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There is no God, and Chomsky is his prophet

By Jon Yom-Tov
web posted February 17, 2003

The other day I came across an article written by Noam Chomsky. About halfway through the article he says that "…the closer you get to the region [of Iraq], the higher the opposition appears to be…Now there's no objective reason why the US should be more frightened of Saddam than say the Kuwaitis, but there is a reason - namely that since September there's been a drumbeat of propaganda…". I had to read this passage twice just to make sure, because what Chomsky is actually saying here is that there is an absolute truth, which most people recognize. However, the closer you get to the United States the more likely it is that this unadulterated truth will be diluted, corrupted by America's lies, issuing from its propaganda machine. And this is amazing. It's amazing because Chomsky here displays a monumental arrogance. The idea that people on your side of the political map have somehow discovered the absolute truth, while the poor, hopeless multitudes on the other have been brainwashed simply reeks of a colossal hubris.

Chomsky gives no credit at all to the ideas of those who support Saddam Hussein's forceful removal, but instead relegates them to one of two roles: brainwashed sheep or evil producers of war mongering propaganda. He completely discounts the perfectly legitimate fears of many Americans. Fear of a ruthless, megalomaniac dictator possessing the means and motivation to arm terrorists who would harm American citizens.

Noam Chomsky
Chomsky

While this may be discounted as yet another diatribe by an academic who has let his status fuel his ego, it would not be wise to do so. For Noam Chomsky is the preeminent ideologue of the anti-war movement. His voice is heard in virtually every important anti-war forum and his publications are widely read and quoted by many anti-war activists. His simplistic message, so disparaging of those who disagree with his views, influences many people.

In the bookstore near my house in Tokyo his books are prominently displayed in two places. The first is a corner devoted purely to his books. Above them is a small note saying that he is a leading academic and activist in the anti-war movement and Thom Yorke's (lead singer of the English rock group Radiohead) idol.

The second place is the area where recommended books are displayed. His works occupy a place of honor between books about yoga, the Dalai Lama and the Y generation, the successor of generation X. That note and the books displayed with Noam Chomsky's are very interesting because, in a nutshell, they describe the ideals and ideas of the followers of the anti-war movement.

A year or so ago, after Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech and the crushing of the Taliban by US backed forces, opposition to the war in the West was more or less restricted to Muslim communities. Though Bush stated his aim to disarm Iraq or, failing that, to remove its dictator by force, in no uncertain terms, such was the shock of the September 11th attacks that no real opposition to the war materialized. However, disagreement within the administration, specifically Collin Powell's opposition to armed intervention, the unpreparedness of America's troops in the Gulf and international pressure led President Bush to decide to postpone the war and seek UN sanction of an invasion of Iraq.

That was a grave mistake. For while 9/11 was still fresh in people's minds, opposition to America, always present and after the Soviet Union's collapse ever growing, was dulled. But, as time passed, the feeling of solidarity with the United States weakened. That, however, was not what brought opposition to the war to its present vocal and powerful state, it just made it possible. What made the movement popular was a process both simple and ubiquitous in the West: it became fashionable. The opposition to the war became a part of pop-culture.

Although Noam Chomsky gives the anti-war movement its veneer of respectability it is people from the entertainment industry which give it its strength. Sheryl Crowe appeared at the MTV Music Awards wearing a sequined shirt which proclaimed that "War Is Not The Answer". Martin Sheen, who plays the American president in the popular TV show "The West Wing", stands at the forefront of the opposition to the war.

Recently, a computer animator brought out an online "game" which simulates the outcome of a war in Iraq. Although usually games contain an interactive component the creator of this one supplied only one ending: total disaster. The reason? "There is only one deliberate outcome. It didn't make sense to give people the idea that they could avoid the worst". One need only take a look at the hundreds of anti-war cartoons and flash movies posted on the net to become convinced of the strong element of pop-culture in the anti-war movement.

So, while the supporters of the anti-war movement bask in their self righteous anger at America and the Bush administration, they can be pleasantly entertained by anti-war concerts and anti-war e-mail attachments, all the while ignoring the very serious aspects of the crisis. And while this makes for a very clear cut definition between "us", the good people supported by showbiz and sympathetic intellectuals, and "them", the shadowy military-industrial complex, oil companies and President Bush, it also reduces the level of debate to that of Southpark. Thus, proponents of the war are automatically labeled "war mongers" and Saddam's numerous crimes are relegated secondary status to Bush's perceived inadequacies.

Since the entertainment industry, rarely, if ever, gives birth to very profound or complicated ideas this reduction of discourse to sloganeering is hardly unexpected. Also unsurprising is Chomsky's use of relatively uncomplicated ideas. He simply knows his audience. He knows he won't get very far with a deeper discussion of the situation so he simply caters to his audience by supplying them with simple groupings of good vs. evil.

While at present it is too early to make accurate predictions it appears that the anti-war movement is creating a new paradigm for political activism. Although it is true that the Vietnam anti-war movement took on a similar aspect it is worth noting that, in contrast to the Vietnam War, this war is intended to remove a direct threat to the well being of America.

This is Jon Yom-Tov's first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

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