A Response


See "Thus Spake Noam" by Jeffrey C. Isaac and his counter-response


I was intrigued by Jeffrey Isaac's article, which quotes my demonstration of the moral bankruptcy of an argument that had been proposed (not by governments) for the NATO bombing of 1999. The demonstration proceeds by adopting the principle on which the argument rests, and constructing a point-by-point analogue that leads directly to a conclusion so transparently absurd that any sane person must instantly reject it. The relevant difference between the original argument and the analogue is that the former deals with the crimes of an official enemy, the latter with our own. As the book to which he refers discusses in detail, the analogue is actually considerably stronger than the original, but we can put that aside. Isaac makes no effort to challenge the argument, because he knows that it is valid.


Isaac understands that a reductio ad absurdum argument does not lead to acceptance of the absurd conclusion, but he is unwilling to recognize that it also leads to rejection of the untenable premise. That he cannot accept, because he wants to make selective use of the morally disgraceful premise with regard to the crimes of others (though not our own). He tries to evade his dilemma by lying systematically about my actual views, always by innuendo only. I will mention a few examples, but an interested reader can easily determine that the same conclusion holds for every case that even verges on fact.


(1) "What he says is that these conclusions follow straightforwardly if we assume that the rationale for intervention in Kosovo was 'something more than apologetics for state violence'."


Here the lie is transparent, because it is contradicted by the very passage he cites. Irrelevantly, it is also explained in more detail in the discussion from which he extracts it.


(2) "Chomsky makes no policy-relevant distinctions between the circumstances surrounding the Indonesian government's brutal repression of East Timor and those attending Milosevic's brutal policy of 'ethnic cleansing'."


The two main chapters of the book provide a detailed account of innumerable "policy-relevant distinctions" based primarily on extensive documentation from sources Isaac naturally prefers to ignore: U.S. government, OSCE, U.N., Human Rights Groups, the most respected scholarship and journalists, etc. The conclusions are that in the case of East Timor there were simple ways to reduce -- indeed, terminate -- the violence, namely, by withdrawing our active participation in it, as was revealed, dramatically, after the country was virtually destroyed; and in the case of Kosovo the official arguments were plausible but so ugly that Isaac feels he has to evade them and defend a morally disgraceful one to justify his apparently reflexive support for state violence.


(3) "Ever the moralist, Chomsky fails here, as elsewhere, to say anything about how this result might be brought about in a reasonable way."


As Isaac knows, I have written many books and articles about how these results "might be brought about." True, he does not regard the proposals as "reasonable," though he is careful not to say why -- one can assume, because the answers would tell us too much about him.


The remainder is just a series of childish fabrications, random shots without even a hint of evidence or argument. No person of even minimal moral or intellectual integrity would engage in such practices.


One can appreciate Isaac's distress over the revelation of his inability to construct a justification for his support for state violence in one of the cases discussed, and more strikingly, of his culpability for the massive atrocities in the analogue. Even his efforts to defame without evidence pale into insignificance in comparison with the cold savagery with which he views his own passive acquiescence in what he knows -- or can easily discover -- to be perhaps the worst slaughter relative to population since the Holocaust, peaking in the late 1970s, continuing since, escalating again from early 1999, and continuing today in ways that we would condemn with justified fury if Serbia were the guilty party. The basis for these conclusions is elaborated in the central chapter of the book to which Isaac alludes, and in the sources cited there that have been readily available throughout these terrible and ongoing crimes for which we bear crucial responsibility from their earliest days.



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