, the article as a whole should contain, by conservative extrapolation, approximately 94 other serious distortions and misstatements of fact. --Samuel Huntington, February 1970 [214]
  • Marxist intellectuals can and do convince themselves to subordinate mind and ethics to a larger goal or distant cause that frequently slips out of sight. Anarchist intellectuals are less susceptible to this logic. To use the language of historical materialism, it is no accident that currently an anarchist, Noam Chomsky, is the most energetic critic of intellectuals apologizing for American foreign policy. --Russell Jacoby, The Last Intellectuals, 1987 [215]
  • He seems both wholly cynical about the purposes of those in power, and wholly unforgiving. Those who direct American policy - and, by implication, those who direct the policy of any state - are allowed no regrets, no morals, no feelings, and when they change their policies they appear to do so for entirely Machiavellian reasons. Chomsky has little interest in the question of 'good in bad' - of how there can be good behaviour in the context of bad policies - and seems to deny the complexity of human affairs... --Martin Woollacott, January 14, 1989 [216]
  • [Noam Chomsky is] so far out on the lunatic fringe that even the sensible things he has to say are lost. --David Rieff, August 4, 1991 [217]
  • As I read your remarks about how Kosovo reverses the usual left/right roles on intervention, I found myself wondering what Noam Chomsky--who epitomized the left-wing view that all bad things are the result of Western intervention--is saying now. Well, I couldn't find anything about the current crisis, but thanks to the miracle of search engine technology I did find some remarks about Bosnia, which are pathetic but revealing: First he tries to blame it all on the Western Right, then suddenly gets all judicious and practical. --Paul Krugman, March 29, 1999 [218]
  • Chomsky is an irresistible example of the quality problem that besets the market for academic public intellectuals. --Richard Posner, 2001 [219]
  • [Noam Chomsky has] become the guru of the new anti-capitalist and Third World movements. They take his views very uncritically; it's part of the Seattle mood - whatever America does is wrong. He confronts orthodoxy but he's becoming a big simplifier. What he can't see is Third World and other regimes that are oppressive and not controlled by America. --Fred Halliday, January 2001 [220]
  • Chomsky just has not entered deeply into what he is talking about and he is not greatly interested in anything except digging out material for anti-American invective. --Adrian Hastings, June 2001 [221]
  • Sneering critics like Noam Chomsky, who condemn the executioners of thousands only in passing, would not hesitate to honour the vengeful feelings of Palestinians subjected to Israeli occupation. They have no standing. --Todd Gitlin, September 23, 2001 [222]
  • It is tempting to follow a policy of malign neglect toward Chomsky's latest screed. But ignoring the book may foster the false impression that Chomsky's revelations are somehow too explosive to be challenged in a major newspaper. A far wiser course is to point out the inconsistent arguments and shrill assertions that are Chomsky's contribution to the public debate. [...] It would be unfortunate if Chomsky's momentary popularity overshadows infinitely more reasoned critiques of Bush administration policies. There are serious questions that should be weighed as America girds for final war against Saddam Hussein and dispatches military advisers to nations like the Philippines. Chomsky and his camp followers do not have a monopoly on dissent. The best response to the frenzied e-mailed dispatches from this left-wing crank remains public disclosure and ridicule. --Walter Shapiro, May 7, 2002 [223]
  • He defended Faurrison. He championed the Khmer Rouge. His condemnations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are one hundred percent one-sided, based on the (obviously) false notion that the Arab nations and the Palestinian people have been trying to arrange a peace with Israel for decades. He viewed the rescue mission undertaken in Kosovo as nothing more than the extension of imperial power. He accuses the United States of perpetrating a holocaust in Afghanistan and thinks that the mistaken attack on the pharmaceutical factory in Somalia [sic] was as bad if not worse than the attack on the Twin Towers. One could go on, but it all adds up to, I fear, the mirror image of the ignorant jingoism of Bennett, Krauthammer, Kelly, Will, etc. And I find it amazing that intelligent people take it seriously. --Eric Alterman, June 2002 [224]
  • What we hear in Europe or elsewhere in the world, despite CNN and my son watches CNN every morning, is President Bush saying that the United States is the greatest country on earth, almost every day. And Noam Chomsky saying, the United States is the worst country on earth. And we don't hear a great deal of all those liberal internationalists, critical voices in between. Whether this is the job of an officially funded public diplomacy or of other forms of media, I don't know, but it does seem to me terribly important that the voices of those other Americans should be heard across the world. --Timothy Garton Ash, December 5, 2002 [225]
  • For Chomsky, the world is divided into oppressor and oppressed. America, the prime oppressor, can do no right, while the sins of those categorized as oppressed receive scant mention. Because he deems American foreign policy inherently violent and expansionist, he is unconcerned with the motives behind particular policies, or the ethics of particular individuals in government. And since he considers the United States the leading terrorist state, little distinguishes American air strikes in Serbia undertaken at night with high-precision weaponry from World Trade Center attacks timed to maximize the number of office workers who have just sat down with their morning coffee. --Samantha Power, January 4, 2003 [226]
  • I'm not a pacifist. And I am not one of those people, like Noam Chomsky, with whom I have agreed on some points, I don't agree on this point, who believes that all uses of American imperial power are by definition wrong. I suppose in fact I might be called, in a certain stretch, a liberal imperialist. I believe there are times when great powers can intervene to prevent atrocities, and should. --Susan Sontag, March 2, 2003 [227]
  • Noam Chomsky's idea that Bill Clinton's missile strike on a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was worse than "9/11" is plain silly. --Ian Buruma, May 1, 2003 [228]
  • PUH-LEEAAZE! Chomsky did not write that Faurisson was a Nazi sympathizer whose right to free speech needed to be defended on Voltairean principles. Chomsky wrote that Faurisson seemed to be "a relatively apolitical liberal" who was being smeared by zionists who--for ideological reasons--did not like his "findings." Herman then repeats the lie by claiming that Faurisson's critics were "unable to provide any credible evidence of anti-Semitism or neo-Naziism." Feh! --Brad DeLong, July 25, 2003 [229]
  • Chomsky might object that to knowingly place the life of a child in jeopardy is unacceptable in any case, but clearly this is not a principle we can follow. The makers of roller coasters know, for instance, that despite rigorous safety precautions, sometime, somewhere, a child will be killed by one of their contraptions. Makers of automobiles know this as well. So do makers of hockey sticks, baseball bats, plastic bags, swimming pools, chain-link fences, or nearly anything else that could conceivably contribute to the death of a child. There is a reason we do not refer to the inevitable deaths of children on our ski slopes as "skiing atrocities." But you would not know this from reading Chomsky. For him, intentions do not seem to matter. Body count is all. --Sam Harris, The End of Faith, 2005 [230]
  • Israeli musician, a pro-Palestinian activist at London University, says that burning of synagogues is "a rational act" in opposition to Israel. What is that? Radical-Leftism or neo-Nazism? Is it Noam Chomsky for advanced readers or Julius Streicher for dummies? But the precise correlation between anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism is of marginal importance. --Amnon Rubinstein, June 3, 2005 [231]
  • I think that I offended many people when I decimated the postures and the lies of Noam Chomsky in an article I wrote called "Poisoning the Well in Academe." That wasn't a conservative screed on my part. That was a liberal's devotion to the truth, and the exposure of a liar, a person who assaults the mind by putting in false evidence. --John Silber, November 2005 [232]
  • ...if the Palestinians accept the solution that professor Chomsky finds unacceptable, will he use his enormous resources as the most influential intellectual in the world today to turn the Palestinians against this peace proposal, or will he lend his great prestige to urging the Palestinians, and his academic supporters all over the world, to accept a pragmatic compromise solution. Professor Chomsky, a lot turns on you. You're a very important and influential person, and therefore you'd understand your power, and use it in the interests of peace. --Alan Dershowitz, November 29, 2005 [233]
  • Western liberalism has a tendency to change the subject when confronted with the true nature of regimes opposed by the US, even to give them the benefit of the doubt: look at Noam Chomsky's effective support for the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. It is a form of intellectual decadence that won't look good on the historical record. --Colin Donald, April 15, 2006 [234]
  • Here's a man who says that Washington is incurably sinful but offers no, there's no complexity, no problem, no moral dilemmas in the book. Everything really that those in power do is seen as essentially and necessarily wrong, while public opinion is deemed to be faultless. --Adam Roberts, May 15, 2006 [235]
  • Reading Failed States, I had an epiphany: that by applying a Chomskian analysis to his own writing, you discover exactly the same subtle textual biases, evasions and elisions of meaning as used by those he calls 'the doctrinal managers' of the 'powerful elites'. The mighty Chomsky, the world's greatest public intellectual, is prone to playing fast and loose. It is important to recognise this fact because the Chomskian analysis has become the defining dissident voice of the blogosphere and a certain kind of far-left academia. --Peter Beaumont, June 18, 2006 [236]
  • is a pack of lies... --Michael Bérubé, June 22, 2006 [237]
  • It's hard to imagine any American reading this book and not seeing his country in a new, and deeply troubling, light. --Jonathan Freedland, June 25, 2006 [238]
  • ...the self-indulgent and auto-congratulatory Noam Chomsky, arguably one of the most virulent anti-Semitic Jews you can hope to encounter. His endless diatribes on what he wants you to believe to be the horrible treatment of the Palestinian people at the hands of the cold-hearted Israeli oppressors are unparalleled in literary hyperbole. Unfortunately, he doesn’t offer one shred of evidence to back this up. He invites you to join him, the consummate Jewish intellect, in collective snobbery by simply accepting (because you are so frightfully well-educated as he is) that what he says is so. I have yet to see one single person stand up and ask, “Dr. Chomsky, what is the evidence for this?” Should this take place, hopefully there will be a paramedic team standing by to resuscitate him. --Moss David Posner, July 3, 2006 [239]
  • The Left's spiritual leader, Noam Chomsky, went to Hezbollah – a murderous, extremist, nationalistic organization by its own leaders' account – and saluted. The fascism of the Left, like that of the Right, does not believe in the possibility of the righteousness of anyone else. They claim that there is only one truth. We have known this since the days when in front of the "Sun of the Nations" who murdered millions, people stood and said that the revolution there is also ours. --Yoram Kaniuk, July 23, 2006 [240]
  • [Hegemony or Survival describes] a world in which, chronology be damned, 9/11 seems like an understandable response, if not justifiable one, to our attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. --Carlin Romano, September 23, 2006 [241]
  • Chomsky's hatred of the United States is pathological -- stemming from some bilious problem with father figures that is too fetid to explore. --Camille Paglia, October 27, 2006 [242]
  • Chomsky once told a group of people that he himself was "agnostic" on whether the Holocaust occurred. When professor Robert Nozick, who was part of the group, confronted Chomsky with this outrageous statement following a debate at Harvard Medical School, Chomsky shoved Nozick, saying, "How dare you quote an off-the-record remark I made to a small group at Princeton." He did not deny making the statement. --Alan Dershowitz, June 1, 2007 [243]
  • The radicals moved their support, in a peculiar way, to the successor of the USSR too, Putin's Russia. The genocidal war of Russia in Chechnya - far worse than the war in Iraq, immeasurably worse than the light conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians - is met with silence. The radicals supported the Russian side - Serbia - in the civil war in Yugoslavia, opposed the American intervention in the war that stopped the genocide, and the radical guru Noam Chomsky even denied that a massacre in Srebrenica took place. When this inconvenient fact was published - not the first or last time that Chomsky loses touch with reality - he initiated a media campaign, that managed to get the Guardian to retract the piece. On the same occasion, the Guardian removed an angry letter of a survivor of a Serbian concentration camp. By the way, the interview with Chomsky revolved around Chomsky's defense of the right of a Holocaust denier to free speech. It turns out that the survivors of the massacre that Chomsky supported have no right to free speech. --Yossi Gurevich, June 2, 2007 [244]
  • Just imagine, he says, the policies that such an Iraq would be likely to pursue: "The Shiite population in the south, where most of Iraq's oil is, would have a predominant influence. They would prefer friendly relations with Shiite Iran." He wrote those words in January 2006. A year and a half later, the United States tolerates a sovereign, more or less democratic Iraq whose Shiite government is friendly toward Iran. If Bush is pursuing imperialism in Baghdad, it is of a very curious sort. --Jonathan Rauch, September 2, 2007 [245]

Political writers (U.S. libertarians)

  • Noam Chomsky: He's really an interventionist - and also completely clueless. --Justin Raimondo, January 18, 2002 [246]

Political writers (right-wing)

  • In fact, Chomsky’s influence is best understood not as that of an intellectual figure, but as the leader of a secular religious cult - as the ayatollah of anti-American hate. --David Horowitz, September 26, 2001 [247]
  • Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that the terrorists who planned and executed the attacks of September 11 were merely expressing in more refined form the same anti-Americanism that has been a staple of the American university for three decades. The ravings of Osama bin Laden and those of, for instance, MIT professor Noam Chomsky, are interchangeable. --Mackubin Thomas Owens, October 2001 [248]
  • It’s a very vulgar, arithmetical, pragmatic way of arguing anyway. If you do that, then get the facts and figures wrong, well then you’re really fucked. You’re fucked twice. --Christopher Hitchens, May 2002 [249]
  • I want Noam Chomsky to be taught at universities about as much as I want Hitler's writing or Stalin's writing. These are wild and extremist ideas that I believe have no place in a university. --Daniel Pipes, September 2002 [250]
  • Although he lost some of his appeal in the late-1970s and 1980s by his defense of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, he has used September 11 to restore his reputation, indeed to surpass his former influence and stature. --Keith Windschuttle, May 2003 [251]
  • Chomsky blasts the United States for having supported [post WWII] internal movements to liberate Eastern Europe from Soviet totalitarianism. "These operations included a 'secret army' under U.S.-Nazi auspices that sought to provide agents and military supplies to armies that had been established by and which were still operating inside the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe through the early 1950s." This U.S.-Nazi army is so "secret" that only Chomsky knows of it, and he has thus far kept the documentation of it to himself, lest his secret get out. --Daniel Flynn, Intellectual Morons, 2004 [252]
  • Noam Chomsky: Unrepentant Stalinist --Anders Lewis, April 12, 2004 [253]
  • There are some views­, people who support the Soviet Union, as Chomsky did for so long, who’ve supported tyranny in all sorts of places, like Chomsky has done, who have lied consistently, as Chomsky has done, who do not deserve fundamental respect in this sense. [...] And he is making millions around the world preaching anti-American- --Andrew Sullivan, November 5, 2004, [254]
  • Interestingly, not every person in the democratic West is overjoyed at seeing Syrian fascism at last challenged. Noam Chomsky, the MIT inventor of now-discredited theories of linguistics, is determined to defend and perpetuate Syrian colonization of Lebanon, no matter how many Lebanese lives it costs. His reason? He insists Syrian occupation of Lebanon is necessary as a way to prevent those evil Israelis from doing horrid deeds in Lebanon, like attempting to protect their citizens from terrorist attacks launched out of Lebanon. --Steven Plaut, March 7, 2005 [255]
  • I really don't believe [that Pat Tillman opposed the war in Iraq and was going to meet Noam Chomsky], and I think you got it from one of those documents Mary Mapes handed to Dan Rather. --Ann Coulter, September 27, 2005 [256]
  • Noam Chomsky thinks he's the Moses of this age and even those on the Left who don't agree with him on everything accept his moral authority. But Chomsky is a socialist who practices capitalism, and an anti-militarist who has made millions off of Pentagon contracts. --Peter Schweizer, Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, October 25, 2005 [257]
  • In terms of his 40 year now campaign in favor of Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, Slobodan Milošević, Osama bin Laden most lately, he is, as I say, thus an apologist for terror and tyranny, without rival. [...] Most people, including, by the way, his fellow travelers, like Robert Fisk, can say that America, even Robert Fisk in fact, that America, like all countries, has its moral highs and lows. America, I believe, has more moral highs than most. But he cannot see that. There's always a moral equivalence drawn between the worst tyrants in history and American presidents, even when American presidents have waged wars, just wars, to end tyranny. --Mark Dooley, January 19, 2006 [258]
  • Chomsky says America is a warring country seeking to build an empire, not a liberator trying to achieve peace, freedom, and democracy. --Debbie Schlussel, February 21, 2006 [259]
  • Noam Chomsky, the Dr. No of the hate-America crowd, is accused (by his own fans, of all people) of playing a little too fast and a little too loose with the facts in his latest screed, "Failed States." Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor for the London Guardian, writes that he wants to agree with Dr. No but can't find many reasons to in this latest book. --Suzanne Fields, June 22, 2006 [260]
  • For all the propaganda of al Jazeera, the wounded pride of the Arab Street, or the vitriol of the Western Left, years from now the truth will remain that our soldiers did not come to plunder or colonize, but were willing to die for others’ freedom when few others would. Neither Michael Moore nor Noam Chomsky can change that, because it is not opinion, but truth... --Victor Davis Hanson, June 30, 2006 [261]

Talk radio hosts

  • Chomsky, you're a New World Order shill, and I've got twice the brain you've got with both arms tied behind my back. --Alex Jones, May 25, 2001 [262]



  • I personally regard Chomsky as a kook and a half on toast. --Jimmy Wales, December 8, 2001 [265]

Software developers

  • Neither Chomsky nor Church would make my top ten list. No, I don’t actually have such a list, but my feeling is that their impact has been more on what is taught than what is done. Part of my unease is that I’m uncertain to what extent ‘Computer Science’ is a science. I feel more comfortable comparing what my colleagues and I do with the activities of architects and engineers than with mathematicians, physicists, or biologists. There are things in software that feel more as if they have been discovered than invented, but most of what [passes] for computer science is purely man-made. --Bjarne Stroustrup, November 2000 [266]
  • I don't have as complete and overall philosophy as he does. I agree with some of the things he says. I've seen things that he said that I didn't agree with. But certainly what he says about the engineering of consent seems valid. Recently Chomsky gave a speech about what it means to oppose terrorism which I was very impressed by, because he essentially said that we should put an end to terrorism, and that includes the terrorism against the US but also the terrorism committed by the US... and I agree. --Richard Stallman, November 2001 [267]
  • A similar denial is evident in the rhetoric of Noam Chomsky; prodded for commentary on the war, he recites a litany of past American wrongdoing as if that somehow banishes the question of how soon Saddam Hussein will have nuclear weapons and what he will do with them when he gets them. --Eric S. Raymond, September 13, 2002 [268]


  • People are wasting time on dissident relics like Noam Chomsky. Professor Chomsky is a pretty good dissident: he's persistent, he means what he says, and he's certainly very courageous, but this is the 21st century, and Stallman is a bigger deal. Lawrence Lessig is a bigger deal. --Bruce Sterling, July 26, 2002 [269]
  • And when I did reality checks against the idiotic, immoral, anti-American, vicious things he says, I find him a moral wasteland, and a fool. And I'll defend that with anybody, and I'll get out the books and the sources and the documentation... --Orson Scott Card, November 2004 [270]
  • When Noam Chomsky was merely the most original, arresting, and widely talked-about linguistic theorist in America, he was never referred to as a leading American intellectual. That came only after he expressed his outrage over American involvement in the war in Vietnam, about which he knew nothing, since he read The Nation instead of Parade. It was the outrage that gained him entry into that “charming aristocracy,” to borrow the words of Catulle Mendès. Or as Marshall McLuhan once put it, “Moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity.” --Tom Wolfe, December 19, 2005 [271]


  • Craig Kilborn: Name your favorite Charlie's Angel. Give you some time to think of that.
    John Cleese: Noam Chomsky. --January 20, 1997 [272]
  • In a recent British magazine poll, MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky was named the world's top public intellectual. Can you imagine being named that? That'd be wonderful, yes. Absolutely. And if I was the world's top public intellectual, you folks could all kiss my ass. --David Letterman, October 19, 2005 [273]
  • I don't pretend to think I'm as smart as Noam Chomsky, but I'm smart enough to ask him questions. --Bill Maher, February 27, 2007 [274]


  • What he does in linguistics is exactly what he campaigns against in politics. He feeds off people. He doesn't allow anyone to disagree with him. --George Lakoff, April 27, 1995 [275]
  • The most striking fact is how consistently people with anything at all to say about language feel the need to strike some attitude for or against Chomsky's ideas. It's a big problem. --David Pesetsky, November 1995 [276]
  • Chomsky revived ideas that really had been kind of dormant since the Enlightenment of what is a human like and how does that tie in to our political arrangements, and the way we conceptualize humans in the broadest sense. --Steven Pinker, September 25, 2003 [277]
  • Chomsky’s triumphalistic rhetoric is inversely proportional to the actual empirical results that he can point to. --Frederick Newmeyer, 2003 [278]

See also



External links

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