June 20, 2013
A Warning From Noam Chomsky on the Threat of Elites
Posted on Jun 6, 2010
In doing so, Wall Streeters exhibited what Chomsky describes as a Western elite imperial mentality, dating back to 1491 (his first chapter is entitled “Year 514: Globalization for Whom?”). Only this time instead of impoverishing Haitians or Chileans, it was Americans who were afflicted by a “system” of “fuck the poor” (in the words of successful Wall Street trader Steve Eisman). [See Branfman’s review of “The Big Short” in Truthdig.]
The many Americans whose lives have been damaged by financiers’ single-minded focus on short-term profits at the expense of everyone else are only a harbinger of what is to come. Financial elites remain in charge, as evidenced by recent “financial reform” legislation that does not even reinstate the Glass-Steagall law separating investment and commercial banking. New York magazine has described how Obama officials blocked even inadequate reforms, let alone the stronger proposals from Nouriel Roubini, one of the few major economists to foresee the economic crash. Former International Monetary Fund chief economist Simon Johnson tells us “our banking structure remains—and the incentive and belief system that lies behind reckless risk-taking has only become more dangerous,” thus setting the stage for an even worse crash than that of 2008. And, as U.S. competitiveness continues to decline and it cannot afford its endless wars without drastically cutting social spending, countless more Americans will find themselves paying the price for U.S. elites’ imperial mentality.
This mentality described by Chomsky includes the following elements: (1) a single-minded focus on maximizing short-term elite economic and military interests; (2) a refusal to let other societies follow their own paths if perceived to conflict with these interests; (3) continual and massive violations of international law; (4) indifference to human life, particularly in the Third World; (5) massive violation of the U.S. Constitution, especially through the executive branch’s seizure of the power to wage unilateral and unaccountable war in every corner of the globe; (6) indifference to U.S. and international public opinion, which is often more progressive and humane than that of the elites; (7) a remarkable ability to “manufacture consent,” aided by the mass media and intellectuals, that has blinded most Americans to the truth of what their leaders actually do in their names.
To pick but one example of the dozens Chomsky provides: U.S. elite opinion unanimously celebrated the 1990 Nicaraguan election defeating the Sandinistas as a “victory for fair play,” to quote a March 10 New York Times Op-Ed article. But Chomsky reminds us of Time Magazine’s March 12 report on just what this “fair play” meant:
Wrecking a Third World country’s economy and savaging its civilians are such standard U.S. elite behavior that it is barely noticed, let alone criticized in the mass media or halls of Congress. Perhaps the most dramatic example of America’s imperial mentality, however, is the answer to the following question: Which nation’s leaders since 1945 have murdered, maimed, made homeless, tortured, assassinated and impoverished the largest number of civilians who were not its own citizens?
I have asked this question of Americans in every walk of life since I discovered the bombing of Laos in 1969. It’s a simple matter of fact, not involving judgments of right and wrong, and I remain astonished at how most answer “the Russians,” “the Chinese,” or just have no idea that their leaders have killed more noncitizen civilians than the rest of the world’s leaders combined since 1945.
The bodies of Indochinese and Iraqi civilians for which U.S. leaders bear responsibility would, if laid end to end, stretch from New York to California. These would include the huge proportion of civilians among the 3.4 million Vietnamese that Robert McNamara estimated were killed in Vietnam (over 90 percent by U.S. firepower), Laotian and Cambodian civilians felled by the largest per capita and most indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets in history, the 1 million to 1.5 million Iraqis estimated by the U.N.‘s Denis Halliday to have died from Clinton’s sanctions “designed,” in Halliday’s words, “to kill civilians, particularly children,” and the hundreds of thousands killed as a result of the Bush invasion. The total number of civilians killed, wounded, made homeless and impoverished by U.S. leaders or local regimes owing their power to U.S. guns and aid—in not only Indochina and Iraq but Mexico, El Salvador, Israel/Palestine, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Egypt, Iran, South Africa, Chile, East Timor, Haiti, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Jamaica, the Philippines and Indonesia—is in the tens of millions.
One can debate whether U.S. military action against Vietnamese communists, Nicaraguan Sandinistas, Saddam Hussein or the Taliban were or are warranted. But there can be no possible justification for waging war that winds up killing and impoverishing much of the civilian population, on whose behalf U.S. leaders claim to fight, in violation of the laws of war and elemental human decency. Nor can anyone who truly believes in democracy support allowing a handful of U.S. leaders to savage civilians abroad without even informing, let alone seeking permission of, Congress and the American people.
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