The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo (New Star $18)

Noam Chomsky has visited Vancouver on numerous occasions to speak. His lectures always attract large audiences in British Columbia. In 1988 filmmaker Tom Shandel interviewed Noam Chomsky in his office at MIT for his film on Viet Nam war-resisters who came to Canada, America, Love It Or Leave It. At the time Chomsky was one of the pre-eminent critics of U.S. policies in Viet Nam.

Here Tom Shandel offers recollections of Noam Chomsky and reviews Chomsky’s The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo (New Star $18), another Chomsky examination of how ‘thought control’ works in the free world.

While his name seems ubiquitous, most people have only a fleeting impression that the tireless political polemicist Noam Chomksy also has something to do with linguistics. Born in 1928 and raised in New York’s left-wing Jewish environment of the late Depression and WW II, Chomsky has no formal training in linguistics despite being a leading authority in his field. He once admitted he probably could not have gotten a teaching position in linguistics anywhere but MIT because as a science school, they care only about results.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been happy with his results ever since Chomsky published his ground-breaking Linguistics: Syntactic Structures; this year he has published New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind from Cambridge University Press. In Mark Achbar’s companion book to the documentary on Chomsky entitled Manufacturing Consent, MIT published an account of Chomsky’s citations in scholarly works by others. Between 1980 and 1992, Chomsky had 3,874 citations in the Arts & Humanities Citation index.

The top ten resources were: Marx, Lenin, Shakespeare, Aristotle, the Bible, Plato, Freud, Chomsky, Hegel and Cicero. From ’72 to ’92 he was cited 7,449 times in the Social Science Citation index, “likely the greatest number for a living person,” and from ’74 to ’92 he was cited 1,619 times in the Science Citation index.

So Chomsky is, above all else, a hard worker. By 1993, his bibliography had over 700 entries. His more than 70 books range from The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory to Politics: American Power and the New Mandarins. Most people think of him as a political commentator but it’s Noam Chomsky’s training in linguistics that has made him into a rigorous explorer of meanings behind the words.

Finding his office was not easy. MIT is across the Charles River from Boston. I remember rowing crews on the water and students throwing Frisbees on the wide lawns in front of a classical building with huge columns. All very patrician. I’m led behind the grand structures to an industrial looking two-storey wooden building like the hangars that used to be at Jericho Beach or the old UBC war-time huts.

Up an outside metal staircase, in a plain hall, we come to an outer office staffed by a female secretary. Behind her is a rank of filing cabinets, back to back, probably about 16 in all. These contain Chomsky’s correspondence files. He is legendary for personally answering all his own mail, either by hand or by his own typing.

Going into his office there’s a large poster of Bertrand Russell, the British mathematician, philosopher and anti-war activist and clearly one of Chomsky’s heroes. At the bottom is a Russell quote that surely has special meaning for Chomsky. “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”

Chomsky sits at his desk, covered in mounds of loose manuscripts, photocopies and newspaper cuttings. Chomsky is an ardent critic of the New York Times, the newspaper of record for America Inc. As his social sideline, Chomsky uses the Times to track the progress of U.S. foreign policy. Bookcases surround him; an electric kettle sits steaming beside a teapot on a little table. The effect is a messy cave, the kind where only the owner knows exactly where everything is. I recall there was an old manual typewriter like George Woodcock’s and probably George Orwell’s. Yikes, I thought. Typing on a manual clunker.

My visit was to record his reflections on the Viet Nam era and the “draft-dodgers” who fled to Canada. He swiveled around on his wooden office chair and launched into a lecture on Canada as an historical safety valve for American political tensions. He mentioned the underground railroad for the African American slaves before Emancipation, and the United Empire Loyalists leaving Boston for Canada in the 1800s. “That was nearly 4% of the entire population of the States that chose to leave the country for political reasons,” he says.

Similarly Chomsky says few Americans will acknowledge the roughly quarter-million young Americans who went to Canada in the Viet Nam era because it doesn’t fit the picture. And if it doesn’t fit the picture, that young men and women would actually choose to leave America, then most Americans couldn’t believe it if they heard of it.

Now, some 13 years later, Chomsky hasn’t changed his views of his country but he has incorporated some new opinions about the ‘new internationalism’. Just as he monitored American delusions about Viet Nam in the 1960s and East Timor in the 1980s, he has turned his critical attention to Kosovo in the 1990s for The New Military Humanism.

Chomsky is extremely critical of the military campaign

in Kosovo. With his formidable intellect and scholarship he probes the events and illuminates the economic powers behind the screen the public sees. He discusses “the new humanism” of the “enlightened states” and he exposes their talent for “intentional ignorance” perpetrated in the name of globalization. This is a dangerous process he describes as “new colonialism.”

Chomsky has gleaned all the records and sifted the lies, half truths and spins in government policy papers, scholarly work, the international press, and, of course, The New York Times. The Kosovo campaign was a crock, he says, poor in conception, vague objectives and ineptly executed. This is what an inquiry by retired NATO Generals has just concluded. Now that the issue is no longer as contentious, the New York Times has reported the Generals’ findings—but Chomsky was first off the mark.

“Intentional ignorance” is a characteristic of the “New Humanists” such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, especially when it comes to analyzing the consequences of actions. Whether it’s Janet Reno in Waco, Texas or the bombing blitzkrieg in Yugoslavia, the New Humanists carefully keep insulated from any moral responsibilities.

Chomsky illustrates how ethnic cleansing increased dramatically after the bombing started, as did “collateral” civilian deaths. So if America can intervene with the Serbs, why not address the plight of the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey? Chomsky explains the reasons.

As Chomsky said years ago, if it doesn’t fit the picture, it can’t be happening. What’s good for General Motors is good for everybody. If you still need convincing about the crusade against Serbia, Lessons from Kosovo has more than 50 pages of notes and a proper index. Read it and your paranoia about the New World Order will be justified.

According to Chomsky, “the real drama since 1776 has been the relentless attack by the prosperous few upon the rights of the restless many.”
New Star deserves a standing O for producing a significant book by an important international thinker about a troubling development in world governance and democracy. Other Chomsky titles from New Star are Chronicles of Dissent (1992) and Class Warfare (1997). 0-921586-74-4

[Tom Shandel / BCBW 2000]