Divide and conquer
by Noam Chomsky
(interviewed by David Barsamian)
Talk about the divide-and rule policy of the British Raj, playing
off Hindus against Muslims. You see the results of that today.
Naturally, any conqueror is going to play one group against another.
For example, I think about 90% of the forces that the British
used to control India were Indians.
There's that astonishing statistic that at the height of British
power in India, they never had more than 150,000 people there.
That was true everywhere. It was true when the American forces
conquered the Philippines, killing a couple hundred thousand people.
They were being helped by Philippine tribes, exploiting conflicts
among local groups. There were plenty who were going to side with
But forget the Third World-just take a look at the Nazi conquest
of nice, civilized Western
Europe, places like Belgium and Holland and France. Who was rounding
up the Jews? Local people, often. In France they were rounding
them up faster than the Nazis could handle them. The Nazis also
used Jews to control Jews.
If the United States was conquered by the Russians, Ronald Reagan,
George Bush, Elliott Abrams and the rest of them would probably
be working for the invaders, sending people off to concentration
camps. They're the right personality types.
That's the traditional pattern. Invaders quite typically use collaborators
to run things for them. They very naturally play upon any existing
rivalries and hostilities to get one group to work for them against
It's happening right now with the Kurds. The West is trying to
mobilize Iraqi Kurds to destroy Turkish Kurds, who are by far
the largest group and historically the most oppressed. Apart from
what we might think of those guerrillas, there's no doubt that
they had substantial popular support in southeastern Turkey.
(Turkey's atrocities against the Kurds haven't been covered much
in the West, because Turkey is our ally. But right into the Gulf
War they were bombing in Kurdish areas, and tens of thousands
of people were driven out.)
Now the Western goal is to use the Iraqi Kurds as a weapon to
try and restore what's called "stability"-meaning their
own kind of system-in Iraq. The West is using the Iraqi Kurds
to destroy the Turkish Kurds, since that will extend Turkey's
power in the region, and the Iraqi Kurds are cooperating.
In October 1992, there was a very ugly incident in which there
was a kind of pincers movement between the Turkish army and the
lraqi Kurdish forces to expel and destroy Kurdish guerrillas from
Iraqi Kurdish leaders and some sectors of the population cooperated
because they thought they could gain something by it. You could
understand their position-not necessarily approve of it, that's
another question-but you could certainly understand it.
These are people who are being crushed and destroyed from every
direction. If they grasp at some straw for survival, it's not
surprising- even if grasping at that straw means helping to kill
people like their cousins across the border.
That's the way conquerors work. They've always worked that way.
They worked that way in India.
It's not that India was a peaceful place before-it wasn't. Nor
was the western hemisphere a pacifist utopia. But there's no doubt
that almost everywhere the Europeans went they raised the level
of violence to a significant degree. Serious military historians
don't have any doubts about that-it was already evident by the
eighteenth century. Again, you can read it in Adam Smith.
One reason for that is that Europe had been fighting vicious,
murderous wars internally. So it had developed an unsurpassed
culture of violence. That culture was even more important than
the technology, which was not all that much greater than other
The description of what the Europeans did is just monstrous. The
British and Dutch merchants-actually merchant warriors-moved into
Asia and broke into trading areas that had been functioning for
long, long periods, with pretty well-established rules. They were
more or less free, fairly pacific-sort of like free-trade areas.
The Europeans destroyed what was in their way. That was true over
almost the entire world, with very few exceptions. European wars
were wars of extermination. If we were to be honest about that
history, we would describe it simply as a barbarian invasion.
The natives had never seen anything like it. The only ones who
were able to fend it off for a while were Japan and China. China
sort of made the rules and had the technology and was powerful,
so they were able to fend off Western intervention for a long
time. But when their defenses finally broke down in the nineteenth
century, China collapsed.
Japan fended it off almost entirely. That's why Japan is the one
area of the Third World that developed. That's striking. The one
part of the Third World that wasn't colonized is the one part
that's part of the industrialized world. That's not by accident.
To strengthen the point, you need only look at the parts of Europe
that were colonized. Those parts-like Ireland-are much like the
Third World. The patterns are striking. So when people in the
Third World blame the history of imperialism for their plight,
they have a very strong case to make.
It's interesting to see how this is treated in the West these
days. There was an amazing article in the Wall Street Journal
[of January 7, 1993] criticizing the intervention in Somalia.
It was by Angelo Codevilla, a so-called scholar at the Hoover
Institute at Stanford, who says: Look, the problem in the world
is that Western intellectuals hate their culture and therefore
they terminated colonialism. Only civilizations of great generosity
can undertake tasks as noble as colonialism, which tries to rescue
barbarians all over the world from their miserable fate. The Europeans
did it-and of course gave them enormous gifts and benefits. But
then these Western intellectuals who hate their own cultures forced
them to withdraw. The result is what you now see.
You really have to go to the Nazi archives to find anything comparable
to that. Apart from the stupendous ignorance-ignorance so colossal
that it can only appear among respected intellectuals-the moral
level is so low you'd have to go to the Nazi archives. And yet
this is an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. It probably won't
get much criticism.
It was interesting to read the right-wing papers in England-the
Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph-after Rigoberta Menchu
[a Guatemalan Indian activist and author] won the Nobel Prize.
They, especially their Central America correspondent, were infuriated.
Their view is: True, there were atrocities in Guatemala. But either
they were carried out by the left-wing guerrillas or they were
an understandable response by the respectable sectors of the society
to the violence and atrocities of these Marxist priests. So to
give a Nobel Prize to the person who's been torturing the Indians
all these years, Rigoberta Menchu....
It s hard for me to reproduce this. You have to read the original.
Again, it's straight out of the Stalinist and Nazi archives-at
their worst. But it's very typical of elements of British and
from the book The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
published by Odonian Pressin 1993
Tucson, AZ 85751
tel 602-296-4056 or 800-REALSTORY
other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press
Secrets, Lies and Democracy
What Uncle Sam Really Wants
Few and the Restless Many