Chomsky: How the US Is Playing with Fire in Asia
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An unrelenting critic of U.S. foreign policy since the 1960s, much of his intellectual life has been spent stripping away what he calls America’s “flattering self-image” and the layers of self-justification and propaganda he says it uses to mask its naked pursuit of power and profit around the world.
Now aged 85, Chomsky is still in demand across the world as a public speaker. He maintains a punishing work schedule that requires him to write, lecture and personally answer thousands of emails that flood into his account every week. He is professor emeritus of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, where he has been based for nearly 60 years.
Chomsky will make a rare trip to Tokyo in March, where he is scheduled to give two lectures at Sophia University. Among the themes he will discuss are conceptions of the common good, one deriving from classical liberalism, the other from neoliberal globalization that he predicts will lead to disaster very soon if not radically modified.
“That gives the answer to the question posed in the title of the talk: ‘Capitalist Democracy and the Prospects for Survival,’ ” he says. “The quick answer is ‘dim.’ ”
Tell us about your connections to Japan.
I’ve been interested in Japan since the 1930s, when I read about Japan’s vicious crimes in Manchuria and China. In the early 1940s, as a young teenager, I was utterly appalled by the racist and jingoist hysteria of the anti-Japanese propaganda. The Germans were evil, but treated with some respect: They were, after all, blond Aryan types, just like our imaginary self-image. Japanese were mere vermin, to be crushed like ants. Enough was reported about the firebombing of cities in Japan to recognize that major war crimes were underway, worse in many ways than the atom bombs.
I heard a story once that you were so appalled by the bombing of Hiroshima and the reaction of Americans that you had to go off and mourn alone . . .
Yes. On Aug. 6, 1945, I was at a summer camp for children when the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was announced over the public address system. Everyone listened, and then at once went on to their next activity: baseball, swimming, et cetera. Not a comment. I was practically speechless with shock, both at the horrifying events and at the null reaction. So what? More Japs incinerated. And since we have the bomb and no one else does, great; we can rule the world and everyone will be happy.
I followed the postwar settlement with considerable disgust as well. I didn’t know then what I do now, of course, but enough information was available to undermine the patriotic fairy tale.
My first trip to Japan was with my wife and children 50 years ago. It was linguistics, purely, though on my own I met with people from Beheiren (Citizen’s League for Peace in Vietnam). I’ve returned a number of times since, always to study linguistics. I was quite struck by the fact that Japan is the only country I visited — and there were many — where talks and interviews focused solely on linguistics and related matters, even while the world was burning.
You arrive in Japan at a possibly defining moment: the government is preparing to launch a major challenge to the nation’s six-decade pacifist stance, arguing that it must be “more flexible” in responding to external threats; relations with China and Korea have turned toxic; and there is even talk of war. Should we be concerned?