Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Vietnam Remembered-part 3

From Q and A

Responsibility of Intellectuals 

(1:48:35) Man: Professor Chomsky, I just want to take you back to the beginning of your talk about your 1967 book about responsibility of intellectuals. I just want to ask you that other people have followed up talk about this topic. Edward Said talked about responsibility of intellectuals on his BBC (…). He pointed out speaking truth to power. I remember reading subsequently, you kind of give qualification that it is a waste of time: speaking truth to power. I just want you to comment on your difference between Said on this topic.

In addition to that, I’d like---embedded in your assumption of responsibility of intellectual, you said that in a democratic society, there is much less constraint for the intellectual class to expose lies that government do in the name of the nation, the population and so on. Is this unique to the United States? Taking you back to your George Orwell’s problem you were formulating around the 70s, was Orwell looking at this intellectual class in the same way?  Or even back to Jonathan Swift, looking at the relationship between England and Ireland and all the writers who were writing about the English role in Ireland, is this some revolution as we have been moving? I’m combinating the thing in the Iraq war, where this fact is constrained, is changing in our time? The intellectual can actually be more responsible and answer your question? 

NC: Well, Edward Said is an old and close friend of mine. I actually doubt that we disagree about this. The question is what you mean by the phrase "speaking truth to power." I mean if you take it literally, it doesn’t make any sense. I mean what’s the point of speaking truth to McGeorge Bundy or Henry Kissinger? I mean they all know the truth. They don’t want to hear from us. We have nothing to tell them. 

So, speaking truth to power is a total waste of time. What isn’t a waste of time is trying to tell truth about power. That makes sense. 

But then, what you do is engaging with the general population and trying to become involved...and you don’t speak truth to them either, after all. Who the hell am I? Why should I tell the truth to the population? What you try to do is what a good teacher does. You try to encourage people to figure out themselves and then do something about it.

So, what we should be doing is engaging with other people to try to get, use whatever, you know, good fortune you have, maybe privilege, resources, training, whatever they may be, to help them try to figure out truth by themselves. That makes sense and get them to overthrow the power. Not to talk truth to… (applause) 

So, as far as history is concerned, I think this is kind of some real truisms. I mean I hate saying it because it’s so obvious.

The more freedom and privilege you have, the more opportunity you have. OK, that’s just elementary. The more opportunity you have, the more responsibility you have. OK. And responsibility to do something, make use of the privilege and freedom you enjoy. We do enjoy an enormous amount of freedom and privilege. It was never given to us by the powerful. It was fought for by the powerless. And they won it. And they achieved it. You got to defend it. You got to use that legacy to go on.

 But the fact of the matter is that people like us are uniquely free from oppression. I mean a lot of people complain about it but a kind of repression that exists in places like this, the United States, is miniscule as compared to what happens elsewhere in the world. 

I mean, take say US colonies. Here’s something interesting about ourselves. 
We just passed the 25th anniversary of the assassination of the Archbishop of El Salvador (Oscar Arnulfo Romero), who was known as “the voice for the voiceless.” He was trying to speak for the poor. He was killed by forces that we armed and trained. That set off the beginning of the decade of monstrous atrocities in El Salvador, run by the guys now in office, which ended symbolically in 1989 by the murder of six leading intellectuals, Jesuit intellectuals, priests. 

They had their heads blown off by elite military forces armed and trained and directed by the United States, who had already compiled record of killing tens and thousands of usual victims: peasants, working people and so on.  

How much commemoration was there in Cambridge of the 25th anniversary of the assassination of the Archbishop and the 15th anniversary of the murder of the six leading Latin American intellectuals? In fact, who in Cambridge can even tell their names, let alone have read anything they wrote? 

(They were Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Segundo Montes, Arnando Lopez, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, Juan Ramon Moreno and Julia Elba Ramos.)

Now, do a small thought experiment. Imagine something like this happened in Czechoslovakia.

So, in 1980, the Archbishop was assassinated by Russian-backed forces and in 1989 Vaclav Havel and a half dozen of his associates had their heads blown off by elite Czech forces armed and trained by the Russians. Would we know about it? You bet. Would there be commemoration? I mean you’d be screaming to the heavens. In fact, we could have a nuclear war because we were so outraged by what they did. 

But when we do it, it’s gone

To my knowledge, there was no commemoration on any of this in Cambridge. There was in Boston but not in Cambridge. There was in a church downtown Boston. But you know, that's part of the difference of the elites who are protected from knowledge and understanding that is a large part of what education is about and people who don’t have those advantages of being defended from the truth and being indoctrinated.

OK, that tells you something about the intellectuals. The Jesuit intellectuals were murdered in El Salvador at our hands and the Archbishop, the same. They were not speaking truth to power. They were trying to help people understand what was happening to them and do something about it. So, they got their heads were blown off. 

That’s not going to happen to us. The same is true in quite a few other countries in the world where intellectuals do not simply serve power and support violence and terror but actually protest against it. Sometimes they, very bravely, face real serious oppression, assassination, for example, or torture and prisons. I mean in fact, if we don’t do it, it’s just criminal. 

To answer your other question, there’s nothing new about that. I mean the history of intellectuals is written by intellectuals almost by definition. So, therefore it sounds pretty. 
You know, like if you had a history of taxi drivers written by taxi drivers, that would sound pretty too. But you have to ask yourself, can we believe the history of themselves written by intellectuals? 

Well, in order to answer that question, you have to look at the facts. Turns out facts are quite different. Overwhelmingly, intellectuals have been servants of power. There is always some kind of fringe of dissidents. That goes back as far as you want. Furthermore, we all know it. We may not notice it, but we all know it. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Vitenam Remembered part 2

Reshaping of history

Well, we turn to reshaping of history. After the war, when you have to start reconstructing it the right way in people’s minds, we get to, say, President Carter in 1977, who gave his view of the war. This again, was at a kind of liberal extreme. He said that we owe Vietnam no debt because "the destruction was mutual." If you want to see how mutual it was, take a walk in Plains, Georgia [Carter’s hometown] and the Mekong Delta, you’ll see. What is interesting about that comment is that it received no reaction. Nobody was appalled. Yeah, OK. The destruction was mutual so we don’t owe them any debt. 

But by the time you get Bush No.1, there was a much harder line. There is the debt. It’s theirs. They’re the ones who were guilty. The destruction was not mutual where it took place, here, in Texas. But he said we are nice guys, so in his words, “we seek only answers without the threat of retribution for the past.” In other words, we’re willing to forget all the crimes that you committed against us, and we only seek answers because we’re such nice guys. 

What are the answers? Well, the answers are to the one moral issue that remains after destroying South Vietnam. Namely, the missing in action who were somehow shut down over Iowa by some strange way. But as long as that gets answers, everything is fine.

We don’t need any answers about the millions of corpses in South Vietnam or about the hundreds of thousands of victims of chemical warfare which we have recently learned, though it doesn’t get reported, was at about twice the intensity of what was reported during the war, and according to US analysts, left about 2 million—2.1 million victims. We don’t need any answers for those deformed fetuses in Saigon hospitals. And people are still dying including people who were born years after the chemical warfare officially stopped but are still contracting serious diseases, cancer and mutation and so on. We don’t have to ask about that. In fact, it almost never gets reported.

Actually, sometimes it does, to be fair. There was an article in the science section of the New York Times a couple years ago that suggested it is not really a good idea to ignore this. We should study it. The reason we should study it is that it is an unusually good experimental situation because we have controlled group. 

That’s only South Vietnam that was subjected to this particular war crime, not North Vietnam but they have the same genes. So we can study the effects of incredibly high concentrations of dioxin, one of the worst carcinogens known. We can study the effects of this on humans by comparing the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese, and maybe we would learn something from it that would be useful for us. So, really it might be a good idea to look for answers. 

 Go on a couple of years, we get to Robert McNamara’s memoirs, ten years ago, In Retrospect. The reaction to the book―I won’t talk about the book―but the reactions to it were extremely interesting. The hawks condemned McNamara for treachery. The doves appalled him because they were vindicated--this includes, you know, real people way at the edge, I mean religious leaders who were opposing the war on moral grounds. They were vindicated. Why? Because McNamara issued an apology which is true. He issued an apology to Americans, not the Vietnamese. Not a word about that. He issued an apology to Americans for not telling them early enough that the war was probably going to be too costly to Americans. So, the doves are vindicated. Well, you know, tells you something. 

In McNamara’s retrospect…it’s almost US government sources, but he quotes one outside expert. And he’s a good choice. That’s Bernard Fall, who incidentally was an extreme hawk and a military historian and a Vietnamese specialist who was out in a lot of countries, in fact, killed there. So it was a good choice. He was unusual among Vietnamese specialists that he actually cared about people even though he was a super hawk. 

McNamara quotes him, he says that in 1965―1965 is when the "official" war started, you know, the US started bombing North Vietnam and sent the troops to the South.
In 1965, McNamara says, he refers to Bernard Fall as a great expert, he says Fall was providing “encouraging news,” McNamara says, “encouraging news” which helped persuade Washington that the US effort could not fail. So, that was really good news. 

What did Fall actually say? What he said is in 1965, he said “what changed the character of the war was not the bombing of North Vietnam, not the sending of US soldiers to the south but the decision to escalate to unlimited aerial warfare against South Vietnam at the price of literally pounding the place to bits.” That was the “encouraging news” because he added, well, I’m sure that the US probably can’t lose. So, Washington liberals were very encouraged because Fall said they could not lose “at the price of pounding the place to bits.”

McNamara goes on and says that in 1967, Fall reversed his stand and felt that US power and technology might not prevail. Again he doesn’t quote him but here’s what he said. He(Fall) said, “Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity” is “threatened with extinction under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed against an area this size” and “US force might prevail”, he felt. Extinguishing the country. So, that’s…I’ve been trying to figure out what goes on in someone’s head who reports that sort of thing, I… let me know about it.
(for more detail, please go to

The operative values of the US war are very well illustrated by comparison of the bombing of the south and the bombing of the north. The bombing of the south was vastly more intense and started years earlier. But if you look at the records, now we have a richer array of records from Pentagon Papers and other internal sources and memoirs like McNamara’s. All is the same.

The bombing of the north was meticulously planned. Very careful thinking about should we go here and should we escalate a little so on and so forth, huge record.

The bombing of the south was barely mentioned. There weren’t any plans. You just do it, you know. Bomb the place to bits, extinguish the country.

Incidentally, it’s also true with the anti-war movement unfortunately. Most of the protest was against the bombing of the north which was a crime, a hideous crime but peripheral. I mean the bombing of the south, the attack on the south as kind of counterinsurgency and bombing everything else, were far worse. Among the…sort of in an establishment the protest was almost entirely against the bombing of the north. The bombing of the south was barely mentioned. 

Well, what’s the difference between them?

Unfortunately, it’s regrettably easy to answer, to give the explanation. The bombing of the south was costless to the United States. The population was totally defenseless. Say, you can bomb as much as you want. You want to drive the country to extinction, it’s not going to cost you anything. And those, there were not international protest because the West accepts the moral principles of western imperialism after all. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. If you want to destroy defenseless people, that’s your right. 

On the other hand, the bombing of the north, it was dangerous for the United States. When you’re bombing the north, you might be hitting Russian ships in Haiphong harbor or internal Chinese railroad which happens to pass through North Vietnam. And there are embassies in Hanoi which might not be happy about it, western embassies and so on. 

So, bombing of the north carries a certain risk for the United States, and therefore it was meticulously planned but bombing of the south being completely costless is scarcely even mentioned. Unfortunately that’s easy to talk about and explain. The same is true of the few, the very rare cases, like My Lai, where atrocities are acknowledged belonging, blame among somebody else, not us. 

You will notice that the same is going on in Iraq. What happened to Abu Ghraib, for example, is criminal but it’s much easier to blame at on—whatever the name is, England, some uneducated person from who was sort of forced into the army but--because it’s mercenary army of the poor--than to absolve Donald Rumsfeld or George Tenet or George Bush, who were the people who were responsible.
Actually, Human Rights Watch just put out a report on that which won’t be reported I’m sure. 

The same in say, Fallujah. There were reports about atrocities in Fallujah: one marine killed somebody who was apparently wounded or not resisting. That became a big atrocity. What about turning Fallujah into Grozny? You know, just smashing the city into dust. That’s not an atrocity. What about capturing the general hospital on the first day and forcing the patients to lie on the floor? Taking them out of bed, forcing them to lie on the floor with hands manacled behind their back under guard? That wasn’t secret. There was a front page, big picture in the New York Times about it.

I mean a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. And George Bush in fact is subject to the death penalty for that under US law, under US War Crimes Act. 

That’s literally true. US War Crimes Act of 1996 passed by a Republican Congress makes grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions a crime punishable by death. Actually it’s part of the reasons I presume why Bush’s legal counselor Alberto Gonzales, now Attorney General, advised him to rescind the Geneva Conventions because he said it would reduce the likelihood of punishment.Well, not bad advice.

OK, I’m barely skimming the surface, and I’ll stop here. But the general point is that we’re not talking about some exotic tribe we don’t understand. We’re talking about ourselves. The most important topic, the one we’re supposed to understand best and the one that’s certainly the most important to us. Unless people like us become capable of looking in the mirror honestly, biology’s only experiment with higher intelligence is likely to prove quite brief. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

Vietnam Remembered-part1

Vietnam Remembered

This is a lecture on April 30, 2005, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the (official) end of the Vietnam War. The speakers are Ngo Ving Long and Noam Chomsky. Ngo Ving Long is professor of History, University of Maine and the author of The Vietnamese Peasants under the French. Long talked first and Chomsky, then both took questions after Noam’s talk.

Noam Chomsky: For the people of Indochina*, the issue of crucial significance is what happened to them and to these ravaged countries during one of the worst, if not the worst, war crime of the post Second World War era: horrendous assault upon the civilian population, primarily South Vietnam, as Long  pointed out.

*Indochina is the term used for the former French colonial regions that include current Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. 

For the world, what’s of crucial significance is how these crimes are interpreted in the aggressor state, namely us. That question in part is pretty easy to answer. For intellectual elites in the United States, for the communities in which we live, it’s pretty easy to determine; there’s huge published record and there’s certain spectrum. I won’t talk about the right wing. Much more interesting is the dissident extreme that is permitted within the mainstream. 

The Intellectual Elites in the United States

 So, there’s no one more extreme than Anthony Lewis in the New York Times. At the end of war in 1975, he wrote a retrospective in which he said that the war began with benign intentions. That was "blundering efforts to do good"―that’s how it began, the kind of thing that Long was just describing―"but by 1969, it had become clear that it was a mistake" that it was too costly for us. That’s the extreme end. 
Why 1969? Well, because that was about a year and a half after the business community in the United States had turned against the war, partly because they regarded it too costly to the United States and partly because they recognized what I think is true, that the US had basically won the war in terms of its major war aims so there wasn’t any point going on. 

We do also know something about the public opinion. So, for example, in 1969, when the extreme dissident end was able to conceive that the blundering efforts to do good may have become too costly to us, in (the same) 1969, about 70% of the population in the United States regarded the war as-in the words of the polls-“not a mistake” but “fundamentally wrong and immoral.” If you want to do (look at?) numbers, which incidentally have sustained up until the most recent polls just a few years ago: roughly 70%. 

You might do a research project to see if any words like that “fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake” appear anywhere within anything like mainstream literature, press, scholarship, virtually anything, but it does happen to be the opinion of the vast majority of the population. And the numbers are pretty striking, because these are people who never heard it. Those results are never reported, presumably everyone thinks I’m the only crazy person who thinks this. 
It’s important that results are not reported so that people will feel isolated and helpless and so on. 

Why did the business press believe that the war had basically been won by 1969? That’s an unusual view. The usual story is the US lost. In fact that’s supposed to be a terrible loss. 

Well, whether the US won or lost depends on which war aims you are looking at. I mean there were maximal aims and there were basic aims. 
The maximal aims were to turn Indochina into actually what was described as the model, described openly as the model, namely, Indonesia after 1965. 

Indonesia in 1965, the US backed, partly instigated a military coup led by General Suharto, it killed about maybe a million people, mostly landless peasants, wiped out the only mass-based political party in the country, instituted a regime of torture and oppression and violence. It was called by the CIA one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century. They compared it to Hitler and Stalin. It wasn’t concealed here. The New York Times described it as a “staggering bloodbath” which was a “gleam of light in Asia” because the independent, the main party of the poor was totally wiped out and the country opened up to Western exploitation. So, that was the model.  It’s true that the United States did not succeed in imposing that model on Indochina, so in that respect, it was a failure and the US lost the war, couldn’t create an Indonesia. 

On the other hand, if you look at the major war aims, that wasn’t what it was at all. And this is incidentally a case where Vietnam is quite different from Iraq. In Vietnam, the US had no particular interest in maintaining control over Vietnam, quite unlike Iraq.
The goal in Vietnam, the basic war aim in Vietnam was to destroy the country and for good rational reasons which they explained in places like Harvard and MIT. 

The problem was that they were concerned that an independent Vietnam might undertake a course of development that would become a kind of a model that others in the region would want to follow. It’s what’s called in internal documents a “virus” that might infect others. And if we have virus that might infect others, we have to destroy the virus and inoculate the others. And that was what was done, the virus was destroyed, never going to be a model to anybody and the potential victims were inoculated like in Indonesia with staggering mass slaughter that was a “gleam of light in Asia” and the same in surrounding countries: Marcos in Philippines and so on. 

And the concern about spreading infection was very deep. So, George Kennan, for example, was afraid that, he was one of the top planners, that infection in Indonesia [Communist Party of Indonesia] might spread throughout all of south Asia even threatening the US position in the Middle East, a crucial area where the world’s energy is. 

And it was feared that Vietnamese virus might extend as far as Indonesia. And if that happened, Japan—John Dower here described Japan as the super domino—Japan might have to accommodate to the Asian mainland, becoming its industrial and technological center in an independent area; that would, in effect, recreate what Japan was trying to achieve during the World War Two. They called it “co-prosperity sphere,” which would mean that the US would have lost the Second World War. And the United States, the government was not prepared in the late 1940s to lose the Second World War. 

And Vietnam, as John F. Kennedy put it, was “the keystone to the arch.” I mean if that one fell, as it was called, that is move towards independence, the rot would spread and the virus would infect others and you’d get—it could turn out to be terrible. 

Kennan incidentally had no objection to restoring to Japan what he called it “Empire towards the South.” It’s co-prosperity sphere and the United States in fact did that. But this time, it was under US control, so it was OK. That’s why Kennan supported reconstructing the Japanese world order but, of course, under US control.

And Vietnam was regarded as “the keystone to the arch” for that. You know, by 1968, it was pretty clear to anyone with eyes open that Vietnam would be lucky to survive; it wasn’t going to be a model for anyone. The virus was destroyed, the region had been inoculated so the world became, as McGeorge Bundy later said―former Harvard dean, he was national security advisor for Kennedy—he said after 1965, with staggering mass slaughter in Indonesia, he said the US war in Indochina became “excessive.” In other words, it was costing us too much. So it was kind of like a bad tactical decision to keep going after basic war aims had been won. 

That’s the core of the issue. I think that’s why business had turned against the war by 1968 and a year or two later at the extreme dissident left of intellectual opinion, you are allowed to call the war “a mistake” that began with “blundering efforts to do good. “

Well, the idea that is in the heads of the population that it was “fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake” that has to be driven from their minds clearly. And there have been huge efforts to do that ever since with a kind of mixed effects: the polls remain more or less the same. On the other hand, there has been an effect. 

So, for example, knowledge of the war is extraordinary in the United States. 
There has only been one major academic study on this as far as I know of what people believe about the war. And it’s mind-boggling. A couple years ago, people were asked to give an estimate of the number of Vietnamese who died during the war. And the mean estimate was 100,000, which is about 5% of the official US figure and probably 2 or 3% of the actual figure. 

The authors of the study point out that it’s as if you took a poll in Germany and ask people how many Jews died in holocaust and the mean judgment was 300,000, in which case we’d think that there’s a slight problem in Germany. But here, it’s kept from us; we’re not supposed to think about it. The results were even worse because it turns out that this poll was taken in a leading northeastern university which is pretty politically active, for the general population it might be even crazier. 

Right before the November election last year (2004) I happened to be away, and I was trying to find what was going on in the world in a hotel. So I turned on TV―that’s something I usually try to avoid, but I got an interesting program. I think it was a program on CNN or something. An hour-long serious discussion led by the chief media critic of the Washington Post, Howard Kurts, with lots of deep thinkers. And the program was called “America’s Vietnam obsession.” And it was about the strange obsession of the United States with Vietnam after all these years. What they were talking about is, you know, did Kerry deserve the bronze medal and all that kind of stuff. What the program demonstrated is that America’s Vietnam obsession, at least among liberal elite opinion, is zero. 

There’s only one question that arises about Kerry and Vietnam. And that is “what was he doing in 1969 deep in the Mekong Delta?”― which had been practically devastated, killing South Vietnamese, seven years after John F. Kennedy had launched an outright war against South Vietnam. This focused on places like the Mekong Delta―and 15 years after the United States had instituted a Latin American style terrorist state in South Vietnam, which, as Long just mentioned, had killed 17,000 people in the Mekong Delta alone? Well, whatever happened in the whole country, so what was Kerry doing there 15 years after this? 

Right in the midst in 1969, which incidentally happened to the peak period of US atrocities in South Vietnam―that was the post Tet (offensive) accelerated pacification campaign, which was carrying out extraordinary atrocities of which one became famous: My Lai. Which became famous because you could blame it on poor, uneducated half-crazed GIs in the field who didn’t know who was shooting at them next and did commit in the atrocity.

But as it happened, that was a minor footnote to a major mass murder campaign: Operation Wheeler Wallawa, which was organized by nice guys like us sitting in air-conditioned offices who were plotting B-52 raids on villages and killing who knows tens of thousands of people. So, therefore, they are immune because they are our kind. But My Lai was those guys so you’re allowed to be angry about it. In fact, there was a Quaker Clinic in Quang Ngai province, working right where My Lai was. They knew about the atrocity immediately but they didn’t even bother reporting it because that happened everyday. You know. OK, what’s big deal, here’s just another one. Those are the real stories but not the ones we know of. Anyway, that’s the question. Those are the kind of questions that would arise if there was even concern, let alone obsession, about what actually happened in Vietnam among liberal intellectual elites. But there isn’t. 

In 1962, Kennedy escalated from a Latin American style terrorist state which killed who knows how many tens of thousands of people, he escalated it to an outright war. 1962 was the year when Kennedy sent the US Air Force to start bombing South Vietnam, authorized the use of Napalm, initiated the use of chemical warfare to destroy food crops so as to drive the population into the concentration camps which had been given various names, alternately many millions of them. 

The story was that they had to be protected behind the barbed wire from the South Vietnamese resistance, which they were willingly supporting. There was no controversy of the fact that they were willingly supporting them; that was understood. It was recognized on all sides. If you look at the internal documents and so on, they all agreed that it was a political war against the military war. South Vietnamese had political strength and the United States had military strength, so therefore the US naturally shifted the war to the arena in which they could prevail. Military strength, which is why the atrocities took place. 

The South Vietnamese who were the victims of the war were labeled “aggressors.” Or else some put it, Adlai Stevenson, liberal hero, Kennedy’s ambassador to the UN, called it “internal aggression.” An interesting new concept. It was an assault from within, according to John F. Kennedy. And the terminology made some sense. The technical definition of aggression in US army manuals included as one type of aggression: political warfare. That’s one type of aggression. So, yes, they were indeed aggressors in their own country. And we were defending ourselves by slaughtering them. 

And the US was entirely aware of this. So, Kennedy’s ambassador in South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge was cabling back that “the generals are all we’ve got.” We lost everybody else. But there’s a problem with the generals, he said. They have not been able to construct an efficient police state like Hitler’s Germany. So, therefore, we’ve got some problems. We’ve got to get over this and let them do it. 

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The U.S. -Israel's Godfather

The U.S. Israel's Godfather. Palestine Cultural Center for Peace, Boston, MA. January 21, 2009.

There are quite a range of topics to talk about, it’s a lot of complex issues. I have a few minutes and I don’t want to speak too long and I’ll just pick two topics and try to focus on them. A couple of words about something else. The two topics are—I’m not going to talk about the atrocities that took place in the last few weeks*, I’m sure you’re quite familiar with that. (*referring to what's been called the Gaza massacre)

One question has to do with legitimacy of the US-Israeli invasion. And we should bear in mind crucially that it’s US-Israeli invasion. We’re critically involved at every level. So, one has to do with its legitimacy.

The second question that I want to talk about has to do with the reasons for it. And the two are intertwined so what I’ll say won’t be entirely separate, segregated but I’ll try to do it systematically.

Legitimacy of the invasion

As far as legitimacy is concerned, it’s almost universally assumed in commentary that the invasion is legitimate. It’s criticized as being disproportionate, but it’s legitimate because obviously a state has the resort to defend itself against attacks from the outside.

Well, there’s certain level of truth to that argument. Yes, a state has a right to defend itself from attack. But this argument moves very quickly to another position. Namely, that a state has the right to defend itself by force from attacks from the outside. And nobody believes that. If that’s supposed to be the principle, it’s, I think, universally rejected.

So, no one agrees that, say, Nazi Germany had a right to defend itself by force against the terrors of the partisans in the occupied Europe. Nobody, I suspect very few people here around us, would believe that the British had a right to defend themselves by force against George Washington’s army. And the reasons are obvious. In both cases, they had no reason to be there in the first place. So, therefore they have no right to defend by force.

There was an easy way to defend themselves: put a stop to the atrocities and invasion and aggression. And when that option was available, you just don’t have the right to defend yourself by force.

Or take say, a useful analogue, take the British in northern Ireland. I mean IRA terror was certainly criminal. And the British had a right to defend themselves from it. How? Not by violence, not by terrorizing the Irish Catholic community, but by addressing the grievances that led to the violence. When they finally began to do so, the terror stopped. And you can think of case after case like that.

So, the universal agreement that Israel had a right to defend itself by force is not only wrong but it is transparently wrong. Wrong on the bases of principles that virtually everyone accepts. If that reasoning is correct, there’s plenty of—a crucial educational problem to face: bring people to understand that by their own principles, their conclusions are absolutely “illegitimate.” And the reasoning is not profound, nothing deep about it, it’s all on the surface.

The reasons of the invasion

Well, let’s turn to reasons. What were the reasons for the attack? Well, there is an official reason. That was given, for example, by Ehud Barack, defense minister, who said Israel had lost patience with the rocket attacks and therefore it had to invade. That, of course, that’s accepted almost universally, then you debate about proportionality. But that has the same fallacy. You have to show that a reaction by force to rocket…you have a right to defend yourselves against rocket attacks surely, but it takes another step in the argument to show that you have a right to defend yourselves by force against rocket attacks as in the examples I mentioned and numerous others. And to show that, you have to show that there were no peaceful alternatives to doing so. Well, that didn't happen to be true; there are plenty of peaceful alternatives. I’ll come to them in a minute.

There has been further debate about the, discussion about the reasons. One commonly proposed argument which I think is accurate is that Israel had to overcome what they called “the lessons” of the failed Lebanon war in 2006, when Israel lost what’s called credibility, its deterrent capability. Put that into simple English, it had lost the ability to intimidate its adversaries into submission by the threat of extreme violence. And they had to recover that capability. It was probably a factor.

As for the timing, probably it had to do mostly with the Israeli elections, in fact, which are coming up in a couple of weeks. One Israeli commentator calculated at the very beginning of the war, that for every 40 Palestinians killed, (Ehud) Barak gained one parliamentary seat. I’m not sure if his arithmetic is exactly right but principle is, if you compare the polls and the casualties, comes out more or less like that. But none of that gets to the reasons. I think that the reasons are different and much deeper.

The reasons are pretty much explicit. They were explained by Ehud Olmert, then Prime Minister. But right here in the United States in May 2006, he gave a speech to a joint session of Congress, rousing ovations, when he explained two points. One of them is principle, the other is implantation of it.

The principle, he said, that is the historic right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, (...) is beyond challenge; rousing ovation. There is a corollary to that: the original population doesn’t have the right there. And in fact, the US and Israel just took that position formally at the United Nations.

Once again, last month, in last December 2008, there was a series of UN resolutions that were passed, mostly by about the same votes, something like 170 to 3 or something like that.

This one passed 173(5) to 5, it was on the right of Palestinians to self-determination. The five against were the United States, Israel and a couple of pacific islands, you know. That’s the usual votes on the Unites Nations. And as usual, it doesn’t get reported.

So, for example, also unreported was that the fact that there was a resolution on the right to food. A huge problem now, it’s that a billion people are facing starvation, it’s far worse than financial crisis. But, of course, that deals with what one British diplomatic historian called “the unpeople.” Ones who are different from us, you know, so, not discussed much. The vote on that was unanimous with one vote against, namely the United States.

There was a vote on arms traffic. The United States is by far the biggest arms trafficker. This was to regulate the arms traffic. In 2006, the United States voted against that alone. This time, it had a company: Zimbabue. So, two of us voted against it. None of this obviously couldn’t get reported.

But the one on the Palestinians is interesting. No right of self-determination. And that’s a corollary to the conclusion that the historic rights of Israel to the land—of the Jewish people to the land of Israel are beyond question, to go together. Actually if you look at the colloquy at the United Nations, there are very excusive, rather pathetic excuses as to why the US had to vote that way but you can go and demand. So, that’s principle.

Then comes the question of implementation. And Olmert, also at the same time in May 2006, explained the implementation. It’s the program that he called “convergence.”

Israel does not want to take---there were sections and still are sections in Israel that want to take over the entire West Bank. But the more rational people understand that’s a problem. That leads to what’s called “demographic problem”: there will be too many Palestinians in the state. If it’s all democratic, it won’t be a Jewish state. So, you have the problem where you have to keep a Jewish state, while taking over what you want in the West Bank.

On the side, it’s not in question that all of the actions in the West Bank are illegal in violation of the foundations of international humanitarian law: the Geneva Conventions.

In fact, the Israeli government was informed of that in 1967 by its own top legal representatives, including justice minister. So, it’s been ratified by the International Court of Justice, the World Court, in a unanimous decision including a US justice. So, there's not a real debate about that. Everything going on there is criminal.

And the US, as what’s called a “high contracting party” to the Geneva Conventions, has the legal responsibility of acting to prevent it. Not doing so is also criminal. And directly embedding it by economic, military, ideological and other means is multiply criminal. So, the criminality of all these actions in Washington and Tel Aviv is not in question. But it’s accepted universally that somehow, that’s us, it’s OK.

In other words, the United States regards itself as an outlaw state. And its commentators, intellectuals and the media accept that. And that right of being an outlaw sate is inherited by its clients. So the issue of criminality is kind of off the agenda.

How do you go about taking what you want in the occupied territories without running into the demographic problem? Well, there is a way, traces way back to 1967 and it’s taking various forms since.

Olmert’s version was that Israel should annex everything within what’s called the Separation wall. It’s an annexation wall actually. It should proceed as it has been doing to take over the Jordan Valley, that’s about a third of West Bank. It will-- that imprisons what’s inside, of course, Israel has the total control of air and so on.

But what’s inside in the imprisoned part has to be broken up into cantons. If you take a look at a settlement map, there are two salients, actually three salients that cut through the West Bank, from the part that Israel annexes within the Separation wall up to the Jordan Valley. One goes east of Jerusalem, what’s called Jerusalem is illegally annexed in violation of Security Council resolutions that go back 40 years. But the US accepts it so it’s us, OK. 

By now it’s greater Jerusalem much expanded to the east. There is a town Ma'aleh Adumim, which was developed mostly in the Clinton years with the purpose of bisecting the West Bank. And to the north, there are two other salients. One go to the town Ariel, the other to Kedumim, that breaks up what’s left and there’s a complex network of check points and barriers and so on, which have no security function except in the sense that they undermine the possibility of any civilized life for the “animals” that are wandering around in the rest of the territory.

Well, that, proceeding in that way, Israel could take over what’s valuable for it in the West Bank: the arable land, the pleasant suburbs around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the water resources that they have control of, in the Jordan Valley, the fertile area. And also it imprisons everything and everything else that goes through. And it doesn’t have any responsibility for the Palestinians. What will happen to them? Well, this may be very clear right at the very beginning of the occupation.

Actually, the person who was the clearest was Moshe Dayan, who was Defense Minister in charge of the occupied territories. Among the leadership, perhaps he was a person who was the most sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. He recognized it and understood. And his position was that what we are doing to you, to the Palestinians, is very much like a Bedouin who kidnaps a young woman and forces her to marry him, and ultimately she’ll accept it. So, ultimately you’ll accept what we are doing to you. Otherwise, as he put it, “you will live like dogs,” and those who want to leave can leave and we’ll see where that goes. Nothing secret about this, you know. Public record from 1967.

And it’s implemented since, it’s not words repeated in one or another form and it’s implemented. Those are the settlement programs, development programs which you and I pay for in a lot of ways, not just financially, but militarily, diplomatically and other ways.

Well, that’s the way to implement the historic right of the Jewish people to all of Palestine without running into the feared demographic problem.

There’s also the problem of Palestinian citizens, non Jewish citizens in Israel, mostly Arab. That can be handled in various ways. One way, in fact, was just proposed by the electoral commission. A couple of weeks ago, they banned participation of the Arab parties in the coming election. That sounds likely to stand—of course I think they're not likely to let that stand, that’s too blatant and in overt violation of minimal democratic practice but in one way of another, they can be marginalized and kept out.

And there’s a further plan which is accepted pretty much across the spectrum*. That is that means have to be found to encourage the Palestinian Arab citizens to leave, citizens in Israel to leave, either by your act of transfer or by rejoining borders so that the heavily settled parts of (....) Galilee will be transferred into one of those segregated cantons that will be called---could be called a Palestinian state someday. Meaningless. (*referring to the proposals of Avigdor Lieberman)

So, those are ways of practically implementing the program of, the doable program of recognizing that the historical rights of Jewish people are beyond, to the entire land are beyond question. And doing it in such a way, that can remain free from the demographic problem: the dangerous problem of having non Jews in a Jewish state. Those are not just proposals. I mean they are being implemented everyday, going on constantly.

Well, those proposals can be implemented only if there is no resistance to them. Now, in the West Bank, by now, there is little resistance because of Israeli violence which has indeed subdued the population. By now, it’s because of collaborationists: the Palestinian forces.

I’m sure you know that Israel is--- the United States with its allies, the Arab dictatorships, Jordan and Egypt, have trained security forces, Fatah security forces, whose main task is to subdue the population. So, if they have a demonstration against atrocities in Gaza, then, instead of the Israeli army going in, they’ll do it. That’s a typical colonial pattern. You know, the whole history of colonialism works like that. I won’t run through the details but it’s absolutely common, very common.

So, like, say, India was that the population was mostly kept under control by Indian soldiers under the British command. Just a typical and natural procedure.

In Chechnya today, it’s kept subdued and quiet and developing and so on under Chechen military forces. The Russians are in background in case anything goes wrong. It’s routine. And it's being duplicated in the West Bank. Well, OK, they've pretty much subdued protests in the West Bank so that it can carry out policies without disturbance. But they haven’t yet subdued Gaza. In Gaza, you still have resistance.

Now, remember, Gaza and the West Bank are one unit. Furthermore, they’re both occupied. There’s no question that Gaza is occupied. Even as sane Israeli commentators point out that there is never going to be a day that it hasn’t been under occupation.

There is a talk about, you know, this famous disengagement but that was a well organized scam.

Hard liners in Israel like Ariel Sharon, the saint patron to the settlers, understood that it was completely senseless to keep several thousand Jewish settlers in the ruins of Gaza, which they already pretty much destroyed, taking a large part of the land and scarce resources like water and protected from a million and a half people by a big component of the IDF, the Israeli army. That’s just crazy. 

So, what makes sense is to essentially transfer them to valuable territory. They were subsidized to go to Gaza, so fine, you’ll load them up in trucks and take them over to be illegally subsidized in the West Bank, which you want to keep, which is what happened. When they announced this disengagement, they, also at the same time, announced new settlement programs in the West Bank. Most of them went there, some went to the illegally occupied Golan Heights. That’s almost all of them.

This had to be presented as a trauma, a national trauma because you had to have images of that on front pages of the newspapers. You may remember the Boston Globe, a pathetic little boy, you know, pleading with the solders not to take them away, you're destroying their homes, you can have cries of “never again,” it’ s kind of like Nazis and so on.

They were all totally faked. I mean if they wanted to remove the settlers, there was nothing easier.

You could have simply announced that on August 1st, the Israeli army is going to leave Gaza, two days later, the people who live there would have climbed into the lorries provided for them and quietly gone to their new subsidized homes and illegally the settlements in the West Bank. Then you wouldn’t have a national trauma and you wouldn’t be able to shout “never again” and so on.

There’s a lesson in this because it also has to do with the possibilities of dealing with the settlements in the rest of the occupied territories, the West Bank.

So, it’s very commonly argued that there’s no possibility of a two state settlement because if the Israeli army tried to forcefully remove the settlers, there would be a civil war. And that’s probably true. The religious nationalist settlers have such a powerful role inside Israel, in particular, in the Israeli army, that they might just refuse to carry, especially to officers corps. Many of them obey rabbis, not the state openly.

So, yes, they might refuse. To do it, you’d have battles, could be a civil war. But there’s no reason for any of that. To eliminate the settlements in the West Bank is a trivial move, just withdraw the army, the settlers will all divide. Many of them are there just because they are paid to have a decent quality of life. OK, so they’ll go back and be paid to be within the border of Israel.

There will be nationalist, religious groups that will fight and hang on to every clot of earth. OK, they can be left to their own devices. They can stay under Palestinian Authority or they can leave too. But there doesn’t have to be any civil war, there doesn’t have to be any force. The mechanisms are just straightforward. So, that’s not a barrier to proceeding to political settlement.

And this has been done. Many examples of this. Just take one recent one, which is pretty dramatic but can’t be discussed here because of what it applies.

Indonesia in 1975 invaded East Timor. You know, what happened was about close to genocide to anything in the modern period. It killed about 200,000 people, maybe a quarter the population. Strongly backed by the United States and also Britain when the atrocity mounted and others. They swore they were never going to leave. The general said it’s part of Indonesia, we are going to keep it, nothing in the world can do about it.

Well, September 1999, under, by then, very serious international and domestic pressure, Clinton decided that it’s enough. He told Indonesian generals “Sorry, friends, the game’s over.” And immediately they withdrew.

You can’t stand up to the godfather. It’s just too dangerous. So, OK, that was the end of that. Now, that’s going down in history as a humanitarian intervention by the United States. Look, how humanitarian we are.

First we supported the invasion, for 25 years helped them destroy the population then, when they just became too much a bother to us, we told them to call it off. And they called it off. OK.

International affairs, you know, there aren’t many principles in international affairs, although scholars will tell you there are, but one principle that works pretty well is that international affairs are very much like the mafia.

And there’s the godfather and you better obey him or else you’re in trouble. And then there are what are called intellectuals who explain to you that what the godfather is doing is humane and just and divine mission and so on and so forth. That’s pretty much the way it works. And the same could work in the rest of the occupied territories.

Legitimacy of the attack on Gaza

Let’s go back to the question of legitimacy of the attack. Are there peaceful alternatives for Israel when they are under rocket attack? Well, there are alternatives in a narrow sense and also in a broader sense.

The narrow sense is sometimes discussed. The narrow alternative is just to accept ceasefire. That would mean ending the rocket attacks and opening the border. Crucially, opening the border. And there are agreements on paper about that.

So, in 2005, there was an agreement that Israel would allow continuous flow across the borders so the people can at least survive and there would be no more violence.

Well, a couple months later in January 2006, Israel rejected the agreement as did the United States. And the reason is that the Palestinians had committed a really grave crime. They had voted the wrong way in a free election and you don’t do that. The godfather doesn’t like that. So, therefore, you have to be punished.

And meanwhile, the intellectual community has to write uplifting articles about our yearning for democracy, so on and so forth. Again, that’s the way international affairs work and cultural system works. So, Israel backed away from the agreement and since then there has been no acceptance of the truce.

Actually, right before the present invasion, the latest invasion, on December 27(2008) although the political leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, proposed that they go back to the 2005 agreementーOK? No need for invasionーIsrael didn’t even respond to the request.

It was much better to attack then you can try to eliminate the last resistance to the atrocities that continue every minute both in Gaza but more seriously in the West Bank, which they really cared about and want to take over the way they describe. So, that’s a narrow proposal. You can accept the ceasefire.

The broader proposal is very simple: accept international law which is straightforward, you have no right to be in the occupied territories, withdraw, and allow Palestinian national self-determination in the released territories. That would be the West Bank and Gaza, 22% of the former Palestine.

Now, on that matter, there’s an overwhelming international consensus and has been for over 30 years, other topics that aren’t discussed here.

This proposal came to the Security Council of the United Nations in January1976. It was brought by the Arab… we call “confrontation states,” Syria, Jordan, Egypt, two state settlement on the international borders incorporating all the wording of UN 242 that you follow, that’s at least the principle that everyone accepts, so right of Israel and every other state to live in peace and security within recognized borders and so on, and a Palestinian state in the released territories.

Well, Israel bitterly opposed to that. Actually, it carried out in action which presumably was directed against the UN: Israel bombed Lebanon for no pretext, killing 50 people. It was kind of reported here but you know, it was like a footnote. Rightly, this footnote. That was probably a message to the United Nations, don’t fool around this. The US vetoed it. OK. The godfather took care of that.

There’s been records ever since later on, I won’t go through it. But there is one break in the record. And it’s important to recognize it because it's significant for the future.

In January 2001, there was one week of negotiations in Taba, Egypt, in which  Palestinians and Israelis negotiated, top negotiators, dealing with the detailed issues about borders, Jerusalem, refugees and so on. And they came pretty close to an agreement. In fact, in their last press conference, they said if they had a couple more days, they probably could have reached a settlement in terms of the international consensus. Well, Israel called off the negotiations prematurely. That was the end of that.

But 2001 isn’t that long ago. It’s not like reaching for pie in the sky, I mean that can be resumed. What’s required is that the godfather agree to what it agreed to Indonesia in 1991. Just say, OK, the game’s over. And you have simple ways to proceed to achieve the international consensus.

Right now, the US and Israel are absolutely isolated on this. Hamas accepts it, Hezbullah has said they won’t disrupt anything that the Palestinians accept, Iran has said the same, the rest of the world is in favor of it. It’s the US and Israel, and the US is the crucial actor all the way through because of its power. So, it’s really in our hands. And that means, I’ll just say one more word.

There’s a lot of talk about trying to apply the kinds of tactics that we used in the case of South African Apartheid but think that through. I mean it’s tempting, I agree, boycott, divestment, sanctions. Think it through.

The South African boycott, divestment and sanctions were effective after decades of education and organizing. In the 1980s, at a point when Congress was passing legislation in favor of boycott, barring US trade, mayors were getting arrested protesting against Apartheid, the American corporations were protesting against it. OK, at that point, people understood what was going on, and you could have effective campaign.

And the same would be true in this case. If people understood what was going on, which you are doing, you can have that kind of campaign. But this is different. You don’t need a campaign. If people understood what was going on, you could settle the problem without that. Namely, by getting the United States to withdraw its extreme rejectionism.

I think that focuses on the task that is really in front of us. It’s an educating and organizing task. The one that was carried out over a long time to lead to overwhelming opposition to apartheid. OK? Then you can do things about it. And it’s not easy and the apartheid case indicates why.

So, in the 1980s, Congress did legislate and end US trade with South Africa. The Reagan administration evaded it. And in fact, trade increased. As late as 1988, the Pentagon declared the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, to be one of the more notorious terrorist groups in the world. It’s in 1988, that’s Collin Powel’s Pentagon. 

In fact, you may know that Mandela was removed from the terrorist list just a couple months ago. I guess this was coming too much embarrassing.

So, you have to, even at the time when you really have the basis for achieving something, you’ve got to compel the US government to go along with it. They got their own interests and their own constituency. But it can be done and it was done and it can be done in this case too, but not without a lot of work.