A Warning From Noam Chomsky on the Threat Posed By Elites
Continued from previous page
Wrecking a Third World country’s economy and savaging its civilians are such standard U.S. elite behavior that it is barely noticed, let alone criticized in the mass media or halls of Congress. Perhaps the most dramatic example of America’s imperial mentality, however, is the answer to the following question: Which nation’s leaders since 1945 have murdered, maimed, made homeless, tortured, assassinated and impoverished the largest number of civilians who were not its own citizens?
I have asked this question of Americans in every walk of life since I discovered the bombing of Laos in 1969. It’s a simple matter of fact, not involving judgments of right and wrong, and I remain astonished at how most answer “the Russians,” “the Chinese,” or just have no idea that their leaders have killed more noncitizen civilians than the rest of the world’s leaders combined since 1945.
The bodies of Indochinese and Iraqi civilians for which U.S. leaders bear responsibility would, if laid end to end, stretch from New York to California. These would include the huge proportion of civilians among the 3.4 million Vietnamese that Robert McNamara estimated were killed in Vietnam (over 90 percent by U.S. firepower), Laotian and Cambodian civilians felled by the largest per capita and most indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets in history, the 1 million to 1.5 million Iraqis estimated by the U.N.‘s Denis Halliday to have died from Clinton’s sanctions “designed,” in Halliday’s words, “to kill civilians, particularly children,” and the hundreds of thousands killed as a result of the Bush invasion. The total number of civilians killed, wounded, made homeless and impoverished by U.S. leaders or local regimes owing their power to U.S. guns and aid—in not only Indochina and Iraq but Mexico, El Salvador, Israel/Palestine, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Egypt, Iran, South Africa, Chile, East Timor, Haiti, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Jamaica, the Philippines and Indonesia—is in the tens of millions.
One can debate whether U.S. military action against Vietnamese communists, Nicaraguan Sandinistas, Saddam Hussein or the Taliban were or are warranted. But there can be no possible justification for waging war that winds up killing and impoverishing much of the civilian population, on whose behalf U.S. leaders claim to fight, in violation of the laws of war and elemental human decency. Nor can anyone who truly believes in democracy support allowing a handful of U.S. leaders to savage civilians abroad without even informing, let alone seeking permission of, Congress and the American people.
The incredible fact that U.S. leaders could inflict such carnage without their citizenry knowing is the single most dramatic example of another of Chomsky’s major themes: “manufactured consent,” produced by (1) constant iterations of U.S leaders’ idealism and desire to promote freedom, supported by the mass media (e.g. when Washington Post columnist David Ignatius called Paul Wolfowitz Bush’s “idealist-in-chief,” even as their invasion was laying waste to Iraq), (2) massive media coverage of the misdeeds of the latest U.S. opponents, and (3) ignoring our own, often far greater, crimes.
Most Americans were fully and appropriately made aware of Taliban assassinations of their opponents, for example. But there was no public discussion of guilt, let alone punishment for those responsible, when Gen. Stanley McChrystal implicitly admitted in the summer of 2009 that the U.S. military had been killing countless Afghan civilians for the previous eight years as a result of air and artillery fire aimed at population centers. Nor are most Americans aware that McChrystal was rewarded with his present post, being in charge of the Afghanistan war, for conducting five years of assassination and torture as head of the top-secret Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq.