The Naked Emperor

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Jewel Welter

Numb Magazine, 2001

Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguistics professor Noam Chomsky is well acquainted with the controversy’s seeds.  A quick perusal of Internet keywords associated with his name reveals designations like dissident, socialist, radical, modern Copernicus, anarchist, scholar, and critical thinker.  Indeed, a brief conversation shows Chomsky as these terms and more.  Critics occasionally mistake Chomsky’s stoicism for aggression.  In actuality, his outward pugnacity shrouds his unfeigned candor in discussing global affairs.

During the fall of 2001, Chomsky toured India.  His trip coincided with September 11, 2001, the day a group of men hijacked two jet planes and crashed into the World Trade Center.  The eleventh shocked American citizens whose grasp of world events depended upon information the media relayed through television.  For political analysts like Noam Chomsky, the eleventh was a spoke in a wheel of long-spinning persecution.  Since its origins, the United States forcefully obliterated opponents to its aim of world superiority.  What writer Rudyard Kipling characterized as the “White Man’s Burden” symbolized the United States’ pattern of oppressing newly conquered territories.  European despots displayed values to the original colonists that later filtered into American policy.

United States government is technically an oligarchy.  An oligarchy’s political structure authorizes a small party of individuals to govern the daily lives of the larger citizenry.  If the United States operated as a democracy, congressional sessions would last years since government assemblies require each person’s presence.  Efficiency demands the concentration of power into an easily manageable body of persons; however, efficiency cannot explain the atrocities the US administration has committed and then, distorted to deceive the populace.

President George W. Bush’s Junior’s “War on Terrorism” resembles President John F. Kennedy’s vow to “end Communism” by siding with South Vietnam against North Vietnam.  North Vietnam’s population consisted of impoverished herders and farmers, similar to Afghanistan’s population.  Culturally, South and North Vietnam were bound to clash because of South Vietnam’s vastly different and prosperous merchant economy and politicians like Bao Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem.  South Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh became American Enemy Number One, instead of a dynamic man fighting to free his homeland from outside interference.  Years before the Vietnam War, France’s colonialist regime controlled Vietnam.  Minh believed Vietnam needed a chance to heal, rather than ruled by another tyrannical power with European roots (like the US).

Suspected mastermind Osama bin Laden has supplanted Minh as American Enemy Number One.  “Bin Laden,” says Chomsky, “proclaims that violence is justified in self-defense against the infidels who invade and occupy Muslim lands like Bosnia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia–and against the brutal and corrupt governments they impose there.  Not so differently, Bush maintains that violence is justified to drive terrorism and evil from American lands.  To Bush, American lands are the world and not just territories marked as American by ownership.  That Bush can speak so casually of violence should be alarming to Americans as should the sacrifice of civilians on both sides.”

The largest part of the people killed on the eleventh were common workers–people with vocations like secretary, firefighter, police officer, maintenance worker, and rescue volunteer.  If the crash’s perpetrators wanted to punish the American government, killing overwhelming numbers of the working classes, rather than government personnel, was not effective.  Sadly and ironically, the people slain after Bush Junior’s Afghanistan bombings were civilians.

During the interview, Chomsky says that the eleventh’s large-scale loss was unmistakably appalling.  Additionally, the bombings correlated to the US overseas policies, like President William Clinton’s decision to bomb Sudan and the more than 500,000 Iraqi people killed since 1998.  Of Sudan’s bombing, Chomsky observes, “The atrocity destroyed half the pharmaceutical supplies of a poor African country and those agencies assisting Sudan’s population with a grievous human toll.  The United States blocked specific figures for the death toll when the UN inquired of figures.  Few were interested enough to further pursue the matter, so the number remains undocumented.”  The factory in Sudan supplied medicines to keep such illnesses as tuberculosis and malaria from infecting the Sudanese population.  Since the bombing, the death toll has increased because of the lack of medical treatment–with numbers more shocking than the eleventh’s reported figures.

Nevertheless, the eleventh was a roar from a monster created by Presidents George H. W. Bush Senior and Ronald Reagan.  Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 166, which covertly supplied more than 65,000 tons of munitions and CIA personnel to the Pakistani Mujahideen.  Directive 166 sought to combat the threat of Communism.  The Bush Administration, in 1989, also offered $1 billion in aid to Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Military Production.  Reagan and Bush Senior helped build bin Laden’s al Quaida Network, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein.

Bush Junior’s “War on Terrorism” is as faulty as Kennedy’s war to “stop Communism.”  Terrorism and Communism are ideas, and therefore, cannot be stopped.  Stopping terrorism requires the systematic decimation of material referencing terrorism and the people practicing or conceptually understanding terrorism.  Had outsiders not attacked the United States on native soil, perhaps Bush Junior would not be fighting terrorism.  When the Taliban ordered the destruction of two 2,000 years old Buddhist statues in Ghorband Valley, Afghanistan, and Amnesty International pleaded for assistance for abused Afghan women, Bush did not offer sympathy or support.  Apparently, Bush Junior’s “War on Terrorism” is a selective war.

Chomsky reveals, “The eleventh was the first time the United States was attacked on the mainland since the British burned down Washington in 1814.  The instances of the United States waging a home front battle have been few since the US’s inception, due largely to the US policy of invading outside territories.  History has shown that oppressive groups using unnecessary and brutal force to accomplish an end become the victims of their wrongdoing.”

A classic example of Chomsky’s assertion is the once great Roman Empire, which lacked the administrative structure to govern its new territories.  Greedy emperors–readily deposed by the Prætorian guard initially established to protect Roman emperors–contributed to Rome’s decline.  If the US government does not take measures to prevent a fall, the same fate will befall the United States.  A larger bully or victims united eventually overthrow a schoolyard bully.  ” A common side-effect of easy victories over defenseless enemies is the entrenchment of force over peace,” Chomsky reiterates.  No peace can be gained through force, nor a war won from information filtered to the public.

The United States government–like many large-scale governments–Chomsky points out, conceals information from the public.  Not all concealment occurs with malicious intentions; the law allowing presidential records to be sealed was designed to keep public hysteria at a minimum until a safe distance passed.  The concealment that should be earning attention is Bush Junior’s executive order to seal 68,000 pages of President Reagan’s White House records.  Per the Presidential Records Act, presidential records are the property of the government and open to the public twelve years after a president vacates office.  Reagan’s records, which included documents from Bush Senior’s vice-president post, were scheduled for opening on January 12, 2002.

“The emperor is not wearing any clothes and does not want anyone to know he is not wearing clothes,” Chomsky contends, pausing.  Bush Senior is in such a position, having conducted business with the bin Laden family through the Carlyle Group and the now deceased Salem bin Laden.  Regardless of Bush Junior’s reasons for waging a war on Afghanistan to get at the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, Bush Junior sets a bad example for US citizens.  Bombing Afghanistan is a hasty gesture meant to keep the US from losing more face in front of its European allies.  Other areas of the world accustomed to death at the hands of the US are not as jarred as the European principals have been, if only because mass devastation has become a way of life–“especially throughout Africa and parts of Asia,” as Chomsky contends.

Bush Junior’s actions present the leaders of tomorrow–the American youth–with confusion.  What will parents tell children who want to know why it is all right for the US to bomb the Taliban’s neighboring villages, but not okay to kick the brother of the boy who bullied them?  Chomsky points out the alternative suggested by the Vatican, “which [calls] for reliance on the measures appropriate to crimes, whatever their scale, preferably in an international court.  More importantly, if someone robs my house and I think I know who did it, I am not entitled to randomly kill people in his neighborhood when I go after him.”

Former Army Private John G. Burnett captured the crux of why attacking Afghanistan is treacherous.  Burnett, speaking of President Andrew Jackson’s forced removal of Cherokee Native-Americans from tribal lands during the Trail of Tears from 1838 to 1839, declared:

” . . . Murder is murder whether committed by the villain in the dark or by uniformed men stepping to the strains of martial music.  Murder is murder and somebody must answer, somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed . . . . Somebody must explain the four thousand silent graves that mark the trail . . . . I wish I could forget it all, but the picture of wagons lumbering over the frozen ground with their cargo of suffering humanity still lingers in my memory.”

Murder in vengeance’s name is just as terrible as murder for the sake of killing.  An act of murder’s magnitude leaves few people unscathed.  Murdering every single one of the inhabitants of Afghanistan, all the Taliban, and each person connected to Osama bin Laden will not change the events of the eleventh, nor will it restore the lives lost in the World Trade Center.  The US’s actions will determine the course of future history, as well as the manner in which the world views the US.

If the emperor, as Chomsky reveals, is not wearing any clothing, who will clothe the emperor or find a new emperor not so inclined to forgetting his robes?  Who will stand in the place of the naked emperor when the world tries to heal in the aftermath of the eleventh?  Chomsky, in his typically pragmatic fashion, presents advice for consumption.  He states, “The American government protects Americans from critical world opinion and discussion of such matters, but we do ourselves no favors by keeping to these restrictions or ignoring public documents explaining the rationale of planners.”  The public, then, should not be naked in the face of the naked emperor, any more than the emperor should be naked.  A last study of Chomsky’s character shows that he is no naked individual, deprived of truism or protean thought.  He weaves clothing of words and kingly robes through enlightenment.  A tailor should know such delicate truth in needle and thread as Noam Chomsky.