Seditious books in South Korea

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Youn Ki

Seditious Books Club (South Korea), September 17, 2008

YOUN KI: What is your general feeling or idea about the selection of “seditious books” by the Ministry of National Defense in Korea [which bans Korean soldiers from reading them]?

CHOMSKY: The popular struggle to overthrow the Korean dictatorships and establish democracy was an inspiration to the world. But there are, of course, always those who fear freedom, and want to restore controls over thought and expression. It is unfortunate that the Ministry of National Defense joins them. Perhaps, for the sake of honesty, it should be renamed: “Ministry of Defense against Freedom and Democracy.”

YOUN KI: Two of your books are selected as “seditious books.” What is your opinion about this?

CHOMSKY: My books were also banned in the Soviet Union, pre-Gorbachev, even technical work on linguistics. I regarded that as an honor, and the same is true when books of mine are banned by others who take Stalin as their guide.

YOUN KI: You have been writing many books that criticize U.S. policy. Being American yourself, what made you to take a critical stand about the U.S.?

CHOMSKY: One of the most elementary of moral principles is that each of us is responsible for the foreseeable consequences of our own actions. That principle leads any honest person to focus attention on the actions of their own state. We understand that very well with regard to official enemies. For that reason, we honored dissidents in the Soviet Union, and had only contempt for the commissars who condemned the crimes of others while ignoring or supporting their own crimes. The same principle holds with much greater force in more free and democratic societies, where citizens have more influence over state policy. It follows at once that every American citizen should be primarily concerned with actions of the US government, and when they are wrong, sometimes criminal, should take a critical stand not only in words but in action.

There is a second reason, which holds not only for Americans, but for others too. The US is by far the most powerful state in the world. Government policies therefore have enormous consequences, for the population of the world today and for future generations. Accordingly, it is appropriate for others to pay careful attention to these policies and actions, and to take a critical stand when they merit criticism and opposition, as they often do.

YOUN KI: What is the most influential book in your life?

CHOMSKY: I cannot really answer. There are too many.

YOUN KI: Please give us (Seditious Books Club) words of encouragement or advice.

CHOMSKY: I am very pleased and encouraged to learn of your forthright and courageous stand against efforts to reverse the great achievements of the Korean people, and I wish you the greatest success in your very important work.