two Americans have more different philosophies regarding political
economics than Lew Rockwell and Noam Chomsky. Lew is, of course,
one of our leading Libertarian thinkers. Chomsky is a New Left Liberal.
Yet when it comes to their anti-war activism of many decades, Rockwell
and Chomsky are brothers in arms – or should we say, "brothers
against arms." Reading Chomsky's new book, Imperial
Ambitions, is like dumping two shots of espresso into a
cup of lewrockwell.com's morning coffee.
Ambitions contains nine transcripts of interviews with Noam
Chomsky conducted by David Barsamain from March of 2003 through
February of this year. They are delightful reads and convey the
quintessential Chomsky – informed, committed, brilliant, humorous
As an aside, it should be noted that the interview approach is a
wonderful way to format the essence of the writings and activism
of Chomsky in a way that makes it easier to comprehend his overall
thinking. Wouldn't the American public benefit as much by reading
a book that utilized transcriptions of similar interviews with Lew
Rockwell? And if the interviews focused on why war is the health
of the State, couldn't they reach an audience – even, perhaps, worldwide – that
would not normally read libertarian writings? This could be a straightforward
project that would increase awareness of Lew Rockwell's tireless
work and help to raise money for his causes.
Noam Chomsky is a renowned professor of linguistics at MIT and has
been a principled anti-war activist since the early 1960s. His political
writings and activities are less well known than they otherwise
would be due, in no small part, to his being Jewish at the same
time he has taken consistent stands against the policies of Israel
in the Middle East.
Perhaps because of his combined – and unique – professional
and activist background, Chomsky has profound insights into the
use of propaganda by the State throughout history. In fact, his
decades-old book, Manufacturing
Consent, is a classic in this field of study.
Chomsky maintains that it is primarily in free societies where propaganda
is most useful and, in fact, needful. When a government cannot readily
turn to the use of force to control its people, it must resort to
more subtle means to influence their behavior.
Propaganda as we know it today stems largely from Britain's original
Ministry of Information that worked assiduously during World War
I to draw the United States into that conflict. In reciting this
history Chomsky says, "Britain needed U.S. backing for the
war, and the ministry's planners thought if they could convince
American intellectuals (emphasis added) of the nobility of
the British War effort, then these intellectuals would succeed in
driving the basically pacifist population of the United States – which
wanted nothing to do with European wars, rightly – into a fit of hysteria
the would get them to join the war…The British plan succeeded brilliantly
(as Ralph Bourne noted) with liberal American intellectuals.
People in the John Dewey circle, for example, took pride in the
fact that for the first time in history, as they saw it, war-time
fervor was created not by military leaders and politicians but by
the more responsible, serious members of the community – namely,
thoughtful intellectuals. In fact, the propaganda campaign succeeded
within a few months (again, emphasis added) in turning a
relatively pacifist population into raving anti-German fanatics.
The country was driven into hysteria."
Government propaganda works best – for the State, that is – when it
makes its citizens afraid. In the United States this time-tested
technique has been utilized by all of our presidents since at least
Harry Truman. Chomsky cites three examples from the presidencies
of John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and our current Liar-in-Chief, George
W. Bush. These examples are insightful and ridiculous at the same
time. They would be mostly humorous in their absurdity if what they
led to were not so evil and dangerous.
In the 1960s Kennedy attempted to convince Latin America that Cuba
was a security threat to North and South America in general and
the United States, in particular. The Mexican ambassador to the
U.S. at the time called Kennedy's bluff by saying, "If we publicly
declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty million Mexicans
will die laughing." Yet Kennedy was able to convince Americans
of such a threat and this ultimately led to the brink of a nuclear
war during the Cuban Missile Crisis – no laughing matter, that.
Chomsky describes the crude propaganda arts of the Reagan administration
twenty years later in this way: "On May 1, 1985 Reagan declared
a national emergency in the United States because of the threat
to the security of the United States posed by the government of
Nicaragua, which was two days' drive (through – I would note – at least
one other country, Mexico, many times its size) from Harlingen,
Texas and was planning to take over the hemisphere. If you take
a look at that Executive Order, which was renewed annually as a
way of building up support for the U.S. war in Nicaragua, it has
almost the same wording as the 2002 congressional declaration on
Iraq. Just replace Nicaragua with Iraq."
Chomsky then asks, "How much critical intelligence does it
take to determine how much of a threat Nicaragua was to the existence
of the United States?"
Roughly another twenty years later yet, we are brought to the drumbeat
for war on Iraq that was begun by the Bush administration in September
of 2002. This propaganda campaign had two main themes:
- Iraq was
an imminent and direct threat to the security of the
- Iraq (it
was at least insinuated) was behind the attacks in the U.S.
of September 11.
How successful was this propaganda campaign? Chomsky describes its
efficacy by citing public opinion polls taken before and after it
began. He notes "that they reflected the impact of propaganda
very directly. Right after September 11 the percentage of the U.S.
population that thought that Iraq was involved (on September 11)
was, I think, 3 percent. By now (April 5, 2003) about half the population
believes that Iraq is a threat to our security. These attitudes
are closely correlated to support for the war."
It is obvious that Americans have nothing to fear but fear mongers
themselves. Or as Chomsky might ask, "How much critical thinking
and analysis does it take determine how much of a direct security
threat Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and so forth are to a country
that possesses the most powerful military in the history of the
world, is bounded by two vast oceans and is bordered by two very
W. Tofte [send him mail] is
the manager of the BWIA Private Investment Fund and the author of
Principled and Grow Rich: Your Guide to Investing Successfully in
Both Bull and Bear Markets. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa.