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Noam Chomsky hardly needs an introduction. Throughout his lifetime as an internationally esteemed academic, scholar and activist he's the rarest of individuals I know. He's world renown twice over - in his chosen field of linguistics where he's considered the father of modern linguistics and as a leading voice for equity, justice and peace for over four decades. Although the dominant US corporate media religiously ignore him (especially on air), the New York Times Review of Books said of him a generation ago that "judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today." He still is, and someone should inform the Times he's also still alive, but you'd never know it from the silence today from "the newspaper of record" and the rest of the corporate media as well.
Noam, as his friends call him, is the Institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics at MIT where he taught in his chosen field beginning in 1955. He's written many dozens of books, and despite a nonstop schedule that would challenge most anyone half his age, he still travels the world to speak to large enthusiastic audiences where he's in great demand. He also gives many interviews that appear in print and on air and continues his prolific writing producing many articles and a new book about every year or two. I don't know how he does it, and I lost count of the number of books he's written. But I'm proud to say I've read and have on my shelves at home about 45 of them (the political ones) and always look forward to his newest when it's available.
For those who feel as I do and admire him greatly, it's always with anticipation and great expectation of more vintage Chomsky when his latest book arrives. One just did, called Failed States, and I couldn't wait to read it and again immerse myself in the thinking and discourse of this great man. It's a privilege and honor to write about it as I'm about to do while taking a little editorial license to add a few of my own comments.
The Theme and Issues Covered in the Book
In his latest book, Failed States, Chomsky addresses three issues he says everyone should rank among their highest ones: "the threat of nuclear war, environmental disaster, and the fact that the government of the world's only superpower is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of (causing) these catastrophes." He also raises a fourth issue: "the sharp divide between public opinion and public policy, one of the reasons for fear....that the 'American system'....is in real trouble....(and) heading in a direction that spells the end of its historic values (of) equality, liberty and meaningful democracy."
The US Has the Characteristics of A "Failed State"
Having laid out his premises, Chomsky believes the US today exhibits the very features we cite as characteristics of "failed states" - a term we use for nations seen as potential threats to our security which may require our intervention against in self-defense. But the very notion of what a failed state may be is imprecise at best, he states. It may be their inability to protect their citizens from violence or destruction. It may also be they believe they're beyond the reach of international law and thus free to act as aggressors. Even democracies aren't immune to this problem because they may suffer from a "democratic deficit" that makes their system unable to function properly enough.
Chomsky goes much further saying if we evaluate our own state policies honestly and accurately "we should have little difficulty in finding the characteristics of 'failed states' right at home." He stresses that should disturb us all, and I would add, as a citizen of this country and now in my eighth decade, it obsesses me. Chomsky then spends the first half of his book documenting how the US crafts its policies and uses its enormous power to threaten other states with isolation or destruction unless they're subservient to our will. He also explains how we react when they go their own way and how routinely and arrogantly we ignore and violate sacred international law and norms in the process.
Chomsky sees the US as an out of control predatory hegemon reserving for itself alone the right to wage permanent war on the world and justify it under a doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense" or preventive war. The Bush administration claims justified in doing so against any nation it sees as a threat to our national security. It doesn't matter if it is, just that we say it is. Sacred international law, treaties and other standard and accepted norms observed by most other nations are just seen as "quaint (and) out of date" and can be ignored. It hardly matters to those in Washington that in the wake of WW II, the most destructive war ever, the UN was established primarily "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" and possibility of "ultimate doom." Although it was left unstated at the time, it was clear that language meant the devastation that would result from a nuclear holocaust.
The UN Charter became international law binding on all states that are signatories to it as members including the US, of course. Under the Charter, force can only be used under two conditions: when authorized by the Security Council or under Article 51 which allows the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member.....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security." In other words, necessary self-defense is permissible. The Nuremburg Tribunal that tried the Nazis after WW II also set an inviolable standard for the crime of illegal aggression which it called "the supreme international crime." The Nazis found guilty of it were hanged. Chomsky has said at other times that "If the Nuremburg laws were applied today, then every Post War (WW II) American president would have to be hanged." In my judgment, a lot of the pre-WW II ones would as well including some of the ones we most revere.
Chomsky rightly explains the US today operates under the doctrine of a "single standard" so it needn't bother with the laws it chooses to ignore. It's the standard he's noted often in other books that Adam Smith called the "vile maxim of the masters of mankind:....All for ourselves and nothing for other people." It was true in Smith's day and as much so now except for much bigger stakes. Chomsky then gives examples like on the major issue of the day - terror. By it we mean theirs against us, not ours against them which, of course, is far greater and more destructive, but that's never mentioned.
The same standard holds in what weapons are allowed. However one may define WMD (in fact, only nuclear ones qualify), it's unacceptable for anyone to use them against us but quite acceptable for us to use any weapon we have or may develop against any designated enemy. Again, it doesn't matter and is never mentioned that using these weapons may risk "ultimate doom." The standard also holds in the use of torture which is outlawed under the Geneva Conventions and UN Convention against Torture. Although we're signatories to these binding international laws, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales dismissed them as "quaint" and "obsolete" in a memo he wrote the president when he was White House counsel in 2002. He further advised George Bush to rescind the conventions even though they are "the supreme law of the land."
US History and Current Behavior Offer Proof that This Country Is A "Failed State"
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