A while back I read manufactured consent – by Noam Chomsky. The material was the densest material I ever read, and it took me a while to get through. However, by the end of the book… Chomsky gave me a sociological framework to use when I view mass media reports. I figured that everyone needs to read his book, because too many times do we all lack a fundamental perspective necessary to be able to evaluate propaganda when we see it.
Recently, I was thinking about all this in relation to the Syria situation that is all over the press. It really has made me reflect on my readings from Chomsky. Two readings in particular stand out to me – one from Manufactured Consent and the other from Hegemony or Survival.
The first was about events that happened after the Vietnam war. In the book, during a section where Chomsky was highlighting the moral absurdity of the American press and the American government, he gave a stunning example of “why do they hate us?” mentality that some unaware people in power have and propogate.
He highlighted the depths of American hypocrisy in a spectacular fashion…. So…. Let’s take a look!
The quick background here is that this begins right after Chomsky has listed, in graphic detail, the horrible state the US actions, during the war, left Vietnam. Right after he finishes listing all the horrible ravages the Vietnamese people have suffered and are still dealing with today. After proving that our actions left their people impoverish and left their nation in shambles… He begins:
There is little hint of any of this, or the similar Carthaginian deviation in Laos and Cambodia, in the mainstream US media coverage. Rather, with remarkable uniformity and self-righteousness, the problems of reconstruction, hampered further by the natural catastrophes and continuing war to which the US has made what contribution it can, are attributed solely to Communist brutality and ineptitude. The sole remaining interest in post war Vietnam in the US media has been the recovery of the remains of the US personal pressured to be killed in action, the Vietnamese preoccupation with other matters serving as further proof of their immorality.
In one of his sermons on human rights, President Carter explained that we owe Vietnam no debt and have no responsibility to render it any assistance because “the destruction was mutual,” in a statement that elicited no comment, to our knowledge, apart from our own – a fact that speaks volumes about the prevailing culture and climate. Some feel that there may have been a debt but that it has been amply repaid. Under the headline “The Debt to the Indochinese Is Becoming a Fiscal Drain,” Bernard Gwertzman quotes a State Department official who “said he believed the United States has now paid its moral debt for its involvement on the losing side in Indochina.” The remark, which also passed without comment, is illuminating: we owe no debt for mass slaughter and for leaving three countries in ruins, no debt to the millions of maimed and orphaned left from the US assault. Rather, our moral debt results only from the fact that we did not win. By this logic, if the Russians win in Afghanistan, they will have no moral debt at all. Proceeding further how have we paid our moral debt for failing to win? By resettling the Vietnamese refugees fleeing the lands we ravaged, “one of the largest, most dramatic humanitarian efforts in history” according to Roger Winter, director of the US Committee for Refugees. But. “despite the pride,” Gwertzman continues, “some voices in the Reagan Administration and in Congress are once again asking whether the was debt has now been paid…”
The media are not satisfied with “mutual destruction” that effaces all responsibility for some of the major war crimes of the modern era. Rather, the perpetrator of the crimes must be seen as the injured party. We find headlines reading, “Vietnam Trying to Be Nicer, Still Has Long Way to Go.” “It’s about time the Vietnamese demonstrate some good will,” said Charles Printz, of Human Rights Advocates International, referring to negotiations about the Amerasian children who constitute a tiny fraction of the victims of US aggression in Indochina. Barbara Crossette adds that the Vietnamese have also not been sufficient forthcoming on the matter of remains of American Soldiers, although their behavior may be improving: “There has been progress, albeit slow, on the missing Americans.” The unresolved problem of the war is what they did to us. Since we were simply defending ourselves from “internal aggression” in Vietnam, it surely makes sense to consider ourselves the victims of the Vietnamese.
In a derisive account of Vietnamese “laments” over the failure of the United States to improve relations with them, Barbara Crossette report their “continuing exaggeration of Vietnam’s importance to Americans” under the headline: “For Vietnamese, Realism Is in Short Supply.” The Vietnamese do not comprehend their “irrelevance,” she explains with proper imperial contempt. US interests in Vietnam, she continues, is limited to the natural American outrage over Hanoi’s invasion of Cambodia, (to over through the current ally pol pot), and its failure to be sufficiently forthcoming “on the issue of American service men missing since the end of the war.” She cites a pentagon statement noting that Vietnam “has agreed to return the remains of 20 more servicemen” and expressing the hope that the Communist will proceed to “resolve this long-standing humanitarian issue.” She quotes an “Asian official” as saying that “We all know they have the bones somewhere…. If Hanoi’s leaders are serious about rebuilding their country, the Vietnamese will have to deal fairly with the US.” When a Vietnamese official suggested that the US send food aid to regions where starving villagers are spending their time and energy searching for the remains of American pilots killed while destroying their country, State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley reacted with great anger: “We are outraged at any suggestion of linking food assistance with the return of remains,” she declaimed. So profound is the US commitment to humanitarian imperitives and moral values that it can not permit lofty ideals to be tainted by associating them with such trivial concerns and indecent requests.
Here is where we get a clear glimpse at America’s “moral standing” in the world. Needless to say it does not look good. Why does the world dislike “American exceptionalism” as president Obama said in his speech…. because that type of attitude is what leads to unjustified military interventions and incredibly hypocritical and morally bankrupt American Diplomacy. I mean we start a war in that region based on false reasoning, we used chemical weapons on the very Vietnamese citizens we were out to “protect,” and we leave their land in tatters for generations…. Then, when these people seek justice and ask us to simply help rebuild the lives we destroyed…. This, quoted above, is what they get back.. and this is the typical American response in almost all diplomatic negotiations. Why does the world dislike us? We have to look at our actions to notice why… If we are unwilling or unable to understand our own moral failings and hypocrisies…. Then we are in a terrible position to understand the inner workings of the world.
Yet, this type of morally bankrupt foreign policy is the norm for the American government and its people. Let me illustrate this by example. Look at our actions in Afghanistan….. very few people stand up to question the validity of “bombing Afghanistan because they harbored terrorists.”It is pretty shocking that the inherent flaw in such brute reasoning is almost universally ignored… despite it being so easy to see…
In another book by Chomsky, “hegemony or survival,” he highlights this example of absurd moral thinking America. He decided to tackle the issue head on. When Elshtain, an American academic, defended our bombing of Afganistan, Chomskey took this reasoning to task…. Check it out…
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? Certainly one cannot appeal to the scale of crimes to justify such a stand; the merest look at the factual record bars that move.
If these questions are not answered, just war pronouncements cannot be taken seriously. I have yet to discover a single case where the questions are even raised. That leads to some conclusions that may not be particularly attractive but that might merit attention and self- examination—and serious concern about the long-term implications of the apparent inability to accept the principle of universality that underlies these failures.
She [Elshtain] formulates four criteria for just war. First, force is justified if it “protects the innocent from certain harm”; her sole example is when a country has “certain knowledge that genocide will commence on a certain date” and the victims have no means of self-defense. Second, the war “must be openly declared or otherwise authorized by a legitimate authority.” Third, it “must begin with the right intentions.” Fourth, it “must be a last resort after other possibilities for the redress and defense of the values at stake have been explored.”
The first condition is inapplicable to Afghanistan. The second and third are meaningless: an open declaration of war by an aggressor confers no support whatsoever for a claim of just war; the worst criminals claim “right intentions,” and there are always acolytes to endorse the claims. The fourth obviously does not apply in Afghanistan. Therefore her paradigm case collapses entirely, under her own criteria.
That aside, whatever one thinks of Elshtain’s belief that the bombing of Afghanistan met her conditions, these conditions hold with far greater clarity for many of the victims of US state-supported international terrorism. On her own grounds, then, these victims should be granted the right to wage a just war against the US by bombing and terror, as long as it is openly declared and accompanied by a pronouncement of “right intentions.” The reduction to absurdity, however, presupposes that we adopt the principle of universality, unmentioned in her historical/philosophical study and tacitly rejected in the standard fashion.
Let’s bring in some further relevant facts. The official motive for the bombing of Afghanistan was to force the Taliban to hand over people that the US suspected of involvement in the crimes of 9-11; the US refused, however, to provide any evidence. At the time when Taliban reluctance to comply was the lead story of the day, arousing much fury, Haiti renewed its request for extradition of Emmanuel Constant, leader of the paramilitary forces that had primary responsibility for the brutal murder of thousands of Haitians during the early 1990s, when the military junta was supported, not so tacitly, by the first Bush and Clinton administrations. The request apparently did not even merit a response, or more than the barest report. Constant had been sentenced in absentia in Haiti; it is widely assumed that the US is concerned that if he testifies, he may reveal contacts between the state terrorists and Washington.Does Haiti therefore have the right to set off bombs in Washington? Or to try to kidnap or kill Constant in New York, where he lives, killing bystanders in approved Israeli style? If not, why not?
Why is the question not even raised in this case, or in that of other murderous state terrorists who enjoy safe haven in the US? And if the question is considered too absurd even to consider (as it is, by elementary moral standards), where does that leave the consensus on the resort to violence by one’s own leaders?
Referring to 9-11, some argue that the evil of terrorism is “absolute” and merits a “reciprocally absolute doctrine” in response: ferocious military assault in accord with the Bush doctrine that “If you harbor terrorists, you’re a terrorist; if you aid and abet terrorists, you’re a terrorist—and you will be treated like one.”
It would be hard to find anyone who accepts the doctrine that massive bombing is a legitimate response to terrorist crimes. No sane person would agree that bombing Washington would be legitimate in accord with the “reciprocally absolute doctrine” on response to terrorist atrocities, or a justified and properly “calibrated” response to them. If there is some reason why this observation is inappropriate, it has yet to be articulated, even contemplated, as far as I have been able to discover.
That right there…right there highlights the incredulity of most Americans when they start to justify the American’s governments actions over seas.
I mean think about it… what if Haiti decided that because the US Government refuses to give up a well known terrorist, they are going to send predetor drones in to assasinate him? What if he is staying in a heavily populated hotel? The Haitian Government ellects to send drones to take out a terrorist target… during its mission, it bombs the sht out of this hotel killing 50-100 civilians in the process. How do you think Washington is going to react? It would be all out fcking war! We would want to see justice against the Hatian government for killing our civilians so casually…
Yet, I sht you now… this is exactly what we did in Yemen. In the first order Obama signed, the first drone strike to take out a terrorist target… he ended up ordering the deaths of like 50 civilians – among them were also children. Yet, no war was declared… heck, in a twist of reality, Yemen is an actual ALLY of the US – even though we just killed their civilians in a military strike. This kind of absurdity goes unmentioned… I mean do you realize how many americans support drone strikes? Do you realize how many americans think it is a “debatable” issue to send out drones that have a spectacularly high civilian casualty rate? Yet everyone thinks drones is a “debatable” issue.. it is no more debatable than the strike on Syria. It is a laughable issue.. in that, it is so obviously morally absurd, one wonders how the fck the American government gets away with it, and why so many Americans are fooled by it.
Chomsky demonstrated that, there is a fairly simple error that Americans commit when it comes to foreign policy. Time and time again, we fail to think of certain moral platitudes like “universal moral standards” when talking about military interventions in other countries. I mean, in the current situation, in Syria, where there is this “huge” debate within the corporate media about whether bombing Syria is the right or wrong thing to do…. we fall into the same irrational error in reasoning. It is that same error that Chomsky points out. One error that is never explored in the media. We almost always fail to ask ourselves some very basic moral questions, and we usually fail to explore the past mistakes me made by ignoring such basic moral questions. As such, presently, it is hard to take the “debate” around Syria seriously.
I mean we can, and should, do a basic moral analogy before entering any “debate.” So let’s do that here… yet, I sht you not, after we are done… the answer would then seem crystal clear, in that we are advocating morally bankrupt interventions, and that “debate” no longer seems necessary.
Pretend that currently we are at war with the US Govenment. Pretend the American Government has been silencing dissidents by shooting them in the streets. Pretend we live in this era where the US government is slaughtering any American citizen who speaks against the government. Pretend they are ruling through fear. Eventually the American people rise in protest… and it starts out as a non-violent movement. The Government then responds by killing all the protesters. Never the less, American citizens stand firm and still rise and try to maintain a certain level of non-violent protest – asking for a change in leadership. Down the line, some sections of the movement, tired of being gunned down, become rebels and are fighting the government with their own arms – a civil war breaks out. Here was have a situation similar to Syria. The Government and it’s military are routinley shooting citizens in the street. No one in the international community helps… and the slaughter continues for years. Then one day, Russia comes in and says that they do not like what the American government is doing. As such, the Russians decide… they are going to bomb American cities like NY, LA, Washington (some military buildings are located in heavily populated areas, but the Russian government does not care about colateral damage). The Russians say that they do this in an effort to “send a message.” These bombs are going to kill a lot of innocent American civilians, and it will do little to stop the civil war….
So… Should Russia just start bombing America like that?
The answer is obviously NO!
How in the world would bombing and killing US citizens help at all?
It is absolutely silly to think it will… and yet I sht you not… America is still “debating” whether to bomb Syria.. This is the crazy war culture we live in.. we can not even see the moral absurdity in our own actions.
I mean…. we see this irrationality everywhere…. somehow along the way…. this very basic moral line of thought that is required of us became absent from the American Governments reasoning and the cooperate media’s reasoning….. How can any country in the world take America’s actions seriously? Why does Obama still think that America has some sort of high ethical standing… when every piece of evidence suggests that we lost our moral standing a long time ago? I mean, most of the world is aware of this…. I just want to ask…. when will this thinking kick in for the rest of us?
Americans need to wake up… thankfully, I see that some of us are waking up to the BS that the american government is propogating, but still, we need more people to get up and think before they support the US Government.