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On Contact: State of American Empire

On the show this week, Chris Hedges talks to Professor Noam Chomsky, the pioneering linguist and prolific author of numerous seminal political works, about the state of the American Empire.

Professor Chomsky is the author of over 100 books, including ‘The Fateful Triangle’, ‘Manufacturing Consent’, ‘Failed States’ and ‘Requiem for the American Dream’, and America’s most important intellectual. His new book, with Marv Waterstone, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, is ‘Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance’.

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CH: Welcome to On Contact.  Today we discuss the state of the American empire with Prof. Noam Chomsky.

NC: We just saw we have the most wonderful military system in the world to defend America.  And if you look at the oath of office that the Chief of Staff, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it's to defend America against enemies, foreign and domestic.  So we have this magnificent military to defend us against domestic enemies.  Was it able to defend the Capitol couple of day--on January 6th?  Not that I noticed.

CH: Prof. Noam Chomsky, the pioneering linguist, prolific author of numerous seminal political works including The Fateful Triangle, Manufacturing Consent, Failed States, and Requiem for the American Dream, and America's most important intellectual, along with Marv Waterstone, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona.  Explore the failures and inherent cruelties spawned by global capitalism in their new book, Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance.  They argue that the rampant, endless wars both hot and cold, the unchecked militarism these conflicts spawn, along with the raging ecocide, unparalleled levels of global wealth, and income inequality are fueling system breakdown, and the rise of repressive and authoritarian regimes that revoke basic liberties, rule through fear and coercion, and speak in the toxic rhetoric of hate and violence.  This decent into a species of corporate totalitarianism and the ecocide that accompanies it threatening the human species and most other species with extinction will only be halted, they argue, by radically reorganizing human societies, politically, economically, and culturally.  Joining me to discuss where we are and where we must go is Prof. Noam Chomsky.  So, in the book, you talk--there's a lot of great stuff in there.  You talk about, you know, how we perceive reality, and I want you to discuss that.  How is our cultivated perception of reality a form of social control?  Of course, you referred to Gramsci.

NC: Well, we're seeing pretty dramatic examples of it right now.  There's a huge part of the population which sees a deep--not only seas, but is deeply committed to a--an alternative reality which has no basis in fact and is entirely the opposite of all evidence that they claim to religiously.  And in fact you've seen plenty of it in your experience in the media.  They have a reality of their own.  So they have--that's the reality of the liberal intellectual lately, which is that the United States is always trying to do good things but makes mistakes here and there.  We have to correct these mistakes and--but everything is fundamentally wonderful.  So this assault on the Capitol shows the power of American democracy because we didn't collapse into a factious state, very much like the reaction after Watergate odes to the magnificence of the democratic system of when--right after the demonstration of corruption and evasion and the effort to conceal what happened.  You know, for example, the Watergate--striking in Watergate, that the only serious charges against Nixon were what--eliminated.  They were introduced by Robert Drinan, which a priest representative from Massachusetts who insisted that they include the bombing of Cambodia which was one of the most horrendous acts of the--act of the period, certainly of the Nixon administration.  But that was cut off and what's left was tax on the democratic party headquarters, things like that.  Bad but nothing like the serious crimes.  And that enabled us to show that American democracy and its magnificence had triumph the--and we're seeing kind of a replica of that now.  There's some really serious ills, bipartisan incidentally, although Republicans have gone off the spectrum.  But those are not being discussed.  What's being discussed a crazed mob as if they came out of nowhere.  They didn't come out of nowhere.

CH: You--in your--in your classic book that you wrote with Ed Herman, Manufacturing Consent, you talk about that process by which the dominant narrative is kind of inculcated within the public, and yet we've seen now with the rise of digital media, there is a bifurcation within the media.  There are kind two dominant narratives that people are now siloed within their own particular--their own particular prejudices or their own particular world view is catered to, and, of course, their proclivities are monitored and fed back to them.  I wonder if you could just go back and look at that work.  It was a great, great work in terms of dissecting the media.  And talk about now in this age of digital media, how that dominant narrative is essentially ingested within the public to get people to ultimately call for their own enslavement.

NC: Well, remember that the book, substantially Ed Herman, the late Ed Herman, which is why insisted that his name be first on our joint publication contrary to our usual alphabetic ordering.  But the main framework is his.  But it was focused on the sources of news and information, the major media.  Now, the social media are a new phenomenon and they're very significant, but they don't affect the source of information.  Twitter doesn't have reporters in, you know, Beirut that's seen what's happening.  They--what they do is take--we still have the same major information sources, and I think they're pretty much like they were in the past.  Maybe a little bit more open than in the past, because a lot of young people who went through the activism of the '60s and the aftermaths have since moved into media, which has given them a slightly different and more open complexion.  But the social media are over and above that.  They take the picture of the world that's fed to them by the major media, and, as you say, they bifurcate it, much in the way that talk radio has done for many years.  The--I used to listen to it constantly, and it's an alternative world.  We hear nothing else but the extreme right and plenty of people are caught up into it.  Now, we have that exaggerated with the social media, maximizing that effect.  And, of course, it has increased irrationality on all sides.  If you only have your own views echoed back to you, you're not going to think.  You should be reading and thinking much more broadly.

CH: You've often written about how the very words and phrases that are fed to us essentially exclude other ways of seeing the world.  For example, the War on Terror, which was kind of a tautology.  You can't have a war on terror.  And talk a little bit about how the kind of--the constant repetition of certain words and phrases limit our capacity to see reality.

NC: Well, take the War on Terror.  The United States is one of the major terrorist forces in the world but the War on Terror doesn't apply.  In fact, I started grading on terrorism back around the early '80s when Ronald Reagan came in, as you recall, the struggle against terrorism was going to be the center piece of our policy.  No more talk about human rights.  Now, the grand issue is the War on Terror, the plague of the modern terrorism, the plague of the modern age, and so on.  The terrorism he was talking about was resistance to US terrorism in Central America.  That was the prime case of it.  And also in South Africa.  Remember, that for the Reagan administration to the very end, Mandela's African National Congress was one of the more notorious terrorist groups in the world.  Mandela himself was not permitted into the United States until many years after--decades after the apartheid ended.  It took a special congressional resolution to allow him in.  He was a leading terrorist.  So the concept of terrorism in the early Reagan years was interestingly inverted.  The terrorists were not terrorists.  The people who were not terrorists are terrorists.  And it was--I--when I began in writing about this, I started using the US code for its definition of terror, and the US Army manuals.  And if you look at their definitions, what the Reagan administration was doing was the peak of terrorism by our own definitions.  In fact, the World Court took the same--accepted the same conclusion.  The United States is the only country to have been brought before the World Court and to have been condemned for international terrorism.  The words that they used were unlawful use of force, which is international terrorism.  How did the--and here it goes back to your point, how did the US react to that?  Almost nobody knows about it.  I think The New York Times--I don't recall whether you were on The Times on those days.  But The New York Times had an editorial saying we can dismiss the judgment of the court because it's a hostile forum.  Why is it a hostile forum?  Because they condemned the United States.  So since it's a hostile forum who cares what they say.  And that was the end of the court judgment condemning the US for terrorism.  You look over the media discussion, same right until today.  So, for example, the US ran an extraordinary terrorist campaign against Cuba for years.  The idea was to bring the terrors of the Earth to Cuba, as it was described by Arthur Schlesinger, he--associate of John F. Kennedy who launched the campaign.  How is that described in the United States?  Some silly actions by the CIA trying to, you know, burn Castro's [INDISTINCT] a little hanky-panky.  It wasn't that.  It was a serious terrorist war.  It almost led to the destruction of the world.  It was one of the main factors that led to the Cuba missile crisis.  Kennedy himself had authorized in August 1962 the escalation of the terrorist activities in Cuba with the intent of leading to an uprising in October which would be followed by an American invasion.  October, 1962, okay?  It was no joke.  Do you ever see any discussion of it?  No.  It's just War on Terror.  When Bush relaunched the war on terror.  Not launched, relaunched in 2001.  It was those terrorists out there.  We have to go out--have to--not our own terrorist acts.  And this is a brilliant example of how internalized understanding--it's not even propaganda.  I think it's internalized.  You can't --as just as you can't get the Republican mobs to admit that the election was lost, you can't get liberal American intellectuals to recognize that the United States is a leading terrorist state.  It's just not us.  I mean, maybe some mistakes, you know?  Maybe some bad guys.  But our consistent activities.  What defines us is our pursuit of democracy.  And it's very interesting how that dealt with.

CH: I'm going to stop you there--I'm going to stop you there, Noam.  We just have to take a break.  When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Prof. Noam Chomsky about the state of the American empire.  Welcome back.  We continue our conversation with Prof. Noam Chomsky about the state of the American empire.  You were talking about that kind of mythology of a transcendent purpose, and in the book, you referenced Antonio Gramsci, and you talk about the difference between organic and traditional intellectuals.  Can you lay out that distinction for us?

NC: Well, for Gramsci, an organic intellectual was an intellectual who embedded himself in activist social movements and tried to help use whatever special talents or privileges they had to carry forward the popular efforts for carrying the world forward in a better direction.  Those are organic intellectuals.  Decedents we call them in other countries.  Then there are the traditional intellectuals who are--were called stenographers for power often.  Actually Henry Kissinger, who was perfect model, described them once.  He said, "The goal of the political intellectual is to articulate the ideas and concerns of people in power in a more proper and careful way."  That's the job of the intellectual, serve power.  So if Nixon hands to me, Henry Kissinger, an order to bomb Cambodia and destroy everything, my job as an intellectual, responsible intellectual is to present it to the head of the Air Force with the words massive bombing campaign against Cambodia.  Anything that moves against--anything that flies against anything that moves.  In other words, total genocide.  That's my duty as a responsible intellectual, to articulate the views and intentions of the people in power.  In this case, to call for genocide.  Okay.  That's one view of the intellectual.  There's another view, the ones we honor in enemy countries but condemn in our own country.  That's what McGeorge Bundy, National Security Adviser for Kennedy and Johnson called the wild men in the wings.  The ones who go beyond saying, "We made a tactical error.  We didn't understand something," and actually look into the motives and goals that we were pursuing.  Wild men in the wings.  We have to remove them from the body politic, from the intellectual world, not publish what they say, demonize, condemn them, and so on in our own country.  When it's in an enemy country, we idolize them as marvelous decedents who are courageously standing up to power.  This goes all the way back in history as far as you can go.  Go back to Greece, who was it who had to drink the hemlock, the man who was corrupting the youth of Athens by asking too many questions.  We don't want that around.  Not in a free democracy like Athens.  That's pretty much the same up to the present.

CH: You referenced Orwell about how popular ideas can be silenced, inconvenient facts kept in the dark without official censorship.  Can you take us through how that process works?

NC: That's George Orwell.  An interesting…

CH: Yeah.

NC: An interesting article which was suppressed.  It was the intended introduction to his book, Animal Farm.  Animal Farm--of course, everybody's read Animal Farm, and the introduction which is called Literary Censorship in England, something like that.  He says to the British, where the book was to appear, he says, "This of course is satire on the totalitarian enemy."  But the British didn't feel so self-righteous because it's a free country, and in a free country, exactly what you quoted, unwanted ideas can be suppressed without the use of force.  Then he gave just a few sentences of explanation.  One was the press is owned by wealthy men who want--who do not want certain ideas to be expressed.  And the other he said is basically a good education.  You've gone to Oxford and Cambridge.  You just have instilled into you the understanding that there are certain things it wouldn't do to say, just like other kinds of behavior are unacceptable.  These things, it wouldn't do to say.  Things like what we've been talking about.  It's a free country so you're not thrown in prison for saying them.  You're just marginalized and cut out in one or another way.  I don't have to tell you.  You're more familiar than I am.  But these are the methods by which without the use of force, you can ensure beliefs of the most crazy kind without exception.  Let me give you another example.  Take Bernie Sanders.  If you read the left liberal critics in the mainstream press, they say Sanders has really good ideas but they're too radical for the American people.  We just can't go that far.  What are his leading ideas?  The main one is universal healthcare.  Too radical for the American people.  Can you think of a country in the world that doesn't have it?  I mean, this is such an insult against the American people.  He says, "You're so backward in reaction already that you can't have what Mexico has, and what France has, and what Brazil has because you're so backward."  And nobody questions this.  Actually not nobody.  The--one of the best correspondents for the London Financial Times, Rana Foroohar, associate editor had a piece in which she said that if Bernie Sanders was in Germany, he could be running on the Christian democrat party program, the right-wing party, because what he's calling for, universal healthcare for higher education is taken for granted by conservative parties in Europe.  But here, it's too radical for Americans.  Almost nobody points that out.  We could do case after case like this.  The--I mean, it takes--say when--take Cuba, for example, which we mentioned before, the United States right now is not carrying out terrorist wars against Cuba but it has Cuba under a very tight blockade, which is extreme and was opposed by the entire world when it comes up in the general assembly over here.  Universally condemn.  Israel votes with the United States, but it has to.  So does that matter to anybody?  No.  They're terrorist, just like Mandela.  They support terrorism.  They're do all kind of bad--they have human rights violations, which is true.  In fact, on Cuba, they have the worst human rights violations in the hemisphere, in the Southeast corner.  A place called Guantanamo, which we stole from Cuba at gun point and refused to give back to them.  The human rights violations there are the worst in the western--some of the worst in the western world.  Do you ever hear of it?  These are true…

CH: I just want to…

NC: Hmm?

CH: I just want to close by talking about militarism.  Karl Liebknecht called militarism the enemy from within.  There's no check anymore.  It's not like the 1960s where the liberal wing of the democratic party might challenge a weapon system.  It's the endless wars which have been--you know, aside from all of the suffering that it's caused, seven trillion dollars wasted, can you talk a little bit about that cancer of militarism?

NC: Well, we just saw--we have the most wonderful military system in the world to defend America.  And if you look at the oath of office that the Chief of Staff, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it's to defend America against enemies, foreign and domestic.  So we have this magnificent military to defend us against domestic enemies.  Was it able to defend the Capitol a couple of days--on January 6th?  Not that I noticed.  But you're right.  No democrat will dare to--virtually none.  Bernie Sanders did and a couple of others.  To oppose a $750 billion military budget.  We should never use the word defense.  It's a military budget.  It has nothing to do with defense.  This was an Orwellism.  And it was 1947--all throughout its history, the United States had a Ministry of War.  Yes, because we were always at war.  United States is one of those rare countries that's been at war almost every day since its founding.  The first war was the invasion of the Indian nations and the destruction of the indigenous population.  That was one of the main reasons for the Revolutionary War was to free the colonists to invade the rest of what is now the territorial country.  So first came a century of wars of aggression against the Indian nation's virtual extermination.  Invasion of Mexico.  Taking over half of it.  Expanding into the rest of the world.  Hardly a day without war.  In 1947, when the new Orwellism was imposed, the war department was changed and its name was changed to Defense Department.  Anyone with eyes open knew there wasn't going to be anymore defense.  There's just going to be war.  Yes.  So it's the Defense Department.  We have a defense budget.  Doesn't defend us against domestic enemies.  In fact, it doesn't defend us against anybody.  For war, attack, aggression.  No opposition.  And it's not just the war department.  One of the most remarkable things that Trump has done was to dismantle the entire arms control regime.  This has been slowly put in place.  Much of it goes back to Eisenhower, Open Skies Treaty.  Every--some of it is Reagan, INF Treaty.  All dismantled.  It has had some positive effect in reducing the threat of terminal war.  And, remember, a nuclear war is a terminal war.  We're done.  It's finished.  But it has reduced the threat.  So let's throw it to the winds.  Nobody talks about it.  Doesn't come up in the presidential campaign and the--hardly a word about it.  And the destruction of the arms control regime is accompanied with bipartisan support for a development of new far more dangerous weapons which increases the threat of terminal nuclear destruction.  That's defense, okay?

CH: Coupled with ecocide, of course.  We've got to stop there.  That was Prof. Noam Chomsky who coauthored with Marv Waterstone, the new book Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance.  Thanks, Noam.

NC: Thanks.

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