I think I would feel an extra obligation to attack the war in Vietnam if I were on the staff of MIT—one of the props, after all, of the American defense establishment; and I would feel an extra obligation to attack supporters of the war, especially those in the intellectual community. So it is not hard to guess the motives, personal and political, which must have prompted MIT's Noam Chomsky to write American Power and the New Mandarins1 a book of polemic against American power, its present undertakings in Southeast Asia, and the intellectual justifiers of its policies. But now I must touch on sentiments which I think I also grasp, here not with sympathy. What if, protesting against our policy, I yet did not believe any protest effective? What if, raising my voice against the war, I despaired that anyone of consequence would hear me?2 Might not my passion turn to hysteria? Might I not at some point aim at myself even as I attacked the war-makers?
It is in the light of some such feeling of despair that I interpret the unpleasant and disturbing stylistic features of an often able and intelligent book; and also the shrill, uncongenial tone of accusation seldom quite free from self-accusation. For example, at the very start Professor Chomsky tells us that if any note of self-righteousness creeps into his text, “. . . it is unintended and, more important, unjustified. No one who has involved himself in anti-war activities as late as 1965, as I did, has any reason for pride or satisfaction. This opposition was ten or fifteen years too late.” Ten years before 1965 we were not at war, fifteen years before that we were engaged in Korea; but the Korean war was utterly unlike the war in Vietnam, and in my opinion our part in it justified. (This is also the view of many others who oppose the present war.) To be sure, Professor Chomsky has his own opinions. He thinks his entry into the debate on Vietnam was too late; he even wonders whether he should have entered it at all:
By entering the arena of argument . . . by accepting the presumption of legitimacy of debate on certain issues, one has already lost one's humanity. This is the feeling I find almost impossible to repress when going through the motions of building a case against the American war in Vietnam. Anyone who puts a fraction of his mind to the task can construct a case that is overwhelming; surely this is now obvious. In an important way, by doing so he degrades himself and insults beyond measure the victims of our violence and our moral blindness.
This explanation by Professor Chomsky itself requires explaining—for it is by no means the case that the arguments against our policy in Vietnam are as overwhelming as he thinks. Mr. Norman Mailer, of whom Professor Chomsky has written with affection and respect, has even expressed the view that the arguments for and against the war are fairly equal. I quote from The Armies of the Night: “. . . the arguments to withdraw never pursued the consequences.” And again: “. . . yet the Doves, finally, had no answer to the Hawks. For the Doves were divided. Some of them, a firm minority, secretly desired Asia to go Communist, . . . but they did not consider it expedient to grant this point so they talked around it. The others, the majority of the Doves, simply refused to face the possibility. . . . The Hawks were smug and self-righteous, the Doves were evasive of the real question.” Apparently to the intelligent and forceful advocate of resistance to the war that Mr. Mailer has shown himself to be, it is by no means the case that the arguments against it are as powerful as Professor Chomsky assumes.
And I find it strange that Professor Chomsky feels he ought to apologize even for arguing against actions which he strongly opposes. Evidently he thinks that one should be so indignant about the war as to be incapable of giving reasons against it—but just as evidently, Professor Chomsky is not quite that indignant. I am told that at one of the sit-ins, after some lengthy and rationalistic line of argument, he suddenly declared: “I am tired of being rational, now I am going to be emotional,” and then proceeded with a disquisition every bit as rationalistic as what had gone before. Now it seems to me there is something comical about a person who wants to be more emotional than he is.
Why will Professor Chomsky not concede any force at all to the arguments for our policy in Asia? No doubt because that policy has entailed the commission of war crimes by American forces in South and in North Vietnam. (By war crimes, here, I mean something fairly specific, the bombing of the civilian population.) In view of these bombings, I, too, think our policy in Vietnam wrong, in both political and moral terms. But should not Professor Chomsky, who favors introducing the methods of natural science into social studies (see his letter in the New York Review of Books for February 13, 1969), distinguish our political from our moral error? Where he sees identities, I see differences. For instance: it seems to me that the policy pursued by our government in the Dominican Republic—where it acted not against the Left but against the Center—was politically more objectionable than the policy we have pursued in Southeast Asia, though I do not know that we committed any war crimes in the Dominican Republic. And I think the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia—to suppress the Center rather than the Right—far worse than our military action in Vietnam, though there has hardly been any shooting in Czechoslovakia, and the Russians have so far not made a single political arrest. Moreover, I think the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia more evil (politically, that is) than the assault made by Soviet troops against the Hungarian government in 1956, though the fighting which ensued then was bloody and the reprisals of Russians against Hungarian civilians ruthless in the extreme. It will be remembered that Tito, who finally justified the Soviet action against the Hungarian revolution as “necessary,” condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia. And it will be remembered that the late Isaac Deutscher also justified the Soviet action in Hungary, whereas I do not have the slightest doubt he would have condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Professor Chomsky does not make such distinctions because he is interested in the moral indictment of our policy, and not in a political assessment of it. But is not this the position of the propagandist who fails in what the Professor recommends: “objectivity”?
Indignation does often blind us to fact. I think Professor Chomsky blind to fact when he writes: “Three times in a generation American technology has laid waste a helpless Asian country.” Can he mean that American technology laid waste a helpless Korea? I seem to recall that when the South Koreans were invaded by an army from the North they were defended by American troops under a United Nations flag, and that air power in that action played no major role. And was North Korea helpless? It was supplied, and abundantly, with arms by Russia, and was backed up finally by the armies of China. But what about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? In this instance American technology did lay waste two Asian cities, which, it must be admitted, were not defended against attack from the air. But was Japan helpless when Hiroshima was bombed? Certainly Japan was considering surrender; there is ample evidence as to that, and no doubt it had no possibility whatever of victory over the U.S. All this must be admitted. But is it right to call the Japan of 1945 “helpless”? Germany, invaded by armies from the west and the east, continued to fight to the very last, making no move to surrender until the Red Army had about reached Berlin. Japan, in 1945, was an island fortress, capable of exacting a goodly toll in American casualties if invaded from the sea. According to David Horowitz, writing in The Free World Colossus, “It had cost 70,000 lives to take Iwo Jima and Okinawa the previous spring. Any invasion of the home islands would cost hundreds of thousands of lives.” Our own military leaders' estimate of probable casualties both to ourselves and to the Japanese was much higher.
Now was there an alternative to dropping the bombs? To attack the American action in 1945 one has, I think, to show that some other action was possible. Some critics of the bombings have said that if the United States had dropped the bomb on some uninhabited island, merely demonstrating the power and violence of the instrument, Japan would promptly have surrendered. Apparently the Truman administration was too brutal, vindictive, and stupid to follow this policy. But I am afraid I do not see the force of the argument. What if the Japanese had remained unimpressed by the demonstration? What if the Japanese had said: “All you have proved is that you have a very powerful weapon. You have not proved that you are ready to incur the scorn of the rest of the world by using a weapon of this sort. You will have to prove this by dropping a bomb on us. Otherwise we will not surrender.” Surely no patriotic member of the Imperial government could have said less.
But I cannot leave the matter here. It will be recalled that our war policy toward Japan called for its unconditional surrender, as did our policy toward Germany. Now it is true that if we had modified this demand and offered better terms to the Imperial government we might have induced it to surrender after merely demonstrating our possession of the bomb. So the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a continuation by scientific-military means, if I may here adapt the phrase of Clausewitz, of a policy aiming at the unconditional surrender of Japan. One cannot judge the bombings without judging this policy. And it is interesting to note that three of the most caustic critics of American foreign policy during the last years of the war, Gabriel Kolko, David Horowitz, and Gar Alperovitz, all endorse the very policy of unconditional surrender which, it can be claimed, could only have been made real by the bombings. Far from criticizing the United States for holding to the harsh demand for unconditional surrender, these critics, on the contrary, concentrate their attack on the harsh means we employed to achieve it. But why did the United States employ these means? Did we think Japan would not surrender unconditionally without the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings? The whole question lies here.
On this question there is disagreement among the critics of our policy. According to Mr. Alperovitz, we did not really believe that we had to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring about the unconditional surrender of Japan. On this point he quotes General Eisenhower and refers to statements by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But Mr. Gabriel Kolko, equally critical of American policy, says the very opposite. According to Mr. Kolko, even after the first bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, President Truman still feared that an invasion would be necessary. Now I cannot of course determine here whether the dropping of the bombs was really necessary; and very evidently Mr. Alperovitz's contention that the American leaders knew that it was not necessary is open to dispute. But one thing is beyond dispute: the manner in which Mr. Alperovitz would have preferred an agreement reached between Japan and America on Japan's surrender. Had we not dropped our bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and had the Russian attack on the Japanese in Manchuria (launched on August 8, 1945) gone on for some time and brought continued military successes to the Russians, then Russia's voice would certainly have been heard in the peace conference with Japan; in fact, a partial occupation of Japan by the Red Army would have been unavoidable. According to Gabriel Kolko, on the night of August 10, 1945, Stalin “. . . sprung what the Americans feared most: the demand of a Russian voice in the choice of the Allied commander and a share in the occupation government.” This demand the Americans, strong in their possession of the atomic bomb, were able to turn down as “inadmissable.” It is obvious that Mr. Alperovitz would have liked the American government to have accepted the Russian proposal; what is more, it is clear that he would have liked Russia's share in the victory over Japan to have been very much greater than it was; it might have gained for them a role in the occupation of Japan. We know today what we have had to endure from our former ally Russia in the occupation of our former enemy Germany. At least twice we have faced the Russians in Berlin under the threat of nuclear war. Did our bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima save us from a similar confrontation with the Russians in Japan? In that case, even if the bombings were not necessary for military reasons, as I think Mr. Alperovitz too confidently asserts, they may still have been necessary for securing our political purpose, the kind of peace we were able to make with Japan. And in any case, the criticism of the atomic bombings by Mr. Alperovitz expressed in his book Atomic Diplomacy in terms of outrage and indignation, is, when one examines it closely, much more vehement in its political than in its moral assertiveness, while claiming to be the reverse. And this is also true of the criticisms of our policy made by the two other “revisionists” I have looked into, David Horowitz and Gabriel Kolko.
Certainly this does not end the matter. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were cities not engaged in military production and the fact remains that our atom bombs were hurled against civilians. Moreover, there is one more morally troublesome matter: President Roosevelt had publicly protested the Japanese use of gas against the people of China. How could we then in good conscience use atomic energy against the people of Japan? I mention these facts because I cannot but admit that the use of atomic energy against Hiroshima and Nagasaki is morally disturbing, even though it may have been politically necessary, everything considered. Morals and politics are not identical and sometimes it is necessary to give the political priority. Now Professor Chomsky writes as though these problems were nonexistent, as if it were always the ill political will which sins against the morally desirable. I deny this categorically.
But having argued this much, I must give yet another argument. What if American participation in the Second World War was unjustified, what if the proper attitude for American citizens during the last war was the “revolutionary pacificism” for which Professor Chomsky praises the late A. J. Muste? If we were wrong to fight against Japan at all, then of course we were wrong to use our bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Professor Chomsky's essay on Muste, he writes:
I think that Muste's revolutionary pacificism was, and is, a profoundly important doctrine, both in the political analysis and the moral conviction that it expresses. The circumstances of the anti-fascist war subjected it to the most severe of tests. Does it survive this test? When I began working on this article I was not at all sure. I still feel quite ambivalent about the matter. The American reaction to Japan's aggressiveness was, in a substantial measure, quite hypocritical. Worse still, there are very striking, quite distressing similarities between Japan's escapades and our own—both in character and in rationalization—with the fundamental difference that Japan's appeal to national interest, which was not totally without merit, becomes merely ludicrous when translated into a justification for American conquests in Asia.
In this statement, at least, Professor Chomsky admits to being “ambivalent” in his judgment of our part in the war; yet later on in his essay he supports Muste's forecast, written in 1941: “[Muste] foresaw that an allied victory would yield ‘a new American empire’ incorporating a subservient Britain, ‘that we shall be the next nation to seek world domination—in other words, to do what we condemn Hitler for trying to do.’” Of this prediction Professor Chomsky writes: “. . . the accuracy of Muste's forecast unfortunately requires little comment.”
But to those who supported the American war effort in 1941—among whom there are a great many who do not support and never supported American policy in Vietnam—the difference between the American position on the one hand, and the Japanese on the other, is by no means the greater amount of hypocrisy in the American government of 1941 as compared with the Japanese government of that year. The difference in the American position—and, I think, amply justifying it—is the existence of a Japan today richer than it ever was under its feudal rulers, democratically structured, without military power, and of no danger to its neighbors in Asia. The justification of American policy is that we cannot form any such picture of the United States in a world where the Axis was triumphant. I suggest that Professor Chomsky imagine what the United States would be today after a Japanese occupation. Victory for the West in the last war meant the liberating of all or almost all the Asian and African colonies under the imperialist powers. Victory for the Axis would have meant the colonization of the advanced countries of Europe and of the United States, and the continued sway of imperialism over the already colonized populations of Africa and Asia. This is the political and historical justification of the American war effort and of all the horrors we heaped on our enemies. No doubt Professor Chomsky knows this as well as I do, but then how can he be ambivalent in his judgment of America's war against Japan?
I dwell on the last war at such length because I lived through the debates among radicals about supporting the war, and I remember rather clearly many things not generally known. For example, it is not generally known that Trotsky, who urged his followers not to support the war effort of the American government in opposing Germany and Japan, justified this position by the assertion that democracy could never defeat world fascism. If it could, said Trotsky, support of America in the war would be justified. Now not only was fascism defeated in 1945 but the colonies of the imperialists were liberated. True, the United States is still fighting in Vietnam, but however bad our war in Vietnam is—and I do not mean to mitigate or soften in any way the judgment of American policy I have already made—still I think that had Germany and Japan been victorious in 1945 the problem of the world today would not be to get them to stop backing with their military forces an unpopular and reactionary Southeast Asian government.
Only a little more than twenty years ago America defeated the Axis powers. But what is America today? Professor Chomsky writes: “We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the United States is dissent—or denazification. The question is a debatable one. Reasonable people may differ. The fact that the question is even debatable is a terrifying thing. To me it seems that what is needed is a kind of denazification.” Perhaps it will be thought captious of me to point out that whatever is debatable is not exactly terrifying. And I cannot help but wonder: why call our need for denazification “debatable” if that is what we need? And why does it merely seem to Professor Chomsky that we need it? Doesn't he know? I should like to remind Professor Chomsky of Alain's dictum: “When you know, you know that you know, and when you don't know, you don't know whether you know or not.” I take it that Professor Chomsky does not know that the United States needs anything like denazification, but unquestionably his judgment of American power in this epoch is that it is functioning as German power did under Hitler.
And we of America, Professor Chomsky tells us this too, are hardly any better than the state we support. We are morally callous and spiritually blind—we do not feel nearly guilty enough about Southeast Asia. In relation to the peoples of that part of the world we are quite as bad as the Germans of the Nazi period. When are we going to feel as guilty as we ought? I remarked that Professor Chomsky shows signs of self-hatred when he attacks himself for giving reasons against the war in Vietnam. Now I think self-hatred a bad thing; he thinks it a good. Here are his words: “When we lament over the German conscience we are demanding of them a display of self-hatred—a good thing, no doubt. But for us the matter is infinitely more serious. It is not a matter of self-hatred regarding the sins of the past. . . .” So the Professor wants the Germans to hate themselves, and wants us to demand that they hate themselves, and he demands that we hate ourselves in our turn, too. I wonder: were we good enough to hate ourselves, would we still be bad enough to hate? There's a logical hitch here.
And what rational person, I want to know, would demand that the Germans hate themselves for what Hitler and his armies did during the last war? To demand of the Germans that they hate themselves is simply to express hatred for the Germans, something one may well have felt in 1945, but something very few of us are able to feel today. And what about the responsibility of Americans for the horror that is Vietnam? For most people, I should say, in this country as in others, moral judgment has to do with the conduct of one's personal life rather than with the support of national policies, impersonal in character. I think many of the students who demonstrated in 1967-68 with such vigor and effectiveness against the Vietnam war might have ignored our military efforts altogether if it had not become evident that at some point they might be called upon to back it with their lives. As to the Germans, once again: it is generally agreed that the Nazis succeeded in involving much of the German population in the guilt for Hitler's acts—and it is also agreed that this is why the Germans did not surrender until the very last. So that the lesson to be learned about German responsibility for the Nazi crimes is that when a people shares the guilt for the deeds of its government, it is very likely to go on supporting that government, and precisely out of guilt! And I should say that it is because the American people were not directly involved in the crimes of our armies in Southeast Asia, that the demonstrations against the war, which may well bring it to an end, took place.
But let us turn now from Professor Chomsky's moral judgment of the American individual and look at his political judgment of American power—it is the important judgment of his book.
This power, as Professor Chomsky sees it, has used the existence of the Communist world to justify widespread imperialist activities of a counterrevolutionary kind, aimed at subjugating many states and peoples to our diktat. He writes: “In general the ‘International Communist Conspiracy’ is a perfect propaganda device to justify actions that reinforce and extend American hegemony, serving our aims just as ‘bourgeois influence and American scheming’ served those of Russian imperialism. In both cases there is, of course, a background of fact that gives a superficial plausibility to the fabrications of the propagandists.”
And again he writes: “Our reasons for wanting to control Vietnam are not those of the British in India in 1929, but in Vietnam, as in the Philippines and Latin America, our efforts are directed to organizing (or restructuring) the society so as to insure the domination of those elements that will enter into partnership with us. That we should do so is not surprising, surely not to anyone who is familiar with the history of imperialism.” Recalling our suppression of the movement for Philippine independence, he has this to say: “At that time, we were defending Christianity from the savage Moros. Now, we are defending the free world from the International Communist Conspiracy. In other respects, little has changed, except for the scale of our attack.” And finally, from his assault on us:
When President Johnson pleads that we are defending ourselves against a superior force, that we must stand in Vietnam or else they will “sweep over the United States and take what we have,” he is, unfortunately, representing a substantial, probably dominant body of American opinion. To us today, it may seem difficult to understand how it could be seriously believed, thirty years ago, that a Jewish Bolshevik conspiracy was threatening the survival of Germany, the bearer of the spiritual values of Western civilization. To others today, it may be equally difficult to take seriously the picture of the strongest, richest nation on earth cowering in terror behind its missiles and nuclear warheads, in fear that “what we have” will be taken away if we allow a tiny country halfway around the world to follow its own course in freedom from American domination. Nevertheless, this characterization is no caricature.
Yet saying this characterization is no caricature hardly prevents it from being one. First of all, it seems to me absurd to compare the Jews of Europe, defenseless against Hitler, supported by no major European government, and unable even to get the United States to bring some pressure on the Nazis by bombing the murder camps in Eastern Europe, with the people of North Vietnam, supported by two such world powers as Russia and China.
Professor Chomsky is of course right in asserting that it would be ridiculous for the United States to cower in terror before the military potentiality of a Hanoi government that could also control Saigon. But the assumption of President Johnson was that the Hanoi government did not stand alone in its struggle against the United States. For example, the air defenses of Hanoi are more sophisticated then any previously employed in warfare, and I am not excluding those employed by the Germans, the British, the French, the Japanese, and the Russians in World War II. Such an air defense is hardly the product of North Vietnamese industry. And if the United States has not been able to end the war by an invasion of North Vietnam itself, this is certainly due to our recognition that such an invasion might be countered by the armies of China, and we would be launched into World War III. Now I am not trying to defend President Johnson's judgment of the war or his effort to play on American fears, but what I am trying to suggest is that Professor Chomsky's insistence on the independence of North Vietnam is itself a caricature. I doubt very much whether Rosa Luxemburg, with whom Professor Chomsky has associated his own views, calling himself a Luxemburgian rather than a Leninist Marxist, would agree that North Vietnam is a free or independent nation, since in the period of imperialism she did not believe in the possibility of independent action by small countries, including her own country, Poland.
But to return to the main judgment of American power made by Professor Chomsky. It is, I repeat, that our government has consistently exploited our people's fear of Communism to carry out aggressive and reactionary policies addressed to accumulating profits and power, rather than to the protection of the American people. Is this a true judgment? That is the question I mean to answer, and I mean to answer it truthfully. And to answer it truthfully I have to grant at once that Professor Chomsky is half right in his contention, for unquestionably our government has exploited the threats to us from the Communist part of the world for selfish, aggressive, and reactionary purposes in Europe, in Asia, in South America, in Africa, and come to think of it, in the United States too during the McCarthy era. And against anyone who denies that the American government has done this, Professor Chomsky certainly has put together a very telling case.
But if Professor Chomsky is only half right in his judgment of American power, this is because he denies, if only by implication, that there is a threat to the world from Communist power. Perhaps the Cold War did not begin precisely as Daniel Bell has described it (a description to which Professor Chomsky objects as unbalanced and unobjective). According to Bell: “When the Russians began stirring up the Greek guerrilla EAM in what had been tacitly acknowledged at Teheran as a British sphere of influence, the Communists began their cry against Anglo-American imperialism. Following the rejection of the Marshall Plan and the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, the Cold War was on in earnest.”
But however American actions in Greece may have motivated the aggressive actions of Greek guerrillas organized by the Russians, certainly the United States is not responsible for the “Aggressive Activities by the Governments of the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Albania Toward Yugoslavia” recounted in the White Book of the Yugoslav Ministry of Foreign Affairs, published in Belgrade in 1951, and the tale of aggressive agents sent into Yugoslavia is not told in the White Book by employees of the United States or justifiers, for that matter, of American policy. I could dwell here on the fact that the United States has used its power to shore up and protect the Yugoslav and other governments which might have had to give way to Stalin or his followers without American support, but the real issue is not that American power has been altruistic as well as selfish, has been used for good as well as for ill. The real ambiguity of American power, and it is ambiguous, lies in the fact that even the evil things it has done—such as, for example, the deployment of our military in South Vietnam, and the bombardment of Vietnam—are not solely motivated by the desire to restructure other countries so as to find partners for the designs of American enterprise, but also, in part at least, by the desire to check and contain Communist power in those parts of the world where it is on the move. It is this function of American power, rendering its influence more ambiguous, which Professor Chomsky is concerned to deny.
But does America have a real antagonist with whom it is engaged, to use Richard Goodwin's phrase, in a “long, continuing conflict”? Is there such a thing as World Communism? I once raised doubts about this myself, asking: are the Communists the Chinese or the Russians? And I pointed to the opposition between these powers. But when I made this point I was arguing against those who insisted, despite the evidence, on the unity of the Communist bloc. Certainly there are fissures in that bloc, and one has a right to point to them. But one has no right to deny in what purports to be a balanced and objective judgment the real dangers to the West from the Communist powers, despite their differences among themselves. Professor Chomsky writes: “I will not dwell on the fact that all reputable authorities agree that the Vietnamese are strongly anti-Chinese, so that if we were really interested in containing Chinese expansionism, we should presumably be supporting Ho Chi Minh, along with all popular, indigenous forces on the border of China, whatever their domestic character.” Here it seems to me Professor Chomsky draws an illegitimate inference from the fact which can be admitted: the people of Vietnam are anti-Chinese. It does not at all follow that the best way of containing Chinese expansionism is to support Ho Chi Minh. The Poles and the Hungarians are at least as anti-Russian as the Vietnamese are anti-Chinese. But it would be perfectly ridiculous to say that by supporting Kadar and Gomulka—I mean the Kadar and Gomulka of 1969, not of 1956—one is containing Russian expansionism. Were not the armies of Gomulka and Kadar sent along with Russian forces into Czechoslovakia just last year?
If we have entered into a “long continuing conflict,” to use Richard Goodwin's phrase once again, with whom, Professor Chomsky wants to know, are we engaged? Here is his answer:
Certainly not the Soviet Union which had little to do with the Sino-Indian border dispute; nor China, which did not start the Civil War in Greece; nor Ho Chi Minh, who, for all of his sins, is not responsible for subversion in the Congo. Nor is “International Communism” a very convincing devil, in the wake of the Sino-Soviet split, gestures of independence in Eastern Europe and North Korea, the admitted refusal of North Vietnam, even in its present desperate straits, to kowtow to its powerful allies. In fact, there is no identifiable adversary. We are confronted with a mysterious, but dangerous force, which cannot be located or specified in any concrete terms, but is there, threatening us.
In giving this argument I think Professor Chomsky has abandoned any right to speak in the name of truth, if by truth one means anything like the whole truth and not a mere part of it. The argument he has used here against the existence of such a thing as World Communism could have been used in 1938 to disprove the existence of such a thing as World Fascism, and a fascist axis. If China did not start the Civil War in Greece, neither was Japan involved in Franco's insurrection against the Spanish Republic. And if Ho Chi Minh is not responsible for subversion in the Congo, neither were German soldiers sent along with the Italians into Ethiopia. Moreover, if the Soviet Union was not involved in the Sino-Indian border dispute, Japan, let it be remembered, although allied to Italy and Germany, never declared war on the Soviet Union. Finally, while there is certainly disunity among the Communist powers today, and no thinking person can deny this, I don't think there is in the fact of this disunity much comfort or encouragement for supporters of the West. That there is disunity among the Communist powers means that the Communist system has found no better solution for the problems of national rivalry than have the so-called Capitalist states of the West. But war can come as these problems remain unsolved. Only yesterday Chinese demonstrators in Peking were demanding the beheading of Brezhnev and Kosygin while Russian demonstrators in Moscow hanged Mao in effigy. But a war between China and Russia would certainly involve the West.
If we consider the matter this way: 1) who will clearly profit by the victory of Hanoi in the present war? and 2) who will profit if Saigon is victorious?, the answer to the first question—and this may be what President Johnson meant, though there is no justifying the way he expressed it—is as certainly World Communism as the answer to the second is American Imperialism. It is harder to see either North or South Vietnam as the real victor, however the fighting ends. Certainly the support of Hanoi for the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia and its support of the actions of Arab guerrillas against Israel are less expressive of the independence of a small nation than of a member of a Communist bloc.
Let me make my own position on this matter perfectly clear. I think the United States can accept the victory of Hanoi over Saigon, though unquestionably this is a victory of World Communism over American Imperialism. The American nation will certainly survive that defeat, nor is there anything to regret about the fact that our imperialist enterprises will have been seriously checked in Asia. But why pretend that victory for Hanoi will simply have the meaning of national liberation from a foreign aggressor?
But would victory for Hanoi merely mean victory for World Communism? And if so, why not support the American position? Between America and the Communists I think there is indeed another force, but this is not North Vietnamese nationalism, as Professor Chomsky seems to believe. Here I would follow the view of the Indian government and of Indian journalism; the Indians think victory for North Vietnam would be a victory for Asian nationalism.
There is a question at issue: What gives moral sanction to the use of force, by the Communist powers on the one side, by the United States on the other? I should say that both can be accused of being of the Orthodox party when it comes to justifying their own use of force, and Pelagians in denying the use of force to the other. The late Norman Kemp Smith stated the controversy between the Pelagians and the Orthodox party—he called it the greatest controversy which history records—thus: “The Pelagians traced all evil to misuse of the freedom of the will. Each man is the Adam of his own soul. Evil exists because this, that, and the other man have fallen short of their duty. The Orthodox, on the other hand, claimed that the universality of evil, the fact that no one is free from it, points to a common origin for the sinfulness of the whole race. Evil has a deeper source than individual misconduct.” Certainly this last point of the Orthodox about evil sounds very much like Professor Chomsky denying the claim of Arthur Schlesinger that the United States is in Vietnam out of inadvertence; the Pelagian view would have it that the Kremlin made a mere mistake in judgment when it sent its armies into Czechoslovakia. In general our apologists, who think us justified in using force against the Communists, point out that the evil done by the Communists has profound causes and the evil we do superficial ones; the Communists, to be sure, say exactly the reverse, whenever in fact they admit to doing or having done evil.
But in any case let us ask now where Professor Chomsky stands in relation to this conflict in justification? He stands, I should say, squarely with the Communists. The evil we do is not superficial, it comes from the depth of our nature and history; the evils done by the Communists are individually motivated and have to be assessed in individual terms. Thus, Mao Tsetung is not to be blamed for the Greek uprising (apparently only the Greeks are responsible for that) nor is Ho Chi Minh to be blamed for the troubles in the Congo, and even more absurd, as I see it, Hanoi is not to be blamed for the killings of the Vietcong. But American capitalism and American technology are to be blamed not only for the air raids which devastated North and South Vietnam but also for the defense of South Korea against invasion from the North, and even for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ended the war begun by Japan. Where America is concerned Professor Chomsky is of the Orthodox party, where the Communists are concerned he is a Pelagian. But this is nothing other than the Communist position. It is the obverse of the position called “counterrevolutionary subordination”3 by Professor Chomsky himself. He is as little objective, I must conclude, as those whom he assails. His is not even an effort at objectivity. He is the pot calling the kettle black.
But if Professor Chomsky's justificatory system, as I have described it, corresponds point for point to that of the Communists, we are not to conclude from this (I do not) that he is politically with the Communists, that his position is theirs.4 His criticism of Stalinist policies during the Spanish Civil War and in Hungary and Poland in 1956 certainly indicates a substantial difference between his and the Communist positions. And I do not see any reason for placing in question his statement of commitment in a letter to the New York Review of Books, February 13, 1969: “For what it is worth, my own opinions derive from the range of opinion exemplified, say, by certain Anarcho-Syndicalists and non-Bolshevik Marxists such as Rosa Luxemburg.” To be sure, Rosa Luxemburg was not quite the moralist that Professor Chomsky is and no doubt takes her to be. Think of the scorn she expressed for moralism in politics. I quote: “We thus . . . return to the principle of Justice, to the old hobby-horse on which the reformers of the earth have rocked for ages, for lack of surer means of historic transportation. We return to that lamentable Rosinante on which the Don Quixotes of history have galloped toward the great reform of the earth, always to come home with their eyes blackened.” Still, one may be a Luxemburgian and not take the exact positions Rosa herself took on certain questions.
But if Professor Chomsky is not a Communist, he is in agreement with the Communists in singling out this country as responsible for most of the world's political and social ills. Of course his motives, as I already indicated, are often personal—the motives of the Communists are not. They want to weaken the justifications for American policy so as to strengthen the arguments for Soviet policy; Professor Chomsky is not interested in strengthening the arguments for Soviet policy, but he is interested in weakening the defenses of American power—perhaps to make moral amends for such strength as he contributes to that power. Thus the lachrymose moralism of his writing, his recommendation of self-hatred to others, and his certainly overdetermined expressions of hatred for himself.
And because of this very personal motivation Professor Chomsky comes off very badly, it seems to me, if we compare him with one of the outstanding Soviet critics of Soviet policy, the Russian intellectual Andrei Sakharov.5 For while the Russian critic is clear and forthright in his condemnation of Stalinism, calling for continued struggle against it in the Soviet Union, and even placing himself against the Kremlin and in solidarity with the reforms made in Czechoslovakia, still he does not condemn his country totally as Professor Chomsky has condemned America; Sakharov even points out that Soviet opposition to American policies has had the effect of making American capitalism progressive in certain respects. Could not a parallel judgment be made of the good brought by American opposition to Soviet policies in what has been called the Cold War? It is interesting to note, too, that whereas Sakharov sees changes in the Soviet Union as well as in the United States, and in the very recent past, of which he approves, Professor Chomsky stresses in his book the continuity of what was objectionable in the American past with its present policies. I should like to remind Professor Chomsky that there is a revolutionary tradition which recognizes the right to support one's own nation when to do so is not to yield to the spirit of national partisanship or unobjectivity in judgment. For example, Leon Trotsky, whose international outlook and revolutionary zeal no one would I think today put in question, was able to praise Auguste Bebel, the German socialist leader, for refusing to promise the French socialists that he would vote against war credits in the Reichstag; Trotsky argued that if he had given that promise to the French socialists he would have been granting France a military advantage over Germany.
As Professor Chomsky is only partly right in his political judgment of American power, so too, I think him only partly right in his judgment of American intellectuals who have supported and defended American policies. To be sure, in criticizing Irving Kristol, Walt Rostow, Daniel Bell, Ithiel de Sola Pool, Arthur Schlesinger, and various other American intellectuals who have on the whole defended American policy in Vietnam while criticizing it in certain respects, Professor Chomsky has, I think, scored not a few times. But he has been wrong just about as much. No doubt he is right about many of the war dissenters whose motives Irving Kristol dismissed with cynicism; but there are many of them about whom he is not right at all. He is probably justified in denying against Walt Rostow that Stalin sent guerrillas into North Vietnam in 1946; but he is no doubt wrong in denying against Walt Rostow and Daniel Bell that Stalin sent guerrillas into Eastern Europe. He is of course right against Ithiel de Sola Pool when the latter claimed that a democracy would not rain death from the skies: we have done just that in Vietnam. But on the other hand, President Johnson had to stop raining death from the skies, and precisely because we are a democracy. If he was right against Arthur Schlesinger's justification of our build-up in Vietnam in 1965, he was wrong in dismissing Schlesinger's stress on the element of inadvertence behind our build-up. And if, finally, he is right in charging Schlesinger with a lie in his description of the Cuban invasion (his authority being Schlesinger himself, who admitted the lie), he is himself even more flagrantly guilty of falsification in his distortion of Truman's statement about free enterprise. Schlesinger, in detecting Professor Chomsky's falsification here,6 has brilliantly reversed the defeat previously inflicted on him by Professor Chomsky, as President Kennedy did his defeat in the Bay of Pigs with victory in the Cuban missile crisis. And one cannot but wonder at the superficiality of a scholar who can attack his opponents for failing in “objectivity” and then stoop to perverting the clear sense of a statement of a President of the United States.
But it is not Professor Chomsky's superficiality that I object to most. It is his obstinate refusal to draw any consequences from the fact of Communist power. Merely to point to that power is of course to justify much of what America has done; but there is nothing wrong morally or intellectually with pointing to something which exists.
And this brings me finally to a problem about American power which Professor Chomsky does not even raise, which is felt by the leaders of many other countries, probably most keenly by the British and by de Gaulle. And this is the fact that America is so powerful. What is to be done about that, and why is this a problem? On this question I find much wisdom in the judgment of Simone Weil expressed in Reflections on Barbarism, a fragment written by her in 1939. After pointing out that no social questions can be seriously discussed without involving the concept of power which, she asserts, is as important in the understanding of any social question as is the concept of relation in any mathematical analysis, she writes:
Here is the postulate I want to propose: One is always barbaric toward the weak. Or at least so as not to deny any effective power to virtue, we should affirm that except when inspired by a generosity as rare as genius, one is always barbarous toward the weak. The varying amounts of barbarism diffused in a given society thus depend on the distribution of forces there.
In these notes of Simone Weil, we have, I think, a great idea. There is barbarism in power as such. We cannot help but be barbaric to those weaker than ourselves. If we look at relations between whites and blacks in this country we see that the whites, the overwhelming majority, have much too much power with respect to the blacks and in this sense the notion that what the blacks need is power is a perfectly sound one. On the other hand, how are the blacks to get the power they need? Moreover—and this is the heart of the matter—can we expect the whites voluntarily to yield up some of the power they already have? Can we expect the whites to behave as if they are weak when in fact they are not? In Simone Weil's view, to expect this would be to expect something like moral genius in the mass of the people, and this would be of course absurd.
Turning to the consideration of national states, we must say, in the light of Simone Weil's notion, that the United States is barbaric in its attitude toward other states not simply because it is a capitalist power but by the mere fact that it is stronger than other states. And we must say the same about the Soviet Union which, even if it were very much better than it is, would be barbarous merely by the fact that it is so strong. Nor can we have the hope that China, pursuing a dream of strength and strong already in view of its immense population, its great culture, and the intelligence of its people, will prove to be less of a problem for the small weak states of the world. I do not agree with Professor Chomsky that we have no evidence of Chinese aggressiveness, but in any case, China is of giant size and aims at transforming its size into strength. Its very aim is to become subject to those compulsions of power which, as Simone Weil sees it, make for barbarism.
But if we are barbarous to the degree that we are strong, should we try to civilize ourselves by striving to be weak? Is that reasonable? I should say not. We may be glad that by some natural process the superpowers are weaker today than they were or seemed to be only a few years back. And in this spirit one may welcome the defeat of the United States in the Vietnamese war. When we consider that Russia exists and that China exists and that these two states, so powerful already, are intent on increasing their power, we are not entitled to conclude that the diminution of American power will have any other meaning than to increase the potentiality for barbarism of Russia and of China. The prospects for civilization, which are not good, to be sure, require the weakening hot only of American power but of Russian and Chinese power also, and for this no one has provided any kind of plan. But in any case, we are not entitled to think that the weakening of our own state has any particular value or is in any sense to be preferred to the weakening of the other colossi which also bestride the globe. And one does not cease to be a Mandarin by serving one of the other colossi—China has the newest and latest in addition to the oldest Mandarins. To be sure, one can hardly expect anyone who is not an intellectual to be concerned with the problematics of power as such. But has not Professor Chomsky made considerable stir by pointing up the special responsibilities of intellectuals?
1 Pantheon Books, 404 pp., $7.95.
2 Not foreseeing the wide intellectual support for War dissenters which developed in 1967-1968, Professor Chomsky could write in 1966: “It is frightening to observe the comparative indifference of American intellectuals to the immediate actions of their Government and its long range policies. . . .” But lack of foresight is hardly a sign of political expertise.
3 Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, to whom Professor Chomsky owes the term “counterrevolutionary subordination,” is also committed to the Orthodox view where white liberalism is concerned. I must add that Mr. O'Brien's Orthodoxy is very gross indeed. For him the sinfulness of the white liberal is, so to speak, Original. For instance, Mr. O'Brien notes in the preface to his new play, Murderous Angels, that “Gladstone was the great voice of white liberalism. The family fortune, on which his career was founded, was in its time founded on the slave trade. The family crest drawn by his father was a Negro's head shedding drops of blood.” But this, while interesting, does not tell us that Gladstone in particular did anything against blacks. Now about the play itself. Mr. O'Brien here treats of the murder of Patrice Lumumba and assigns the responsibility for this to Dag Hammarskjold. Explaining the motive for his work, Mr. O'Brien does not hesitate to criticize as “politically unsatisfactory” an earlier play about Lumumba by the West Indian poet Aimé Césaire. Why? Césaire's “apparent acquittal” of Hammarskjold is found by Mr. O'Brien “too easy a way out.”
So the black poet Césaire acquits Dag Hammarskjold for the death of Patrice Lumumba. But was the UN Secretary responsible in fact for Lumumba's death? In Murderous Angels Mr. O'Brien presents us with a Hammarskjold who on the stage openly plots Lumumba's death. There is no historical basis for this scene. Moreover, in the play itself it is conceded that Lumumba's death was due to his own decision to go to Stanleyville. So that even if Hammarskjold may be thought to have plotted against Lumumba, and we have no evidence that he did, according to Mr. O'Brien the guilt for Lumumba's death was simply part of Hammarskjold's white liberalism. The play, by the way, is a scandal in that it imputes to Hammarskjold statements he was not known to have made. It is Mr. O'Brien's Marxist interpretation of Hammarskjold speaking when in the play the UN representative replies to the question, Do you vote for the death of Patrice Lumumba?: “I do. I must acquiesce in the death of one rash man. . . .” Now I submit that Mr. O'Brien has the right to interpret any words Mr. Hammarskjold actually used in any way that suits him. But he has no right to make Mr. Hammarskjold himself express Mr. O'Brien's interpretation of him, especially when that interpretation carries with it an admission of murder.
4 Perhaps one of these days Professor Chomsky will himself make clearer his relation to the Communists. I can't help recalling here the clarification Merleau-Ponty gave of his relation to the Communists and Communism in Les Aventures de la Dialectique. He said that it was no longer possible to be either a Communist or an anti-Communist, adding that from then on one had to be a non-Communist. Can we say that Professor Chomsky is a non-Communist? I do not think so.
5 Sakharov's paper, Progress, Coexistence & Intellectual Freedom, first published in the New York Times and now gotten out in book form by W. W. Norton, with an introduction and notes by Harrison E. Salisbury, opens, I believe, a new horizon for political thinking in this epoch. Incidentally, Professor Chomsky himself has commented favorably on Sakharov's statement.
6 Professor Chomsky twice attributes these words to President Truman in 1947: “. . . all freedom is dependent on freedom of enterprise. . . . The whole world should adopt the American system. . . . The American system can survive in America only if it becomes a world system.” In his review of American Power and the New Mandarins in Book World (March 23, 1969), Schlesinger points out that Truman never spoke any such words. What Truman actually said was (and in the context of an attack on protective tariffs): “Freedom of worship—freedom of speech—freedom of enterprise. It must be true that the first two of these freedoms are related to the third.”