Chomsky vs. Everyone

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Chomsky Vs Everyone

Did you see the episode of Bill Maher's show with Noam Chomsky? I didn't. I only recently began watching television again. But I do remember a number of friends calling and asking me about Chomsky after seeing him on this program with Bill Maher. As a result, most of my Chomsky books have been lent out.

This was over two years ago, but for some reason I was trying to think of what show it was so that I could TIVO it, figuring if Bill Maher had Chomsky on his show it must not be half bad. The show is called Real Time with Bill Maher. It's on HBO, and apparently much like his older show Politically Incorrect with a few changes. I'm guessing most people out there are familiar with it. I've never seen it.

But a little snooping around got me to the transcript of the show with Chomsky and I dove right in, wondering what kinds of questions Bill Maher might have asked the world's most renowned linguistic scholar and arguably the world's most important intellectual. Maher starts by asking a rather odd question:

It seems to me that the most religious people are also, at least in this country, the most super-patriotic. Isn’t there an inherent conflict there? I mean, if you’re truly religious and you believe in God – I mean, Jesus is not an American, I assume—[laughter]

Ignore the fact that he assumes religion equals Christianity, as revealed in his follow up question. Why would Maher ask Chomsky a question about Christianity? I'm not saying Chomsky isn't up to answering the question, but it seems an odd starting point, specially when you condsider that Chomsky is Jewish.

Apparently the interview with Chomsky was via satelite and taped prior to the show. According to the transcript while the clip was airing one of Maher's other guests, Andrew Sullivan, couldn't quit grimmacing. I guess it's painful for some people to hear Chomsky speak. Bill Maher asked him about it and this is what Sullivan said:

SULLIVAN: What?! He thinks that in discussion of Saddam Hussein he should raise the issue of Nuremberg trials for the United States? [audience reacts] Well, yes. Welcome to the world view of the far left, in which the United States is the source of evil and Saddam Hussein is actually a source of good.

What Chomsky actually said was:

CHOMSKY: The invasion of Iraq was simply a war crime, straight out war crime. [applause] [cheers] If we are not – if we don’t want to be hypocrites in the sense condemned in the Bible, we’ll apply to ourselves the judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal, for example, which said that aggression,
invasion is the supreme international crime, which includes within it all subsequent crimes, including all of those that are taking place now. So when the invade Fallujah, as I suppose they will, after having driven out most of the population, probably smash the place up, it will add to the enormous casualty
lists which may be in the range of 100,000 by now, maybe more, maybe less. And there’s more to come.

Does Chomsky really think that Saddam Hussein is a source of good?

CHOMSKY: In fact, the U.S. support for – remember, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein. And that means the people now in office or their immediate mentors, supported him in ways that had absolutely nothing to with Cold War or with the war with Iran. The support went on after the war with Iran was over, went off after the Berlin Wall fell. In fact, it even went on after the first Gulf War, when the first Bush Administration authorized Saddam to crush a Shiite uprising which probably would have overthrown him.

It’s certainly true that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein, and also
without the people who supported him through his worst atrocities, and are now telling us about them. [applause]
The fact of the matter is that if it hadn’t been for the sanctions which devastated the society and killed hundreds of thousands of people, it’s very likely that the Iraqis themselves would have sent
Saddam Hussein to the same fate as other brutal monsters also supported by the people now in Washington, like Ceausescu in Romania or Suharto in Indonesia, or Marcos and a whole string of others. Quite a rogues’ gallery. And probably Saddam would have gone the same way.

So Mr. Sullivan has been wrong on all counts thus far, but he's not done! He goes on to claim that Chomsky thinks the United States is as bad as Hussein's regime (the give in take of conversation makes it a bit messy to quote). And then he goes on to say:

SULLIVAN: For example: he claimed 100,000 dead in Iraq. No one believes that.

For some reason this 100,000 figure really gets people bent out of shape. I've seen it jusr drive people up the wall. Doesn't everybody know we have smart bombs that don't kill people unless their enemy combatants? Gosh! But the funny thing is Chomsky didn't flatly say 100,000 Iraqis have been killed. This is how he put it:

So when the invade Fallujah, as I suppose they will, after having driven out most of the population, probably smash the place up, it will add to the enormous casualty lists which may be in the range of 100,000 by now, maybe more, maybe less. And there’s more to come.

Chomsky is honest enough to admit that the number of Iraqi dead is not known. Perhaps if we cared more about human life more accurate numbers might be kept. As it stands there are no official numbers of Iraqi dead.

Sullivan also tries to make a distinction between his view that Hussein had to be removed and the standard cliche that those opposed to the must, by default, have wanted Hussein to remain in power. This is one of the saddest arguments I've heard for three some years now. What's funny is that Chomsky actually outlines what he thought would have happened to Hussein had the US not stepped in:

The fact of the matter is that if it hadn’t been for the sanctions which devastated the society and killed hundreds of thousands of people, it’s very likely that the Iraqis themselves would have sent Saddam Hussein to the same fate as other brutal monsters also supported by the people now in Washington, like Ceausescu in Romania or Suharto in Indonesia, or Marcos and a whole string of others. Quite a rogues’ gallery. And probably Saddam would have gone the same way.

Gosh, imagine that. Maybe, just maybe, the people of Iraq could have taken care of their own problem. Before you dismiss such a notion, don't forget that Saddam Hussein was a CIA assett and that the Baathists rose to power largely due to help from the United States.

What's sad is Chomsky wasn't able to defend himself. Bill Maher stepped up a few times in the exchange but for the most part tried to distance himself from Chomsky, which is fine.

Perhaps the funniest statement made by Sullivan was that Chomsky was a supporter of the Soviet Union:

SULLIVAN: There are some views – there are some views – people who support the Soviet Union, as Chomsky did for so long, who’ve supported tyranny in all sorts of places, like Chomsky has done, who have lied consistently, as Chomsky has done, who do not deserve fundamental respect in this sense.

What's funny about it is Chomsky was a huge critic of the former Soviet Union. In his own words:

“I don’t know if you are aware of how funny the line about my supporting Russia is. Two minutes research would have shown him that I've been strongly anti-Leninist throughout my life, in fact from childhood. He may not know it, but the Kremlin surely did. I was utter anathema there, so much so that my entire professional field [linguistics] was banned. I couldn’t even send technical papers to colleagues and friends in Eastern Europe because it would get them into trouble. It wasn’t until the mid-80s that there were any openings. One of the favorite weeks of my life was in about 1980, when I received two dailies denouncing me furiously for my work on transformational grammar: One was Izvestia, denouncing it as counterrevolutionary, and the other was Argentina’s La Prensa (at the peak of the neo-Nazi military dictatorship), denouncing it as dangerously revolutionary. They’re all basically alike, and Sullivan fits in probably better than he knows.”

This is like beating a dead horse but I just had to comment. From what little research I've done it appears that Sullivan has not had much of a response to critics of his ridiculous comments. According to Bill Maher, Noam Chomsky was the most requested guest for over 12 years. Hopefully Chomsky will get another chance to share his views with a wider audience.

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Published in: on May 19, 2006 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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