Noam Chomsky

Statement on Week of Campus Resistance, March 2005

I am very pleased to learn of your plans for a Week of Campus Resistance. It may be useful to keep in mind some of the recent history of student protest.

Take the Vietnam war. It began officially in 1962, when Kennedy sent the US air force to attack South Vietnam, initiated programs of chemical warfare to deprive the indigenous resistance and its civilian supporters of ground cover and food, along with programs to drive millions of peasants into what amounted to concentration camps and urban slums, to try to “dry up the sea” in which the resistance “swims,” as the US planners put it, in their Maoist framework. There was virtually no protest, for years. By the time protest became significant, by 1967, the leading Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard Fall, the expert most respected by the government, warned that “Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity” might face “extinction” as “the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size” — primarily South Vietnam, always the main target of attack. Even then, protest was mostly directed against bombing of the North, a serious war crime, but nothing like as severe as the US invasion of the South.

The protest movement began largely on campus, in very scattered ways. Each effort seemed completely alone, and almost hopeless, in the face of enormous antagonism. But students persevered, and small efforts inspired others, and finally grew to a major mass movement. By 1969 about 70% of the public had come to regard the war as “fundamentally wrong and immoral,” not “a mistake,” largely as a result of the impact of student protest on general consciousness. And that mass opposition compelled the business community and then the government to stop the escalation of the war. Specific cases are quite instructive. To cite just one many I know personally, the editor of one of the country’s leading newspapers completely rethought his support for the war, and turned his paper into one of the first critics, largely under the influence of his son, who was one of the very courageous non-violent resisters who, in many ways, spearheaded the opposition to aggression and violence, even though they were small in numbers.

Iraq is not Vietnam. It is, however, a criminal war of aggression that has caused enormous destruction and loss of life, and the US government must be impelled to allow Iraqis to emerge from the wreckage in their own way and without interference from Washington. That would be true even if the US had not shared a lot of the responsibility for their fate: from the Reagan-Bush support for Saddam Hussein right through his worst atrocities and long after the war with Iran, to the renewed support for Saddam as he crushed the Shi’ite rebellion that might well have overthrown him in 1991, to the merciless sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of people, devastated the society, forced the population to rely on the tyrant for survival, and probably kept Iraqis from sending to the same fate as a long list of other monsters much like him that the US had supported, all overthrown from within. The invasion itself was almost a textbook example of the “supreme international crime” of a aggression condemned at Nuremberg, which “contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole,” in the words of the Nuremberg Tribunal, including the huge death toll, the destruction of Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, and all the other atrocities.

Organizing against the occupation is far easier now than it was at comparable stages of the Vietnam war. The Iraq war was unique in hundreds of years of history of Europe and the US. It is the first act of aggression that elicited enormous mass protest against a war before it was even launched. The spirit of opposition remains alive and widespread, far more so than in the 1960s. And as then — or in the earlier civil rights movements, or the later women’s, environmental, anti-nuclear, solidarity, global justice movements and others — small sparks can ignite large-scale commitment that may seem dormant, but is just below the surface. That is how every achievement for justice and peace has been won in the past, and there is no reason to suppose that the future will be any different