Noam Chomsky discusses his book "American Power and the New Mandarins"
BROADCAST: Jan. 19, 1970 | DURATION: 00:52:53
Noam Chomsky discusses his book "American Power and the New Mandarins," the Vietnam war, and the role of intellectuals, including interview with A.J. Muste; audio is slowed down from 47:30 - 52:52.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Professor Noam Chomsky is an eminent scholar in the field of linguistics, a full professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But perhaps is best known these days as the most perceptive and courageous social and political critic. His recent book, issued by Vintage, "American Power and the New Mandarins", consist of historical and political essays dealing primarily with the intellectual and his role these traumatic and unprecedented days. One of the chapters deals with A.J. Muste, a revolutionary pacifist so described by Professor Chomsky. I thought, perhaps, before hearing our guest, the voice of A.J. Muste, one had asked him a question about Churchill being chosen by "Time" magazine as Man of the Half Century, a time in which Mahatma Gandhi also lived. A.J. Muste during the week of his 80th birthday, replied.
A.J. Muste And I think that one of the symbols of the significance of what is happening in our time is that it is precisely in the age of Winston Churchill, let's say on the one hand, and Lenin, on the other, who are exemplars of violence in an extreme sense, and I don't mean by that as individuals, that is precisely in this period that we also have Mahatma Gandhi. I think there's no question that for the future historians, the people who will stand out in our period will be on the one hand, Mahatma Gandhi and on the other hand, the two figures who fought each other, so to speak, uh, in the Western world and who are the exemplars of the violence into which we have moved, namely Lenin and Winston Churchill, and I think also in this connection it is significant that Churchill, who was a very great war leader and, uh, exemplified the virtues of heroism and of persistence, nevertheless, uh, having said that he would not preside at the liquidation of the British Empire, actually did have to witness the liquidation of the empire for which he had fought so nobly, and the great qualities of which he had exemplified.
Studs Terkel Isn't this interesting? The 20th century has seen the end of an empire that Sir Winston represented, then he is not really -- if the 20th century is one that can see the end of all man, thanks to nuclear bombs at the same time, thanks to nuclear energy, the beginning of something new, then it's not a man of war, but a man of peace who might be the 20th century man.
A.J. Muste Yes, I think that that is, as a matter of just a simple, stark fact uh, what, uh, has to happen in the 20th century, given on the one hand, the technological weapons with which we can wipe mankind out several times over and given, on the other hand, the closeness in which men live, and the instrumentalities of a domination which we have in the means of communication and in the new psychology and so on, uh, we are either in one way or another, gonna destroy man, or we are going to see, I think, the development of a new man who will have left behind the violence, the domination, because there will be so many ways, not only in a physical sense that he won't be confronted with the hunger anymore and so on, the lack of a place to live in, but so many ways in the intellectual and in the spiritual sense in which human beings can find fulfillment.
Studs Terkel As you listen to the voice of A.J. Muste, Professor Chomsky, so many thoughts come to your mind, particularly the theme of the intellectual, the person who seems to know more than other people since he seems so privileged. This is one of the recurring themes in your series of essays. It has been described as a first draft of a new declaration of an independent intellectual independence.
Noam Chomsky Well, I guess the main thought that comes to my mind is that Muste himself would have been a very strong candidate for great American of the 20th century. And also he indicates what -- how the uh, how different are the categories of expert and the category of intellectual, and Muste was a, uh, was an intellectual par excellence. He was a, he was a serious thinker and a person who put his thoughts into action with the principle and with the, ah, great conviction of understanding. Yet he would never I, I doubt if he, he certainly never was an assistant professor anywhere.
Studs Terkel That point itself, that one of your first essays in the book, "American Power and the New Mandarins", deals with the University and we -- Senator Fulbright spoke of it by default, allowing itself not to challenge the military and industry, whereas that is obvious, it's natural role.
Noam Chomsky Yes, I think one of the great tragedies of the American university is since the Second World War and pointed up very, very properly and correctly by Fulbright, is that it has to some extent abdicated its role of, of being an independent, analytic, critical voice where ideas are studied on their merits, free from the political controls of the, of the state or the controls of the, of other centers of power, private power in the society. Of course, it's very ironic that while this has happened, uh, the myth has grown that the universities are free from, uh, from control. And it's striking that now that students have become aware and awakened to this and are trying to redress the balance and to, uh, to, uh uh, return to what, in fact, is the liberal classical, liberal ideal of the university, namely an institution free from the control of, of religion, of state, of private power. When this has happened, the, there's a great outcry that students are trying to politicize the universities. Actually what they're doing is trying to restore them to their position of independence, of external, of civil authority.
Studs Terkel You point out in that first essay objectivity, that word, and liberal scholarship, that the attack on the students or the challenge with the students is they're too emotional, quite irrational, whereas the scholar, the senior faculty member is objective in his approach, detached.
Noam Chomsky Well, they are detached and they're detached from the kind of people I was talking about there, are detached from any ah, human response to the kind of horror that they are creating. Uh, frankly, I would much -- although I don't like to see emotional and irrational reactions, I certainly do feel that one should feel -- they should -- I don't see how one can fail to feel extremely, to have a very strong emotional reaction to this, to the kind of atrocity that's been manufactured by these independent scholars.
Noam Chomsky They work objectively within a framework of assumptions which is not challenged, and the framework of assumptions is, uh such, is in effect, a colonialist framework. That is, they objectively try to, ah, to maximize America to find the means which will most efficaciously maximize American power. Within that framework I'm sure they work in a very objective fashion. But of course, the framework gives away the whole story.
Studs Terkel Yeah. The framework itself, we'll come to the question of euphemisms and reality and surreality. But you quote on page six, isn't it Randolph Bourne, so your, your essay is also a called historical essay, and so it isn't the first -- this is a quote: "The war has revealed a younger intelligentsia, trained in the pragmatic dispensation immensely ready for the executive ordering of events," and goes on to speak of the young intellectual seemed to suddenly come into power. And the year, though, was 1917, was the time of the First World War.
Noam Chomsky Yeah, wars have a way of bringing out that characteristic in the technical intelligentsia, and I think it's very -- well, uh, Bourne's description of the intelligentsia of his age fits in a very accurate, very accurate way the reaction of many academic intellectuals to the call to Washington in the early 1960s with Kennedy. Again, there's a great hunger for power, a desire to be close to the center of power and to use it in a pragmatic way without much -- without any concern for the quality of the ends being sought, these merely were taken for granted. They were given by higher authority, and the intelligentsia, to a large extent, saw it as their task to, uh, to achieve those ends most effectively, that is, invariably leads to tragedy.
Studs Terkel He also points out of those who might be described as the malcontents, here too 1917: "Irritation at things as they are, discussed with the frustrations and aridities of American life, deep dissatisfaction with self and groups that give them their selves. The fact that here is a hopeful note and they are not," writes Randolph Bourne in 1917, "Barbarians," as some of the young dissenters are called "the new barbarians," "but seek the vital and sincere everywhere."
Noam Chomsky Yeah, I quoted those remarks because I thought that they were a good characterization of the conflict that's now developing between, uh, between young people who are sickened by what they see and the technical intelligentsia who are, to a large extent, their teachers, who have created, who've helped to create this, this, uh, uh, rather awful picture.
Studs Terkel As you're citing, throughout you cite chapter and verse on the horrendous too, and startling -- maybe not too startling anymore, of the academicians in various universities who either work with the State Department or some governmental who use the euphemisms. You know, since, since linguistics is your field, I'm sure you find this very fascinating, your book is very ironic as well.
Noam Chomsky Well, I think that perhaps in this book I may have exaggerated the role that the academic intellectuals play. I think, of course, they're closer to home to me, and what they do is, in a sense, more important to me, which and I think it would be a fair criticism of the book to suggest that, to say that I may have suggested, may have exaggerated the actual impact they have on the formation of policy. But one role that they play, which I think is important, is to give a, an air of plausibility to policies that are initiated from a very different source. And they give this air of plausibility to it by the technical expertise that they claim to bring by the kind of terminology that they use to describe it, by the general tendency in our society to trust experts to come out with the right answers to things. So if the experts say we should have a saturation bombing of Vietnam, then who am I, a poor slob in the streets, to tell him that he's wrong? Well, of course, as, uh, the example of A.J. Muste shows perfectly well, the -- there are no experts in the question of how to inter-relate, of how to relate to other people and to their strivings for freedom. These are, there is no expertise in that matter. That's something that has to, where one has to take a stand on the basis of his conviction and his understanding.
Studs Terkel You're talking about this guy, uh, who is not the expert. He may be the man driving the cab. He may be the waitress. He may be the maintenance guy. He may be the accountant for that matter, says "The man up there, he must know," and often you hear this, and the man up there also has the academicians at his side to provide the language that seems so professorial.
Noam Chomsky Yeah, you know, there's some really striking examples of this for -- I don't know, I read a couple of a couple months ago, there was an article in "Science", you know, a very good journal of the triple AS, American Academy for the Advancement of Science, which was a, oh, a very dispassionate, objective study of the effects of defoliation in Vietnam. And there's a technical study, I'm sure there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, but in a sense, it was a kind of a horror story. I mean, here is a man who goes to Vietnam and studies perfectly dispassionately the effect of this defoliation policy which by now has destroyed maybe 16% of Vietnamese forested area, and nobody knows how many, perhaps 1000 square miles of, of crop-growing land. And he investigates the question of whether, in fact, this will destroy -- whether this will destroy the, uh, this will turn it into a desert permanently, what effect this will have on the ecology, I mean, whether the people will be able to live, and you know perfectly, uh, he never, he never mentions the fact that that, uh, the quality of what we are doing to the people who live there, the character of this, this this biocide that we're carrying out in their land. That's not, you know, that's not his business. I mean, his business is something else, namely, to give a technical, careful, accurate investigation of the effect of our policy. Now, you know, the reliance on experts is in effect, the -- is granting to policymakers the option of carrying out any policy that they choose, for whatever reason, and it's saying that the only kind of criticism that can be raised of this policy is the question, is criticism based on the question of whether, in fact, it's working, whether some other policy might be more effective, you know whether this policy is leading to unwanted effects and therefore we try something else. I mean, the criticism that ought to be raised by the citizen, the criticism that it's his responsibility to develop, namely what are we trying to achieve? You know, what the ends of policy? Why are we, why are we sending our, why are we sending our military force to interfere with the lives and, uh, and world of these people? That's, that these questions were put to the side, because, of course, these, I say these are not questions where there is any expertise that can be brought.
Studs Terkel Of course, this is the recurring theme of all your essays here, that our motives are never questioned and some representatives, whether in political life or on the academy, are shocked that our motives be questioned. You point out this is the case in uh, Lord Cornwallis in India, the Japanese in Manchurian, the parallel applies here, too.
Noam Chomsky Now see, that something that's very stri-- it's very commonly said and correctly, that that Americans are not trying to conquer the word world out of malice, they, that we're not intervening in other countries in order to destroy them. You know, that really we have their best interests at heart. Of course, I think to a large extent that's true. That's certainly true of the common man, so to speak. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if that's true of a lot of people who develop policy as well. What we do -- what American historians and political analysts somehow keep secret or don't know themselves, perhaps, is that this has also been true of virtually every other imperialist aggressive power in history. Uh, every -- when the British moved into India, let's say, and uprooted and destroyed Indian society, they did it with the best of motives. They were just bringing to the Indians the kind of society that they knew perfectly well was the best kind, because that's the kind they had, you know, that's the kind that fit their interests best, so obviously it would be best for the Indians. Uh, uh, the Japanese are another example. In fact, you know, even the apologists for Nazi Germany, uh, spoke about how, though this and that was wrong and unfortunate and so on and so forth, nevertheless, Germany represented the spiritual hope of Western civilization, and there was no spiritual civilization since the Greeks, and therefore it's for the benefit of the human race that the Germans should, you know, succeed in, let's say, establishing their hegemony. And so on. I mean, it's very rare that that any, uh, I mean, nobody likes to think of himself as a, you know, gangster or cutthroat. I mean, people develop a, an ideology, a set of beliefs, way of looking at things that makes it appear that what they're doing is really for the good of the people in whose lives they are intervening, whose lives they're affecting. And we're no different than anyone else
Studs Terkel Professor Chomsky, Noam Chomsky is our guest, and the conversation is 'round and about the themes of his essays, "American Power and the New Mandarins". Powerful work may I suggest, Vintage the publishers, and on the subject of meaning well, you know, someone said, "Little, little difference between doing people good and doing people good." But the -- Woodrow Wilson, a professor at Princeton in 1902, was speaking about those other people, teaching to be like us, self-restraint and keeping them down, and meaning well, no doubt.
Noam Chomsky Oh, yeah. We were going to, when -- you see, he was speaking -- it's an interesting quotation. I think he was speaking with the Latin Americans, actually. But that was just at the time when we were fighting a war in the Philippines, which was very similar to the Vietnamese war today in fact. And of course, at that time we were -- we killed about -- its if you, you know, if you sort of remember your high school history, you perhaps have the impression that we were fighting against the Spanish in the Philippines. But of course that wasn't true at all. The Spanish were all gone. We were fighting against the Filipinos. We were fighting against the Filipino independence movement in 1898 through 1904 or five, and we killed about 100,000 Filipinos in the course of bringing to them the values of Western civilization, which is what we claimed we were doing. We were saving them from the savage heathen, the Savage Moros, and in the, it was in in that context that Woodrow Wilson spoke about our benevolence in bringing the, the attitudes of Western commercial society to the Latin Americans so that they could, could advance. And you know, this kind of thing, which is very typical, reminds me of, always reminds me of a very apt statement that was made by the Premier of Ceylon, Mrs. Bandaranaike a couple of years ago. She said that she thought the best form of foreign aid that the United States could give to other countries of the world was to keep their hands, its hands out of their affairs. And I think that's quite accurate.
Studs Terkel There's some, isn't there one difference? The seeds were always there of the academician Randolph Bourne's day, Woodrow Wilson's from five, 15 years before saying it, the difference now is technological development, isn't it? That makes perhaps the
Noam Chomsky Well
Noam Chomsky For one thing, there's no doubt that technology has advanced considerably, the social sciences as a technique of control and domination have advanced to some extent, not as much as they claim to. But one thing that's changed is our tendency to rely on experts, our awe of expertise, which is so common now and in some sense justified. I mean, if you want to build a bridge, you, you know, you rely on the engineer. If you have a sickness, you rely on the doctor. But this -- in a highly specialized, advanced industrial society like ours, it makes a good deal of sense to pay attention to experts in particular areas. Now, this awe of expertise, of course, gives the technical intelligentsia a new role in protection of policy, because they can capitalize on our general awe of expertise to make it appear that when we intervene in the affairs of another country, we're simply doing it under the control of the best, of the best educated, most, you know, the best students of the situation, so therefore, who can object? Sometimes this reaches almost, you know, really crazy proportions. I read a -- John Fairbanks [sic - Fairbank] is the sort of dean of China scholars, you know, gave a speech at the last American Historical Association, was just reported recently in the Boston newspaper like, I don't -- that's the only place I saw the text. I don't know if I can't -- guarantee that they quoted him correctly, but according to what, the way they quote him, he said that, something like this, he said that "Many people have, uh, that many students and professors make a lot of noise about the war in Vietnam and they protest and so on and so forth. But he said, none of them have had the moral integrity and the courage of their convictions to demand that we have better uh, uh, programs in which we study Vietnam. Says, if we're, if we're going to, the least we can do for these people, you know, whose lives we're destroying, whose country we're tearing apart is to understand them, and he ends by saying, "When are all these people going to shut up and get to work?" So his recommendation to the academic, to the student, to the scholar, to the citizen, is you know, shut up and study the Vietnamese. Let somebody else do the, you know, do the job of tearing their society to pieces. We study them. That's the best gift that we can
Noam Chomsky Well, you know, it's sometimes very hard to know, and I did put in a couple of footnotes there when I said I wasn't quite sure whether what I was quoting was meant seriously or was meant as irony. If it's meant seriously, then it's very bad. If it's meant as irony, of course, it's a testimony to what I'm talking about rather than an instance of it.
Studs Terkel Seriously, on the, on the, now seriously, because on this matter of schools and teaching us about Vietnam, you suggest in one of your essays, I remember that, isn't it, it's about, I suppose, our not teaching our young the truth of the culture and the history of this country and the depredations in it by invaders for thousands of years would be equivalent to the French not teaching children about Algiers or the Russians about the Hungarian uprising or Czechoslovakia for that matter.
Noam Chomsky Well, although you know, I am of two minds about that, frankly. I think it's true that by not teaching the truth, we give a very false picture of our own history and of our own nature in a sense. On the other hand, you know, to a certain extent we do teach the truth, and the effects are really, really startling. In this article that you have over there, I quoted some
Noam Chomsky Well, it includes something which really shocked me when I saw it. I, I mention in the article that I had read a statement by a very good Pakistani social scientist, [__ Akmed?], who had pointed out that it strikes him as so shocking that America turns, makes, makes games and out of its genocide and turns the extermination of the Indians into the object of children's play and children's stories and so on and so forth. Well, this seemed like a strong statement, and I happened to be looking -- my daughter is in the fourth grade at a very good public school, and I was looking through her social science textbook. And I came across this incredible story of how the New England Indians had -- New Englanders had the, you know, the Pilgrims had wiped out, uh, Indian tribe, you know, just sort of decimated it, destroyed it. And the story is told, just a matter-of-fact way, and in the, you know, the story is about a kid named Robert who is learning about the glories of New England, New England history. And he listens to this story about how the settlers sneaked in and, you know, killed all, killed everybody and burned down the village and drove them away, and how, from that time on, the Indians knew what good fighters the white men were and didn't bother anyone. And his reaction to this is to say, "I wish I were a man and had been there," and that's the end of that story. So, you know, we're telling the truth in a way, but think of the, the effect that this has on, on, on something that kids pay attention to what they're taught in school, which is perhaps questionable. But if it has any impact, the impact is simply to habituate them, to make it seem that it's all right, it's natural, it's proper for us to carry out acts of extermination against the lesser breeds, you know.
Studs Terkel The casualness of the story that you tell was horrifying, I remember reading it, and I must tell you that it was the textbook, a little, children's book of a local publishing house, and I called up the lady after reading your piece. She, this lady I know, a good woman, was astonished, indicating also the casual nature, how it passed through the hands of some people who don't notice it at all.
Noam Chomsky Well, I give you -- you see, when I saw that, I showed to my wife and she was in shock, too. And I have to admit, I then showed it to my daughter, who had just had that section, and she hadn't noticed it either, by which shows that, in a sense, perhaps, on the you know, I think that it's very, as I said, very questionable what effect this has on kids. They may not pay attention to what goes on in school
Noam Chomsky Subliminally I think that -- well anyway, my wife went to talk to the teacher at the school, and she showed it to the teacher, said, "You know, do you think this is the right kind of thing to teach kids without any comment?" And the teacher looked at it and she hadn't noticed it, either. You know, she had just taught that section, she hadn't noticed there was anything funny about it. In fact, it sort of went in one ear and out the other as far as she was concerned. She looked at it and she read it and she agreed that this was sort of pretty horrible. But then she turned to my wife and said that, "Of course, you have to understand that not everybody is liberal the way you and I are." So, of course for other people we still have [to keep teaching this?].
Studs Terkel So we come again to that acceptance. Of course, this is, this of necessity leads to our attitude toward another people, another culture, does it not? You point out in "After Pinkville" the seeds were always there, But again, we come to more and more expertise as the world becomes more and more technologized.
Noam Chomsky Yeah, and I think that what people have got to start to understand is that although, of course, technical expertise has its place, and, uh, there is important knowledge being developed, nevertheless, the fundamental issues that affect human beings and their inter- relations, these are where they always are. We have no more understanding of man and society than people had a long time ago. And as far as, as the fundamental values that ought to determine our policy as a nation or as individuals or as communities, there is no expertise about this. The expert on this is the citizen, and he's got to take responsibility
Studs Terkel So it comes back to him again, to the person listening, to you, to me, even though you yourself are an eminent scholar, the fact is, it comes to everybody, and you, you cite de Tocqueville here, a remarkable, prescient comment on his part that in America, here he was, seeing it in its early days, never saw as much freedom of discussion, nor as little independence of mind. So we come to that, don't we?
Noam Chomsky Yeah, I think we have a remarkable degree of freedom in the society, I think, certainly for the relatively affluent and for those who are white, there's, uh, there's a high degree of, uh, of guarantee of individual rights and preservation of individual rights. No, you know, a lot of people point to this and say, "Well, you know, this shows how much better we are than, let's say, Nazi Germany or one or another place," and of course, that's correct. I mean, there's no comparison whatsoever. But you know, when an [immoral?] accounting is going to be, [has to be? hastily?] made, I think that we, uh, it hardly counts in our favor that we have the ability to discover what's happening, the freedom to talk about it, the freedom to act, and we don't do so, uh, this is the real crime.
Studs Terkel And you point then, come to one of your key essays, the responsibility of intellectuals, that in the Western democracy seem so privileged, then he of all should be held most respon-- if anyone is more responsible than others.
Noam Chomsky I mean, I think it's that intellectuals have -- they have the kind of privileges in the United States that every human being ought to have. That is, they have free access to information. They have a good deal of security. They have, ah, great deal of latitude to speak out and in fact, you know, even if they get involved in things like resistance, as I personally believe, they should, even if they, they, uh, take direct action to, uh, confront the state and to try to put an end to the violence of the state, thereby subjecting themselves to legal process. Still of course, it's, you know, they're in no, in no sense in the same situation as let's say their counterparts in the Soviet Union. I mean, you know, if after the Czech invasion, half a dozen Russian intellectuals stood in Red Square for five minutes in silence, and they're now in Siberia for a couple of years. That's not gonna happen to people here. They can get involved in -- they can and, I believe, should refuse to pay their taxes, support resistors, carry out any, any reasonable acts they can to put an end to the atrocities and the violence that are carried on by the state. And what's more, they can do so without the fear that they're going to be sent to Siberia or to gas chambers or to be subjected to very severe penalties. All the more reason then why, when why, uh, they are -- they have to, they have to face the moral responsibility of and the, uh, why they have to be held to account, in fact, for their failure to do so, for my failure, for all of us. I think this is true.
Studs Terkel We come to something [fades out]. Another theme in a moment, Professor Noam Chomsky is our guest, professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The conversation is based upon his essays in a new book issued, paperback, Vintage, "American Power and the New Mandarins". Basically, he's talking about intellectuals in our society in this last third of the 20th century and responsibility. [pause in recording] Censorship, self-cen-- self-ethical openness perhaps.
Noam Chomsky Yeah, I think, uh, one aspect of this, uh, of the very favorable circumstances in which we can live if we choose, those who have a college education and who are the right color and so on, is that it's very easy to put the problems of the world outside, to forget about them, to get lost in one's, uh, one's work and one's privileges.
Noam Chomsky Yeah, especially when you have the, to many people very appealing opportunity to be close to the center of power and to feel that you have something to do with exercising power. I don't exactly know why this is so appealing to people, but it is, and it's very tempting, obviously.
Studs Terkel On the way to the radio station you were talking about this, your theory about the intellectual who thinks he's walking in the corridors of power in contrast to the old stereotypical view of the intellectual as a milquetoasty figure.
Noam Chomsky Well, I had a very definite -- see, I was living in in Cambridge with Harvard and MIT right nearby. It was very striking when John F. Kennedy came into office and that he immediately opened up the opportunity to many people from places like Harvard and MIT to come to Washington to play a role or take a share in the, in decision-making and hobnob with the great and so on and so forth. And I think that the effect of this on the universities was, was very bad. I think that the effect on policy-making was very bad. Uh, it was it was almost grotesque. Almost, one might say obscene to see how this, the reaction that a lot of academic people had to this, uh, opportunity to be close to the exercise of power. And I think that this is a great part of what Fulbright was talking to and about in that quote that you, you mentioned before about how the universities have accommodated themselves to the, uh, to the centers of power in the society and in that respect abdicated their role. I must say, I've, you know, they have this shuttle airplane that goes up and back from Wash-- to Washington from Boston, and I very often had the feeling in those days that if Eastern Airlines would cut off its shuttle, they would improve the atmosphere at both ends.
Studs Terkel So we come back to that thing, thinking they're powerful men. And, of course, by the very nature being co-opted by the thing that by the, as Fulbright says, the industrial-military establish-- they're supposed to challenge. So now it's an academic, industrial-military academic complex, you might say now.
Noam Chomsky And this is a lot of the reason behind the student unrest of the last couple of years. I mean, the kids are aware of this. They don't like it, they're right not to like it, and they're trying to put an end to it. They're trying to res-- I think a great, a very strong -- you know, there's all sorts of efforts to find the psychiatric and other reasons behind the student unrest, it all seems to be beside the point, really. I mean, you know, there's a lot of reasons, of course, when many people do something, but I think the main thing behind it is just the, the recognition by a very large number of students, they probably the mass of them, I'd say, in the elite universities, that that these things are very wrong. This is not what universities ought to be doing, and they want to restore it to what they should be.
Studs Terkel You know, throughout again, double standards are there. Our we're good, they're bad, and just as this might be also connected with senior faculty members or those working for the establishment in one way or another, and [attitude?] towards the students and say, "We must approach these students, [cite?] something is wrong with the alienated young," says Irving Kristol, who at the time was subsidized by the CIA, and then at the same time you have professors talking, always something wrong. Professor Rose suggests that Canadian Australian wheat be bought by us so that you won't be able to sell to China, therefore their people will starve to death so therefore we can get them that way. So we wonder about the illness of our day, who is the most ill then?
Noam Chomsky That's right, Yeah, I think that's very much to the point. I mean, you know, it's really pointless to ask "What's the reason for student unrest?" The real question that ought to be asked is, "What's the reason for everybody else's apathy?" I mean, the reasons for student unrest are obvious enough. The war in Vietnam; poverty, hunger, racism, these are reasons for students' unrest. There's no, nothing to explain. You know, you have a kid who's free to think, and has the intelligence to think, uh, and this is sort of basic, decent impulses. He'll look at the world and of course, he'll, uh, he'll try to change it, and he may try to change it when heal horrors are taking place, he may really throw himself into it. There's nothing to explain about why students revolt and why there's students' unrest, the real thing to explain is why everybody else doesn't join with
Studs Terkel So you talk about apathy and now we come to an interesting point. I know you know recently there was a Harris poll involving the My Lai massacre. The majority were more horrified not by the actual slaughter of women and children, but more for the fact that it had been publicized.
Noam Chomsky See, this is the kind of thing I sort of had in the back of my mind in talking about that incident from my daughter's textbook. When the My Lai story broke, I was a little bit frightened about it, because you see my own feeling is that in that in our country, and in fact, in any country, I don't think we're any different than any other people in this respect, we could tolerate anything. I mean, I have a feeling that if it turned out that by mistake, let's say, we had wiped out everybody in Vietnam, you know, the wrong bomb went off or somebody pushed the wrong button, people would be quite upset for a while, and then it would pass. You know, well, you know, after all, we're decent people, it was a mistake, and anybody could make mistakes and so on. And again, I don't mean to indicate that there's something unique about Americans in this respect, I think that's true of people all over the world that's very -- I say it's very hard to believe that -- it's very easy to believe that we are decent, honorable people, and the guy over there who's a different color and a different culture and very remote, well, he's a blood-thirsty cutthroat. It's very hard to believe that we are the blood-thirsty cutthroats and that that guy over there is really working for social justice and decent ideals. And when the My Lai story did break in mid-November, I had the very uneasy feeling that the, although there would be an out, outcry, that the net effect in the long run would be simply to raise the level of tolerance for atrocity. Because, now, this event has passed, we, that we're we've accepted that, we're used to it, and now that becomes the sort of constant background against which the next event will have to be evaluated. I must say that you know, this, the My Lai story was broken by Sy, Seymour Hirsch, a very good journalist, and he pointed out something rather similar to this in a really magnificent book that he did on chemical and biological warfare a couple of years ago, in which he pointed out that, uh, he speculated and had a pretty good case I think that the original use of tear gas and so on in in Vietnam of chem-- of bio-- of chemical agents, that the government probably rather cynically made use of this kind of habituation. That is, they first carried out a gas attack and then waited for the uproar and outcry and then said, "Oh, well, we won't do it again," and then after it settled and the people had sort of accepted that, a little time went by and then finally they were using it all the time. Nobody was caring much, it had sort of just again become part of the accepted background. And that's the really great danger of the exposure of atrocities. It's a very double-edged sword.
Noam Chomsky Yeah, I mean, you know, the fact that we have come to accept as passable, as tolerable the daily destruction that's carried out by saturation bombing, by harassment and interdiction by defoliation in Vietnam. The fact that we are -- after all, we know, everybody in America knows or should know by now, that we absolutely flattened North Vietnam. We wiped it virtually down to the ground. There's nothing left outside the center of, you know, of Hanoi and Haiphong and even there people are living in rubble even today. Well, you know, we just and of course we did this with no military justification whatsoever. I mean, we knew at the time that you know that this had nothing to do with the war in the South or any, only the most remote sense had anything to do with it, yet people have accepted this. There's no feeling that somehow we ought to, you know that we owe reparations to North Vietnam. There's no pressure in the country that to say, "Well, yeah, let's, you know, let's give them huge quantities of funds so that they can rebuild what we've destroyed." Of course, that won't make up for it. There's no way of making up for it, but at least we can, you know, we can begin to we can, we can offer reparations. In fact, quite the opposite. When the Swedes made some very tentative moves to uh, rebuilding, helping to rebuild North Vietnam, uh, we immediately began to put, tighten the screws, I mean, put pressure on imports, cut back invest -- investment in Sweden, and so on and so forth. Now, this is, of course, I don't know how quite to scale things on the level of atrocities, but this testifies to a degree of dehumanization, which I think is quite terrifying. And the more this happens, you know, the more we become as a people removed from normal standards of human decency, and the long-range effects of that are rather frightening to think of it.
Studs Terkel And so we come back again to the expert, to have perhaps all of us this, uh, may have to re-- I say revise Descartes, I feel therefore, I am, the need to feel, now the expert again, you cite so many. We'll come to Schlesinger in a moment. DeJaegher, who says, "Perhaps it is good to bomb the Vietnamese. They want to be bombed so they can be free." Here again we have this, is it, is he kidding or is he serious,
Noam Chomsky Well, I'm afraid that it's very seri-- I might say that I left out, you know, I had some really worse horrors in there in the earlier version, and I showed it to some friends, and they said, "You better cut up, cut this stuff out, it looks too zany, you know, so I really just left the things that you know weren't so wild that
Noam Chomsky I think it is. I mean this, for example, one of the -- well, in this "After Pinkville" article, I quoted some testimony that's been given before Congress, it's appeared in the "Congressional Record" from Defense Department sources about the way in which they're planning to automate the battlefield in Vietnam. That means to turn the whole country into a kind of an automated murder machine, and on which there are electronic sensors scattered over the country, which are capable of telling if somebody's breathing or if somebody's perspiring or if somebody, or if there's something hotter or colder than in the environment, and to immediately flash the information back to some computer center, which will, you know, instantaneously send out some rain of death on this area where something's breathing or something's hotter or colder than its environment, and this is all described with, you know, with great uh, verve and excitement, and you know, look at these great prospects we have before us, and isn't this marvelous, and so on. It is an element of lunacy in this. I mean, it's the kind of lunacy that that we associate correctly with the Nazi technocrat. Uh, and the fact that to a certain extent we're moving towards the acceptance of this is a very, very frightening thing, considering our power and our willingness to use it.
Studs Terkel As you say this, Professor Chomsky, I think of another sequence in one of your lectures in the book, the collection of essays, "American Power", the new, "The New Mandarins" is a self-explanatory phrase. These are the new -- in fact, one of the, I think one of the academicians says, he's to teach new mandarins.
Studs Terkel that's You say somewhere along the line, they terrify you more, the one who is, who has the academic explanation for what he does and motives unquestioned. He terrifies you more than Curtis LeMay, who says "We'll bomb 'em back to the Stone Age." He possibly might be reached, whereas the others are unreachable.
Noam Chomsky Yeah, I think Curtis LeMay's rea-- I mean, I don't [know?] Curtis LeMay, but that kind of reaction at least has a kind of a redeeming human quality to it. Horrible as this may be, I mean that, you know, the man is reacting like a human being to something. I think he's reacting in an atrocious fashion, but at least there's an element of humanity there. On the other hand, a person who talks about, you know, talks very dispassionately about the exact amount of power that will be necessary, the exact quotient of pain that we have to create in order to bring them to their knees or to, you know, achieve some end that we set or to make our policy of let's say extermination and domination more efficacious. And it treats this like a sort of an algebra problem. This person is no, you know, he's a machine. He's not a human being anymore. No way to deal with him.
Studs Terkel The first may be a primitive, somewhat brutish man, whereas the second is this robot, is this machine. And so they -- as you can't talk to a machine, whereas the man one way or another, difficult though it may be.
Noam Chomsky In fact, I think, you know, you can recognize his sentiments. I mean, I don't think there's any of us so perfect, at least I'm not such, that you don't have similar emotions yourself. Hopefully, a civilized man can restrain them, but at least he recognizes them. However, the idea of, you know, of this kind of technical machine, which simply, uh, works out quotions of pain, this isn't -- quite unrecognizable as a human being.
Studs Terkel Coming back to this matter of apathy and, a sense of shock being more and more diminished as you, as you are afraid of it possibly being with My Lai being a beginning and then tolerance higher and higher, think of one of the intellectuals who walked the corridors of power not too long ago was Arthur Schlesinger, and he admitted that this thing about the Bay of Pigs that didn't work, pragmatic, and finally says, "I lied," but there was no shock in the academic community and he said [either?]. He [planned?] and said, "I lied."
Noam Chomsky In fact, you know, the worst thing about -- I mean, I don't want to exaggerate that, I mean, you know, after all, people lie when they're in office. But I think that the most striking thing about that is that is what he himself said in the, you know, when he had time to think it over six years later when he wrote "A Thousand Days", he said there he took the position and explained his position, which was that he was against the Bay of Pigs uh, invasion. Nevertheless, he felt it was perfectly appropriate for him to pretend that it wasn't an invasion, as he did to the newspapers. But then he says, he explains why he was against it. He says he didn't think it was wrong in itself, so if it could have worked, it would have been fine. If we could have had, let's say, a surgical strike and we could have taken out Castro and put in the government we want, well, that would be fine, but the trouble is, it just didn't seem likely that it was gonna work. I mean, we were going to pretend that it was a, you know, there was just a bunch of guerrillas when in fact, of course, it was a CIA-sponsored invasion force. He said, "We'll never get away with it. Everybody's gonna know. So therefore, let's not do it." Well, the implication is that if the deception would have worked, if we could have carried out a very quick surgical strike, you know, if we could have handled it the way the Russians handled it in Czechoslovakia, then it would have been fine. The only question is, can we get away with it? Now, it's very -- I think that Arthur Schlesinger is the exact counterpart of some -- you know, I don't know who to name, but some, there's some person just like that in the Soviet Union who says, "Gee, look how we carried off this Czech invasion. I mean, worked like a charm, you know, no trouble, we didn't have to kill anybody. I don't think they killed a single person, send in the troops, pulled them out again, you know, instituted the proper government. Of course, Czechoslovakia's a subject state, but that's not our business. I mean, it worked fine." Now, that, that seems to me the exact analog of this
Studs Terkel So wholly amoral, it's a pragmatic ap-- will it or won't it work? And so too the approach toward the Viet-- his change of after Vietnam is it's not working. Rather than, what in the world are we doing there?
Noam Chomsky Yeah, see, I think, you know, in all of this debate over the years about Vietnam, the hawks and doves are divided largely over the question of uh, can we win? The hawks say we can, the doves say we can't, and that's just the wrong question. I mean, the question is, should we win? You know, should we even be there? And the answer to that is, "No, we shouldn't be there. We shouldn't win. It would be a tragedy if we won." And the people who say, you know, that the other discussion, "Can we win?" Well, it's a technical discussion. It doesn't interest me. Maybe we can, maybe we can't.
Studs Terkel This is interesting, this subject now coming up, at the very beginning of this conversation with Noam Chomsky we heard the voice of A.J. Muste. A. J. Muste called the shot 'way back in 1941 as World War II, we entered World War Two, he says, "We now," he spoke of America, "Will now be in the position." And didn't he raise that very point?
Noam Chomsky The victor feels that force pay -- he's demonstrated that force pays, and who's gonna teach him a lesson? Words approximately that effect. Well, I think he was very perceptive when he saw in 1941 that if we succeeded, of course he was very strongly anti-fascist, Muste. But he recognized as very few people did, practically no one, that if we succeeded in using force to crush, uh, fascism, then what would stop us from entering into the same path that let's say Japan was then following in the Pacific? And I believe that to a large extent we have followed that path. Very, very interesting, incidentally, that when Premier Sato, Japanese premier, left his -- from his discussion with Nixon last month, he, uh sorry, I can't quote his exact words, but he said something to the effect that now Japan and the United States will jointly create a new order in Asia. Well, of course, Japan in the 1930s was creating a new order in Asia. They were excluding us. That's why we went, ultimately that was the basis for the war. Now they understand better, they're gonna create this new order with us. Too bad for the other Asians, of course.
Studs Terkel Of course, as you as you're saying this again, the startling parallels that has been a moral or amoral approach between what Japan did in Manchuria. And I must confess, you draw a strong case here of what the Germans did. We have to face up again, can we face up to this truth as to our motives and ourselves? This is really the key question right now, isn't it?
Noam Chomsky Yeah. And I have enough faith in this country and the values that are somewhere buried in its past and constitute part of its nature to believe that we can face up to these things, we can begin to study our own history objectively, begin to ask what it is in our society that leads to the, to these actions and to the development of an ideology that justifies them. I think [an institute with?] a large extent students and, uh, and, uh, other group like [tape recorder
Studs Terkel I will now turn my portable tape recorder over, and my guest is Professor Noam Chomsky of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, professor of linguistics. The conversation based on his essays that have appeared in a number of journals, number of magazines, essays, bearing the overall title, "American Power and the New Mandarins", and primarily his theme concerns the intellectual in our society and his responsibilities. We continue. [pause in recording] And on the theme of faith, difficult it may seem, faith use book of the young and minority groups, others who were questioning and perhaps in their questioning, decide we ourselves, to others who are moment, materially, perhaps better off, though not spiritually, were questioning. You're talking about, about group endeavor.
Noam Chomsky Yeah, I think that, uh, things that have happened looking back to the 1960s, the, what young people did in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement and the beginnings of an emergence of a socialist politics which I think is desperately needed in the United States, the -- with it had, it had very -- it had libertarian aspects. It had, uh it developed from concern for real human values that all of us ought to respect and try to, try to achieve, to try to bring into reality and bring, to create the social conditions from everyone bring, bring these to reality and so on. I mean, I would emphasize in particular groups like, that are much maligned and in fact viciously attacked today like the Black Panthers, which I think, I don't know the details, but as far as I understand them, seem to, uh, be the germs of a, of a radical and, I hope, libertarian radical group rooted in another sector of this society. I think all of these things are, offer a kind of a hope for the future and offer a direction that many others can begin to become involved in and to, uh, a direction that they can follow to, you know, to create what is really needed here, namely a mass libertarian socialist movement.
Studs Terkel At the very beginning, Muste was speaking of two alternatives of the two, was he not, the possibility of destruction of all our species, and the possibility of horizons as yet unseen, with nuclear energy for peaceful use, and the man most responsible, perhaps, for the idea of nuclear energy and the bomb was Einstein himself. And you quote Einstein here, as a member of the War Resisters League, he spoke of, by being together, by union, quoting Albert Einstein, Noam Chomsky is quoting Ein-- "Then relieves courageous and resolute individuals of the paralyzing feeling," here's a terribly important aspect, someone who feels he's alone. "Resolute individuals of the paralyzing feeling of isolation and loneliness, and in this way gives them moral support in the fulfillment of what they consider to be their duty. They exist in such a moral elite, it is indispensable for the preparation of a fundamental change in public opinion, a change which under present-day circumstances, is absolutely necessary if humanity's [to?] survive."
Noam Chomsky Yeah, I think Einstein was a very wise man and, of course, notice he's talking there about a moral elite. And obviously what he had in mind, I'm sure, is that this moral elite should associate itself with and in fact become submerged in a mass movement which develops as part of its own consciousness, the attitudes towards human needs and the plan, the plans for a creation of a more viable future society, a more decent future society, a more democratic one, that this, that these groups seek to, seek to create. Now, that's the hope for the future. And the question is whether we have the will to follow this path.
Studs Terkel The we, of course, involves everyone. Should point out Professor Chomsky is a distinguished scholar, so he, in that sense, he's an academician, you might say, but not with a capital "A," not detached in that horrendous sense, but very much in the middle of things and fields and "American Power and the New Mandarins", by the way, is, is a salubrious style of writing, but more than that, the clarity is there and overwhelming. Vintage are the publishers of it, and Noam Chomsky, my guest. Thank you very much indeed.