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Dr. Noam Chomsky

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McKiernan Interviews
Interview with: Noam Chomsky
Interviewed by: Stephen McKiernan
Transcriber: REV
Date of interview: ND
(Start of Interview)

SM (00:01):
Great. What are your thoughts on the American youth of the (19)60s and the (19)70s with respect to the following? Were they unique and different than other students you have taught or been around? And that is the students before (19)64 and after 1981. Secondly, do you feel these students know their history better? And did they challenge their professors more? Did they feel more empowered? And what were their strengths and weaknesses? And it's based on your experiences, because I know you cannot talk about 74 million people.

NC (00:39):
Well, the ninth generation of consciousness, so ninth decade. So, it was kind of like the (19)30s. I was a child then, but the (19)30s and the (19)40s, it was pretty lively, student activism. And the (19)50s, things quieted down, became... It was kind of like a reasonably passive decade. I mean, partly repression, partly other things. The (19)60s, things picked up again, but not... Took some time. I mean, so for example, right here at MIT, it was very quiet until about 1967 or (19)68. Faculty was quite active and anti-war and other activities, but not the student body. And then it was different times in different places. Berkeley was a little earlier, Wisconsin was a little earlier, but by the late (19)60s, there was quite a rise in student activism, interest and all sorts of issues and challenges, thinking about new things, raising questions about the nature of the university, their lives, war, gender relations. So, all kinds of things sort of blew up. And then that just extended in the following years. There was so much student activism that elite circles became extremely concerned about what they called the failures of the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young. That is their phrase. That is liberal elite, I am talking about, not right wing, no trilateral, the administration liberals, those people, they are worried about the institution's responsible for the indoctrination of the young. They are not doing their job. And many measures were taken to try to pacify the population, in particular young people, ranging from the drug war to high tuition, to trap people in debt to many other things. But I do not really think it worked very well. I mean, I think generally activism has sustained, maybe even increased. So, lots of things developed in the (19)80s and the (19)90s that did not exist in the (19)60s. For example, the solidarity movements, third-world solidarity movements, they really date from the 1980s. The global justice movement, which is substantial, that is 1990s or even this century. And it is very scattered. There is not anything unified, but it is quite substantial, actually. You can see it when the Iraq War came along. The Iraq War is I think the first war in the history of the imperial powers that was massively protested before it was officially launched. In the case of Vietnam, it took five or six years before any [inaudible] developed.

SM (04:05):
When you look at the free speech movement on the Berkeley campus in (19)64, (19)65, I love Mario Savio, saddened that he did not live long. But what happened there and the challenges that were taking place within the university, obviously a lot of the students, and we are only talking a percentage now, a lot of the critics, and I would like your thoughts on this. A lot of the critics of the boomer generation of 74 million will always say that only five to 15 percent were involved in any kind of an activism. So, they use that. So, see, 85 to 90 percent were doing nothing. They were living their lives like everybody else. And they used that as a negative, as opposed to a positive. Well, how do you respond to that?

NC (04:53):
How many people were involved in the civil rights movement? That was a major movement. Changed the country. How many are involved in the feminist movement? Changed the country enormously, country's totally different from what it was 50 years ago. I mean, it takes MIT for... this university, because we happen to be sitting here, but it generalizes over the country, in fact, over much of the world. And if you came here... When I got here in the mid-(19)50s and you walk down the halls, what you saw was white males, well-dressed, deferential, no table out anywhere organizing for something, very passive, doing the work. Take a look down the halls now, you can do it. Half women, third minorities, all kind of protesting this and that, get organized and this and that and the other thing. Those are made informally dressed, which is not just, it is more than symbolic. That means change relationships to change from deference and obedience to interaction, much closer interaction. These are major changes. And how many people were involved? If you count the number of people actively involved, it was probably pretty small. We completely changed the country, civilized the country in a huge way. So, what does it mean? I mean take, say, the American Revolution, how many people were involved? Estimates are maybe a third of the population, and actually a third would probably supporting the rebels. A third were supporting British. A third wanted them all to go away. Something roughly like that. I mean, that is what happens. Take, say, resistance to the Nazis in Europe. How many people are involved with the partisans? Minuscule. In Northern, I mean, in Southern Europe were a huge number, but Italy, Greece. But in France for example, very small numbers. Most people are kind of living their lives. Paris is a pretty decent place to live.

SM (07:10):
It is almost like if you ever hear a student say, "Well, I am only one person." Well, Dr. King used to always say, "It can start with you." An idea starts with someone, and it spreads. And Dr. King was always a believer that it was about we, not me, and that every person in his congregation or people that were at his presentations, he knew could be just like him. It is about that kind of...

NC (07:41):
I mean, the civil rights movement is an interesting example that really took off with young people, snake workers sitting in at lunch counters, freedom riders and so on. And it created a wave of enthusiasm, in which King could become a national figure. If it had not been for that, he would have been talking in his church and he would have been the first to say that.

SM (08:11):
Well, another critics of Boomer generation, if you read and you hear about it a lot today, is-

NC (08:16):
I do not understand why that is a critic. I mean, it's a criticism of the American Revolution, small percentage of population period.

SM (08:23):
In (19)94, I believe Newt Gingrich when he came into power made some comments about the (19)60s and he is a Boomer himself. And if you watch television shows today, like Huckabee or some of the other people on Fox, but I do not use them as the perfect examples, but there have been people over time that criticized this generation that grew up in the (19)60s and early (19)70s as the reason why the breakup in the American society, the breakup of the society, which was the divorce rate went on the increase, the lack of respect for authority. The...

NC (08:56):
That is right. But that is part of the civilizing of the society.

SM (08:58):

NC (08:58):
I mean the divorce rate went up. Is it better to have domestic abuse and unhappy marriages? I mean, is it good or bad that the divorce rate went up? I mean, I happen to be married for 60 years, so we are not part. But I mean, the fact that the divorce rate went up is not either good or bad. A traditional marriage with domestic abuse, presentness, patriarchal families, extreme unhappiness. Is that a good thing? But does not mean much. Say the abortion rate went up. Is that better than unwanted pregnancies? This is part of liberation. Part of people liberating themselves is that there's turmoil. That is why the revolutionary generation in the United States cause turmoil. That is why a large part of the population lined up with the loyalists and in fact, fled the country, fled in terror because the rebels they regarded as terrorists were taking over.

SM (10:05):
Do you think that the attitude that even people my age now feel as they are now getting social security for the first time, a feeling of uniqueness that we were different than any other generation in American history, that we were going to be the change agents just for the betterment of society. We are going to end war, racism, sexism, homophobia, the whole works.

NC (10:28):
There was a substantial sector of activist engagement and independent thought and concern about human issues in the (19)60s. I cannot give it exact numbers, but there was a substantial, and it did change the society, civilized. So, it is a much more civilized society than it was 50 years ago. A lot of things that were considered perfectly normal 50 years ago would be intolerable today. Unthinkable.

SM (11:00):
The society that we live in today, which is the divisive as it takes place. Nobody's listening to anybody, "I know better than you know," and "You're the problem and I am not," that kind of an attitude, is that a shoot off?

NC (11:14):
That is propaganda. I mean, was it any different in the (19)50s? I mean, is it better if people are passive and say, "Okay, I listen to authority."

SM (11:23):
It is not.

NC (11:25):
I mean, you just cannot. These cliches that are tossed around, first of all, nobody knows whether they have any basis in reality. And if they do, are they positive or negative? I suppose people do not listen to authority. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? You want to have a totalitarian state, it's a bad thing. If you want to have a democratic society, it is a good thing.

SM (11:49):
Do you think... This is something that I started out by asking Senator Nelson of all people, a conversation over dinner, and then I used it as one of my questions throughout all my interviews over the last couple years, and actually something I worked on with students who even added to it. And that is that, do you feel that this generation or this group of people born after 1946, between 46 and 64, as they age, as they get closer and closer to passing on that they have an issue with healing, do you think that there's an issue in this country that we have not healed since all of the divisions that were taking place in the (19)60s and (19)70s, divisions over the war, divisions, over all the other issues that came about at that time? Is it important?

NC (12:42):
The divisions were very good things. Let us take the (19)60s, take the war. Kennedy launched the war in 1962. In 1962, he sent the US Air Force to start bombing South Vietnam. He authorized napalm, started chemical warfare to destroy crops and ground cover. He initiated programs which to drive the rural population into what amounted to concentration camps. Ultimately millions of them to separate them from the gorillas who the United States knew they were supporting. And it was total silence, apathy. You could not get three people together in a room to talk about it. Was that a good thing? I mean, would we think that is a good thing if say Russia had been doing it? No, it was a terrible thing. It was apathy, obedience, lack of concern enabled the United States to practically destroy South Vietnam. We practically destroyed the country before protests began. Big serious protest began around 1967. By that time... read Bernard Fall.

SM (13:52):
I have, yes.

NC (13:52):
Okay. You remember what he wrote in his last reflections on a war? He was the most respected military historian and Vietnam specialist, the one guy, McNamara and others respected. He said before he died, that in combat, that in (19)67, that he doubted whether Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity could survive the onslaught of the most violent, savage military machine ever launched against an area that size. Well, he was a hawk, but he cared about the Vietnam enemies. And that is what he was saying at the point when protests began, really took off. So, what was right? The silence and apathy that allowed that to happen, as Gingrich wanted. Or the protests that said, "No, we cannot go around destroying countries," which Gingrich, of course, hated. Supporters of state power, subservient supporters of state power of course want everybody to be quiet and obedient.

SM (14:54):
In your opinion, when did the (19)60s begin?

NC (14:58):
When did the (19)60s begin?

SM (14:59):
And when did it end?

NC (15:02):
Depends what issue you pick. If you pick Vietnam, you can trace it pretty clearly. So, I mean, I was giving talks about Vietnam (19)64, (19)65 to four people in church. If we wanted to have a meeting on it at MIT, we would have to put together 10 topics and get Vietnam in there and maybe we could get 20 people to show up. In 1965, my wife, we had two little girls, seven and four I think at the time, and she took them to a women's demonstration in Concord, Mass. Concord is the center of American pacifism, you know, go back, it is transcendental center. So, they went to a women's demonstration in Concord, which was just standing quietly in a square holding signs. They were attacked, tomatoes, tin cans and so on, driven out. And we had our first public demonstration against the war in Boston in October 1965. That is three years after Kennedy attacked the country. But that time was already half destroyed. We dared to have a public demonstration on the Boston Common. It was violently broken up largely by students. The only reason I was supposed to be a speaker, but nobody could speak. Saved from being to shreds by a couple hundred state police. Take a look at the Boston Globe the next day, the liberal newspaper. It was praising the counter demonstrators and denouncing those who dared to stand up and say, "Maybe we should not bomb North Vietnam." That is October (19)65. Take a look at Congress, Senator Mansfield, who later pretended to be at Dove, which is a total lie. It was denouncing the demonstrators for their terrible behavior, for daring to stand up against the state and so on. I mean, that was October (19)65. It was a good discipline totalitarian-style culture. Couple years later it did erupt, thankfully, and you can pretty well time it. Like I say, it was in Wisconsin. It was a little bit earlier and there were small SDS demonstrations, but it really took off in about (19)67. And that was the time when Bernard Fall was describing what I said, much too late. And in fact, there has been a massive effort since to suppress what happened, deny what happened. It was so successful that by 1977, Carter was asked at a press conference, "Do we owe the Vietnamese reparation any debt for what we did to them?" His answer was, "We owe them no debt because the destruction was mutual." That is 1977. I mean, if somebody said that in Russia about Afghanistan, we would call it revival of Nazism. And by the time you get to Ronald Reagan, it was a noble cause. You get to George Bush number one, and he said, "Well, we can never forgive the Vietnamese for what they did to us, but we will maybe relax some of the constraints on them and allow them into the world if they face the one moral issue remaining from the war. Namely devoting themselves to finding the bones of pilots who they shot down maliciously." As if they were flying over central Iowa. Well, that is the elite culture and the media and so on. There has been a massive attempt to reject and deny what happened. And what happened is what Bernard Fall described. But try to find it somewhere. Try to find it in the textbook. I try to find it in the press, try to find it in Congress, even in scholarships that is way out the fringe. If fact you take a look at the elite culture, there's never anything more than, "Well, it was a mistake." Say Anthony Lewis in the New York Times way out at the extremist, at the extreme of the media when the war ended in (19)75, his retrospective was, "We entered with blundering efforts to do good," which is kind of like a totalogy if the state does it, it's good. So, we entered with blundering efforts to do good. But by 1969 it was clear that it was a disaster too costly to us. You could have read that in the Nazi general staff after Stalin threat, that is called criticism here. But among the general population that is not the view. And they did become more civilized, although elite sectors did not, the media did not. And for people like Cambridge, of course it is a catastrophe, you are supposed to obey. You are supposed to be quiet and obey the rulers.

SM (20:06):
But they Beats were pretty important too on this, were not they in terms of they influenced some-

NC (20:13):
They did.

SM (20:13):
Yeah. Because when you think about Ginsburg and Kerouac, Cassidy and that group-

NC (20:17):
And that goes back to the (19)50s.

SM (20:17):
They were a challenge to authority.

NC (20:20):
Yeah, it was a challenge, which was part of the background for what happened in the (19)60s. So sure, it was there, the counterculture was there. And those who want to reimpose discipline and ensure that there is no functioning democracy, and that people are obedient and passive, what they focus on is the fringe of craziness in the (19)60s, which was a fringe of craziness. You focus on that. And yet, so you know, scream about the bra burning, but not feminism. Okay, that is a way to try to reimpose discipline, obedience. But we do not have to live in a totalitarian culture just cause the elite sectors wanted.

SM (21:03):
We know that from history that SDS was a real, to me, it was a great organization. Students from Democratic Society, participatory democracy. And I just interviewed Mark Rudd recently and some of Kent State at the 40th Remembrance, and he admits the mistakes that were made that really affect him when we destroyed SDS. And that hurts him even more. The history of SDS and then they only think about the weatherman. And Dr. King talked about-

NC (21:36):
Weatherman and PL.

SM (21:37):

NC (21:39):
By (19)68 they self-destroyed.

SM (21:40):

NC (21:40):
They split into Weathermen and PL. Yes. And I remember that, in fact. I do not know if Mark Rudd remembers, but I was very critical of what he was doing in Columbia in 1965. In fact, was actually invited by his parents to come to their house so they could dress me down for criticizing what their wonderful son was doing. He may not remember.

SM (22:05):
The violence aspect is probably the negative part because to me, and I would like your thoughts on this, when we are not only talking about the Weathermen, now we are talking about in the American Indian movement where Alcatraz was a very, I think it was a very valid effort, but Wounded Knee turned into violence. You had the Black Panthers, and of course Bobby Seals says, "Oh, we were not in a violent group. We just had... Somebody else has guns. We have to have guns." So, the concept of the Black Panthers was kind of scary. The guns at Cornell University in (19)69 was certainly scary.

NC (22:44):
But let us take the violence in the Black Panthers. There was violence in the Black Panthers. Two Black Panthers were murdered. I mean, there was a major campaign by the national political police, FBI, to destroy the Panthers by violence. And it led as far as Gestapo-style assassination. I mean, in December 1969, the Chicago police was set up by the FBI, raided a Black Panther apartment and murdered one of their, Fred Hampton, the major organizer in bed in a 4:00 AM raid-raid. Also marked. That is Gestapo-style assassination at the hands of the state. Yeah, that was violence. Is that what people are talking about?

SM (23:35):
No, they are talking about the other end.

NC (23:36):
Yeah, they are talking about a student holding a gun. Not about the national political police, murdering Black Panther organizer. Yeah. So, a lot to talk about reality and fiction, but it's fiction that is favored by the Gingrich's.

SM (23:55):
I would be curious too, your thoughts on Black power because of the fact that Dr. King was a non-violent protest, Bayard Rustin, who was from Westchester, went to the national tribute on Bayard a couple years back. Bayard had a very important debate with Malcolm X. It was, I think, in 1965, I think it was at Columbia, I think. And then of course Dr. King, that famous scene of Stokely Carmichael and Dr. King with his arms in basically saying, "Your time has passed." And Malcolm was saying that, "Bayard Rustin, your time has passed." By any means necessary.

NC (24:32):
Let us take a look at what happened. I mean, I happened to be in favor of... I was involved in non-violent resistance. And I thought, well, this was a wrong and a mistake. But nevertheless, let us look at what happened. As long as Martin Luther King was denouncing racist sheriffs in Alabama, he was very popular in the north. But then what happened afterwards, "I had a dream"? He turned to class issues. He turned, first of all, to opposition to Vietnam War, strong opposition and to class issues. He started a poor people's campaign. In fact, he was murdered, remember, in Memphis when he was helping to support a sanitation workers' strike. He was on his way to Washington for a poor people's campaign. Well, at that point, he was already being vilified. And in fact, if you take a look at the memorials to King every January 15th, they are overwhelmingly pure hypocrisy. They talk about the time when he was attacking racist Alabama sheriffs. Not the time when he was trying to organize poor people, was being vilified by northern liberals and was assassinated.

SM (25:42):
That is beautiful because that is the truth. And I firmly believe, and this is just me, and I would love your thoughts on this, that if Dr. King was alive today in his 80s, that even though we have got a day in memory of him, I think he would be sensitive because he was about we, it was not about me. And he also always talked-

NC (26:08):
But those days are not about him, they are about him when he was acceptable to the power system. It was about him when he was denouncing racist Alabama sheriffs. Yeah, we can all support that. How about when he is supporting organizing a poor people's movement or criticizing the Vietnam War? No, no, then he was becoming irrational and extreme. And we have to suppress that. So, the celebrations of Martin Luther King are not about him. They are about the part of him that is acceptable to power systems.

SM (26:41):
Well, I am amazed too because I studied this, and I found out that the two people that have the largest FBI records are Dr. King and Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt.

NC (26:54):
In fact, the largest state repression program in American history was Coen Dupro, which was mostly during the democratic administrations of the (19)60s. And then it started against the Communist Party and then the Puerto Rican nationalists and the Native American movement and the Black movement and the entire new left. And the women's movement, the Panthers, everyone, it was huge regression, totally criminal, led all the way to assassinations. It is wiped out American history.

SM (27:32):
You would have been a great speaker at Kent State. I do not know if you have ever been one of the speakers there, but they had the 43-remembrance and...

NC (27:40):
I have spoken there.

SM (27:45):
I feel that the two people that were missing this year at the Remembrance were you and Howard Zen. Now I am not sure if Howard would have... Dr. Zen would have made it, but I think your voice would have been very important there. Your thoughts on... Kent State to me was a watershed moment for a lot of people felt that everything kind of went belly up after Kent State, that pretty soon the giraffe was coming to an end and young white children, and then of course two Black children or young children were killed at Jackson State 10 days later. What does that mean to the end of so-called the anti-war movement or the (19)60s? Kent State and Jackson State were the line of demarcation.

NC (28:40):
Kent State is the one that enters history, not Jackson Street, because Blacks were being killed all the time. For example, Fred Hampton.

SM (28:50):
I always have to check this too. Sure. We are doing fine. Okay.

NC (28:54):
Kent State became a major movement because they were privileged white students. And yes, that did tell people who had made fun of themselves as victims that you too could be victims, but I do not think that was the end by any means. In fact, the Kent State was... After that came the mayday in Washington mass movement to try to close down Washington. I was there with Howard, in fact, other protests. The protest became strong enough so that they impelled Congress to terminate the bombing of Cambodia, August 1973. And they were strong enough so that the US had to withdraw from Vietnam matter. In fact, they remained strong enough so that the US had to narrowly constrain the invasion of Iraq and never got anywhere near the Vietnam War. The attacks, they could not just take a look, the casualty tools. They could not do any of the things that Kennedy and Johnson could do. And there was massive protest about it. So, I do not think it ended then. I just think it took new forms. But as I said, things like the solidarity movement, which is unique in the history of imperialism, it has never happened before. I mean, in France, nobody that organized to live in an Algerian village to try to help the people and maybe defend them with a white face. But thousands of Americans were doing that in the (19)80s in Central American wars. And now it is the international solidarity movements all over the world. One of the ships that just tried to break the guys at Flotilla was the Rachel Corrie. That is an American kid who was killed by a caterpillar bulldozer trying to protect the home. Things like that did not happen in the past.

SM (30:47):
You talked about the contributions, all the movements took place, the late (19)60s and early (19)70s. Many of them were offshoots of the civil rights movement because that was kind of a teacher to the other movements, the anti-war movement and the women's movement, even the gay and lesbian and certainly Earth Day in the environmental movement. Gaylord Nelson used that as the teachings as examples of it.

NC (31:09):
And that was it. That was the 1970, (19)71.

SM (31:11):

NC (31:12):
It is after the (19)60s.

SM (31:13):
Do you think that is that one of the greatest contributions of the Boomer generation are all the movements that developed over issues? Because today I think they are somewhat being criticized as being segregated. There used to be when you had the anti-war movements in the past, you would have all these groups together. Do you think there is a segregation, or this is there is...

NC (31:37):
They are supposed to be illusion. I mean, you had the big marches together for about two years. It is (19)68 and (19)67 through (19)69. It is a moment. It was important. It was focused on a major atrocity. Probably the major crime in the post-Second World War period was focused on that, trying to end it. And then it expanded in many different directions, and it should have. So, the feminist movement, for example, which probably has had more effect on American society than any other. Now that is from the (19)70s. It began in the (19)60s, but it really took off in the (19)70s. The environmental movement is (19)70s up until today. The anti-nuclear movement, which had like 80 percent of the population, that was the early (19)80s. Solidarity movements, which were massive and coming right out of mainstream America, incidentally. They were coming out of rural churches and Kansas and Arizona. That is the (19)80s. The global justice movement, (19)90s and today. All of this has its overall effect has been to civilized the country, which is exactly why it is hated and vilified. Now if you take a look at it like any popular movement, you're going to find a fringe of craziness. See? So, then you can kind of blow that up and say, "Okay, that is the movement. It was all silliness. It was all Woodstock." It had a civilizing effect on the society. And by the early (19)70s, that was causing panic among elites. I read someday the book called The Crisis of Democracy. Very important.

SM (33:21):
Who is the author of...

NC (33:24):
It is the Trilateral Commission. Liberal, internationalist elites in Europe, the United States and Japan. The American rep with Samuel Huntington from Harvard. I mean this is essentially the Carter administration. In fact, the Carter administration was drawn almost entirely from their ranks. And The Crisis of Democracy is concerned with the fact that the country was getting civilized. They could not stand it. These are the liberals, notice not the right wing. The right wing wanted law and order and so on. This is the liberals. They said there is too much democracy. There is an what they called an excessive of democracy. Now we have to have more moderation in democracy. People who are used to be passive and obedient in the good old days are now press entering the political arena to press their demands. So, there is a turmoil and challenges and that is no good. We have to have more moderation and get back in your box, follow orders, more indoctrination. That is the liberals. And that is the early (19)70s. And a lot of things happened then. That is specific number one of the motives for the drug war, surely, was to try to head off a very dangerous development. By the 1960s, many people, many young people, but also plenty of others, were beginning to question the doctrine that everything that the state does is noble, maybe mistaken, but noble. That is every state tries to impose that doctrine. We are noble. Maybe we make mistakes. You pick anyone you want, the most horrible monsters. That is the doctor. And that was accepted in the 19s through the (19)50s and so on. (19)60s began to be challenged and that was frightening. So, something had to be done to make us the victims. People were beginning to understand what say Fall had been saying years earlier, that it was the Vietnamese that were the victims. We were destroying them. That is dangerous. Well, the drug war was intended to make us the victims. It began with fantasies about an addicted army, mostly fantasies. You get Walter Cronkite; you are getting up on television saying that "Our brave boys in Vietnam are being attacked by the Vietnamese with guns and with drugs." They are trying to addict us, turn us into a nation of junkies and this rare society. So, we are really the victims of the Vietnamese. That is Walter Cronkite. I am not talking about Glenn Beck. That is Walter Cronkite. Liberal hero. And they manage to switch it around. We are the victims. That is why in 1977, Carter could say, "We owe them no debt because the destruction is mutual." And it is an amazing propaganda chief, having destroyed three countries.

SM (36:22):
When we think of the criticisms of presidents, at least Boomers when they were young, we think of Johnson and we think of Nixon, and I do not think of Ford that much. And certainly, whether you like Ronald Reagan, it is mostly an anti-Nixon, an anti-Johnson. Of course, Johnson was a liberal and Nixon was the most liberal Republican you could find.

NC (36:46):
I will tell you; he was the last liberal president in the United States. After that came away with conservatism beginning with Carter.

SM (36:54):
What you are really saying is that in terms of helping civilization as you see it, Boomers were very important in the protesting and setting a tone that we are not the most noble people because Vietnam. The two terms that seem to always bring fire... I have been in the university now for 30 some years. Two words that always seem to raise the, let us not talk about it or let us not go there, Vietnam and quagmire. You meant quagmire. David Halberstam. You mentioned those two words.

NC (37:26):
An interesting notion. See that is David Halberstam, who was a super hawk. You take a look at his reporting. It was pretty good reporting. But why was he criticized? He was criticized because he said the war is not going well. That is like criticizing some Nazi after Stalingrad who said the war is not going well. We do not call that criticism. And elsewhere we call it criticism. Here, but it is not. He was never Randy Warman, Halberstam. He was a decent reporter. He described what he saw, and he noticed what in fact the US command that polices the lower levels of it knew pretty well. Yeah, it is going pretty badly. The messages they were sending up to the top were, "It is going wonderfully." And he was criticized and considered anti-war for saying it is not true. Is that a criticism? We do not call that... It is an indication of how corrupt the intellectual culture is. We cannot conceive of the notion of criticism. And in fact, the degree of, let us say, take the American history, think there is some real crimes in American history like extermination of the Indigenous population. Why are we here? Is that a crime? Some of the major crimes of history. We are a settler colonial society. That is the worst kind of imperialism. Oh, normal imperialism just subjugates the population. Settler colonialism wipes them out. That is millions of people who were exterminated, and the founding fathers knew it. Like John Quincy Adams talked about what he called that hapless race of Native Americans who we are exterminating with such perfidious cruelty that one of the crimes for which someday God will punish us. It is John Quincy Adams, the founder of the Manifest Destiny, the great grand strategist. But is that part of American history? No. I mean, is slavery part of American history? Well, slavery is there only to say, "Well, we got over. Look how we got over it." In fact, we never got it.

SM (39:44):
That is why Howard's in this book, the alternative American history book is really good.

NC (39:48):
That is why it was very important.

SM (39:49):
That little booklet of essays is... It is just unbelievable.

NC (39:55):
But notice that his book just changed the consciousness of a generation by bringing out elementary facts that should have been in every elementary school for centuries. But it's considered radical because it was talking about elementary truths, and it still is not penetrated intellectually leads. So, if you read the New York Review of books, for example, the leading liberal intellectual left liberal intellectual journal, an article about a year ago by Russell Baker, who's a critical left analyst. And he talks about how when... He said when Columbus got to the Western Hemisphere, he found an empty continent with maybe a million people from the steaming tropics to the Antarctic stragglers. Kind of like he is off by maybe a hundred million or so. And they had an advanced civilization kind of like Europe except in savagery. But that is the New York Review denying the extermination of tens of millions of people. Today I checked to see there was not a single letter protesting.

SM (41:06):
When you look at the wall that was built and finished in 1982, and all the veterans coming back when majority of them felt like they were not welcomed home. And we know the history of how they were treated upon their return.

NC (41:20):
Well, that history is mostly mythology.

SM (41:23):
It is?

NC (41:24):
The spiting and all that stuff.

SM (41:25):
I know the spitting part, but in terms of the veterans of foreign wars, they would not even welcome a Vietnam vets back-

NC (41:32):
That is right. Because it was not a victory.

SM (41:35):

NC (41:36):
They want victories. Actually, was a victory for the United States that destroyed Vietnam, but it was not a big enough victory. So, the super jingoists say you guys did not hack it.

SM (41:48):
When Jan Scruggs wrote the book To Heal a Nation, I had been to the Vietnam Memorial now for 35 times in a row, paying respects. I knew Louis Puller at the end of his life, and that is a great book, Fortunate Son. And I have noticed that the wall was built to heal the veterans. It was to be a non-political statement and it was to help the families of the loved ones who died and those who served. I noticed that there still is a lot of politics there. It is not on the stage, but just you hear it by what people wear, what people say. It is the body language, it is everything. So, we have got to come a long way. What do you think the wall has done in terms of healing the nation, if it has, because that is what Jan Scruggs was hoping he was going to do, the nation as well as the Vietnam veterans and their families. And I am not even sure if he was even thinking of the anti-war people.

NC (42:51):
I mean, the veterans and their families deserve sympathy and respect. But the big issue is not healing the nation. It is getting the nation to face up to what it did after the Second World War. The problem in Germany was not healing Germany. No, the problem was getting Germans to face up to what they did. It is the same with us. It's not just the defeated who have to face up the what they believe. It is also the victors. In fact, A. J. Muste, great pastor, he once said that the problem after a war is with the victors, that they think they have shown that violence pays, and they are the problem. Watch out for them, not the defeated. And that is right. And in Vietnam though, it was not a super victory. We did not turn Vietnam into the Philippines like a miserable colony. Nevertheless, it was a substantial victory for the United States. When Carter said the destruction was mutual, I mean, the fact that people did not... There was not an uprising of protest. It's amazing. I mean, take a walk in Cordini Province and New York. Is it the same? Destruction was mutual, but that is Carter.

SM (44:18):

NC (44:20):
That is a lot for us to be ashamed of.

SM (44:22):
When you go to the wall and you stand there, obviously everybody has different perceptions, but when you look at that granite wall and all those names... Two more minutes?

Speaker 3 (44:35):
He is the boss.

NC (44:35):
Yeah. Two more minutes.

SM (44:36):
Yep. What do you see?

NC (44:39):
What I see is sympathy and pain for the victims. The victims include the American soldiers, includes their families, but a thousand times more, a million times more, it includes the countries and the people we destroyed.

SM (44:58):
The three million who died in Vietnam.

NC (45:00):
Probably four million or so were killed in Vietnam. And huge numbers of loss in Cambodia. It is countries that were just destroyed. That part's in turn to moonscapes.

SM (45:13):
I guess that is... That would be fine. Thank you very-

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview



Stephen McKiernan


Chomsky, Noam

Biographical Text

Dr. Noam Chomsky is a theoretical linguist, historian, political activist, social critic, author, and scholar. Dr. Chomsky is one of the founders of the field of cognitive science and one of the leading figures in analytic philosophy. He is especially famous with his analyses of the pernicious influence of economic elites on U.S. domestic and foreign policy as well as intellectual culture.





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Binghamton University Libraries

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Interview Format


Subject LCSH

Linguists; Historians; Authors, American--20th century; Scholars; Political activists--United States; Chomsky, Noam--Interviews

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General Yuan; Photographs; Study Abroad; College student in the nineteen sixties; Nineteen forties; North Vietnam; Rise from the South.


Noam Chomsky.jpg

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About this Collection

Collection Description

Stephen McKiernan's collection of interviews includes more than two hundred interviews with prominent figures of the 1960s, which were collected between the mid-1990s and 2010s. The collection provides narratives of people who were actively involved in or witnessed events in the 1960s, an era which spurred profound cultural and… More

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“Dr. Noam Chomsky,” Digital Collections, accessed July 25, 2024,