Blood, lust, revenge: Noam Chomsky deconstructs U.S. terrorism

“There can’t be a war against terrorism … it’s a logical impossibility … The thesis is 1) that we are total hypocrites on any issue relating to terrorism and 2) that the first thesis is so obvious, it takes real effort to dismiss it.”

If one thinks back to a time before “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” they may recall something called “The War on Terrorism.” Author/lecturer Noam Chomsky, in a Silent Films Production and an Epitaph Records DVD release, sheds some uncommon light on the subject in a lecture entitled “Distorted Morality.”

Not cinematic by any means, the DVD is a single long take of a lecture Chomsky gave at Harvard. His focus was to expand on the historical and current events that make a war against terror a clear-cut logical impossibility.

Chomsky’s argument stems from two definitions – the first being the official United States government’s definition of terrorism, the second being the word hypocrite. In Chomsky’s view, the Middle East is by no means innocent from terrorist accusations, but the United States has no right to claim itself innocent from terrorism either.

Putting forth a wealth of historical examples, Chomsky reviews the supposedly peak decade of terrorism (the 1980s) and just how much of it was U.S. military action hidden from the public eye.

“Distorted Morality” strikes with absolute pertinence, in an extremely patriotic time, urging the public to more completely scrutinize the actions of their leaders. Its power is in its straightforward approach. The film and accompanying commentary are driven by ideas alone, without any attempt at glitz or glamour. Its association with Epitaph records, an acclaimed punk rock label, is a progressive step for the label into the realm of politics.

As the lecture develops, the viewer’s attention is brought to a CIA-sponsored car bombing of a Mosque in Beirut (1985) that killed 80 civilians while injuring more than 250 others. Also of note are the Iron Fist Operations in Lebanon (1985) and numerous U.S.-Israeli air bombings in Palestine with no regard for international law. In the end, the message is clear, when compared to U.S. terrorist activities, the Middle East’s actions are lightweight contenders.

Chomsky is not supportive of any one group by any means.

“Violence is not legitimate in retaliation of atrocities or in preemption of future atrocities,” Chomsky says. “It’s commonly said that terrorism is a weapon of the weak. That’s completely false, terror is overwhelmingly the weapon of the strong, like most other weapons.”

With an undertone of cynicism, Chomsky makes it clear that what Americans consider history is not necessarily reality.

“History is created by well-educated intellectuals, it doesn’t have to hold any resemblance to that thing called history by na?ve people … Whenever you hear something said very confidently, the first thing you should ask is, ‘is that that true?'” he says.

Chomsky’s ultimate point is that the U.S. definition of terrorism and the operational definition of terrorism are two different things. He said the former directly refers to “terror that they carry out against us.”

The leadership itself, Chomsky says, considers their actions as actually promoting the greater good:

“Leadership, even the most vile leadership, tends to think that they’re working toward the general good. We all know perfectly well … it’s awfully easy to convince yourself that no matter how rotten the thing we were doing was, that it was really good.”

“Distorted Morality” is by no means a piece intended for children. Chomsky employs an accessible, but certainly academic, form of reasoning which takes a certain effort to follow. His dissent is well-stated and quite refreshing given America’s current engagements.

Chomsky’s conclusion is short and perhaps a bit loosely ambiguous considering what preceded it. Nevertheless, it provides a pretty honest account of what a “war against terrorism” implies for the United States.

“So we end up with a kind of dilemma,” he says. “If we’re honest, one possibility is that we acknowledge that we are total hypocrites, and then at least have the decency to stop talking about things like human rights, right and wrong, good and evil.”

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