Imperial Ambitions: Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World
Interviews with David Barsamian
[David Barsamian) Your office here in a new building at MIT is opposite another new one that’s called the Center for Learning and Memory. One can only speculate as to what goes on there. But I’d like you to talk about memory and knowledge of history as a tool of resistance to propaganda.
[Noam Chomsky] It was well understood, long before George Orwell, that memory must be repressed. Not only memory but consciousness of what’s happening right in front of you must be repressed, because if the public comes to understand what’s being done in its name, it probably won’t permit it. That’s the main reason for propaganda. Otherwise there is no point in it. Why not just tell the truth? It’s easier to tell the truth than to lie. You don’t get caught. You don’t have to put any effort into it. But power systems never tell the truth, if they can get away with it, because they simply don’t trust the public.
On May 27, the New York Times ran an article about the interchanges between Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon that included one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever read. Kissinger fought very hard through the courts to try to prevent the transcripts from being released, but the courts permitted it. You read through them, and you find that at one point Nixon informed Kissinger that he wanted to launch a major assault on Cambodia under the pretense of airlifting supplies. He said, “I want them to hit everything.” And Kissinger transmitted the order to the Pentagon to carry out a “massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves.” That is the most explicit call for what we call genocide when other people do it that I’ve ever seen in the historical record.
Right at this moment, Slobodan Milošević, the former president of Yugoslavia, is on trial, and prosecutors are somewhat hampered because they can’t find direct orders linking Milošević to major atrocities on the ground in Bosnia. Suppose they found a statement from Milošević saying, “Hit everything. Anything that flies on anything that moves.” The trial would be over. Milošević would be sent away for multiple life sentences. But they can’t find any such document.
Was there any reaction to the Nixon-Kissinger transcripts? Did anybody notice it? Actually, I’ve brought this comment up in a number of talks, and I’ve noticed that people don’t’ seem to understand it. They might understand it the minute I say it, but not five minutes later, because it’s just too unacceptable. We cannot be people who openly and publicly call for genocide and then carry it out. That can’t be. So therefore it didn’t happen. And therefore it doesn’t even have to be wiped out of history, because it will never enter history.
David Barsamian (2006). Noam Chomsky – Imperial Ambitions: Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World. London: Penguin Books. pp. 99-101. First published in 2005.