Screen Reviews

Distorted Morality

by Noam Chomsky

Silent Films


To some, MIT linguist Noam Chomsky is an American-hating demon; to others he is a fact spouting god. This DVD, which consists of a talk given at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard during February of 2002, will provide either viewpoint with more ammunition by which to denigrate or praise.

The talk was entitled “America’s War On Terror?”, and being a linguist, Chomsky quickly dismisses the concept as being so illogical, language-wise, that intelligent people should rightly balk at the term. Much like the equally ineffective “War On Drugs,” terror is not a person, place or thing that can be identified and fought – and without a clear enemy, how can victory ever be proclaimed? It cannot, nor, as Chomsky points out, will it ever be. It is in the best interests of the state to have such “wars” continue forever. That is what states do.

Chomsky then addresses the larger, more inflammatory aspect of the “War On Terror” by first accepting the term “terrorism” as defined by the United States government, via the Department of Defense:

“the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”

This is a widely accepted use of the term, easy to understand, but seemingly so difficult to apply fairly. As Chomsky points out, any rational person will rightly conclude that the US government engages, as a matter of policy, in terrorism. To deny this is to be a hypocrite. The war in Afghanistan against innocent civilians, which was ongoing at the time this talk was given, is Chomsky’s prime example, but of course the war in Iraq fits equally well. He admits that to many in our society this definition rankles, that it cannot apply to us, since we are “in the right.” Good vs. evil and all that. As Chomsky deftly points out, this narrow viewpoint is so plainly wrong as to almost not be worthy of further debate. He mentions our governments resistance to the offer put forward by the Taliban – provide any evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in the events of 9/11/2001 and we will turn him over. Bush scoffed at the offer, stating that he wouldn’t negotiate with terrorists. Perhaps, as Chomsky illustrates, the real reason was that it isn’t in the government’s best interest to apprehend bin Laden and try him in a courtroom, where the details of our nation’s arming of the Taliban during Soviet-led war in Afghanistan would come to light. This is but one of numerous examples given by Chomsky, and if approached with an open mind, they are compelling.

The debate over our war in Iraq has become so polarized both in our country and around the world that it has become exactly as Bush stated – either you are with us, or against us. People such as Chomsky (and most of the world outside our borders) want America to deal honestly with the issues it faces, and be held accountable when it errs. The other side, voiced by talk radio hatemongers such as Sean Hannity, are content to spout government propaganda with increasingly shrill tones, labeling those who oppose a war as “un-American” and worse.

In the question and answer segment of the DVD someone asks Chomsky what people should do to combat the “repression” of the anti-war movement, and Chomsky is correct to rightly scoff at such an idea. When Kennedy was bombing South Vietnam, no one protested, and it went on for years. The last 40 years has seen a remarkable “civilizing” (to use his term) of the American people, to the point that massive protests are launched long before the first bombs fall in a conflict. People are largely free to protest anything they wish, and the amount of harassment they suffer is minor compared to what occurs in other nations when someone attempts to question the state. It is our responsibility to continue such protests, to attempt to persuade as many people as possible, because otherwise, as he is quick to point out, again and again, it is each of us – not some ethereal presence called “America” – that is performing terrorism around the world.

Noam Chomsky is vilified by many for his stance that America is the largest supporter of state terrorism in the world. His 40 years of writings on the influence of Israel in our nation’s affairs has seen him labeled as “America hating,” which is clearly in error. Why would you continue, for the majority of your adult life, to criticize a country that you hold no fondness for? That makes no sense. It is a passionate regard for the potential of our great country that compels the Chomskys of our time to speak out. It is the shame they feel at the lies of our government that makes them act. It is their desire to protect our way of life, a way of life marked by human rights and freedom from tyranny – not the way of life that has us murdering innocent civilians in order to preserve the might of the state anywhere we choose for economic gain – that is the motivating factor. For this they should be applauded and emulated, not scorned. If the concepts articulated on this DVD make you angry, take a moment to analyze why. Is it because his facts and opinions are wrong?

Or is it because they might be right?

Silent Films:

Recently on Ink 19...

Best of Five

Best of Five

Screen Reviews

Not everyone can be excited by blocks spinning on a screen, but if you are, Ian Koss recommends you pay attention to Best of Five.



Event Reviews

Jeremy Glazier shoots a CAKE headline show at McGrath Amphitheater.