The Journalist from Mars
(a talk given at Fairness
and Accuracy in Reporting's fifteenth anniversary celebration
in New York City on January 23, 2002)
from the book
by Noam Chomsky
Seven Stories Press, 2002
The proper topic for an occasion like
this, I suppose, is pretty obvious: It would be the question of
how the media have handled the major story of the past months,
the issue of the "war on terrorism," so-called, specifically
in the Islamic world. Incidentally, by media here I intend the
term to be understood pretty broadly, including journals of commentary,
analysis, and opinion; in fact, the intellectual culture generally.
It's a really important topic. It's been
reviewed regularly by FAIR, among others. However, it isn't really
an appropriate topic for a talk, and the reason is that it requires
too much detailed analysis. So what I'd like to do is take a somewhat
different approach to it and ask the question of how should the
story be handled, in accord with general principles that are accepted
as guidelines: principles of fairness, accuracy, relevance, and
Let's approach this by kind of a thought
experiment. Imagine an intelligent Martian-I'm told that by convention,
Martians are males, so I'll refer to it as "he." Suppose
that this Martian went to Harvard and Columbia Journalism School
and learned all kinds of high-minded things, and actually believes
them. How would the Martian handle a story like this?
I think he would begin with some factual
observations that he'd send back to the journal on Mars. One factual
observation is that the war on terrorism was not declared on September
11; rather, it was redeclared, using the same rhetoric as the
first declaration twenty years earlier. The Reagan administration,
as you know, I'm sure, came into office announcing that a war
on terrorism would be the core of U.S. foreign policy, and it
condemned what the president called the "evil scourge of
terrorism. " ~ The main focus was state-supported international
terrorism in the Islamic world, and at that time also in Central
America. International terrorism was described as a plague spread
by "depraved opponents of civilization itself," in "a
return to barbarism in the modern age." Actually, I'm quoting
the administration moderate, Secretary of State George Shultz.
The phrase I quoted from Reagan had to
do with terrorism in the Middle East, and it was the year 1985.
That was the year in which international terrorism in that region
was selected by editors as the lead story of the year in an annual
Associated Press poll, so point one that our Martian would report
is that the year 2001 is the second time that this has been the
main lead story, and that the war on terrorism has been redeclared
pretty much as before.
Furthermore, there's a striking continuity;
the same people are in leading positions. So Donald Rumsfeld is
running the military component of the second phase of the war
on terrorism, and he was Reagan's special envoy to the Middle
East during the first phase of the war on terrorism, including
the peak year, 1985. The person who was just appointed a couple
of months ago to be in charge of the diplomatic component of the
war at the United Nations is John Negroponte, who during the first
phase was supervising U.S. operations in Honduras, which was the
main base for the U.S. war against terror in the first phase.
Exercising the Power Element
In 1985, terrorism in the Middle East
was the lead story, but terrorism in Central America had second
rank as the story of the day. Shultz, in fact, regarded the plague
in Central America as what he called the most alarming manifestation
of it. The main problem, he explained, was "a cancer right
here in our hemisphere," and we want to cut it out and we'd
better do it fast because the cancer was openly proclaiming the
goals of Hitler's Mein Kampf and was just about to take over the
world. And it was really dangerous. The danger was so severe that
on Law Day 1985, the president announced a state of national emergency
because of, as he put it, "the unusual and extraordinary
threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United
States" posed by this cancer. (Law Day, incidentally, is
the day that in the rest of the world is commemorated as a day
in solidarity with the struggles of American workers. In the United
States it's a jingoist holiday, May 1.)
This state of emergency was renewed annually
until finally the cancer was cut out. Secretary of State Shultz
explained that the danger was so severe that you can't keep to
gentle means; in his words (April 14, 1986), "Negotiations
are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not
cast across the bargaining table." He condemned those who
"seek utopian legalistic means like outside mediation, the
United Nations, and the World Court while ignoring the power element
of the equation."
The United States had been, in fact, exercising
the power element of the equation with mercenary forces based
in Honduras, under the supervision of John Negroponte, while it
was successfully blocking pursuit of utopian legalistic means
by the World Court, the Latin American countries, and of course
the cancer itself, bent on world conquest.
The media agreed. The only question that
arose, really, was tactics. There was the usual hawk/dove debate.
The position of the hawks was expressed pretty well by the editors
of The New Republic (April 4, 1984). They demanded, in their words,
that we continue to send military aid to "Latin-style fascists...regardless
of how many are murdered," because "there are higher
American priorities than Salvadoran human rights," or anywhere
else in the region. That's the hawks.
The doves argued, on the other hand, that
these means were just not going to work, and they proposed alternative
means to return Nicaragua, the cancer, to the "Central American
mode" and impose "regional standards" on it. I'm
quoting the Washington Post (March 14,1986; March 19, 1986). The
Central American mode and the regional standards were those of
the terror states E1 Salvador and Guatemala, which were at that
time massacring, torturing, and devastating in ways I don't have
to describe. So we had to return Nicaragua to the Central American
mode as well, according to the doves.
The op-eds and editorials in the national
press were divided on this roughly fifty-fifty between the hawks
and the doves. There were exceptions, but they're literally at
the level of statistical error. There's material on this in print,
and there has been for a long time if you want to take a look.
In the other major region where the plague was raging at that
time, in the Middle East, uniformity was even more extreme.
Same War, Different targets
Well, the intelligent Martian would certainly
pay great attention to all of this very recent history, in fact
with remarkable continuity, so that the front pages on Mars would
report that the so-called war on terror is redeclared by the same
people against rather similar targets, although, he would point
out, not quite the same targets.
The depraved opponents of civilization
itself in the year 2001 were in the 1980s the freedom fighters
organized and armed by the CIA and its associates, trained by
the same special forces who are now searching for them in caves
in Afghanistan. They were a component of the first war against
terror and acting pretty much the same way as the other components
of the war against terror.
They didn't hide their terrorist agenda
that began early on, in fact in 1981, when they assassinated the
President of Egypt, and is continuing. That included terrorist
attacks inside Russia severe enough so that at one point they
virtually led to a war with Pakistan, although these attacks stopped
after the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, leaving
the ravaged country in the hands of the U.S. favorites, who turned
at once to mass murder, rape, terror-generally described as the
worst period in Afghanistan's history. They're now back in charge
outside of Kabul. According to this morning's Wall Street Journal
(January 22, 2001), two of the major warlords are now approaching
what could turn out to be a major war. Let's hope not.
All of this is headline news in the Martian
press- along, of course, with what it all means to the civilian
population. That includes vast numbers of people who are still
deprived of desperately needed food and other supplies, although
food has been available for months but can't be distributed because
of conditions; that's after four months.
The consequences of that we don't know,
and in fact will never know. Because there's a principle of the
intellectual culture that although you investigate enemy crimes
with laser-like intensity, you never look at your own-that's quite
important-so we can only give very vague estimates of the number
of Vietnamese or Salvadoran or other corpses that we've left around.
The Heresy of Moral Equivalence
As I say, this would be headlines on Mars.
A good Martian reporter would also want to clarify a couple of
basic ideas. First of all, he'd like to know what exactly is terrorism.
And, secondly, what's the proper response to it. Well, whatever
the answer to the second question is, that proper response must
satisfy some moral truisms, and the Martian can easily discover
what these truisms are, at least as understood by the leaders
of the self-declared war on terrorism, because they tell us, they
tell us constantly, that they are very pious Christians, who therefore
revere the Gospels, and have certainly memorized the definition
of "hypocrite" given prominently in the Gospels-namely,
the hypocrites are those who apply to others the standards that
they refuse to accept for themselves.
So the Martian understands, then, that
in order to rise to the absolutely minimal moral level we have
to agree, in fact insist, that if some act is right for us then
it's right for others, and if it's wrong when others do it then
it's wrong when we do it. Now that's the most elementary of moral
truisms, and once the Martian realizes that, he can pack up his
bags and go back to Mars. Because his research task is over. He
would be unlikely to find a phrase, a single phrase in the vast
coverage and commentary about the war on terrorism that even begins
to approach this minimal standard. Don't take my word for it;
try the experiment. I don't want to exaggerate-you can probably
find the phrase now and then, way out at the margins, though very
Nevertheless, this moral truism is recognized
within the mainstream. It's understood to be an extremely dangerous
heresy, and therefore it's necessary to erect impregnable barriers
against it, even before anybody exhibits it, even though it's
so rare. In fact, there's even a technical vocabulary available
in case anybody would dare to engage in the heresy, to involve
themselves in the heresy that we should abide by moral truisms
that we pretend to revere. The offenders are guilty of something
called moral relativism-that means the suggestion that we apply
to ourselves the standards we apply to others. Or maybe moral
equivalence, which is a term that was invented, I think, by Jeane
Kirkpatrick to ward off the danger that somebody might dare to
look at our own crimes.
Or maybe they're carrying out the crime
of America-bashing, or they're anti-Americans. Which is a rather
interesting concept. The term is used elsewhere only in totalitarian
states, for example in Russia in the old days, where anti-Sovietism
was the highest crime. If somebody were to publish a book in Italy,
say, called The Anti-Italians, you can imagine what the reaction
would be in the streets of Milan and Rome, or in any country where
freedom and democracy were taken seriously.
An Unusable Definition
But let's suppose that the Martian isn't
deterred by the inevitable tirades and stream of vilification,
and suppose he persists in keeping to the most elementary moral
truisms. Well, as I said, if he does that, he can just go home,
but suppose out of curiosity he decides to stay on and look a
little bit further. So, what will happen? Well, back to the question,
what is terrorism?-an important one.
There is a proper course for a serious
Martian reporter to follow to find the answer to that: Look at
the people who declared the war on terrorism and see what they
say terrorism is; that's fair enough. And there is in fact an
official definition in the U.S. code and Army manuals, and elsewhere.
It is defined briefly. Terrorism, as I'm quoting, is defined as
"the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence
to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in
nature...through intimidation, coercion or instilling fear."
Well, that sounds simple; as far as I can see, it's appropriate.
But we constantly read that the problem of defining terrorism
is very vexing and complex, and the Martian might wonder why that's
true. And there's an answer.
The official definition is unusable. It's
unusable for two important reasons. First of all, it's a very
close paraphrase of official government policy-very close, in
fact. When it's government policy, it's called low-intensity conflict
Incidentally, it's not just the United
States. As far as I'm aware, this practice is universal. Just
as an example, back in the mid 1960s the Rand Corporation, the
research agency connected with the Pentagon mostly, published
a collection of interesting Japanese counterinsurgency manuals
having to do with the Japanese attack on Manchuria and North China
in the 1930s. I was kind of interested-I wrote an article on it
at the time comparing the Japanese counterinsurgency manuals with
U.S. counterinsurgency manuals for South Vietnam, which are virtually
identical. That article didn't fly too well, I should say.
Well, anyhow, it's a fact, and as far
as I know it's a universal fact. So that's one reason you can't
use the official definition. The other reason you can't do it
is much simpler: it just gives all the wrong answers, radically
so, as to who the terrorists are.
So therefore the official definition has
to be abandoned, and you have to search for some kind of sophisticated
definition that will give the right answers, and that's hard.
That's why you hear that it's such a difficult topic and big minds
are wrestling with it and so on.
Fortunately, there is a solution. The
solution is to define terrorism as the terrorism that they carry
out against us, whoever we happen to be. As far as I know, that's
universal-in journalism, in scholarship, and also I think it's
a historical universal; at least, I've never found any country
that doesn't follow this practice. So, fortunately, there's a
way out of the problem. Well, with this useful characterization
of terrorism, we can then draw the standard conclusions that you
read all the time: namely, that we and our allies are the main
victims of terrorism, and that terrorism is a weapon of the weak.
Of course, terrorism in the official sense
is a weapon of the strong, like most weapons, but it's a weapon
of the weak, by definition, once you comprehend that "terrorism"
just means the terrorism that they carry out against us. Then
of course it's true by definition that terrorism is a weapon of
the weak. And so the people who write it all the time, you see
it in the newspapers or the journals, they're right; it's a tautology,
and by convention.
Suppose the Martian goes on to defy what
are apparently universal conventions, and he actually accepts
the moral truisms that are preached and he also even accepts the
official U.S. definition of terrorism. I should say that by this
time he's way out in outer space, but let's proceed. If he goes
this far, then there certainly are clear illustrations of terrorism.
September 11, for example, is a particularly shocking example
of a terrorist atrocity. Another equally clear example is the
official U.S.-British reaction, which was announced by Admiral
Sir Michael Boyce, chief of the British defense staff, and reported
in a front- page story in the New York Times in late October (October
28, 2001). He informed the people of Afghanistan that the United
States and Britain would continue their attack against them "until
they get the leadership changed."
Notice that this is a textbook illustration
of international terrorism, according to the official definition;
I won't reread it but if you think about it, it's just a perfect
Two weeks before that, George Bush had
informed the Afghans, the people of Afghanistan, that the attack
will go on until they hand over wanted suspects. Remember that
overthrow of the Taliban regime was a sort of afterthought brought
in a couple of weeks after the bombing, basically for the benefit
of intellectuals so they could write about how just the war is.
This of course was also textbook terrorism:
We're going to continue to bomb you until you hand over some people
we want you to hand over. The Taliban regime did ask for evidence,
but the U.S. contemptuously dismissed that request. The U.S.,
at the very same time, also flatly refused to even consider offers
of extradition, which may have been serious, may not have been;
we don't know because they were rejected.
The Martian would certainly record all
of this, and if he did a little homework he would quickly find
the reasons, adding many other examples. The reasons are very
simple: The world's rulers have to make it clear that they do
not defer to any authority. Therefore they do not accept the idea
that they should offer evidence, they do not agree that they should
request extradition; in fact, they reject UN Security Council
authorization, reject it flatly. The U.S. could easily have obtained
clear and unambiguous authorization-not for pretty reasons, but
it could have obtained it. However, it rejected that option.
And that makes good sense. In fact, there's
even a term for this in the literature of international affairs
and diplomacy. It's called establishing credibility. Another term
for it is declaring that we're a terrorist state and you'd better
be aware of the consequences if you get in our way. Now that's,
of course, only if we use "terrorism" in its official
sense, as it's defined in U.S. government legal code and so on,
and that's unacceptable for reasons that I mentioned.
Let's go back to the moral truism. According
to official doctrine, which is almost universally accepted and
described as just and admirable and obviously so, the United States
is entitled to conduct a terrorist war against Afghans until they
hand over suspects to the United States, which refuses to provide
evidence or request extradition, or, in Boyce's later terms, until
they change their leadership. Well, anyone who is not a hypocrite
in the sense of the Gospels will therefore conclude at once that
Haiti is entitled to carry out large-scale terrorism against the
United States until it hands over a murderer, Emmanuel Constant,
who has already been convicted of leading the terrorist forces
that had the major responsibility for four to five thousand deaths.
No question about the evidence in this
case. They've requested extradition repeatedly, most recently
on September 30, 2001, right in the midst of all the talk about
Afghanistan being subjected to terrorism if it doesn't hand over
suspected terrorists. Of course, that's only four or five thousand
black people. I guess it doesn't count quite as much.
Or perhaps they should carry out massive
terror in the United States. Since they can't bomb, maybe bioterror
or something, I don't know, until the United States changes its
leadership, which is, in fact, responsible for terrible crimes
against the people of Haiti right through the twentieth century.
Or certainly, keeping now to moral truisms,
Nicaragua is entitled to do the same, incidentally targeting the
leaders of the redeclared war on terrorism, the same people often.
Recall that the terrorist attack against Nicaragua was far more
severe than even September 11; tens of thousands of people were
killed, the country was devastated, it may never recover.
Also, this happens to be an uncontroversial
example, so we don't have to argue about it. It's uncontroversial
because of the judgment of the World Court condemning the United
States for international terrorism, backed up by the Security
Council in a resolution calling on all states to observe international
law-mentioning no one, but everyone knew who they meant-vetoed
by the United States, Britain abstaining. Or the judgment of the
General Assembly in successive resolutions confirming the same
thing, opposed by the United States and one or two client states.
The World Court ordered the United States to terminate the crime
of international terrorism, to pay massive reparations. The U.S.
responded with a bipartisan decision to escalate the attack immediately;
I already described the media reaction. All of this continued
until the cancer was destroyed and it continues right now.
So in November 2001 there was an election
in Nicaragua, right in the middle of the war on terrorism, and
the United States radically intervened in the election. It warned
Nicaragua that the United States would not accept the wrong outcome,
and even gave the reason. The State Department explained that
we cannot overlook Nicaragua's role in international terrorism
in the 1980s, when it resisted the international terrorist attack
that led to the condemnation of the United States for international
terrorism by the highest international authorities.
Here all of this passes without comment
in an intellectual culture that is simply dedicated passionately
to terrorism and hypocrisy, but I guess it might have had some
headlines in the Martian press. You might look and see how it
was treated here. You might also incidentally try out your favorite
theory of "just war" in this uncontroversial case.
Domesticating the Majority
Nicaragua, of course, had some defense
against the U.S.-run international terrorism being carried out
against it under the pretext of a war on terrorism. Namely, Nicaragua
had an army. In the other Central American countries, the terrorist
forces that were armed and trained by the U.S. and its clients
were the army, so not surprisingly the terrorist atrocities were
far worse. That's the Central American mode that the doves said
we have to return the cancer to. But in this case the victims
weren't the state, and therefore they could not appeal to the
World Court or to the Security Council for judgments that would
be rejected, tossed into the ashcan of history, except maybe on
The effects of that terror were long-lasting.
Here in the United States, there's a good deal of concern- very
properly as a matter of fact-about the very wide-ranging effects
of the terrorist atrocities of September 11. So, for example,
there's a front-page article in the New York Times (January 22,
2002) about the people who are beyond the reach of benefits for
the tragedy that they suffered. Of course, the same is true for
those who are victims of vastly worse terrorist crimes, but that's
reported only on Mars.
So you might try to find the report, say,
of a conference run by Salvadoran Jesuits a couple of years ago.
The Jesuits' experiences under U.S. international terrorism were
particularly grisly. The conference report stressed the residual
effect of what it called the culture of terrorism, which domesticates
the aspirations of the majority, who realized that they must submit
to the dictates of the ruling terrorist state and its local agents
or they will again be returned to the Central American mode, as
recommended by the doves at the peak of the state-supported international
terrorism of the eightees. Unreported here, of course; maybe headlines
Actually, the Martian might notice some
other interesting similarities between the first and the second
phase of the war on terror. In the year 2001, just about every
terrorist state you think of was eagerly joining in the coalition
against terrorism, and the reasons are not hidden.
We all know why the Russians are so enthusiastic:
they want U.S. endorsement for their monstrous terrorist activities
in Chechnya, for example.
Turkey was particularly enthusiastic.
They were the first country to offer troops, and the prime minister
explained why. This was in gratitude for the fact that the United
States alone was willing to pour arms into Turkey-providing eighty
percent of their arms in the Clinton years-in order to enable
them to expedite some of the worst terrorist atrocities and ethnic
cleansing of the 1990s. And they're very grateful for that, and
so they offered troops for the new war on terrorism. Incidentally,
none of this counts as terrorism, remember, because by the convention,
since we're carrying it out it's not terrorism. And so on down
the list; I won't go through the rest.
And the same, incidentally, was true of
the first phase of the war on terrorism. So the announcement by
Admiral Boyce that I quoted was a close paraphrase of words of
the well-known Israeli statesman Abba Eban in 1981. That was shortly
after the first war against terrorism was declared. Eban was justifying
Israeli atrocities in Lebanon, which he acknowledged were pretty
awful, but justified, he said, because "there was a rational
prospect that affected populations would exert pressure for a
cessation of hostilities." Notice that's another textbook
illustration of international terrorism in the official sense.
The hostilities that he was talking about
were at the Israel-Lebanon border, overwhelmingly Israeli in origin,
often without even a pretext, but backed by the United States,
so therefore they're not terrorism by convention and they're not
part of the history of terrorism. At the time, with decisive U.S.
support, Israel was carrying out attacks in Lebanon, bombing and
other atrocities, to try to elicit some pretext for a planned
invasion. Well, they couldn't get the pretext, but they invaded
anyway, killing about eighteen thousand people and continuing
to occupy southern Lebanon for about twenty years with many atrocities,
but all off the record because the U.S. was decisively supporting
All of this peaked-the post-1982 attack,
in 1985, and that was the peak year for U.S.-Israeli atrocities
in southern Lebanon, what were called the Iron Fist operations;
these were large-scale massacres and deportations of what the
high command called "terrorist villagers. " These operations,
under Prime Minister Shimon Peres, are one of the candidates for
the prize of the worst international terrorist crime in the peak
year of 1985, remember, when terrorism was the leading story of
There are other competitors. One of them,
also in early 1985, was a bombing in Beirut, a car bombing. The
car bombing was outside a mosque timed to go off just when everybody
was leaving to insure the maximum number of casualties. It killed
eighty people and wounded more than two hundred fifty, according
to the Washington Post, which gave a pretty grisly account of
it. Most of them were women and girls, but it was a heavy, strong
bomb, so it killed infants in their beds and all kinds of other
atrocities. But that doesn't count, because it was organized by
the CIA and British intelligence, so therefore it's not terrorism.
So that's not really a candidate for the prize.
Now, the only possible other competitor
in the peak year of 1985 was the Israeli bombing of Tunis, which
killed seventy-five people; there were some grisly accounts of
it in the Israeli press by good reporters. The U.S. cooperated
in the atrocity by failing to inform its Tunisian ally that the
bombers were on their way. George Shultz, secretary of state,
immediately called the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir,
to inform him that the United States had considerable sympathy
for this action, as he put it. However, Shultz drew back from
open support for this international terrorism when the Security
Council condemned it unanimously as an act of armed aggression,
with the U.S. abstaining.
Let's continue to give Washington and
its clients the benefit of the doubt, as in the case of Nicaragua,
and let's assume that the crime was only international terrorism,
not the far more serious crime of aggression, as the Security
Council determined. If it was aggression, then, observing moral
truisms, we move on to Nuremburg trials.
Those are the only three cases that come
anywhere near that level in the peak year of 1985. A couple of
weeks after the Tunis bombing, Prime Minister Peres came to Washington,
where he joined Ronald Reagan in denouncing "the evil scourge
of terrorism" in the Middle East. None of this elicited a
word of comment, and that's correct because by convention none
of it is terrorism. Recall the convention: It's only terrorism
if they do it to us. When we do much worse to them, it's not terrorism.
Again, the universal principle. Well, the Martian might notice
that, even if it's not discussable here.
I got my favorite review in history when
I did write about this some years ago. It was a review in the
Washington Post (September 18, 1988), a two-word review by their
Middle East correspondent, who described it as "breathlessly
deranged." I kind of like that. I think he was wrong about
the breathless-if you read the article, it was pretty calm-but
deranged is correct. I mean, you have to be deranged to accept
elementary moral truisms and to describe facts that shouldn't
be described. That's probably true.
Let's get back to the Martian. He might
be puzzled about the question of why 1985 is the peak year for
the return to barbarism in our time by depraved opponents of civilization
itself, referring to international terrorism in the Middle East.
He'd be puzzled because the worst cases by far of international
terrorism in the region just are down the memory hole, like international
terrorism in Central America. And lots of other cases. Current
ones, in fact.
However, some cases from 1985 are remembered,
well remembered, and rightly, because they are terrorism. The
official prize for terrorism for that year goes to the hijacking
of the Achille Lauro and the murder of a crippled American, Leon
Klinghoffer. Everyone knows about that one. Correctly; it was
a terrible atrocity. Now, of course, the perpetrators of that
atrocity described it as retaliation for the Tunis bombing a week
earlier, a vastly worse case of international terrorism, but quite
rightly we dismissed that excuse with the contempt that it deserves.
And all of those who do not regard themselves
as cowards and hypocrites will take the same principled stand
with regard to all other violent acts of retaliation, including,
for example, the war in Afghanistan, which remember was undertaken
with the clear and unambiguous expectation that it might drive
millions of people over the edge of starvation. As I said, we'll
never know. For principled reasons.
Or lesser atrocities, such as those retaliations
in the Israeli-occupied territories right now-with full U.S. support,
as always, so they're not terrorism. The Martian would surely
report on page one that the United States right now is once again
using the pretext of the war on terror to protect and probably
escalate terrorism by its leading client state.
The latest phase of this began on October
1, 2000. From October 1, the first days after the current Intifada
began, Israeli helicopters began to attack unarmed Palestinians
with missiles, killing and wounding dozens of them. There wasn't
any pretext of self-defense. [Side comment: When you read the
phrase "Israeli helicopters" you should understand it
to mean U.S. helicopters with Israeli pilots, provided in the
certain knowledge of how they are going to be used.]
Clinton immediately responded to the atrocity.
On October 3, 2000, two days later, he arranged to send Israel
the largest shipment of military helicopters in a decade along
with spare parts for Apache attack helicopters that had been sent
in mid-September. The press cooperated by refusing to report any
of this-not failing, notice, but refusing; they knew all about
Last month the Martian press would certainly
have headlined Washington's intervention to expedite the further
escalation of the cycle of terror there. On December 14, the U.S.
vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for implementation
of the Mitchell proposals and sending international observers
to monitor reduction of violence. It went at once to the General
Assembly, where it was opposed by the U.S. and Israel also; therefore,
it disappears. And you can check the coverage.
A week earlier, there was a conference
in Geneva of the high contracting parties of the Fourth Geneva
Convention, who are obliged by solemn treaty to enforce it. The
Convention, as you know, was instituted after World War II to
criminalize the atrocities of the Nazis. The Convention strictly
bars virtually everything the U.S. and Israel do in the occupied
territories, including the settlements that were established and
expanded with U.S. funding and full support, increasing under
Clinton and Barak during the Camp David negotiations. Israel alone
rejects this interpretation.
When the issue came to the Security Council
in October 2000, the U.S. abstained, apparently not wanting to
take such a blatant stand in violation of fundamental principles
of international law, particularly given the circumstances of
their enactment. The Security Council therefore voted fourteen-zero
to call upon Israel to uphold the Convention, which it was again
flagrantly violating. Pre-Clinton, the U.S. had voted with the
other members to condemn Israel's "flagrant violations"
of the Convention. That's consistent with the Clinton practice
of effectively rescinding international law and earlier UN decisions
The media tell us that Arabs believe that
the Convention applies to the territories, which is not false,
although there's kind of an omission-the Arabs and everybody else.
The December 5, 2001, meeting, including all of the European Union,
reaffirmed the applicability of the Convention to the territories,
the illegality of settlements; called on Israel, meaning the U.S.
and Israel, to observe international law. The U.S. boycotted the
meeting, thereby killing it. You can check the coverage again.
These acts again contributed to the escalation
of terrorism there, including its most severe component, and the
media contributed in the usual way.
Responses to Terrorism
Suppose, finally, that we join the Martian
observer and we depart from convention radically. We accept moral
truisms. If we can rise to that level, we can then, and only then,
honestly raise the question of how to respond to terrorist crimes.
One answer is to follow the precedent
of law-abiding states, the Nicaraguan precedent, for example.
Of course that failed, because they ran up against the fact that
the world is ruled by force, not by law, but it wouldn't fail
for the U.S. However, evidently that's excluded. I have yet to
see one phrase referring to that precedent in the massive coverage
of the last couple of months.
Another answer was given by Bush and Boyce,
but we instantly reject that one because nobody believes that
Haiti or Nicaragua or Cuba and a long list of others around the
world have the right to carry out massive terrorist attacks against
the United States and its clients, or other rich and powerful
A more reasonable answer was given by
a number of sources, including the Vatican, and was spelled out
by the preeminent Anglo-American military historian, Michael Howard,
last October. Actually, it's published in the current issue of
Foreign Affairs (January-February 2002); that's the leading establishment
journal. Now Howard has all the appropriate credentials, a lot
of prestige; he's a great admirer of the British Empire, even
more extravagantly of its successor in global rule, so he can't
be accused of moral relativism or other such crimes.
Referring to September 11, he recommended
a police operation against a criminal conspiracy whose members
should be hunted down and brought before an international court,
where they could receive a fair trial, and if found guilty be
awarded an appropriate sentence. That was never contemplated,
of course, but it sounds kind of reasonable to me. If it is reasonable,
then it ought to hold for even worse terrorist crimes. For example,
the U.S. international terrorist attack against Nicaragua, or
even worse ones nearby and elsewhere going up to the present.
That could never be contemplated, of course, but for opposite
So honesty leaves us with a dilemma. The
easy answer is conventional hypocrisy. The other option is the
one adopted by our Martian friend, who actually abides by the
principles that we profess with grand self-righteousness. That
option is harder to consider, but imperative if the world is to
be spared I still worse disasters.
Media Control- Chomsky