“If you want to end terrorism, stop participating in it”. That is the central message of Power and Terror, a set of talks and interviews given by Noam Chomsky following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

2700 civilians killed; a terrible crime, indefensible. This we can all agree on. 2700 - approximately the number of civilians killed by the US military in a typical week during the Viet Nam war. Or the number of Kurd civilians killed in a week by the Turkish government with the blessing and support of the Clinton administration. Or the number of civilians killed in a typical week in East Timor with the blessing and support of the Eisenhower administration, and again by the Clinton administration. Or the number of civilians killed in a couple of weeks by the CIA in Nicaragua when it attacked the democratic government there in the 1980s, with Reagan’s support and blessing. Or the number of Kurds killed by Saddam Hussein with the support and blessing of the Bush I administration.

A pattern emerges: it’s only terrorism if it is done by oppressed people, and only if it is done to privileged people. If it is done by us, or by Israel, or by South Africa (until 1990), or by one of our puppet states (Iraq before the attack on Kuwait, Indonesia, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala), then it is not terrorism. It is counter-terrorism, or it is proactive response to terrorism, or it is legitimate security concerns. If a bus is blown up by a Palestinian and 10 Israelis are killed, that is news, for days and weeks - and rightly so. If a village is destroyed by Israeli tanks and 50 Palestinians are killed, that is not news. It is not even reported in the US press, as often as not.

Chomsky reserves special scorn for western liberal intellectuals. In his view they simply promulgate the colonialist/neo-imperialist line, and are unable or unwilling to take a moral stance when evaluating the causes and effects of organized violence. He points out case after case of state terrorism, conducted by Israel, by the United States, or by a US puppet government, that are not reported in the mainstream media at all, or if reported is never reported as the terrorism that it is.

On a slightly different topic, Chomsky mentions a study that was done that found a near perfect correlation between US foreign aid and torture. US foreign aid is actually miniscule, compared to other wealthy countries. But such aid as there is goes predominantly to governments that torture their citizens. Chomsky notes that correlation does not imply causation, and in fact he believes that the US government is not especially interested in promoting torture (remember: this was written before the revelations of torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition and so on). He cites another more comprehensive study that sought to correlate US foreign aid with a wide variety of factors. That study found near perfect correlation between foreign aid and the ease of foreign ‘investment’ - i.e. the ease with which US and other international corporations can take over a country’s natural resources. Chomsky’s take on this is that in such countries repression is necessary because people naturally do not like to have their resources taken away by foreign corporations. So in those countries there is brutality against labor organizers, peasants, and so on.

You can like Chomsky, or not. But I would challenge you to contest his facts, and I would wonder what conclusions you would draw differently from those facts.



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Metadata Info

  • Title: Power and Terror: Post-9-11 Talks and Interviews
  • Author: Noam Chomsky
  • Published: 2003
  • ISBN: 1583225900
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 4.0 stars