On 9-11

Noam Chomsky debates with Bill Bennett

CNN, May 30, 2002

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: They are two best selling authors with two very different takes on terrorism. In his book, “9-11,” Noam Chomsky accuses the United States of being a terrorist state. He says the war in Afghanistan is wrong, states that in recent history, America has committed acts of terrorism, and maintains that America’s foreign policy is hypocritical.

In Bill Bennett’s “Why We Fight,” he says the war on terror is morally just. He maintains that democracy and human rights are America’s noblest exports, and that we must be prepared to respond to anti-American critics. Talk about a war of words.

Well, Bill Bennett joins us now from New York, and Noam Chomsky joins us from Boston. Welcome, gentlemen. Great to have both of you with us.


NOAM CHOMSKY, AUTHOR, “9-11”: Hello.

ZAHN: I would like to start off, professor, by reading a very small excerpt from your book where you write that nothing can justify crimes such as those of September 11, but we can think of the United States as an innocent victim only if we adopt the convenient path of ignoring the record of its actions and those of its allies, which are, after all, hardly a secret. What are you referring to here?

CHOMSKY: Well, for example, the United States happens to be the only state in the world that has been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism, would have been condemned by the Security Council, except that it vetoed the resolution. This referred to the U.S. terrorist war against Nicaragua, the court ordered the United States to desist and pay reparations. The U.S. responded by immediately escalating the crimes, including first official orders to attack what are called soft targets — undefended civilian targets. This is massive terrorism. It is by no means the worst, and it continues right to the present, so for example…

ZAHN: Bill Bennett, your response to what the professor said, and then we will let him pick up from there.

BENNETT: It’s quite extraordinary to hear a supposedly learned person call the United States a leading terrorist nation, one of the leading terrorist nations in the world. It’s false and very treacherous teaching. In the situation Mr. Chomsky is talking about, of course, the United States supported the Contras in Nicaragua. The condemnation or judgment by the World Court was not that it was terrorism, but that we supported some unlawful activity. However, when there were free elections in Nicaragua, and Mrs. Chamorro took office, all the lawsuits, all the complaints against the United States were dropped, when you had a democratically elected country.

We have done more good for more people than any country in the history of the world. What I want to know of Mr. Chomsky is if he believes we are a leading terrorist state, he is obviously welcome in the United States, why do you choose to live, sir, in a terrorist nation?

CHOMSKY: First of all, the World Court condemned the United States for what it called “the unlawful use of force and violation of treaties.”

BENNETT: Which is not terrorism.

CHOMSKY: That’s international terrorism.

BENNETT: No, it is not.

CHOMSKY: Yes, it is exactly international terrorism.

BENNETT: No, it is not, sir.

CHOMSKY: Furthermore, the escalation to attack undefended civilian targets is just a classic illustration of terrorism. And furthermore, it continues right to the present, as I was saying, so for example…

BENNETT: It’s quite…

CHOMSKY: May I continue?


CHOMSKY: In the late 1990s, some of the worst terrorist atrocities in the world were what the Turkish government itself called state terror, namely massive atrocities, 80 percent of the arms coming from the United States, millions of refugees, tens of thousands of people killed, hideous repression, that’s international terror, and we can go on and on.


ZAHN: Before you go further, let’s give Bill a chance to respond to respond to the Turkish string (ph) of this — go ahead, Bill.

BENNETT: America responsible for hideous repression and refugees? Why is it, Mr. Chomsky, whenever there are refugees in the world, they flee to the United States rather than from the United States? Why is it on balance, Mr. Chomsky, that this nation, when it opens its gates, has people rushing in? Why is it that it is this nation the world looks to for support and encouragement and help? We rebuilt Europe twice in this century, after two world wars. We liberated Europe from Nazi tyranny. We have liberated Eastern Europe in the last few years from communist tyranny, and now we are engaged in a battle against something else.

When we went in to Kabul, even the “New York Times” in mid- November showed pictures of people smiling at the presence of American troops, because this country was once again a force for freedom, and a force for liberation. Have we done some terrible things in our history? Of course we have. But as Senator Moynihan has pointed out, our people find out about them from reading the newspapers and watching television. When you look at this nation on balance, in terms of what good it has done and what bad it has done, it is grossly irresponsible to talk about this country as a terrorist nation, and to suggest, as do you in your book, that there is justification, moral justification, for what happened on 9/11. For that, sir, you really should be ashamed.

CHOMSKY: You should be ashamed for lying about what is in the book, because nothing is said — in fact, the quote was just given, nothing can justify the terrorist attacks of September 11. You just heard the quote, if you want to falsify it, that’s your business.

BENNETT: No — well, I…

CHOMSKY: Just a minute — did I interrupt you? Did I interrupt you?

ZAHN: Professor, let me jump in here, but implicit in that — aren’t you saying that you understand why America was targeted?

CHOMSKY: Do I understand? Yes, so does the U.S. intelligence services, so does all of scholarship. I mean, we can ignore it if we like, and therefore lead to further terrorist attacks, or we can try to understand. What Mr. Bennett said is about half true. The United States has done some very good things in the world, and that does not change the fact that the World Court was quite correct in condemning the United States as an international terrorist state, nor do the atrocities in Turkey in the last few years — they are not obviated by the fact that there are other good things that happen. Sure. That’s — you are correct when you say good things have happened, but if we are not total hypocrites, in the sense of the gospels, we will pay attention to our own crimes. For one reason, because that’s elementary morality — elementary morality. For another thing, because we mitigate them.

ZAHN: All right, professor, I’m going to have to leave it there with you, Bill Bennett, and we have got to leave it to about 20 seconds.

BENNETT: It there any nation that acknowledges its errors and its sins and its crimes and the things it has done that are not consistent with its principles more than the United States? No, there is not.

This is also the man, just let it be said for the record, who said that the reports of atrocities by the Khmer Rouge were grossly exaggerated. This is the man who said when we engaged the Soviet Union that we…

CHOMSKY: No, it’s not. But that is…

BENNETT: I didn’t interrupt you — that we were continuing the Nazi effort against Russia. Go through the Chomsky work, line by line, argument by argument, and you will see this is a man who has made a career out of hating America and out of trashing the record of this country. Of course, there is a mixed record in this country, why do you choose to live in this terrorist nation, Mr. Chomsky?

CHOMSKY: I don’t. I choose to live in what I think is the greatest country in the world, which is committing horrendous terrorist acts and should stop.

BENNETT: I think you should say greatest — I think you should say greatest a little more often.

CHOMSKY: If you want to be a hypocrite…


BENNETT: I think you should acknowledge its virtues a little more often, Mr. Chomsky.

CHOMSKY: And you should acknowledge its crimes.

BENNETT: I do. Read my book. You will see it.

CHOMSKY: No, you never do. No, sorry. And if you want to…

BENNETT: I am reading other people’s books.

CHOMSKY: If you want to know what I say, do not listen to Mr. Bennett’s falsifications of which I just gave an example.

BENNETT: Read both books.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, we are going to have to cut off both of you there. Noam Chomsky, Bill Bennett, thank you for both of your thoughts, and I think probably the best course of action anybody can take out there, is buy both of your books so they can make their own judgment.

BENNETT: That’s fine.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time.