Chomsky speaks on U.S. imperialism
The Columbia Spectator, December 4, 2009
According to Noam Chomsky, all U.S. leaders are schizophrenic.
Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, came to Columbia on Thursday to discuss hypocrisy and "schizophrenia" in American foreign policy from the early settlers to George W. Bush.
Chomsky, often considered one of the fathers of modern linguistics, is also well known for his controversial criticism of the United States' actions in international politics.
At the fifth annual Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture hosted by the Heyman Center for the Humanities, Chomsky began his speech on "The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism" by applauding Said for calling attention to America's culture of imperialism. Said, a cultural critic and literary scholar who taught at Columbia for about three decades, died in 2003.
Though America just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chomsky said the commemoration ignored a glaring human rights violation that occurred only one week after the wall fell. On November 16, 1989, a U.S.-armed Atlacatl battalion assassinated six leading Latin American Jesuit priests, he explained.
Chomsky contrasted America's self-congratulation of the Berlin Wall destruction with the resounding silence that surrounds the assassination of these priests.
He said that this was just one example of the many stains on America's foreign policy record. Chomsky criticized the U.S. for its role in the continuing conflicts in the Middle East. Alluding to the wall dividing Israel and Gaza, he stressed the need to "dismantle the massive wall ... now snaking through Palestinian territory in violation of international law."
Discussing the United States as an international player, he said, "To this day, the U.S. is reverentially admired as a city on a hill." Chomsky characterized this as an imperialist policy, "a conception that we are carrying out God's will in mysterious ways."
He argued that the U.S. sacrifices democratic principles for its own self-interest, and tends to "focus a laser light on the crimes of enemies, but crucially we make sure to never look at ourselves."
Democracy, he said, is "supported if it defends the strategic and economic objectives of the United States."
Akeel Bilgrami, director of the Heyman Center for the Humanities, said in an e-mail prior to the event that they were honored to have Chomsky return for a fourth visit. "He is one of the greatest figures of public conscience of the last century," Bilgrami said, adding that, in linguistics and philosophy, Chomsky "single-handedly generated a revolution in the subject."
Bilgrami noted that the Heyman Center's choice of speakers does not necessarily reflect its political views. He said, "To some extent, the choice of speakers and interests over the years have reflected the progressive, humanistic, politically radical possibilities in the study of the humanities but it has never been a political platform" and explained that any sort of agenda would "cancel out other voices and points of view."