America the censurable

April 19 1982

America the censurable

April 19 1982

America the censurable


As tension increases between Moscow and Washington over recent global developments, the propaganda war escalates as well According to U.S. linguistics scholar and author Noam Chomsky, we are used to dismissing the integrity of Soviet pronouncements, yet we are inclined to believe what Ameri-

can leaders tell us. Chomsky, who was a leading intellectual figure in the antiwar movement of the late ’60s, has written extensively on American foreign policy. In his recent works, Towards a New Cold War and Radical Priorities, he argues that our press and intelligentsia have not examined Amer-

ican actions abroad as critically as they should have. Maclean’s senior writer Linda McQuaig spoke with Chomsky, who teaches linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

Maclean’s: You argue that, in addition to a revival of the Cold War in recent months, there has been a new and different quality that the Reagan administration has added.

Chomsky: Well, there’s been a gradual move toward the revival of the Cold War confrontation from the early ’70s, and I think the reason is that the Cold War confrontation is highly functional for the U.S., and in fact for the Soviet Union too. It provides the propaganda framework within which they can control their own populations and their allies as they conduct the business that they’re really concerned with—dominating Third World countries, and so on. Now the capacity of the U.S. to intervene and dominate large parts of the world was certainly reduced during the Vietnam era. Nevertheless, the institutional structures that had led to repeated counterrevolutionary intervention were never damaged. And there was evidence that there was going to be an effort to revive the system in the latter part of the Carter administration in late 1978—even before Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage thing. It sort of slowly escalated, then the Reagan administration came along and extended this process, but also changed it. Take El Salvador. Carter was committed to supporting the gang of murderers that he was backing as they carried out their attack on the peasant population, and so is Reagan extending that process. But Reagan added something new. He turned it into a confrontation with the Russians, (accusing) Cuba and Vietnam and Ethiopia—all Russian protégés— (of) attacking Central America. That’s important. How do you invade Nicaragua on the pretext that the Nicaraguans are a threat to us? It’s impossible. It has to be because Nicaragua is an outpost of the Soviet Union. The Russians play exactly the same game. I mean, the Russians described the invasion of Afghanistan, for instance, as a defence of Afghanistan against terrorists supported by the CIA and the U.S. That’s the way a country mobilizes its population for aggression and subversion. Maclean’s: Are you suggesting this is the primary purpose behind recent Cold War talk?

Chomsky: It’s (also) a way to keep the economy going. If the government wants to intervene to get an economy moving by injecting itself into the production process, it can’t really do so by getting involved in useful production say, producing cars, because it would be

interfering with the prerogatives of private business. That leaves waste production basically. But what kind of waste production can you get taxpayers to pay for? Nobody’s ever thought of anything except armaments. If you can get a population frightened enough, then they’ll be willing to support production of armaments, allegedly in defence. You remember the missile gap? Kennedy certainly knew that the story about the missile gap was a fraud, but nevertheless exploited it as a way of creating the major arms buildup. Basically, Reagan is trying the same thing, (but) faces some difficulties that Kennedy didn’t. Kennedy didn’t have to be concerned over competitors like Japan and Europe. Now they’re worried that the Japanese are going to drive them out of world trade. If the U.S. devotes its resources to waste production and Japan and Europe don’t, then the already hazardous position of the U.S. in world trade is going to deteriorate very seriously. They’re going to have to keep raising the level of international confrontation until they get Europe and Japan to fall into our system of devoting resources to armaments, namely waste production, and not simply using this opportunity to undermine us in international markets.

Maclean’s: You've argued extensively that the Western press is hypocritical in

its coverage of American and Soviet actions abroad, holding up Soviet actions to far closer and more critical scrutiny. Do you feel that continues to be the case?

Chomsky: Polish martial law was announced Dec. 13, and for the next three weeks I listened religiously to the CBS radio morning news broadcasts just to see what they would do. I’d say about 98 per cent of news coverage for those

three weeks was Poland, and of course it was just overflowing with indignation about how terrible it is. Well, okay, undoubtedly that’s true. The Russians supported a martial law regime which undermined the popular worker-based movement. But the U.S. does this all the time. Turkey has had martial law since September, 1980. It’s a brutal regime, plenty of torture, but the U.S. positively supports it. There has been a martial law regime in Brazil since 1964. Troops were sent in to break up strikes. The Brazilian equivalent of Lech Walesa— Luís Inácio da Silva, a very courageous leader of the Brazilian labor movement—was (recently) put in jail. Nobody cares about that. The U.S. positively welcomed the military coup in Indonesia in 1965, which included the massacre of half a million people. Bad as Poland is, they’re not murdering the population in the streets as our martial law types are doing in Central America. There’s no hint of all this in the news coverage. If it’s proper to have sanctions against the Soviet Union because they support martial law in Poland, then there should be sanctions every six months against the U.S. We’re just reeking with hypocrisy on this issue. Maclean’s: Of course, the American government would respond that they're only supporting these regimes as a bullwark against communism.

Chomsky: No, they’d go beyond that. They say they support martial law in, let’s say, the Philippines or Turkey because it stabilizes the situation, puts down terrorism, gets the population back to work. But that’s just what the Russians say about Poland. All the same things. Just change a few names and you’ve got Russian propaganda on Poland. What actually happened in Poland is extremely interesting. Poland got into a cycle of indebtedness which is very typical for the Third World. When that happens in the world that we (the U.S.) control, what the country does is go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and ask for some kind of financial aid, and the IMF comes along and says we’ll do it but you have tc follow certain measures which we propose and these measures are austerity, lowering the standard of living for the population, perhaps export for the rich countries, and so forth. Poland couldn’t go to the IMF (it’s not a member), so it went to German and American bankers. They gave

it the same advice: we’ll reschedule your debts if you raise the price of bread, make the population work harder, export more to the West, and so on. What happened was that the Poles revolted. Well that sometimes happens in our domains too. What do we do? We put into power some collection of butchers who suppress the population and murder the labor leaders and torture the opposition and finally put things back in order. (Western leaders) were probably won-

dering what the Russians were waiting for. Why aren’t they doing in Poland what we ( the U.S. ) always do in exactly the same circumstances? Maclean’s: You're suggesting they were pleased by what finally happened when martial law was imposed?

Chomsky: Openly

pleased. If you look at the business press— Business Week, The Wall E Street Journal, it even I got into The New S York Times— Western I bankers were openly expressing their pleasure over the martial law re-

gime. They were saying:

finally, they did it, they have a martial law regime to get the people back to work again and overcome all this chaos and anarchy.

Maclean’s: If American bankers are pleased about martial law in Poland, the U.S. administration is certainly trying to imply that it isn't.

Chomsky: Well, they’re in a trap. It’s a case where ideology and interests are sort of opposing one another. They talk about the terrible Russians and how

awful they are all over the world, and they can use Poland for this. On the other hand, they’re basically glad about what’s happening. If the press was semihonest, it would be pointing this out. Maclean’s: We've talked mostly about American motives. Do you see a revival of Cold War attitudes on the part of the Soviets as well?

Chomsky: The Soviet Union is run by a kind of bureaucratic elite which is mainly concerned with maintaining their own power and extending it if possible. And they’ll use any degree of force and violence to achieve that end. Still, by and large, they’ve been frightened of greater American power. They have a fear of invasion. They see themselves surrounded by an aggressive system of bases and powers all along their borders. And from Stalin on, they’ve been pressing for some kind of détente. Détente in their terms means: we leave your empire alone; you leave our empire alone. And maybe there’s some niggling along the borders, but basically we leave each other alone to suppress within our own world system. I suspect they’d still want that kind of détente. Maclean’s: But the U.S. would point out that the Soviets are expanding into Africa, for instance.

Chomsky: True. They’ll look for targets of opportunity. But I think Russian involvement in the world probably reached its peak in the late 1950s, and after that suffered quite severe declines, the major being the Sino-Soviet break. There are some areas where the Soviet Union has influence basically because we want it to. We could terminate Russian influence in Angola tomorrow if we wanted to. All we have to do is recognize the government and open up trade, and the Russians would be out on their ear. The Russians have nothing to offer the Angolans; they need trade with the West. But the U.S., for ideological reasons to do with our whole relationship with South Africa, just doesn’t want to do it. Take Cuba. We drove the Cubans into the Russian embrace. It’s absolutely typical. If some country tries to extricate itself from the American system, the first thing we try to do is prevent it by force. If that doesn’t work, we try it by subversion. If that doesn’t work, we try to make it as hard as possible for them to develop. It’s very important for the U.S. to prevent Cuba from developing a decent society because, if it did, it would be a model to other Caribbean countries. Now we’re right in the process of doing the exact same thing with Nicaragua. If the U.S. continues its policies, Nicaragua will become a Soviet satellite, which will give the justification for us to back an invasion from Honduras or to impose an embargo, etc. It’s like repeating the same record over and over again.