We Have Nothing To Fear But Fear Mongers Themselves

No 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.

Imperial 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 and hopeful.

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:

  1. Iraq was an imminent and direct threat to the security of the United States.
  2. 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 peaceful neighbors?"

October 12, 2005