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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Chomsky helps us understand the world


Chomsky helps us understand the world

Hegemony or Survival: America’s quest for global dominance
By Noam Chomsky
Allen & Unwin, 2003
$24.95 (pb)

From Green Left Weekly, March 10, 2004.

I am lucky enough to have met Noam Chomsky when he was in Sydney, in 1995, when he was defending the East Timorese, long before it became fashionable with the Australian establishment. Some people flew the 4000 kilometres from Perth to hear him speak at his Sydney Town Hall meeting. Those individuals and many others will not be disappointed when they buy Hegemony or Survival, Chomsky’s first major polemical work in 10 years.

In Hegemony or Survival, Chomsky takes apart the United States’ policy of staking out the globe. Although this policy has been in place for over 50 years, US President George Bush’s administration has intensified it.

Chomsky makes the choice clear to us: do we want live under the insane decisions of a powerful elite concerned with maintaining its own power? Or do we have a liveable earth and survive? Chomsky points out that there are two world superpowers, the US and world popular protest and opinion.

Chomsky also makes the case for the US to be tried for terrorism against Cuba and Nicaragua. He further explains: “Atrocities in Colombia include displacement of the population through chemical warfare (called `fumigation’) under the guise of a drug war that is hard to take seriously… And with the people gone, multinationals can strip the mountains for coal, extract oil and other resources… Informed analysts and observers describe Washington’s fumigation programs as another stage in the historical process of driving poor peasants from the land for the benefit of foreign investors and Colombian elites.”

Chomsky details how the US public were conned by Bush and his clique in Washington, and the US media about Hussein and the invasion of Iraq: “Some 60% of Americans came to regard Saddam Hussein as an immediate threat to the US, who must be removed quickly in self-defence. By March, almost half believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks and that the hijackers included Iraqis. Support for the war was strongly correlated with these beliefs.”

Chomsky’s tenacious research skills, and analysis of the words of corporate and imperial elites, are a hallmark of his scholarship demonstrated throughout the book.

Chomsky writes, “Some puzzled notice has been taken of the change in US policy with regard to post-war Iraq. Elsewhere, Washington has been happy to transfer responsibility and costs to others, but in Iraq, it has insisted on running the show itself. There is inconsistency. `Iraq is not East Timor, Kosovo and Afghanistan’, Condoleezza Rice rightly stressed. She did not spell out the distinction. Perhaps it is too transparent: Iraq is a major prize; the others are considered basket cases.”

Chomsky always includes detailed notes to his essays. For this book, he has expanded endnotes on the internet at and and an e-book with more background, discussion and sources. This small powerful work by Noam Chomsky is essential for understanding the world today.

East Timor

We landed in Timor and they certainly weren't white and certainly weren't Christian, but it didn't take that long to learn they had more humanity in their little fingers than we did in our whole bodies.

Cliff Morris, Australian Imperial Force, East Timor 1942‑43

ABC Four Corners 1998

I submit that it is high time that the question of East Timor was voted off the United Nations agenda. That it cease to preoccupy and distract the nations of South East Asia and the Pacific.

Gough Whitlam, former Australian Prime Minister 1972‑75, with a private petition to UN in 1982.

ABC Four Corners 1998

Noam Chomsky’s Australian Visit for East Timor in 1995

Noam Chomsky's press conference in Sydney. I covered it for Green Left Weekly and Radio Skid Row, Noam covered a range of topics. This is a full transcript of gathering. I asked the first question.

Noam Chomsky: The floor is yours.

Togs: I’ve got a question about the history of East Timor during World War Two and the Australian role in it. Do you think there is element of hypocrisy in it, with the Victory in the Pacific celebrations carried out this year, and is the role of East Timor going to be absent?

Noam: We are going to be seeing an orgy of hypocrisy this year as the whole history of the Pacific War is completely rewritten and reshaped to fit later needs. It's fair to predict you're not going to read much this year about what United States-Japanese relations actually were up until Pearl Harbour.

I'd be interested to see how much is publicised about US support for Japanese aggression all the way through. The business community supported it. Joseph Grew, the ambassador to Japan, an influential diplomat, was supporting Japanese aggressions-rather the way many people in Australia today are referring to the Indonesian aggression in East Timor: you know, it may not be very pretty, but it's good for business and ultimately the best thing.

This went on almost up to Pearl Harbour. The great atrocity at Pearl Harbour, ``the day that will live in infamy'', was certainly a crime, in fact a war crime. But remember what it was.

It was an attack by the Japanese on two military bases in colonies the US had recently stolen from their inhabitants, in the case of the Philippines in extraordinarily brutal fashion, killing hundreds of thousands people; in the case of Hawaii just by deceit and power play.

Attacks on military bases in colonies that have been stolen from their inhabitants doubtless are crimes, but in the annals of crime in this century, they don't rank very high.

And the US was apparently willing to make a deal with Japan if Japan would allow the US the same kind of access in China that it was gaining. That's what it looks like from the diplomatic records.

Nor will you hear a lot about the decision of the British in 1932 to close off the empire, which included Australia at that time, to Japanese exports for the simple reason that Britain could no longer compete with the Japanese. So free market ideology was naturally thrown out the window: it's only OK when you're going to win. If you're going to lose, you call the game off. That was one of the factors that led to the war.

Japan's crimes, which were vicious, didn't arouse much opposition in the West. The same was true in Europe. Both the State Department and the British Foreign Office….we now have plenty of declassified records…. were rather ambivalent about Hitler, in fact rather supportive of him. Up until 1937, the US State Department, European division, described Hitler as a moderate whom we have to support. He stands between extremists of left and right, and unless we support Hitler, the masses might rise and try to steal what's not theirs….the same sort of thing you hear in support of every monster and killer and murderer in subsequent years.

The British were even worse. Lord Halifax went to Germany around 1937-1938. He explained to Hitler, We understand your moderate position; the British were coming around to approval of it and so forth. Even after the Battle of Britain, even after the British had been attacked and bombed by the Germans, in internal Foreign Office records the main critique of the Stalin-Hitler Pact was that it probably gives too much power to the Russians.

With regard to Australia and East Timor, I hope that the Australians will be honest enough to describe what happened. Australia attacked Timor. It might have escaped the war if they hadn't. Macau, for example, was not [attacked by the Japanese]. Portugal was a fascist country and sort of a quasi-ally of the Japanese. They might have left Timor alone, as they left Macau alone.

But Australia attacked 10 days or so after Pearl Harbour, and that brought Timor into the war. Japan then invaded and there were a couple of hundred Australian commandos who fought a courageous battle and probably kept Japan from a possible attack on Australia. Michelle Turner's oral history on this came out recently, about Australians who were fighting there, and some of them point out frankly that if it hadn't been for the assistance of the Timorese, they would have been killed. Which means that Australia may have well been protected from invasion by the blood of Timorese.

The official Australian estimate is around 40,000 killed. Jim Dunn has looked into this intensively and estimates about 60,000 Timorese killed.

Most of them were killed after the Australians withdrew in 1943. At that point the Japanese really went wild and attacked what they called collaborators with the Australians, certainly tens of thousands of Timorese. You can decide how much that means to Australians. I would think it would mean something, and paying back this debt by supporting the Indonesian invasion is not one of the prettiest parts of modern history.

Question: Professor Chomsky what would you like Australia to do on the issue of East Timor?

Noam: Well, start with narrow things. The narrowest thing it ought to is rescind this grotesque decision to sell rifles to Indonesia on the grounds that Australia now has a new niche market in Indonesia. Protests in the US led Congress to restrict small arms sales. So Australia leapt in with all sorts of fraudulent excuses of the usual type but mainly because you make money. That's the main reason, and that's pretty ugly.

The next thing I think Australia ought to do is withdraw from the Timor Gap Treaty, now, independently of what the World Court may decide. The Timor Gap Treaty is completely offensive to decent human beings. It's as if Libya had made a deal with Iraq to rob Kuwaiti oil after the Iraqi invasion. Imagine what the world reaction would have been to that.

Part of the original Australian reason for supporting the invasion, which was explained by ambassador Woolcott in a later leaked secret cable, was that you could probably make a better deal robbing Timorese of their oil with Indonesia than with Portugal or an independent East Timor. That kind of reason for supporting aggression and slaughter and massacres is not very impressive.

Even the wording of the treaty is extremely offensive. It's as if Australia went out of its way to be as ugly as it could possibly be about it. There's nothing in the treaty that even offers a cent for the benefit of the East Timorese.

It seems to me Australia has taken a position towards Indonesia which should be offensive to Australians. It is sort of grovelling. I don't think there's any reason for Australia to do that.

Question: What are your views on Bougainville?

Australia I think was the last actual colonial power. As far as I recall, Papua New Guinea was the last colony to be given independence, and it's a nominal independence that holds between the former imperial power and its colony.

In Bougainville there's another major atrocity going on in which Australia is playing a role now. It is definitely a role in helping the PNG government to suppress an independence movement of people who simply doesn't want their resources robbed.

This is incidentally going on all over the region. Australia was going to lose at the World Court on the Nauru case, lose to a separate settlement. Australia had led the way; New Zealand and Britain were simply participants to robbing the resources of this island, phosphates in this case.

The Bougainville case is similar. It's resource robbery. The population wants independence and has a right to it.

Question: What would you like Australia to do about East Timor?

Start with narrow things. The narrowest thing it ought to do is rescind this grotesque decision to sell rifles to Indonesia.

Question: The argument's been if we don't sell them [Indonesia] arms, someone else will.

Noam: There's proof of it: when the US stopped selling them arms, Australia moved right in to do it. Australia is a small player. As soon as the US began to back off, Britain saw the opportunity, especially under the Thatcher government, just as they were selling arms to Saddam Hussein and so on.

They'll happily sell arms to anybody. They moved in on a massive scale. France will try. In fact, all the way down to the Swedish Social Democratic Party: as soon as they got into office, they switched from being pro-Timorese to being pro-making money.

These things are largely symbolic. The fact that the US is not selling arms is a message to Indonesia. It's saying, “Look, the world doesn't like what you're doing”.

Question: The Wall Street Journal has come out in an editorial saying Indonesia should get out East Timor. Does this mean East Timor is no longer a radical issue, and what does this say about your media theory of manufacturing consent?

Noam: The idea that one should oppose murder and aggression is not a radical position. As far as the mass media are concerned I think it illustrates the thing I've often said. The news part of the Wall Street Journal is some of the best news coverage in the world. The reason is one that I've talked about. Their constituency is people who matter. That's the business community, and the business community has to have a fairly realistic picture of what is happening in the world; otherwise they're in trouble.

So the news coverage in the WSJ and in the Financial Times often tends to be the best. The editorial stance of the WSJ is jingoist fanaticism; I usually read it for comic effect. That editorial stance of the WSJ in this I think reflects an opinion of corporate America.

The opinion of corporate America is: our interest in Indonesia primarily is robbery; it's to gain access to its resources and to control them and make profit and have super-cheap labour. Those interests are not being enhanced by the international program associated with this relatively marginal question.

There is enough popular protest so they just don't want to be bothered. It's gravel in their shoes too. And their advice to Indonesia is: get it out of your shoes, you're going to control the place anyway through neo-colonial methods. So just get out and let them have their vote for independence and figure out ways of robbing them. We'll get their oil anyhow.

Question: What do you think of the democratic movement in Indonesia?

Noam: Indonesia imposed incredibly harsh censorship over what it was doing in East Timor for the usual reasons. They are afraid of their own population. Every state from totalitarian to democratic is afraid of its own population, and that's the primary reason for government secrecy.

In the case of East Timor, the Indonesian government was so afraid of its own population that it kept the whole thing secret. Indonesians simply didn't know. Indonesian students who came to the US were amazed to discover what their government was doing. They didn't believe it at first.

But it is gradually seeping through, partly because the soldiers are coming back, families know somebody was killed, things drift out. There are some very courageous people -- George Aditjondro is the most well known -- who have been working on this for years and have been outspoken. It's not easy to be outspoken in Indonesia.

Several of the Indonesian student associations have come out with quite strong statements calling for Indonesia to get out. There is a union movement. Most of the leaders are in jail or get killed, but they're fighting.

When people talk about supporting Indonesia, that's just Orwellism. You have to ask: which Indonesia are you supporting? Are you supporting General Suharto and his cronies or are you supporting the people who are trying to organise the women workers under miserable conditions so that they can survive?

You may have seen a letter that Jill Joliffe had in one of the Australian newspapers recently. She's an Australian journalist, who was recently expelled from East Timor, and the Australian embassy treated her pretty badly. In the letter she pointed out that Australia is not making friends with the people who sooner or later are bound to take control of Indonesia, namely its own democratic forces. Those people are going to hate Australia for what it's done. I think she had her finger on the pulse.

Question: Considering the large amounts of money that goes to the military obviously to help the situation in East Timor, do you think it is appropriate that countries like Australia and the US and the multilateral agency to put so much development money into Indonesia and also could you comment on your earlier remark that US aid is correlated with torture?

Noam: Well, I’ll start with the later if you like. There are some studies of this if you want to check. On Latin America, there is a study by the leading academic scholar on human rights in Latin America. His name is Lars Shultz of the University of North Carolina and he is very mainstream and highly respected scholar, who’s written the big books on human rights in Latin America, and he did a study back in 1980 which came out in a professional journal, Power and Politics, I think, in which he studied US aid in Latin America.

He discovered what everyone should have known, that it was highly correlated with torture. As he put it, the more a country tortures its citzens greater the violation of human rights, the higher will be US aid. This included military aid. It was a careful study.

Independent of need, it wasn’t that countries that torture are more needy. It went right through the Carter years. In the Reagan years it is not worth undertaking a study. It is kind of like showing that Stalin wasn’t democratic.

There is a broader study by a colleague of mine, Edward Herman, who is an economist with him I’ve written a lot. He did a global study in which he essentially the same correlation. We have it in a joint book. He actually did a more interesting study which explains what’s going on. It’s not that the United States like torture, they don’t care one way or another about torture. What he showed is US aid is very highly correlated with what are called improvements in investment climate.
Improvements in the investment climate are measured by things like, the ability to repatriate profits, ease of access to resources, all sorts ot things and that is what really correlates with aid. Well, it happens that there is a correlation with improvement in the investment climate and torture. The best way to improve investment climate is to murder labour leaders, torture priests and that sort of thing. That sort of thing improves investment climate. So there is a secondary correlation between aid and torture, only it is not they like torture, it is essentially that torture is irrelevant. What they like is power and profit. One of the techniques of getting power and profit is torture, so aid correlates with torture and that is very standard and goes right up to the present. The leading recipient of US military aid in Latin America is now Colombia, which receives more than half of US military aid for the hemisphere, going up under Clinton. And it is the leading violator in
Latin America by a long shot. It is a murderous state that has killed thousands of people. They just killed their two thousandth and two hundred and twenty fifth member of only dissident political party just a couple of weeks ago.

Just to give one example. So naturally they get most of the aid because the aid is military aid.

Now for going back to your first question the development aid for Indonesia. Development aid is a mixed story. First of all you have to look carefully at what that development aid for Indonesia. Development aid is a mixed story. First of all you have to look carefully at what that development aid is. A lot of what is called development aid is really for anti-social purposes. So for example, development aid goes to help transmigration, say like getting excess people they don’t want in Java and putting them in Irian Jaya or East Timor. Well, that is called development aid but I don’t think the term should be used for that. A lot of what is called is development aid is export promotion. In fact, virtually the majority of aid is aid from the public to its own corporations. Take US aid or British aid or probably Australian aid, you’ll find if you look is mostly aid from the citizens of the country to the corporations of that country. The aid is tied in all sorts of ways to use of services and products from the country that is giving aid. It si a technique of export promotion which the public pays for through taxes but the aid is actually going from the poor to the rich, inside the country that is giving the aid, others may or may not benefit from it. On the other hand, some aid is real, seriously. So let me give you an example. Here is a story that you should be able to figure out better than I can. There was an article in the Age recently, saying that Australia is involved in a programme to do with the HIV/Aids problems in Indonesia which are getting seriously apparently, OK. That is serious programme that should be carried out, however, that article pointed out that one, so-called province of Indonesia is excluded from this, namely East Timor which it claimed has one of the highest incidents. They said the second highest whatever that means, probably nothing you know, but the idea that Australia giving aid on a HIV/aids project and excluding East Timor, that’s not very pretty again, to put it mildly. So, the project sure but not the exclusion. That has nothing to do with incorporation or anything else. You would give to a conquered territory too! But the project itself is a reasonable project and I don’t think aid givers should be permitted to get away this. If that is what is happening. You have to look at projects case by case, some of them are harmful, some of them are beneficial. You take a look at World Bank projects over the years. Even by the World Bank’s own analysis, a high number of them, maybe thirty per cent or so have been diasters and the reason is they are basically not given to hep people. The aid is basically given to powerful people, incidentally, it may help or harm other people but it is up to citizens to do something about this. Development aid, I think is generally a good thing but there isn’t much of it.

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