by Noam Chomsky
Seven Stories Press, 2001
political scientist Michael Stohl
"We must recognize that by convention-and it must be
emphasized only by convention-great power use and the threat of
the use of force is normally described as coercive diplomacy and
not as a form of terrorism," though it commonly involves
"the threat and often the use of violence for what would
be described as terroristic purposes were it not great powers
who were pursuing the very same tactic,"
"[An] act of terrorism, means any activity that (A) involves
a violent act or an act dangerous to human life that is a violation
of the criminal laws of the United States or any State, or that
would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction
of the United States or of any State; and (B) appears to be intended
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, (ii) to influence
the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion or (iii)
to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping."
(United States Code Congressional and Administrative News, 98th
Congress, Second Session, 1984, Oct. 19, volume 2; par 3077, 98
STAT 2707 [West Publishing Co., 1984].
The U.S. is one of the most extreme religious fundamentalist cultures
in the world; not the state, but the popular culture. In the Islamic
world, the most extreme fundamentalist state, apart from the Taliban,
is Saudi Arabia, a U.S. client state since its origins ...
In much of the world the U.S. is regarded as a leading terrorist
state, and with good reason. We might bear in mind, for example,
that in 1986 the U.S. was condemned by the World Court for "unlawful
use of force" (international terrorism) and then vetoed a
Security Council resolution calling on all states (meaning the
U.S.) to adhere to international law.
Nicaragua in the 1980s was subjected to violent assault by the
U.S. Tens of thousands of people died. The country was substantially
destroyed; it may never recover. The international terrorist attack
was accompanied by a devastating economic war, which a small country
isolated by a vengeful and cruel superpower could scarcely sustain
... The effects on the country are much more severe even than
the tragedies in New York the other day. They didn't respond by
setting off bombs in Washington. They went to the World Court,
which ruled in their favor, ordering the U.S. to desist and pay
substantial reparations. The U.S. dismissed the court judgment
with contempt, responding with an immediate escalation of the
attack. So Nicaragua then went to the Security Council, which
considered a resolution calling on states to observe international
law. The U.S. alone vetoed it. They went to the General Assembly,
where they got a similar resolution that passed with the U.S.
and Israel opposed two years in a row (joined once by El Salvador).
That's the way a state should proceed. If Nicaragua had been powerful
enough, it could have set up another criminal court. Those are
the measures the U.S. could pursue ...
It is entirely typical for the major media, and the intellectual
classes generally, to line up in support of power at a time of
crisis and try to mobilize the population for the same cause.
New York Times, September 16, 2001
"The perpetrators acted out of hatred for the ... values
cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious
pluralism and universal suffrage."
[The quote] has all the merits of self-adulation and uncritical
support for power. And it has the flaw that adopting it contributes
significantly to the likelihood of further atrocities, including
atrocities directed against us ...
The United States government, like others, primarily responds
to centers of concentrated domestic power.
... the U.S. government is now trying to exploit the opportunity
to ram through its own agenda: militarization, including "missile
defense," code words for the militarization of space; undermining
social democratic programs; also undermining concerns over the
harsh effects of corporate "globalization," or environmental
issues, or health insurance, and so on; instituting measures that
will intensify the transfer of wealth to the very few (for example,
eliminating corporate taxes) and regimenting the society, so as
to eliminate public debate and protest.
... there are hawkish elements who want to use the occasion
to strike out at their enemies, with extreme violence, no matter
how many innocent people suffer, including people here and in
Europe who will be victims of the escalating cycle of violence.
... we can think of the United States as an "innocent victim"
only if we adopt the convenient path of ignoring the record of
its actions and those of its allies, which are, after all, hardly
The U.S. is the only country that was condemned for international
terrorism by the World Court and that rejected a Security Council
resolution calling on states to observe international law.
The U.S. is officially committed to what is called "low-intensity
warfare." That's the official doctrine. If you read the standard
definitions of low-intensity conflict and compare them with official
definitions of "terrorism" in army manuals, or the U.S.
Code you find they're almost the same. Terrorism is the use of
coercive means aimed at civilian populations in an effort to achieve
political, religious, or other aims. That's what the World Trade
Center attack was, a particularly horrifying terrorist crime.
Terrorism, according to the official definitions, is simply
part of state action, official doctrine ...
A U.S.-backed army took control in Indonesia in 1965, organizing
the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless
peasants, in a massacre that the CIA compared to the crimes of
Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. The massacre, accurately reported, elicited
uncontrolled euphoria in the West, in the national media and elsewhere.
Indonesian peasants had not harmed us in any way. When Nicaragua
finally succumbed to the U.S. assault, the mainstream press lauded
the success of the methods adopted to "wreck the economy
and prosecute a long and deadly proxy war until the exhausted
natives overthrow the unwanted government themselves," with
a cost to us that is "minimal," leaving the victims
"with wrecked bridges, sabotaged power stations, and ruined
farms," and thus providing the U.S. candidate with "a
winning issue": ending the "impoverishment of the people
of Nicaragua" (Time). We are "United in Joy" at
this outcome, the New York Times proclaimed.
We should not underestimate the capacity of well-run propaganda
systems to drive people to irrational, murderous, and suicidal
behavior. Take an example ... World War I ... on both sides, the
soldiers marched off to mutual slaughter with enormous exuberance,
fortified by the cheers of the intellectual classes and those
who they helped mobilize across the political spectrum, from left
to right including the most powerful left political force in the
world, in Germany. Exceptions are so few that we can practically
list them, and some of the most prominent among them ended up
in jail for questioning the nobility of the enterprise: among
them Rosa Luxemburg, Bertrand Russell, and Eugene Debs. With the
help of Wilson's propaganda agencies and the enthusiastic support
of liberal intellectuals, a pacifist country was turned in a few
months into raving anti-German hysterics, ready to take revenge
on those who had perpetrated savage crimes, many of them invented
by the British Ministry of Information. But that's by no means
inevitable, and we should not underestimate the civilizing effects
of the popular struggles of recent years. We need not stride resolutely
towards catastrophe merely because those are the marching orders.
Wanton killing of innocent civilians is terrorism, not a war against
In the 1980s the U.S. fought a major war in Central America, leaving
some 200,000 tortured and mutilated corpses, millions of orphans
and refugees, and four countries devastated. A prime target of
the U.S. attack was the Catholic Church, which had committed the
grievous sin of adopting "the preferential option for the
The U.S. is ... the only country condemned by the World Court
for international terrorism-for "the unlawful use of force"
for political ends, as the Court put it-ordering the U.S. to terminate
these crimes and pay substantial reparations. The U.S. of course
dismissed the Court's judgment with contempt, reacting by escalating
the terrorist war against Nicaragua and vetoing a Security Council
resolution calling on all states to observe international law
land voting alone, with Israel and in one case El Salvador, against
similar General Assembly resolutions.
In the l990s, the U.S. provided 80 percent of the arms for Turkey's
counterinsurgency campaign against Kurds in its southeast region,
killing tens of thousands, driving 2-3 million out of their homes,
leaving 3,500 villages destroyed (7 times Kosovo under NATO bombs),
and with every imaginable atrocity. The arms flow had increased
sharply in 1984 as Turkey launched its terrorist attack and began
to decline to previous levels only in 1999, when the atrocities
had achieved their goal. In 1999, Turkey fell from its position
as the leading recipient of U.S. arms (Israel-Egypt aside), replaced
by Colombia, the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere
in the l990s and by far the leading recipient of U.S. arms and
training following a consistent pattern.
Terrorism - as defined in official U.S. documents: "the calculated
use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are
political, religious, or ideological in nature. This is done through
intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear."
"The Taliban's response to U.S. demands for the extradition
of bin Laden has been uncharacteristically reasonable: produce
the evidence, then we'll hand him over. President Bush's response
is that the demand is non-negotiable." She also adds one
of the many reasons why this framework is unacceptable to Washington:
"While talks are on for the extradition of CEOs, can India
put in a side request for the extradition of Warren Anderson of
the U.S.? He was the chairman of Union Carbide, responsible for
the Bhopal gas leak that killed 16,000 people in 1984. We have
collated the necessary evidence. It's all in the files. Could
we have him, please?"
The U.S. explicitly reserves to itself the right to act as it
chooses, and is carefully avoiding any meaningful recourse to
international institutions, as required by law.
The Arab world has had one free and open news source, the satellite
TV news channel Al-Jazeera in Qatar, modeled on BBC, with an enormous
audience throughout the Arab-speaking world. It is the sole uncensored
source, carrying a great deal of important news and also live
debates and a wide range of opinion ...
Al-Jazeera is, naturally, despised and feared by the dictatorships
of the region, particularly because of its frank exposures of
their human rights records. The U.S. has joined their ranks. BBC
reports that "The U.S. is not the first to feel aggrieved
by Al-Jazeera coverage, which has in the past provoked anger from
Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt for giving airtime
to political dissidents."
[The Wall Street] Journal ... "many Arab analysts argued
that it is, after all, Washington's perceived disregard for human
rights in officially pro-American countries such as Saudi Arabia
that fuels the rampant anti-Americanism."