This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
I first "met" Noam Chomsky in 1969 by reading these words of his about the My Lai massacre:
"And now there is Song My -- 'Pinkville.' More than two decades of indoctrination and counterrevolutionary interventions have created the possibility of a name like 'Pinkville' -- and the acts that may be done in a place so named. Orville and Jonathan Schell have pointed out what any literate person should realize, that this was no isolated atrocity but the logical consequence of a virtual war of extermination directed against helpless peasants: 'enemies,' 'reds,' 'dinks.'"
Discussing various of America's criminal acts in the larger war in Vietnam, Chomsky then added of the My Lai massacre itself:
"It is perhaps remarkable that none of this appears to occasion much concern. It is only the acts of a company of half-crazed GIs that are regarded as a scandal, a disgrace to America. It will, indeed, be a still greater national scandal -- if we assume that to be possible -- if they alone are subjected to criminal prosecution, but not those who have created and accepted the long-term atrocity to which they contributed one detail -- merely a few hundred more murdered Vietnamese."
Chomsky wrote "After Pinkville" -- areas like Song My were then colored pink on American military maps -- in 1969. Almost half a century later, the question is: Have things improved? After all, in Ken Burns's new Vietnam extravaganza, his 18-hour documentary on that war, he seems to have captured the zeitgeist of the moment by carefully changing the word "murder" in the script for the My Lai episode to "killing." "At lunch, Burns defended his change," wrote the New Yorker's Ian Parker,"on the ground that My Lai continues to have 'a toxic, radioactive effect' on opinion. 'Killing' was the better word, he said, 'even though My Lai is murder.'" To be thoroughly upbeat, perhaps by 2067 Americans will finally be able to take "murder" straight on television when it comes to My Lai.
Almost 50 years ago, Daniel Ellsberg was both celebrated by many and unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Nixon administration, in part under the Espionage Act, for releasing The Pentagon Papers, a massive secret trove of documents that revealed to the American people something of what the United States was actually doing in Vietnam. In our era, Chelsea Manning did something similar. She turned over a twenty-first-century trove of secret documents on the Afghan and Iraq wars -- on, that is, what she's accurately termed "death, destruction, and mayhem" -- to WikiLeaks and for that she was celebrated by few and prosecuted and convicted by the U.S. military. Pardoned by President Obama after seven years in military prison, she recently had her visiting fellowship to Harvard's Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government rescinded after CIA Director Mike Pompeo cancelled a talk there, complaining that Manning had "betrayed her country," and former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell, a senior fellow at the same school, resigned in protest. Or to put it another way, Harvard caved to men who represented an agency that had committed secret acts of horror betraying every imaginable American value. (To give credit where it's due, significant numbers of Harvard faculty members protested this craven act.) The same institute felt no compunctions about offering a visiting fellowship to former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer and, despite alumni protest, not rescinding it. Perhaps there's an essay, "After Punkville," to be written about all of this.
Under the circumstances, it's our good fortune that, with civilians regularly being "killed" by U.S. firepower across the Greater Middle East, Noam Chomsky continues to remind us what our world really looks like if we don't censor either our language or our thoughts. It makes today's TomDispatch post, a recent interview from his upcoming book with David Barsamian, Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, particularly relevant to our moment. Tom
The Trump Presidency
Or How to Further Enrich "The Masters of the Universe"
By Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian
[This interview has been excerpted from Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, the new book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian to be published this December.]
David Barsamian: You have spoken about the difference between Trump's buffoonery, which gets endlessly covered by the media, and the actual policies he is striving to enact, which receive less attention. Do you think he has any coherent economic, political, or international policy goals? What has Trump actually managed to accomplish in his first months in office?
Noam Chomsky: There is a diversionary process under way, perhaps just a natural result of the propensities of the figure at center stage and those doing the work behind the curtains.
At one level, Trump's antics ensure that attention is focused on him, and it makes little difference how. Who even remembers the charge that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, depriving the pathetic little man of his Grand Victory? Or the accusation that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower? The claims themselves don't really matter. It's enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the Constituency of private power and wealth, "the masters of mankind," to borrow Adam Smith's phrase.
These policies will harm the irrelevant general population and devastate future generations, but that's of little concern to the Republicans. They've been trying to push through similarly destructive legislation for years. Paul Ryan, for example, has long been advertising his ideal of virtually eliminating the federal government, apart from service to the Constituency -- though in the past he's wrapped his proposals in spreadsheets so they would look wonkish to commentators. Now, while attention is focused on Trump's latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers' rights, cripple consumer protections, and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their Constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.
That's just a sample of how the wrecking ball is being wielded by the newly empowered Republican Party. Indeed, it is no longer a political party in the traditional sense. Conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have described it more accurately as a "radical insurgency," one that has abandoned normal parliamentary politics.
Much of this is being carried out stealthily, in closed sessions, with as little public notice as possible. Other Republican policies are more open, such as pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, thereby isolating the U.S. as a pariah state that refuses to participate in international efforts to confront looming environmental disaster. Even worse, they are intent on maximizing the use of fossil fuels, including the most dangerous; dismantling regulations; and sharply cutting back on research and development of alternative energy sources, which will soon be necessary for decent survival.
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