Distorted Morality: America’s War on Terror

“America’s War on Terror.”

In a speech given at Harvard University on February 2002, Noam Chomsky argues that “we are all total hypocrites on any issue relating to terrorism.” Chomsky quotes a definition of terrorism from a 1984 army manual. The definition states that terrorism is a “calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to advance political, religious or ideological goals.” Chomsky discusses Reagan’s 1981 declaration of “War on Terror” and America’s covert operations and involvement in the politics of many other countries–including El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. Identifying the 80s as the era of state-supported terrorism, he cites the worst examples of terrorism (in terms of the numbers of injuries and deaths) in the year 1985, and America’s involvement in each one. Just as Iraq posed a threat to the U.S. with its Weapons of Mass Destruction, Nicaragua also presented a ‘national threat’ in the 80s. Hmmm … is there a pattern here?

Citing American actions in both Latin America and the Middle East, Chomsky offers example after example of instances in which America committed money and men towards “pre-emptive” action and “soft targets.” Chomsky also cites pivotal incidents of America vetoing or abstaining from key votes at the UN Security Council–particularly pertaining to Israel and Palestine. At one point, the U.S even abstained from voting on a measure that would have applied the Geneva Conventions to the occupied territories of Palestine. Chomsky’s point is that America’s War on Terror is hypocritical, and that the U.S is just as guilty of terrorism as other, much smaller and less powerful nations.

Distorted Morality really has the presentation of a lecture. Chomsky is a linguistics professor, and this shows. Chomsky is not an exhilarating speaker, but his speech carries a great deal of personal conviction. He sometimes waffles, doesn’t finish sentences, and corrects himself. While Chomsky attempts to inject some degree of sarcastic humour into his lecture, it remains rather dry. I had the distinct feeling I should be taking notes throughout. It is also assumed that his audience has at least some groundwork in the topics under discussion. Finally, for those (like me) who have a problem with this whole ‘War on Terror’ idea, Chomsky will provide some interesting food for thought. You’d think the fact that the U.S. provided Saddam Hussein with advanced weaponry and chemicals in the 80s would give the average person at least some pause about the current ‘War on Terror’ within Iraq.

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