Chomsky: Humanity’s most critical moment


In an extensive conversation, Chomsky reviews the principal tendencies on the international scene, his country’s militarist escalation and the growing risks of nuclear war. He stops on the United States electoral process and sketches a reflection on hopes for peace in Colombia

Noam Chomsky in an image from September 2009 during a visit to Mexico. Photo: Carlos Ramos Mamahua

Noam Chomsky in an image from September 2009 during a visit to Mexico. Photo: Carlos Ramos Mamahua

By: Agustín Fernández Gabard and Raúl Zibechi

“The United States was always a colonizing society. It was eliminating the indigenous population even before being constituted as a State, which meant the destruction of many Native nations,” the U.S. linguist and activist Noam Chomsky synthesizes when he was asked to describe the global political situation. A most bitter critic of the foreign policy of his country, he maintains that since 1898 the international scenario was upset with the control of Cuba, “which was essentially converted into a colony,” and by later invading the Philippines, “murdering a couple of hundred thousand people.”

He continues patching a sort of counter-history of the empire: “Later it robbed Hawaii of its original population, 50 years before incorporating it as one more state.” Immediately after the Second World War the United States became an international power, “with power unprecedented in history and an incomparable security system, it controlled the Western hemisphere and both oceans, and naturally drew up plans for trying to organize the world to suit its whim.”

He accepts that the superpower’s power has diminished with respect to what it had in 1950, the peak of its power, when it accumulated 50 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, which has now fallen to 25 percent. Even so, it still seems necessary to remember that the United States continues being “the richest and most powerful country in the world, and is incomparable on the military level.”

A one-party system

Chomsky compared the elections in his country with the selection of a brand of toothpaste in a supermarket. “Ours is a country with only one political party, the party of enterprise and businesses, with two factions, Democrats and Republicans,” he proclaims. But he believes that it’s no longer possible to continue talking about those two old political communities, since their traditions suffered a complete mutation during the neoliberal period.

“The modern republicans are the ones that call themselves Democrats, while the old Republican organization remained outside the spectrum, because both parties moved to the right during the neoliberal period, just like what happened in Europe.” The result is that the new Hillary Clinton Democrats have adopted the program of the old Republicans, while those were completely displaced by the neoconservatives. “If you look at the TV spectacles where they say they are debating, they just shout at each other and the few policies that they present are terrifying.”

For example, he emphasizes that all the Republican candidates deny global warming or are skeptical, which means that while they don’t deny it they say that the governments shouldn’t do anything about it. “Nevertheless, global warming is the worst problem that the human species has ever confronted, and we are heading for a complete disaster.” In his opinion, climate change has effects only comparable to nuclear war. Even worse, “the Republicans want to increase the use of fossil fuels. We are not facing a problem of hundreds of years, but rather of one or two generations.”

The denial of reality, which characterizes the neoconservatives, responds to logic similar to that which impels the construction of a wall on the border with Mexico. “Those people that we try to turn away are those who flee from the destruction caused by United States policies.

“In Boston, where I live, a couple of days ago the Obama government deported a Guatemalan that lived here for 25 years; he had a family, a business, he was part of the community. He had escaped from the Guatemala destroyed during the Reagan administration. In response, the idea is to construct a wall to protect ourselves. It’s the same in Europe. When we see that millions of people flee from Libya and Syria to Europe, we have to ask ourselves what happened in the last 300 years to arrive at that.”

Invasions and climate change feed on each other

The type of conflict that we observe today in the Middle East didn’t exist just 15 years ago. “It is a consequence of the United States invasion of Irak, which is the worst crime of the century. The US-British invasion had horrible consequences, they destroyed Irak, which is now classified as the least happy country in the world, because the invasion cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and generated millions of refugees, which were not given shelter by the United States and they had to be received by poor neighbor countries that were in charge of picking up the ruins of what we destroyed. And worst of all is that they instigated a conflict between Sunnis and Shiites that did not exist before.”

Chomsky’s words remember the destruction of Yugoslavia during the 1990s, instigated by the West. Just like Sarajevo, he emphasizes that Bagdad was an integrated city, where the different cultural groups shared the same barrios, married members of different ethnic groups and religions. “The invasion and atrocities that followed instigated the creation of a monstrosity called the Islamic State, which was born with Saudi financing, one of our principal allies in the world.”

In his opinion, one of the greatest crimes was the destruction of a large part of the Syrian agricultural system, which assured nourishment, and which drove thousands of people to the cities, “creating tensions and conflicts that explode just as the repression begins.”

One of his most interesting hypotheses consists in crossing the effects of the Pentagon’s armed interventions with the consequences of global warming.

In the war in Darfur (Sudan), for example, the interests of the powers converge with the desertification that expels entire populations from the agricultural zones, which aggravates and sharpens the conflicts. “Scary crises flow from these situations, like those that happen in Syria, where the biggest draught in their history is taking place. It has destroyed a large part of the agricultural system, generating displacements and exacerbating tensions and conflicts,” he reflects.

We have still not thought thoroughly, he emphasizes, about what this denial of global warming implies and the long-term plans of the Republicans that seek to accelerate it: “If the sea level continues rising and goes up much faster, it will swallow countries like Bangladesh, affecting hundreds of millions of people. The Himalayan glaciers are melting rapidly putting the water supply for Southern Asia at risk. What will happen to those hundreds of millions of people? The imminent consequences are horrendous, this is the most important moment in the history of humanity.”

Chomsky believes that we are facing a turn of history in which human beings must decide if we want to live or die: “I say it literally. We are not all going to die, but the possibilities of a dignified life would indeed be destroyed, and we have an organization called the Republican Party that wants to accelerate global warming. I don’t exaggerate –ending it– it’s exactly what they want to do.”

Next, he quotes the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and his Doomsday Clock, to remind that the specialists say that at the Paris Conference on global warming it was impossible to get a binding treaty, only voluntary agreements. “Why? It’s because the Republicans would not accept it. They have blocked the possibility of a binding treaty that could have done something to impede this massive and imminent tragedy, a tragedy like never has existed in the history of humanity. What we are talking about, are not things of minor importance.”

Nuclear war, a certain possibility

Chomsky is not one of the people that are impressed by academic or intellectual modes; his radical and serene reasoning seeks to avoid furors and, perhaps because of that, he is reluctant to ring the bells quickly over the announced decadence of the empire. “It has 800 [military] bases around the world and invests as much in its army as the whole rest of the world together. No one has anything like that, with soldiers fighting everywhere in the world. China has a principally defensive policy, doesn’t have a big nuclear program, although it’s possible that it may increase.”

The case of Russia is different. It’s the principal stone in the shoe of the Pentagon’s domination, because “it has an enormous military system.” The problem is that Russia and the United States are both expanding their military systems; “both are acting as if war were possible, which is collective craziness.” He thinks that nuclear war is irrational and that it could only happen in the case of an accident or human error. Nevertheless, he agrees with William Perry, ex Secretary of Defense, who said recently that the threat of nuclear war is greater today than what it was during the Cold War. Chomsky estimates that the risk is concentrated in the proliferation of incidents that involve the armed forces of nuclear powers.

“War has been very closer innumerable times,” he admits. One of his favorite examples is what happened during the government of Ronald Reagan, when the Pentagon decided to put Russian defenses to the test through the simulation of attacks against the Soviet Union.

“It turned out that the Russians took it very seriously. In 1983, after the Soviets automated their defense systems, they detected a US missile attack. In these cases the protocol is to go directly to the high command and to launch a counter-attack. There was one person that had to transmit this information, Stanislav Petrov, but he decided that it was a false alarm. Thanks to that, we are here talking.”

He maintains that the United States’ defense systems have serious errors and a couple of weeks ago a case from 1979 was published, when a massive Russian missile attack was detected. When the National Security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was picking up the telephone to call President James Carter and to launch an attack in reprisal, the information arrived that it was a false alarm. “There are dozens of false alarms every year,” he asserts.

At this time the provocations of the United States are constant. “NATO is carrying out military maneuvers 200 meters from the Russian border with Estonia. We would not tolerate something like that happening in Mexico.”

The most recent case was the downing of a Russian fighter that was bombing Jihadist forces in Syria at the end of November. “There is a part of Turkey almost surrounded by Syrian territory and the Russian bomber flew across that zone for 17 seconds, and they brought it down. A great provocation that luckily was not responded to with force, but it took their most advanced anti-aircraft system into the region, which permits it to bring down NATO planes.” He argues that similar acts are happening daily in the China Sea.

The impression that one infers from his gestures and reflections is that if the powers that are attacked by the United States acted with the same lack of responsibility as Washington, the die would be cast.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Re-published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee



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