Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Chomping on Chomsky & the 50-Years War

"And still they gazed and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew"

Oliver Goldsmith - The Village Schoolmaster

Noam Chomsky was certainly among friends and preaching to the converted in Dublin, the vast majority of his audience being anti-Bush, anti-war and a substantial number just anti-US.

However, Chomsky’s critique is couched in such OTT rhetoric that you have to suspect his motivation is publicity-seeking rather than actually influencing and achieving change. While he quotes from a wide variety of sources to support his arguments, the complete absence of balance is proof that he is shamelessly selective in what he presents and suppresses any source that doesn’t support his hypothesis.

US Civil Society
It’s easy to agree with much of what he says when he talks about aspects of domestic policy in the richest nation on earth - the gap between rich and poor, the absence of a national healthcare plan, proper welfare etc., even if you disagree with his diagnosis as to political motivation and finger-pointing as to culprits.
His audience love to hear this “proof” that Bush is uncaring and in the pocket of big business - but it’s worth pointing out that there have been 11 post-war presidents, with 5 Democrats in the White House for 7 of the 16 post-war presidential 4-years terms. The social inequities and deficiencies in US welfare supports did not begin under the Bush administration.

Human Rights
It’s also hard to disagree when he attacks human rights abuses and points out the creeping relativism with regard to human rights. Co-incidentally, the current Pope also abhors relativism, but the two men hardly appeal to the same audiences.
The US seems to have a systemic problem in this area - you’d have to ask whether the US judicial and prison systems actually contribute to institutionalised abuse of human rights, quite apart from the death penalty. The focus seems to be on retribution rather than rehabilitation and the prison population is predominantly black and/or poor.
The post-war fear of communism, fed by McCarthy and the popular media, coupled with involvement in “dirty wars” worldwide in the long fight against communism, have fostered and justified a “fight fire with fire” mentality which has not been covered and condemned with sufficient vigour by the US media. One result has been that operating on an extra-judicial basis became almost an expected norm for US agencies e.g. the CIA has clearly operated on an extra-judicial basis for decades under all administrations e.g. the Bay of Pigs in 1961 happened on Kennedy’s watch, the overthrow of Allende in 1973 on Nixon’s. Oliver North and the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980's happened under the Reagan administration.
This “fire with fire” mentality is routinely portrayed in US popular culture - books, film and tv feature heroes who regularly break the law “to save America“.
There can be no excuse for systematic breaches of human rights by a western democracy, but it is hardly a uniquely Bush excess. However, his administration has definitely expanded the unsavoury and unacceptable aspects of “relativism” in their ongoing war on terror.

International Affairs
It’s when you come to Chomsky’s assessment of foreign policy that he starts to come completely unstuck. His standard anti-American diatribe would lead you to believe that the US has been operating in a vacuum, with no other protagonists and the rest of the world simply reacting to US provocations.
A timely reminder of his comments on Iran’s nuclear programme: they’d be crazy not to want to develop a bomb - when threatened by the US and Israel. In other words, the most natural reaction for any country is to respond to perceived threats. Remember that when you see the sample of communist-led aggressive actions later on.
The 50-Years War, aka the Cold war, was waged on a number of fronts - political, economic and military between the Western democracies, primarily the USA, and the communist bloc countries, primarily the USSR and China.
Ultimately the economic sphere proved the most effective and successful for the West, with the collapse of communism in the USSR following the fall of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 and the subsequent unravelling of the communist bloc sphere of influence.
The 50-Years War began in 1945 with the Russian annexation of all of eastern Europe, up to and including East Germany, while the Chinese communists were successfully concluding their battle with the Nationalists, who were ultimately banished to Taiwan in 1949.
Post-1945 the Russians engaged in an active policy of supporting Marxist nationalist resistance movements, mainly in the colonies of war-weary European powers, a safe and cost-effective way of expanding their sphere of influence and political ideology into South-East Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Evidence of the aggressive nature of communist expansionist activity include
1948-49 Soviet blockade of Berlin
1948-1960 Malaysian anti-British insurgency
1949 Chinese invasion of Tibet
1950-53 invasion of South Korea, involving Chinese Red Army and Soviet Air force
1950-75 Pathet Lao rebellion in Laos
1954 Viet Minh defeat of the French in Vietnam
1956 military suppression of Hungary
1957-73 North Vietnam invasion of South Vietnam
1961 building of Berlin Wall
1961 Cuban military support to Algerian rebels
1962 Soviet attempt to install ICBMs in Cuba
1964-65 Cuban troops, including Che Guevara, fighting in Zaire & Angola
1965-74 Guinea-Bissau war of independence with Cuban military involvement
1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia
1975-91 30,000 Cuban troops in Angola, transported by Aeroflot, supporting MPLA
1974 Marxist coup in Ethiopia supported by USSR
1975-79 USSR support Khmer Rouge (CP of Cambodia) responsible for 1.7m deaths,
1979 Grenada - New Jewel Movement coup with Cuban support,
1979-89 Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
1989 Tiananmen Square massacre

In addition, Soviet and/or Chinese support could be counted on by any resistance group which either espoused socialist or Marxist ideals and/or was involved in fighting in a country within the Western sphere of influence.

These included the ANC in South Africa, Frelimo in Mozambique, the Mau Mau in Kenya, the Uruguayan Tupamaros, the Argentinian Montoneros and ERP, the Colombian M-19, FARC and ELN, the Chilean MIR and Frente Patriotico Manuel Rodriguez and the Peruvian MRTA.
Key soviet ally and surrogate Cuba, under its Department of the Americas, provided training, supplies and military advisors to these groups in a sustained effort to export revolution to Central & South America. It was in such a role that Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia in 1967.

This list is very far from being exhaustive, but illustrates a geographically widespread and sustained Soviet/Chinese effort to actively promote the spread of communism and/or their own sphere of influence on a worldwide basis. An added benefit of this approach was its ability to maximise the disruption to Western interests in these areas of conflict.

This is not intended to be a potted history or even a balanced view of the 50-Years War, but rather it is a partisan riposte to the ultra-partisan Chomsky view of the world.
Chomsky has lived through all of this period, but it appears that it is only instances of US aggression that he has noticed. I suggest that any impartial observer, perhaps looking in from Mars, would have to concede that The Communist Bloc, rather than the West, has been the prime instigator of political violence on the planet since WWII. Given that Chomsky can clearly see the rationale for Iran’s desire to develop nuclear weapons in response to a perceived threat from the US and Israel, it’s inconceivable that he cannot see that a US response was inevitable in face of sustained military action in pursuit of the ideological expansionist strategy of the USSR and China

And if Chomsky thinks that opposition to the spread on communism was unwise or uncalled for (his doctrine of non-intervention by the US), let us remind him that it is now generally accepted that the two greatest mass-killers in the history of humanity were Mao & Stalin. In each case, it was their own peoples who constituted the majority of their victims.

In the context of the 50-Years War, Vietnam can now be seen in a wider context - a battle lost in a war that was ultimately won. Without US willingness to take on communist expansionism wherever it appeared, the map of the world would look considerably different today.

Ultimately, it was the USA’s ability to bear the economic costs of the prolonged ideological battle which allowed it to prevail. The USSR, with it’s inefficient command economy, simply couldn’t support the cost in the longer term and collapsed like a house of cards in the end. The cost of the 50-Years War has probably been, to a significant extent, borne at the expense of US healthcare and welfare systems.

Along the way, human rights rules have been bent and broken by both sides. Whilst the communist side has been the chief offender, it cannot be acceptable for the USA/West to stoop to their base standards.

It was President Eisenhower (a former general and a Republican!) who warned about the long-term ongoing struggle against communism and, as importantly, first identified the major threat posed to US democracy by the increasing influence of the military-industrial complex. That threat is as great now as it ever has been. The following are extracts from Eisenhower’s 1960 farewell address on leaving office. He was clearly a man of greater intellect than many of his successors.
Perhaps a study of the selected extracts would be of benefit to both Messrs Chomsky and Bush.

“Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.
Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology -- global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger is poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle -- with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment. “

“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.
Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well.
But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. “

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