Chomsky reply to Hitchens


Richard Moore


Christopher Hitchens wrote an article for The Nation, which
talked about the "masochistic e-mail...circulating from the
Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein quarter".  Hitchens was arguing
that we should consider terrorism only as a matter of
Islamic fundamentalist extremism, and ignore all other
issues.  I'm publishing Chomsky's reply for those who may
have seen the Hitchens piece, and also because it is

In previous posts I have argued that one of the primary
goals of U.S. global policy is intentional genocide - for
the same reason that the indigenous populations of North
America and Australia were decimated.  Capitalism needs more
room for growth, and poor, third-world populations are fully
expendable to serve that goal.  Michel Chossudovsky, in "The
Globalization of Poverty", documents how this genocide is
carried out by means of IMF 'structural adjustment'
programs, and by actions of Western governments and
transnational cartels.  In Chomsky's discussion of the
bombing of the Sudan Pharmaceutical plant, we see one of the
other means being employed.  As Bush launches is open-ended
"War Against Terrorism", using "all means of warfare", and
with nuclear weapons explicitly not ruled out, we can see
the foundations being laid for genocide on a monumental
scale.  Meanwhile, the criminal sanctions against Iraq
continue to kill thousands of children every month. 
Madeline Albright says the 'price is worth it'.  She would
be more honest to say 'the price is the goal'.

in my opinion,

To: •••@••.•••
From: mary coll <•••@••.•••>
Delivered-To: mailing list •••@••.•••
Date: Thu, 4 Oct 2001 04:05:48 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [global_irl] Chomsky reply to Hitchens

Chomsky's reply to Christopher Hitchens at  Hitchens' blasted Chomsky for
comparing the bombing of the pharmaceutical plant in
Sudan by the US with the devastation of the WTC in New

Reply to Hitchens
by Noam Chomsky  

I have been asked to respond to recent Nation articles
by Christopher Hitchens (website, September 24;
magazine, Oct. 8), and after refusing several times,
will do so, though only partially, and reluctantly.
The reason for the reluctance is that Hitchens cannot
mean what he is saying. For that reason alone--there
are others that should be obvious--this is no proper
context for addressing serious issues relating to the
September 11 atrocities. 

That Hitchens cannot mean what he writes is clear, in
the first place, from his reference to the bombing of
Sudan. He must be unaware that he is expressing such
racist contempt for African victims of a terrorist
crime, and cannot intend what his words imply. This
single atrocity destroyed half the pharmaceutical
supplies of a poor African country and the facilities
for replenishing them, with an enormous human toll.
Hitchens is outraged that I compared this atrocity to
what I called "the wickedness and awesome cruelty" of
the terrorist attacks of September 11 (quoting Robert
Fisk), adding that the actual toll in the Sudan case
can only be surmised, because the United States
blocked any UN inquiry and few were interested enough
to pursue the matter. That the toll is dreadful is
hardly in doubt. 

Hitchens is apparently referring to a response I wrote
to several journalists on September 15, composite
because inquiries were coming too fast for individual
response. This was apparently posted several times on
the web, as were other much more detailed subsequent
responses. In the brief message Hitchens may have
seen, I did not elaborate, assuming--correctly,
judging by subsequent interchanges with many
respondents--that it was unnecessary: The recipients
would understand why the comparison is quite
appropriate. I also took for granted that they would
understand a virtual truism: When we estimate the
human toll of a crime, we count not only those who
were literally murdered on the spot but those who died
as a result, the course we adopt reflexively, and
properly, when we consider the crimes of official
enemies--Stalin, Hitler and Mao, to mention the most
extreme cases. If we are even pretending to be
serious, we apply the same standards to ourselves: In
the case of Sudan, we count the number who died as a
direct consequence of the crime, not just those killed
by cruise missiles. Again, a truism. 

Since there is one person who does not appear to
understand, I will add a few quotes from the
mainstream press, to clarify.

A year after the attack, "without the lifesaving
medicine [the destroyed facilities] produced, Sudan's
death toll from the bombing has continued, quietly, to
rise.... Thus, tens of thousands of people--many of
them children--have suffered and died from malaria,
tuberculosis, and other treatable diseases.... [The
factory] provided affordable medicine for humans and
all the locally available veterinary medicine in
Sudan. It produced 90 percent of Sudan's major
pharmaceutical products.... Sanctions against Sudan
make it impossible to import adequate amounts of
medicines required to cover the serious gap left by
the plant's destruction.... the action taken by
Washington on Aug. 20, 1998, continues to deprive the
people of Sudan of needed medicine. Millions must
wonder how the International Court of Justice in The
Hague will celebrate this anniversary" (Jonathan
Belke, Boston Globe, August 22, 1999). 

"The loss of this factory is a tragedy for the rural
communities who need these medicines" (Tom Carnaffin,
technical manager with "intimate knowledge" of the
destroyed plant, Ed Vulliamy et al., London Observer,
August 23, 1998). 

The plant "provided 50 percent of Sudan's medicines,
and its destruction has left the country with no
supplies of choloroquine, the standard treatment for
malaria," but months later, the British Labour
government refused requests "to resupply chloroquine
in emergency relief until such time as the Sudanese
can rebuild their pharmaceutical production" (Patrick
Wintour, Observer, December 20, 1998). 

And much more. 

Proportional to population, this is as if the bin
Laden network, in a single attack on the United
States, caused "hundreds of thousands of people--many
of them children--to suffer and die from easily
treatable diseases," though the analogy is unfair
because a rich country, not under sanctions and denied
aid, can easily replenish its stocks and respond
appropriately to such an atrocity--which, I presume,
would not have passed so lightly. To regard the
comparison to September 11 as outrageous is to express
extraordinary racist contempt for African victims of a
shocking crime, which, to make it worse, is one for
which we are responsible: as taxpayers, for failing to
provide massive reparations, for granting refuge and
immunity to the perpetrators, and for allowing the
terrible facts to be sunk so deep in the memory hole
that some, at least, seem unaware of them. 

This only scratches the surface. The United States
bombing "appears to have shattered the slowly evolving
move towards compromise between Sudan's warring sides"
and terminated promising steps toward a peace
agreement to end the civil war that had left 1.5
million dead since 1981, which might have also led to
"peace in Uganda and the entire Nile Basin." The
attack apparently "shattered...the expected benefits
of a political shift at the heart of Sudan's Islamist
government" toward a "pragmatic engagement with the
outside world," along with efforts to address Sudan's
domestic crises," to end support for terrorism, and to
reduce the influence of radical Islamists (Mark
Huband, Financial Times, September 8, 1998). 

Insofar as these consequences ensued, we may compare
the crime in Sudan to the assassination of Lumumba,
which helped plunge the Congo into decades of
slaughter, still continuing; or the overthrow of the
democratic government of Guatemala in 1954, which led
to forty years of hideous atrocities; and all too many
others like it. 

One can scarcely try to estimate the colossal toll of
the Sudan bombing, even apart from the probable tens
of thousands of immediate Sudanese victims. The
complete toll is attributable to the single act of
terror--at least, if we have the honesty to adopt the
standards we properly apply to official enemies. 

Evidently, Hitchens cannot mean what he said about
this topic. We can therefore disregard it. 

To take another example, Hitchens writes that I
referred to the "the whole business [of the 1999
Kosovo war] as a bullying persecution of--the Serbs!"
As he knows, this is sheer fabrication. The reasons
for the war that I suggested were quoted from the
highest-level official US justifications for it,
including National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and
the final summary presented to Congress by Secretary
of Defense William Cohen. We can therefore also
disregard what Hitchens has to say about this topic. 

As a final illustration, consider Hitchens's fury over
the "masochistic e-mail...circulating from the
Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein quarter," who joined such
radical rags as the Wall Street Journal in what he
calls "rationalizing" terror--that is, considering the
grievances expressed by people of the Middle East
region, rich to poor, secular to Islamist, the course
that would be followed by anyone who hopes to reduce
the likelihood of further atrocities rather than
simply to escalate the cycle of violence, in the
familiar dynamics, leading to even greater
catastrophes here and elsewhere. This is an outrage,
Hitchens explains, because "I know already" about
these concerns--a comment that makes sense on
precisely one assumption: that the communications were
addressed solely to Hitchens. Without further comment,
we can disregard his fulminations on these topics. 

In one charge, Hitchens is correct. He writes that
"the crime [in Sudan] was directly and sordidly linked
to the effort by a crooked President to avoid
impeachment (a conclusion sedulously avoided by the
Chomskys and Husseinis of the time)." It's true that I
have sedulously avoided this speculation, and will
continue to do so until some meaningful evidence is
provided; and have also sedulously avoided the entire
obsession with Clinton's sex life. 

From the rest, it may be possible to disentangle some
intended line of argument, but I'm not going to make
the effort, and fail to see why others should. Since
Hitchens evidently does not take what he is writing
seriously, there is no reason for anyone else to do
so. The fair and sensible reaction is to treat all of
this as some aberration, and to await the return of
the author to the important work that he has often
done in the past. 

In the background are issues worth addressing. But in
some serious context, not this one. 

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Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland
Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance 
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