Is Noam Chomsky an 'Intellectual Moron'?
Michael K. Smith
Press Action, March 22, 2005
For those whose appreciation of unconscious humor is stronger than their stomachs, Daniel J. Flynn’s, “Intellectual Morons - How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall For Stupid Ideas,” is highly recommended. Flynn, previous author of “Why The Left Hates America,” is the former executive director of Accuracy in Academia. His latest book is endorsed by William F. Buckley Jr., who finds him “sophisticated,” and G. Gordon Liddy, who declares his rant “must reading.” Juxtaposing Flynn’s declared appreciation for “facts, experience, and logic” to his evaluation of the work of Noam Chomsky, one finds more than a few glaring contradictions, as detailed below.

1) Chomsky grew tired of his chosen field [linguistics].

Chomsky has repeatedly said he would prefer to spend all his productive time on linguistics but that political concerns continually intrude and demand a moral response.

2) Chomsky’s first legacy to the Left is a reflexive anti-Americanism that assigns blame to the United States for just about any disliked occurrence. . .

As Chomsky often points out, anti-Americanism is a mindless slogan. If he criticizes Portugal’s foreign policy, does that make him anti-Portuguese? Chomsky blames not the American people, but major government officials and transnational corporations for the crimes of the national security state. He provides overwhelming documentation from the business press, supplemented by the findings of human rights organizations and church groups to substantiate his claims. He does not respond “reflexively” to things he merely “dislikes,” but rather, focuses his attention on major crimes like torture, massacre, invasion, occupation, and the like.

3) If we trade with or provide aid to nations pursuing policies Chomsky objects to, then he blames America.

Chomsky has no problem with trade per se. He criticizes Washington’s pursuit of a “favorable investment climate,” which is closely correlated with torture, murder, jailing of dissidents, crushing of popular organizations, and blowing up of independent newspapers, among other crimes. If Washington organizes and perpetuates human rights atrocities and other violations of international law, as it routinely does, Chomsky criticizes. The question is not why he does this, but why so few members of the intellectual class choose to join him.

4) Chomsky’s methodology ensures that America can be held responsible for the policies of almost any nation.

Chomsky’s indictment of ruling elites is not at all arbitrary. He holds U.S. leaders responsible for their crimes and their crimes alone. When criticizing crimes committed by proxy, as in U.S. support for the death squad government in El Salvador in the 1980s or Colombia today, he always shows the institutional links between the U.S. foreign policy establishment and the “independent” nations where the crimes are carried out. His “methodology” is to discover the relevant facts and rationally explain them. He never holds the U.S. responsible for the actions of independent nations. He criticizes Washington for not allowing other peoples to actually BE independent nations (as opposed to U.S. client states).

5) On the rare occasion that America has withheld aid and restricted trade, such as with interbellum Iraq, Chomsky introduces a catchall clause, blaming America for NOT trading or giving aid and thus for causing any ensuing catastrophe.

Chomsky criticized the sanctions imposed on Iraq, as did activists and concerned people throughout the world, because of their murderous effect on the Iraqi population, not because U.S. leaders who imposed them were insufficiently generous. Former UN Humanitarian Coordinator Denis Halliday resigned in disgust and called the policy “genocide.” Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright conceded the figure of 500,000 children killed by the sanctions as of 1996 and said that the political gains derived from the mass murder policy were “worth it.” So there’s a pretty broad consensus on the fact of U.S. mass murder by sanctions in Iraq.

6) Chomsky has bequeathed a second legacy: encouraging the Left to see every issue as a Manichaean moral struggle and to cast the opposing side as so diabolical as to exist outside the bounds of discourse.

Chomsky’s work is remarkably free of moralizing, in preference for a massive adducement of relevant factual detail supplemented by a powerful analysis. He consistently encourages people to pay careful attention to the reasoning and world view of those in power, not just those who happen to agree with one’s own point of view. On the other hand, those in power do place the general public outside the bounds of discourse, which Flynn neither recognizes or criticizes.

7) [Chomsky is guilty of] attributing a moral equivalency between crimes committed by ideological allies and ideological enemies when large disparities in scale exist between the two . . . when he [Chomsky] finally came to terms with the fact that the Chinese Communists did indeed liquidate their fellow countrymen, he dismissed their man-made famines as no different from deaths in India . . .

Though Flynn assumes the contrary, the large disparities in scale between Washington’s international crimes and those of any other state are quite unfavorable to U.S. leaders. On China, Chomsky did not “finally come to terms” with Communist atrocities there, but rather, cited a comparison by Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen of post-independence India and Communist China, covering the years 1949 to 1979. Sen, not Chomsky, concluded that capitalist social policy in India had killed more than 100 million people, a total exceeding the deaths caused by ALL Communist states after 1917, including the mass famine in China in the late 1950s. Ask the next of kin whether death by capitalism is painless or otherwise acceptable.

8) Something like, “So what? We’ve done worse” seems to be his [Chomsky’s] stock reply to the atrocities of Islamists, Communists, and other enemies of the West.

That’s because the record supports him in this contention. Here Flynn declines to offer a refutation, assuming on ideological grounds that Washington’s allegedly superior virtue is self-evident. He fails to note that there just isn’t any government today that kills more innocent people around the world than the U.S. government, and by a wide margin at that.

9) . . . he [Chomsky] has gushed over genocidal maniacs like the Khmer Rouge, predicted that the United States would visit a holocaust on Afghanistan, and imagined a postwar alliance [WWII] between Uncle Sam and Nazi brownshirts.

Chomsky provided accurate historical information on U.S. contributions to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, corrected hysterical anti-Communist propaganda based on faked photographs and hugely inflated numbers, cited information from the New York Times demonstrating that U.S. war planners were anticipating that their 2001 bombing campaign in Afghanistan would increase the number of Afghans at risk of starvation by millions in a matter of weeks, and correctly documented Washington hiring Nazis for post-WWII counterinsurgency work in the USSR, appropriating Nazi counterinsurgency doctrine for its own uses in the process.

10) Mirroring Nazi imperial designs, the USSR gobbled up Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania, East Germany, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania . . . What countries did the United States transform into imperialist outposts?

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Iran, South Vietnam, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Greece, etc. etc. All practiced torture on an administrative basis, including Israel in Palestine.

11) 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.

Chomsky provides source material in “Towards a New Cold War,” on page 380, where he cites Thomas Powers’ “The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms & The CIA,” and also in “Keeping The Rabble in Line,” on pages 227 and 228, where he cites Michael McClintock’s “Instruments of Statecraft - U.S. Guerrilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, Counterterrorism, 1940-1990.”

12) [Chomsky initially wrote] an apologia for the Khmer Rouge . . . [later] Chomsky dishonestly maintained that he had always recognized the hideous nature of the Khmer Rouge.

Chomsky never misrepresented the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, so he couldn’t have been dishonest by denying apologetics he never made. He argued that careful analysis, not wild emotion and political convenience, should be the basis of atrocity figures, and placed events in their proper historical context, as scholars are supposed to. He emphasized the effects of the U.S. saturation bombing of Cambodia from 1969-1975, the most massive the world had ever seen at the time, and said that “U.S. intervention . . . . inflamed a simmering civil struggle and brought the horrors of modern warfare to relatively peaceful Cambodia, at the same time arousing violent hatreds and a thirst for revenge in the demolished villages where the Khmer Rouge were recruited by the bombardment of the U.S. and its local clients.” He added that U.S. officials were well aware their onslaught was paving the Khmer Rouge’s path to power and pointed out that subsequent atrocities - real and imaginary - were easily blamed on “genocidal” Communist ideology, theoretically absolving Washington of any responsibility for its savagery.

13) Chomsky is a sophist who overlooks crimes committed by Cuban officials . . .

Chomsky is critical of human rights violations wherever they occur, including Cuba, but properly maintains that his responsibility as an American citizen is for the crimes committed by the state he pays his taxes to. On that score, the crimes committed by the U.S. against Cuba dwarf the crimes committed by Fidel Castro, with a record of state sponsored terrorism against the tiny island nation that nearly defies belief. See Warren Hinckle and William Turner¹s “The Fish is Red” for the first couple of decades. It’s a disgraceful record, which Chomsky properly deplores.

14) The 9/11 attacks, Chomsky rationalizes . . . were nothing compared with President Clinton¹s 1998 bombing in Sudan, which resulted in probably “tens of thousands of immediate Sudanese victims.” . . . [in actual fact] the bombing of the Sudanese medicine factory resulted in just a handful of casualties.

This would hold true only if we discount that the bombed factory was producing 50% of the medicines available for the region. Depriving people of their source of medicine in an impoverished area is more likely to have led to tens of thousands of deaths. Chomsky cited Jonathan Belke in the Boston Globe on August 22, 1999, who said that “tens of thousands of people—many of them children—have suffered and died from malaria, tuberculosis, and other treatable diseases” because of the Al Shifa bombing. Chomsky also quoted Germany’s Ambassador to the Sudan, Werner Daum on the matter, who wrote that “It is difficult to assess how many people in this poor African country died as a consequence of the destruction of the Al-Shifa factory, but several tens of thousands seems a reasonable guess.” Flynn dismisses Daum as “notoriously anti-American,” an ideological claim masquerading as a factual analysis, and this in a book allegedly debunking ideology.

15) Incredibly, Chomsky maintained that “everyone was in favor of the overthrow of the Taliban, except the U.S. government.” Incredible because the U.S. government overthrew the Taliban, whereas “everyone” else failed or didn’t try.

The U.S. government was supportive of the Taliban in the 1990s when Afghanistan was so widely reviled it couldn’t even get UN recognition. Overthrowing them in 2001 was an afterthought (the Bush Administration gave $43 million to the Taliban in 2001) in a war of political convenience. It had nothing to do with liberation, which is why Afghans are worse off today than they were in the 1980s under Soviet occupation.

16) No post 9/11 assertion proved as ridiculous as the Cambridge sage’s off-base prediction that the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan would result in a South Asian holocaust. The month following 911, Chomsky proclaimed that the United States and its allies were “in the midst of apparently trying to murder 3 or 4 million people."

Chomsky did not predict what would happen from the bombings, merely reported from the New York Times what U.S. war planners were anticipating would happen. They were anticipating additional millions of Afghans being put at immediate risk of starvation because of the planned U.S. bombings, which would seal borders and prevent relief workers from delivering food.

17) Chomsky’s dishonesty is troubling.

Chomsky’s dishonesty remains an unproven hypothesis.