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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/14/18

The Chomsky Challenge for Americans

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Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky
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It's no wonder that most Americans are clueless about why "their" country is feared and hated the world over. It remains unthinkable to this day, for example, that any respectable "mainstream" U.S. media outlet would tell the truth about why the United States atom-bombed the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As Gar Alperovitz and other historians have shown, Washington knew that Japan was defeated and ready to surrender at the end of World War II. The ghastly atomic attacks were meant to send a signal to Soviet Russia about the post-WWII world: "We run the world. What we say goes."

However, as far as most Americans who even care to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki know, the Japanese cities were nuked to save American lives certain to be lost in a U.S. invasion required to force Japan's surrender. This false rationalization was reproduced in the "The War," the widely viewed 2007 PBS miniseries on World War II from celebrated liberal documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

An early challenge to Uncle Sam's purported right to manage postwar world affairs from the banks of the Potomac came in 1950. Korean forces, joined by Chinese troops, pushed back against the United States' invasion of North Korea. Washington responded with a merciless bombing campaign that flattened all of North Korea's cities and towns. U.S. Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay boasted that "we burned down every town in North Korea" and proudly guessed that Uncle Sam's gruesome air campaign, replete with napalm and chemical weapons, murdered 20 percent of North Korea's population. This and more was recounted without a hint of shame -- with pride, in fact -- in the leading public U.S. military journals of the time. As Noam Chomsky, the world's leading intellectual, explained five years ago, the U.S. was not content just to demolish the country's urban zones:

"Since everything in North Korea had been destroyed, the air force was then sent to destroy North Korea's dams, huge dams that controlled the nation's water supply -- a war crime for which people had been hanged in Nuremberg. And these official journals ... talk[ed] excitedly about how wonderful it was to see the water pouring down, digging out the valleys and the 'Asians' scurrying around trying to survive. The journals exulted in what this meant to those Asians -- horrors beyond our imagination. It meant the destruction of their rice crop, which in turn meant starvation. How magnificent!"

The United States' monstrous massive crimes against North Korea during the early 1950s went down George Orwell's "memory hole" even as they took place. To the American public they never occurred -- and therefore hold no relevance to current U.S.-North Korean tensions and negotiations as far as most good Americans know.

Things are different in North Korea, where every schoolchild learns about the epic, mass-murderous wrongdoings of the U.S. "imperialist aggressor" from the early 1950s.

"Just imagine ourselves in their position," Chomsky writes. "Imagine what it meant ...for your country to be totally levelled -- everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing. Imagine the imprint that would leave behind."

That ugly history rarely makes its way into the "mainstream" U.S. understanding of why North Korea behaves in "bizarre" and "paranoid" ways toward the U.S.

Outside the "radical" margins where people read left critics and chroniclers of "U.S. foreign policy" (a mild euphemism for American imperialism), Americans still can't grapple with the monumental and arch-imperialist crime that was "the U.S. crucifixion of Southeast Asia" (Chomsky's term at the time) between 1962 and 1975.

Contrary to the conventional U.S. wisdom, there was no "Vietnam War." What really occurred was a U.S. War on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia -- a giant and prolonged, multi-pronged and imperial assault that murdered 5 million southeast Asians along with 58,000 U.S. soldiers. Just one U.S. torture program alone -- the CIA's Operation Phoenix -- killed more than two-thirds as many Vietnamese as the total U.S. body count. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the widely publicized My Lai atrocity was just one of countless mass racist killings of Vietnamese villagers carried out by U.S. troops during the crucifixion. Vietnam struggles with an epidemic of birth defects created by U.S. chemical warfare to this day.

America's savage saturation bombing of Cambodia (meant to cut off supply lines to Vietnamese independence fighters) created the devastation out of which arose the mass-exterminating Khmer Rouge regime, which Washington later backed against Vietnam.

As far as most Americans who care to think about the "Vietnam War" know from "mainstream" U.S. media, however, the war's real tragedy is about what it did to Americans, not Southeast Asians. With no small help from Burns and Novick's instantly celebrated documentary on, well, "The Vietnam War" last year, we are still stuck in the ethical oblivion of then U.S. President Jimmy Carter's morally idiotic 1977 statement that no U.S. reparations or apologies were due to Vietnam since "the destruction was mutual" in the "Vietnam War." As if fearsome fleets of Vietnamese bombers had wreaked havoc on major U.S. cities and pulverized and poisoned U.S. fields and farms during the 1960s and 1970s. As if legions of Vietnamese killers had descended from attack helicopters to murder U.S. citizens in their homes while Vietnamese gunships destroyed U.S. schools and hospitals. Did the Vietnamese mine U.S. harbors? Did naked American children run down streets in flight from Vietnamese napalm attacks?

The colossal crimes committed run contrary to Cold War claims that Washington was fighting the spread of Soviet-directed communism. The U.S. wanted to prevent Vietnam from becoming a good example of Third World social revolution and national independence. The truth is remembered in Vietnam, where national museums exhibit artifacts from Uncle Sam's noble effort to "bomb Vietnam back to the Stone Age" and tell stories of Vietnamese soldiers' heroic resistance to the "imperialist aggressors."

One American who made the moral decision to put himself in "our" supposed "enemy's" position was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The people of Indochina, King mused in 1967, "must find Americans to be strange liberators" as we "destroy their families, villages, land" and send them "wander[ing] into the hospitals, with at least 20 casualties from American firepower for one 'Vietcong'-inflicted injury. So far we have killed a million of them -- mostly children." Further:

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Paul Street ( and is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (2004), Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (2007), Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (more...)
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