[disinfo ed.'s note: this original essay was first published by disinformation on November 15, 2001. Some links may have expired.]
Author’s note: This interview was originally published in REVelation magazine (#12, Summer, 1995): 30-38. This piece captures a transitional period in world politics that exerts a powerful influence over today’s Culture Jammers and anti-globalization activists. Post-NAFTA Americans have became aware of the maquiladora; the Zapatistas seized cyberspace; Jose Ramos-Horta has since been honored with the Nobel Peace Prize; Australia has stepped back from Paul Keating’s mid-1990s drive into South-east Asia; Noam Chomsky continues to lecture, teach, and write. The article title, of course, refers to Queensryche’s progressive rock album Operation: Mindcrime (1988), one of the finest portrayals of how ‘radical’ drones can unwittingly become an integral part of the Reaganite entertainment-as-oppression system that they are (supposedly) fighting against.
18 January 1995 was an extraordinary day for Sydney. Pope John Paul II arrived for the beautification of Mary MacKillop and the resulting media circus. Early morning commuters were greeted with an overcast sky and the news of a massive earthquake in Kobe, Japan. Microsoft’s Bill Gates unveiled plans to dominate the Internet to business leaders. REM were scheduled to play at the Sydney Entertainment Centre later that evening. Virtually unnoticed, dissident Noam Chonsky slipped into this kaleidoscope for the beginning of a 3 city, 9-day tour. Sponsored by the East Timor Relief Association (ETRA) and the National Council for East Timorese Resistance (CNRM), his tour started low-key, but became increasingly surreal as events unfolded at a fast pace.
Three days before Chomsky arrived, I holed myself up in a hotel room overlooking Hyde Park, attempting to come to grips with the geo-political model described in his book World Orders Old & New (published in the U.S. by Columbia University Press and in the U.K. by Pluto Press, 1994). One point that hits home was his description of the Third World – widely stratified societies of a small rich enclave who rule the poor majority. Chomsky felt that such a model was affecting the West because of international finance policies – such as the fact that in New York over 40% of children live below the poverty line and survive by drug addiction, prostitution and other urban horrors.
That night the King’s Cross main strip of strip joints, nightclubs and restaurants proved to be too much. It didn’t resemble the “quiet, nondescript residential suburb by day,” that the tour brochure described at all. More like an artificial hell, land of broken dreams, whores, junkies worshipping God Smack and Hells Angels. Consumption won’t fill their void. The only sane defence against such a primal, predatory atmosphere was to escape to the hotel room, wipe out the minibar’s contents, and gleefully watch atrocities on CNN from a distance. When the Kobe disaster happened several days later, I felt sickened by comments from NBC broadcasters proclaiming: “the wonderful unforseen opportunity for U.S. business growth” and “the collapse of Japan’s world economic rulership in only nine seconds.” Suddenly a New World Order didn’t seem so cool anymore.
“If you want to find out the truth about something, first do an intensive study of the public record,” Chomsky told me. To understand the complexity of Chomsky’s career and the controversy over his political writings, I first created a summary from various reputable sources.
Avram Noam Chomsky was born on December 7th, 1928, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. During the Depression years his parents both worked as Hebrew school teachers and Chomsky attended a Deweyite progressive school which had not yet internalised the standard competitive classroom model prevalent elsewhere. His first major piece was written at the age of 12, examining the ominous rise of fascism in Europe and the recent fall of Barcelona. Gravitating towards a “libertarian socialist” (anarchist) uncle, he was influenced by literature dealing with the 1936 Spanish Civil War and the brutal crushing of the revolting worker’s proposed anarcho-syndicalist society.
His undergraduate years were spent in the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1955. Two years later his doctoral dissertation “Transformational Analysis” was published in part as the monograph Syntactic Structures. The latter monograph radically changed the field of linguistics, as Chomsky applied a mathematical model to examine the structure of language and its inherent meaning. His famous sentence “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously,” was an example of a grammatically correct statement that meant nothing logically, pre-empting his analysis of Orwellian Doublespeak used by States. He later used his theories of linguistics to challenge the rapidly moulding psychiatric priesthood of Behaviourist B.F. Skinner, arguing that language is an innate skill in a newborn child and not yet subject to Skinner’s “stimulus-response” conditioning.
The monograph helped Chomsky win a chair of linguistics at the Massachussett’s Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1961. During this time he had taken an interest in the Zionist occupation of Palestine and other geo-political issues, but as a libertarian-socialist he found himself at odds with the Leninist/Trotskyist groups that dominated the Left. In 1964 he engaged in political activism by joining the resistance to the war in Vietnam. in October 1965 on Boston Common he gave his first speech. His 1966 essay The Responsibility of Intellectuals stunned colleagues by attacking widely held assumptions about American policy in Indo-China, and by criticising many intellectuals for failing to challenge the State imposed consensus reality and foreign policy. He was involved with the “Boston Five” trial, and was prominent in the October 19-21 1967 March on the Pentagon. He shared a jail cell with Norman Mailer, who described him in The Armies of the Night (1968) as “a slim sharp-featured man with an ascetic expression, and an air of gentle but moral integrity.”
After the publication of his devastating attacks in American Power and the New Mandarins (1969) and At War With Asia (1970), Chomsky found himself on Nixon’s White House “enemy list.”
His position at MIT became more secure and in 1976 he was appointed Institute Professor of the Modern Languages & Linguistics Department. Early critical respectability in The Nation and The New York Times gave way to a muted silence, yet he became popular with the New Left and on the public lecture circuit. His 1979 collaboration with economist Edward S. Herman on two volumes of The Political Economy of Human Rights in East Timor and Cambodia, labelling him as “a Khmer Rouge apologist.”
His 1982 work Towards A New Cold War attacked the Reagan administration and its re-armanent program.
Labelled by Zionists as “a self-hating Jew” after The Fateful Triangle (1984) examined US/Israeli suppression of Palestinians, he received further criticism by defending French academic Professor Robert Faurisson’s right to question elements of the Holocaust extermination program.
Chomsky didn’t agree with Faurisson’s views but was upholding Voltaire’s maxim that “Freedom of speech means allowing freedom of views you don’t like.”
The inclusion of an essay of Chomsky’s regarding freedom of speech in Faurisson’s court case ignited French intellectuals, who ignored the other 499 signatures on the main civil rights petition, and led to further controversy about State determined historical truths.
Undettered, Chomsky and Herman released the famous Manufacturing Consent propaganda model of media distortion in 1988. The same year he received the Kyoto Prize for Basic Sciences from the Inamori Foundation in Japan. These two events enhanced his popularity, as he honed his analysis of US sponsered sieges in South America and the development of Cold War policy, detailed in Deterring Democracy (1992) and Year 501(1993).
On 18 June 1992 at the Sydney Film Festival, a test print of the documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky & The Media screened to wide acclaim. Filmmakers Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick spent five years covering Chomsky’s speeches and interviews across Japan, Europe and the U.S., and assembling archive footage. The resulting 165-minute feature won 12 awards and played in over 220 cities. Manufacturing Consent was a double edged sword – it brought Chomsky’s work to a wider audience and made it accessible, yet it has also been used by younger activi`sts to idolise him, creating a “cult of personality.”
Chomsky’s writing is usually very dense, full of references to legislation, media reports and other documents from across the political spectrum, yet he still manages to get his main points across clearly and precisely.
“We have been geared to a war economy since before 1945. Memo 68 of the National Security Council [U.S. government and arms cartels] was eagerly adopted by the Truman administration and set up a Cold War policy framework against Communist agression. The Marshall Plan was far from altruistic – it made other countries dependent on U.S. business agro-exports and surplus production. South American countries like Guatemala were invaded, in this case in 1954, and puppet governments created favourable environments for American business interests to have safe access to raw materials. In line with this came the rise of trans-national corporations (TNCs), and further worker exploitation.”
This worldview was influenced by the writings of George Orwell, whose prophetic book 1984 adapted a dystopia from Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Socialist Britain. Chomsky accommodates this into a work that challenges the mainstream view set forth by Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy tome, which “met with enthusiastic reviews from most of the idealistic press.”
Chomsky describes international relations on the basis of power, termed political realism (Realpolitik). Oswald Spengler published his two volume Decline of the West (New York: G. Allen & Unwin, 1926-28, revised edition) which made an impression on the German General Karl Haushofer, who became the master theorist of “geopolitics”, the study of state expansionism based on ideological, political and geographical analysis. Haushofer was blamed, in the post-Nuremberg Trials climate, for Adolf Hitler’s aggressive European expansion in the late 1930s.
Hans Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations (New York, Knopf, 1978, 5th edition) became the bible of U.S. realpolitik planners, an interventionist political framework that emerged in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. Henry Kissinger personified this American foreign policy school, notably during the 1972 Paris Negotiations, when he combated similar strategies used by the Soviet/Chinese axis.
Robert Strausz-Hupe summed up the doctrine brilliantly in the following passage from the seminal Geopolitics: The Struggle for Space and Power (New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1942):
“As policy evolves towards several continental systems, and technology accentuates the strategic importance of large, contiguous areas. Thus the era of overseas empires and free world trade closes. If this reasoning is pushed to its absolute conclusion, the national state is also a thing of the past, and the future belongs to the giant state. Many nations will be locked in a few vast compartments. But in each of these one people, controlling a strategic area, will be master of the others.”
This was written thirty-three years before Indonesia brutally annexed East Timor after the Portuguese empire collapsed. But why would a country that had just made a 500 year modernisation leap invade its smaller neighbour? To ensure a safe Indian/Pacific passageway for American submarines and to plunder for its own profit East Timor’s rich oil fields.
“The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) basically opens up Mexico to American business firms,” Chomsky told me.
Two hours after reading his predictions that Clinton’s policies would wreak havoc in Mexico and interfere with Canadian micro-economic reform, particularly with health insurance firms, I turned on CNN to see US Secretary of State Warren Christopher announce a US$40 billion bail-out of the Mexican peso to prevent industry collapse. Over the next week immigration officials struggled to cope with an influx of Mexicans fleeing financial ruin and social disorder. Concerned that the Mexican situation could contaminate the U.S. domestic economy and spread its disease to G-7 countries, a complex package of credits and loans guarantees was unveiled. Similar promises weren’t made to the environmentally-ravaged Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia or Nicaragua.
“Mexico is being used as a buffer by the US to protect its economy. Most of the aid will actually help American businesses export to Mexico, so the aid isn’t as large as it seems. They may use the term ‘economic recovery’, but it isn’t for the general populace. They sell off public interests under the guise of paying off huge debt commitments to their cronies. Similar strategies were tried during the Thatcher years . . . leading to an ever widening gap between the poor and privileged classes,” Chomsky told me at his lecture on democracy and markets.
He pointed out at the same lecture that NAFTA was signed on 12 August, 1992 in secret, during a Presidential election. Two years later Mexico’s trade deficit had risen to 8% of GDP, whilst the average Mexican’s purchasing power fell by 40%. The Wall Street firm Bear, Stearns & Co bought billions of dollars worth of bonds under President Selinas. The later election of Zedillo and suppression of revolution in Chiapas was a prime example of “controlled elections”, a point alluded to by Chomsky in World Orders Old and New. The book’s prophetic tone was surpassed by the Clinton Administration’s invasion of Haiti and the vilification of the Palestinians after the historic Israeli Peace Accord was signed in late 1994.
The official press conference was held on the morning of 19 January. Just over 40 people jockeyed for space in a room on the seventh floor of the Public Sector Union (NSW branch) building. (Later when I visited ETRA’s Parrematta office I noticed another PSU reference, but the union denied any official link). SBS was the only major television network to cover the event, along with several of the larger newspapers; elements of the Left, Sydney based students and other minority groups were well represented.
ETRA’s Executive Director Agio Pereira outlined the tour, and then a grinning, quietly spoken Chomsky took the floor to answer questions directly. He would answer each question persuasively and calmly, pausing only to remind someone that their tape-recorder had stopped working.
“I arrived at the airport and the first headline I see is that Australia is about to ratify an arms sale of Steyr rifles to Indonesia. I wondered if they printed that just to keep me happy!” were his opening comments.
“But I seriously think we’re at a turning point in this situation. Australia does have a role to play in influencing things. I would hope that with the proposed ‘Victory in the Pacific’ celebrations this year – note it’s not “Victory over Japan,” Australians can honestly examine the situation and remember the sacrifice made by the East Timorese in defending Australia during World War II. It’s time for us to repay that favour by supporting East Timorese claims for independence.”
Journalists from the Green Left Weekly, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), and the Sydney Morning Herald dominated question time. The ISO journalist attempted to confront Chomsky over various issues. When asked what he thought of Dept of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) Minister, Senator Gareth Evans, he paused and the room buzzed with anticipation.
“Well . . . I don’t really want to answer that,” he grinned. The room erupted with laughter. “Some of the things he has said are some of the most disgraceful things on the recent diplomatic record,” he ventured. Later in Melbourne he said jokingly, “I hope he isn’t replaced in a hurry – he’s such a good source of quotes and reveals the reality of modern diplomatic speech very well.”
The ISO’s publication Socialist Worker printed a selective transcript of this meeting on 27 January, placing emphasis on his comments about unionism, the role of student associations and East Timor, showing that the mainstream press isn’t alone in framing issues to suit hidden agendas.
Since Chomsky has academic respectability and piercing analysis, his work is often selectively quoted by Leftist publications to support a variety of viewpoints/issues, and to proselytise with the general public who have rapidly become aware of his work.
“In terms of world affairs and international law this isn’t a difficult situation to solve,” he explained. “This isn’t Rwanda or Bosnia – we don’t have to bomb Jakarta. What we need to do is withdraw from the Timor Gap Treaty, which seems to me to be offensive to decent human beings. The same government which signed the treaty in 1991 also revoked recognition of the Soviet control of the Baltic States. Australia led the way in formulating international laws protecting human rights, yet the ratified treaty with Indonesia is the only one to my knowledge that exists in the world that violates the principles you signed. According to a secret cable of August 1975, the Ambassador to Jakarta, Richard Woolcott, felt that ‘we should take a pragmatic rather than a principled interest’ in the impending invasion. He felt that a favourable treaty could be ‘more easily negotiated with Indonesia . . . than with Portugal or an independent East Timor.’ So we have East Timorese being slaughtered just so that an oil company can make a few more profits.
“If you read the mining stocks you may notice that they sometimes change . . . it’s because somebody has discovered oil . . . In fact the business press tells more truth than the local supermarket magazines that feature a kid with six heads. They do so because they are read by people who have to make decisions that matter: The Financial Review or Wall Street Journal isn’t read by the man on the street for instance. If I wanted to know what was really happening, I’d read the business press.”
Throughout his engagements Chomsky spoke highly of journalists Alex Carey, Alexander Cockburn and John Pilger, amongst others. He strongly criticised people who asked him for guidance in selecting reliable source material, saying on several occasions that, “You have to use your own critical judgement and common sense. I can’t tell you and why should you listen to me anyway? I could be lying about all this! That’s the wrong question to ask me. Look at my footnotes – I mention a diverse range of publications.”
ITEM: “Selling Arms to the Neighbours,” Editorial Comment, Herald-Sun newspaper, January 16th. 1995.
“Opposition to the proposed attempt to sell about $100 million worth of Australian rifles to Indonesia is more emotional than practical . . . Geopolitical reality dictates that Australia must live cheek by jowel with Indonesia on the best terms . . . DFAT Minister Sen. Gareth Evans has approved the proposed sale in principle. He is right . . . The sale would help our arms industry. . .Does anybody seriously believe that if we don’t sell Jakarta the rifles, they will not buy them from somewhere else?”
“Of course I don’t think that! When the U.S. stopped arms sales, Britain leapt to the lead, along with Canada as being major accessories to the crime.”
The aggressive journalist recoiled from the sting in Chomsky’s voice as he glared seethingly at her.
“In 1975 the U.S. supplied 90% of Indonesia’s weapons. The US role had been much worse in the past. I’d say the US role was in fact decisive in the 1970s. Australia was a bit player in those days. President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger even requested the delay of the invasion until they had finished their Jakarta tour. Under mounting public pressure recently the US Congress has stopped all arms sales to Indonesia. The Wall Street Journal had an editorial advising Indonesia to ‘kick the gravel out of your shoe,’ saying that it wasn’t worth the international opprobrium. If a country the size of the US can, then I can’t see why Australia shouldn’t follow . . . It’s not as if Indonesia is going to conquer Australia.
“Theres a standard line that East Timor couldn’t be economically independent, and that view is being put forth by the very people who are robbing its resources. Heres an oil rich country which couldn’t be economically independent, according to Australia. And the East Timorese people are getting nothing from the oil revenues that are the result of the Timor Gap Treaty.
“You have to ask yourself which Indonesia you want to support. The interests of business leaders and General Suharto and his cronies aren’t the same as those of the general population, like women workers trying to organise under miserable conditions so that they can survive. They are uncovering the reality about East Timor which has long been suppressed, so that the government reacts by putting union leaders in jail before Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC) conferences and intimidating the population. The more they find out about it, the less they like it.”
ITEM: “Timor Invasion to World Court,” The Age newspaper, January 23rd, 1995.
“Indonesia’s invasion and occupation of East Timor will go on trial in the International Court of Justice in The Hague next week . . . Portugal challenges the agreement between Australia and Indonesia on petroleum exploration in the Timor Sea . . . Lisbon remains legally responsible for East Timor. . .It has maintained the 1975 invasion by Jakarta was illegal.”
On the Chomsky campaign trail, I soon discovered Objective Journalism was a myth. Firstly the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of Quantum physics states that you can’t leave the observer out of the observation. A story is filtered through an individual consciousness, which frames the piece, evaluates information, tries to gain interviews with those subjects unwilling to give information and attempts to finish the work by deadline under difficult conditions. The Chomsky/Herman propoganda model adds other factors, such as pack conformity and ‘ideological filters’ like a paper’s dependence on advertising for revenue, or the use of anticommunism and other ‘social scarecrows’ to influence the cultural elites.
The aim of a journalist is to get outside the situation and examine it as an isolate but self-aware intelligence, as objectively as possible. This may mean influencing and even actively controlling the situation, but you can’t control wider social events. Thus I found myself trapped in Sydney Airport for five hours due to increased security measures for the Pope. He has reportedly privately expressed concern over East Timor, but is unlikely to intervene directly in this political matter. The feeling was tense in the airport’s departure lounge. A near riot ensued when a further delay was announced because of crew problems.
According to Chomsky in America these employees would most likely be temps, which has risen dramatically since the Reagan years. Chomsky verified the ‘Generalisation X’ assertion made by lobby groups like “Lead . . . Or Leave” that the current crowd would be poorer. Domestic reform has become a joke, and little will change after the recent Newt Gingrich led Republican Party landslide within Congress.
“They won 50.5% of the vote when only 5% of the U.S. population voted; many polled were against the Contract With America scheme which increases defence spending and slashes social services,” Chomsky revealed later.
He believes that America has never been a true democracy, but rather one ruled by aristocrats, which Adam Smith and even Founding Father Thomas Jefferson warned about.
“Apart from the trans-national companies which are beyond national policies, we have de-facto governments and bureaucracies like NATO, the EC, the World Court, G-7 nations and various trade blocs. The current system is more like corporate mercantilism than true democracy.”
Prominent Australian right wing media critic Gerald Henderson called this assertion “another of Chomsky’s fashionable conspiracy theories,” without realising that Chomsky was actually quoting information from The Financial Times.
Chomsky told me, “Under free enterprise the public bears the cost of subsidising technological industries. Under the military economy in the 1950s, computers were subsidised by the tax payer, but if anything comes out, its handed over to corporations. Boeing was helped by World War II and by publicly funded contracts during the 1950s, which helped the firm grow. Now it has to barter 20% of its planes because they’re so expensive.”
After arriving in Melbourne I caught a taxi into the CBD with three backpackers holidaying here from England. None of them had heard of Noam Chomsky. But their first sight of the city’s environs were hordes of posters advertising Chomsky’s upcoming keynote address.
I wished for exile from the strange reality of the campaign trail, now privately dubbed ‘Chomskyland’.
According to sources inside DFAT, Senator Gareth Evans approved the recent arms sales “without enthusiasm.” Senator Evans was unable to speak to me directly about the matter, as he was negotiating a lucrative trade deal with Cuba, but his views were summed up in an address given at the AIIA National Conference on ‘Indonesia’, Canberra, Friday, November 25, 1994.
In the transcript, Sen. Evans reveals:
“1995 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the events which brought the New Order government into existence in 1965,” conveniently failing to mention the 500,000 deaths in the coup or the diplomatic mention by U.S. officials in 1958 that Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the region was “a trouble spot.”
Senator Evans frequently refers to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Australia signed, but although he realises that,
“East Timor is the most sensitive issue . . . I stress to our many friends in the Indonesian Government, including senior members of the military . . . to promote genuine reconciliation with the East Timorese people. The issue can no longer be avoided. We have been prepared to accept that since 1979 that Indonesia has full sovereignty over East Timor . . . but a further measure of self determination . . . is achievable within that framework.”
Cutting through the deceitful diplomatic language, the message is frighteningly clear, particularly when Senator Evans mentions the fact that “Indonesia will be the world’s fifth largest economy by the year 2020.”
Australia’s direct investment of over $2.5 billion, and the rights of the 180 Australian companies operating in Indonesia are more important than really tackling the problem. ASEAN and APEC conferences are just fancy public relations exercises. Sen. Evan’s Labor Unity faction seemingly prefers treaties to supporting war, but this doesn’t hide its complicity in the matter.
The diplomatic communiques made no reference to extensive deforestation and other environmental damage done to the East Timorese economy, or the mandatory conscription of East Timorese citizens into the Indonesian armed forces to fight the resistance. A failure to mention the capture in November 1992 of FRETELIN leader Xanana Guasmo, who is serving a 20 year sentence in a Jakarta prison after a ‘trial’ for leading the valiant resistance movement, despite what John Pilger describes as “a genocidal policy . . . that resulted in a land of crosses.”
Resettlement villages, surveillance of families, enforced famines and other methods of internal thought control aren’t revealed. Senator Evans whitewashed the events after the collapse of the Salazarist regime in Portugal, distorting Gough Whitlam’s close relationship with President Suharto and fears of East Timor becoming a base for communist insurgency. By doing so he stands to help gain control of the 250 km Timor Gap and an estimated seven billion barrels worth of oil.
Chomsky’s political activism has notably influenced the music industry. The San Francisco nexus of bands, which included artists from Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, Consolidated, Meat Beat Manifesto, and the now defunct Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, often sampled soundbites, quoted him in press releases or referred to his media propaganda model during concerts in the early 1990s.
David Thrussell, outspoken front-person for the Melbourne based techno terrorists Snog explained to me that,
“There is a large indication that the centre of fascism moved from Berlin to Washington at the end of World War II, particularly with the survival of the original Nazi hierarchy. Our music attempts to cut through the thick veil of flashy public relations to show the reality that the world is becoming more fascist – the recent rise of neo-Nazism and multi-nationals are obvious examples. The scary thing is that most people don’t question the daily injustices that occur around them, and realise whats happening! I draw inspiration from Chomsky’s scathing analysis of American foreign policy, plus the works of John Pilger, John Carpenter and Robert Anton Wilson.”
The band’s press release for their latest album Dear Valued Customer (Polygram, 1994) puts Chomsky on a Further Reading List, but states ambiguously that “Snog appropriates the social dissertations of dissident academics and journalists, transforming them into aphoristic idea sound bites as an expedient alternative to critical illumination.”
Over his six day stay in Sydney, Chomsky spoke on a variety of topics apart from his keynote address on East Timor and discussions on Democracy, Markets and the NWO. He discussed the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and prospects for stability in the Middle East at Macquarie University, spoke at the Inaugural Sydney Festival on “The Writer and Intellectual Responsibility”, and discussed his linguistics work. But most prominent was an address at the “Visions of Freedom” Anarchist’s Conference, ironically held at the Sydney Town Hall.
A source at Black Rose Books, the conference’s promoter and publisher of Chomsky’s work outlined further the theory of anarcho-syndicalism.
“It’s existed for about 100 years, and reached its practical height during the 1936 Spanish Civil War when workers organised their own police force, worker’s council and other social structures. It’s revolutionary unionism on anarchist lines – unlike the present situation. We have a non-hierarchal structure in mind – workers along industrial lines elect delegates, usually from each individual workplace. The delegates have no power themselves, but operate on mandates from the workers.”
His voice verged on being fanatical, but I tired of the ideology being fed to me down the phone line by a political junky, and turned instead to a statement from the Achbar/Wintonick film by Chomsky that was quoted in the publicity material: “It’s a federated, decentralised system of free associations incorporating economic as well as social institutions . . . It’s appropriate for an advanced technological society . . . Human beings do not have to be forced into the position of tools, of being cogs in a machine.”
According to Dara O’Hare, publicist for the London based publishers Pluto Press, “All we have to do is put Chomsky’s name on a book and it sells out immediately!”
The Australian based arm of Random House did just that – re-releasing Herman & Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent during the tour in an opportunistic marketing move. They neglected to mention that most of the work’s specific details and the famous media propaganda model were actually supplied by Herman, a Professor of Finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Herman specialised in institutional analysis, and has published several books on corporatism and modern terrorism. Yet Chomsky is still asked most of the questions because he is well known publicly than his academic counterpart.
“Sports is another crucial example of the indoctrination system . . . It offers people something to pay attention to that is of no importance . . . It keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their livs that they might have an idea of something about . . . People have the most exotic information and understanding about all sorts of arcane issues . . . It’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements, in fact its training in irrational jingoism . . . That’s why energy is devoted to supporting them . . . and advertisers are willing to pay for them.” – Chomsky’s controversial ‘Sports Rap’ from the Achbar/Wintonick Manufacturing Consent film.
For the first time in the seventeen year history of the World Series Cricket, spectators faced a sobering situation. In a virtually one sided competition featuring two Australian teams, England and Zimbabwe, the former had reached the finals of the One Day competition. Australia beat Australia A on the last ball in the first final held in Sydney on January 15. It sealed its victory in Melbourne two days later in the last over. The result prompted wide speculation about the competition’s future and viability, obscuring exactly the kind of “irrational jingoism” and useless statistics quoted ad nauseum that Chomsky describes above. The series was broadcast by media magnate Kerry Packer and his elitist Channel 9 network, which has dominated control of news/sports coverage in Australia and television ratings since the late 1970s.
The last thing I expected on the campaign trail was a call from REVelation‘s Assistant Editor, Mark Thornley, who was on assignment braving foryy degrees (Celsius) heat in a building with no air conditioning.
“Mainly cover the East Timor angle and why our foreign policy is so weak. Make sure you get some good photos to run with the article. And try to confirm a face to face interview with Chomsky – we’ve uncovered some recent footage of arms dealing in Irian Jaya that I want him to see.”
During this conversation I realised something unusual. 7 December was Chomsky’s birthday, the anniversary of the Pearl Harbour attack by the Japanese, and the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia. In the background Jim Morrison of The Doors was screaming “The West is the best/Give in and we’ll do the rest,” from “The End” as I grimly realised that Thornley had just showed the hierarchical nature of media organisations and how editors shape “objectivity.” You need your sense of humor to cope with unreality on the campaign trail.
There was no point in flying to Canberra just to hang around with a pack of overfed press journalists listen to Chomsky and then ask him the odd, safe question. My encounter with the press jungle had taught me to revert to the ancient predatory ways of the hunter and the hunted.
Despite Internet rumors that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation would censor its usual coverage of the National Press Club Luncheon, they came through with the goods and the results were amusing.
Chomsky was fairly casually dressed and restrained himself in a watered down version of his keynote speech on the East Timor problem. Introducer Peter Leonard slipped in references to the industry-corporates Amdahl and The Financial Review, which according to Michael Petkoff, publisher of Success Magazine was, “probably because they paid for the meal tab, not because they sponsored the tour!”
Question time. Bruce Juddery, freelance writer. Looks jaundiced.
“Nice to meet someone who has read leaks I’ve reported.” Great, even the NPC has been invaded by Chomsky disciples and wimpering, soft journalists.
Juddery rambles on for two minutes about raison d’etre, the collapse of Soviet tyranny, Kissingerian realism and Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points.
Chomsky looks frustrated. He replies:
“Czechoslovakia was a nice state before the Germans and Soviets got to it. The collapse of Soviet tyranny is leaving behind vast wreckage, just as the collapse of the British Empire and others did earlier. The Rwandan situation is similar to Ghana – before the Belgians moved in there was little distinction between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes, but when they pulled out there was chaos. 99 university graduates in the whole country.”
Camera close-up on Juddery. Not pleased.
James Dunn, Foreign Affairs Columnist, Illawara Mercury. Testified before US Congress in 1977. The Times had a long interview session at the time, but it was never published. He was the leading Australian government specialist on East Timor at the time of the 1975 invasion. He revealed the fact that the FRETELIN Party leaders were populist Catholics who disassociated themselves from the Communist movement despite U.S./Indoneisa claims, according to Mark Achbar. More reminisces about a visit to Richard Holbrook. Chomsky analyses East Timor in comparison to Cambodia, and shifting government alliances.
“Cambodia was a useful atrocity, it was ideologically serviceable versus one ideologically dysfunctional. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia, they became the bad guys. Holbrook mentioned in an early 1980s congressional record that we must support DK, Democratic Kampuchea, because of its continuity with the Pol Pot regime. Unfortunately the East Timorese forces can’t claim such credibility.”
Another journalist suggests that Chomsky is known as a “Khmer Rouge defender.” Chomsky is quick in replying:
“Stalin would have been proud of such a lie. It shows the nature of the Western intellectual community. They should tell the truth and not just serve the State.”
Tim Dodd, Australian Financial Review. First journalist to be in control, aggressive and finish his question within thirty seconds. I remembered Chomsky’s quote regarding the business press. Dodd mentions the right wing criticism of Chomsky by Gerald Henderson of the Sydney Institute think tank.
“I don’t accuse anybody of conspiracy. That’s a term that’s used to undermine rational analysis of our own planning system. If US planners decided to do something, that’s their job, it’s not conspiratorial. Secrecy is primarily fear of democracy.”
Dodd also attempts to subtly attack Chomsky’s anarchism, but Chomsky replies.
“Humans can figure out values that mean something to them, and in most cases they are similar, and pressure the government into this. In a democratic society we don’t get cut to pieces or suffer hideous torture. Other people are under more difficult circumstances and try more than we do. For instance George Adejandro – he’s outspoken. By definition there is no form of government we can completely trust – this should be second nature. We ought to challenge authority to justify itself. If it can, then that’s OK. If it can’t, we should dismantle it. Only trust yourself.”
Applause. Both answers are stock Chomsky phrases, well rehearsed, that deflect further questioning. Later on along the trail I watch Chomsky repeat them virtually word for word to different audiences, always getting the same enthusiastic response to his gospel. Nobody bothers to dig deeper into his personal beliefs.
Geoffry Barker, Australian Financial Review. Looks deep in thought. “How do we persuade a government to act morally in a Hobbesian world?”
Chomsky quotes a lengthy passage from his new book in reply after the usual comments that of course governments can act morally.
“Security issues are a fraud. Economic issues are real, but usually not the issues of the general population, rather of elite interests. Even Adam Smith observed this. In command economies there was little need for wage control – people were committed to war, they wanted to win. Germany didn’t trust its own population. It had to buy them off with what Lyndon Johnson called ‘a guns and butter war.’ According to Albert Speer’s analysis, this set back the German war effort by up to a year – which could have meant the difference between victory and defeat.”
He restrains himself from mentioning the obvious parallel of the Indo-China War and our incursion into Vietnam.
Static. The Sound of White Noise.
Robert Manne is one of several academics who criticised Chomsky during his visit to Australia. Manne established his thorough research with a book published in 1985 that shattered conspiracy theories about the Petrov spy affair. Unlike economic rationalists or the American fundamentalist Right, Manne is a maverick who defies being pigeon-holed.
Gerald Henderson had led the way by revealing that Chomsky’s colleague Alex Carey, to whom Manufacturing Consent was dedicated to, was a closet capitalist who committed suicide after the Wall Street crash of 1987.
Manne preferred to question Chomsky’s record on Cambodia. He devoted a chapter in his book The Shadow of 1917 (Melbourne: Text Publishing Company, 1994) that was designed to get younger Left wing orientated students to question the current wave of “historical revisionism” and the idolatory of wall pin up icons like Che Guevera and Chomsky. He then published several articles in The Age newspaper just before Chomsky arrived in Australia.
Ironically, Chomsky and Manne share a hatred of both Soviet and Fascist style totalitarianism.
“He may be the most powerful Leftist alive today,” Manne told me privately. “His tour has so far been triumphant.”
Manne recognises Chomsky’s “brilliance at linguistics; he combines courage and intelligence, but also extraordinary honesty and common sense.” However Manne is disturbed that Chomsky is revered as “a kind of saintly hero by the younger generation of the Left.”
Former Students for a Democratic Society leader David Horowitz sensed a similar trend in the 1960s of dogmatic zealots amd characterised as activists suffering from “. . . self aggrandizing romances with corrupt Third World regimes and hypocritical, self dramatising anti-Americanism” (Mother Jones, May 1987).
Both perceive an inherent negation in New Leftist radicalism. Chomsky may well polemically reply with a quote by Isaac Deutscher from the same article that caricatures the professional anti-Communists that both Horowitz and Manne have become.
In response to claims that he is a Khmer Rouge apologist (the main criticism leveled at Chomsky by Manne and other right wing critics), Chomsky exclaimed to me later, “All I said was that there were two atrocities going on at the same time in East Timor and Cambodia, and that the latter was being widely promoted in the press whilst the former was suppressed.”
He later told a captive audience that, “the secret bombings of Cambodia by the US between 1969 and 1975 contributed to peasant unrest which helped Pol Pot to power. He is still supported by Thai businessmen, generals, and until very recently parts of the West. I don’t have a solution to the current problems there.”
By highly selective quoting from Herman/Chomsky’s 180 page chapter on Cambodia in the second volume of The Political Economy of Human Rights, Manne argues that Chomsky’s disbelief of particular refugee testimony was wrong and that he was more obsessed in the mid 1970s with exposing American culpability for the suffering than with the actual facts, although he later became more cautious. This may very well be correct, but although Manne also mentions an earlier article for The Nation, he doesn’t examine Chomsky’s later arguments in Manufacturing Consent or the doctrines presented in later geopolitical analyses.
Manne first agreed to an interview with me to discuss this complex side of his career, but later declined saying, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting with Noam Chomsky. Read my articles if you want more information!”
Several hours after the Canberra Press conference, Chomsky arrived in Melbourne for a keynote speech on East Timor. The Town Hall had completely sold out within days of the initial announcement, and local activists from a wide range of areas (some irrelevent to the issues Chomsky was covering) picketed the surrounding area to rally for their cause.
Local community radio and TV stations covered the event, and it was in the press area near the stage that I met Michael Petkoff, publisher of the Success business journal.
“How many people do you think are here to see Chomsky, or really here because they care about East Timor?” he asked me. Surveying the 2000 plus ecstatic crowd, I had little answer.
Petkoff was telling me that one of Chomsky’s linguistics students, John Grindler, was a pioneer in the mid 1970s of the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) therapy movement. He was interrupted by the arrival of Jose Ramos-Horta, the East Timorese representative to the United Nations Assembly. Ramos-Horta opened the night with an amusing anecdote about meeting Chomsky in Boston Airport over a cup of expensive coffee that I could relate to after my recent debacle.
“Australia is really a small player in the super-power world,” Chomsky said, perhaps intuitively realising that we manipulate our foreign policy under Prime Minister Paul Keating because we are so keen to be embraced by Asia.
“If we had voiced dissent about the 1975 invasion, which we knew was going to happen in August 1975, it might not have occurred. The US respects that this is our region and may have listened to us.
“The East Timorese society was one of few that operated outside the context of the world’s consumer economic structure. It was far more egalitarian and integrated than most Western societies. The East Timorese spoke 33 dialects for a population of only 700,000 people.
“The initial invasion killed perhaps 200,000 people over several years – a genocidal level higher per population than the Pol Pot regime. It is the persistent courage of the indigenous people to fight back that is so inspiring. The story of East Timor came to the West because of the work of a small band of highly dedicated people, who will never be known. If a Nobel Prize actually meant something, these people would deserve it. Their behind the scenes work enables public figureheads like John Pilger and myself to promote the issue.”
After a five minute standing ovation, question time followed a similar pattern that I had noted before, where people ask generic questions that were virtually identical to those asked by the asinine media at the Canberra press conference. It degenerates into people attempting to impress Chomsky by asking ‘smart’ questions that take two minutes, and emotional statements by local activists to promote their local causes.
Realising that everybody wants to be more than a somebody, I glanced around the press/guests area, spied Jose Ramos Horta near the exit, and ran to ask him a few questions.
“I found that when I came to the UN, it hardly obeyed its charter strictly at all – each State fought with others over national interests,” he replied, glancing around for Chomsky. “With the changing state of world affairs, I expect that this problem will be solved by the end of the decade if international pressure continues to mount.”
“Look, I have to go,” he exclaimed hurriedly. “Wheres Noam?”
“Ines Almeida, his minder, is taking him out of the building,” I answered.
Jose Ramos-Horta mumbled something about having to be with them and ran across the other side of the room. You read it here first, folks!
According to ETRA’s press schedule there was supposed to be a launch for the magazine 21.C that contained an article by Jose Ramos Horta at The Adelphi in Melbourne on Wednesday morning. However when I arrived at The Adelphi, a minimalist art deco nightmare, I was told that the conference had suddenly been moved to the World Congress Centre, which was situated across the other side of the city.
On the way I thought about my last visit to The Adelphi six months previously, to meet John Little, an ex-field producer of nine years for the current affairs program 60 Minutes. Little backed up the Herman/Chomsky media propaganda model by stating that the editors and producers had the most control over the framing and editing of a story, but had little external controls to monitor the process.
But when Little told me the story of the Australian media’s direct complicity with the invasion, I was stunned. “Gerald Stone’s biggest mistake in the early 1970s was to think that the viewer wanted to watch real news. Stone and media magnate Kerry Packer travelled to Dili from Darwin on a medical supplies ship just as the Portuguese pulled out of Timor in 1975 and FRETELIN took control on the day they arrived. Amidst the state of confusion, cameraman Brian Peters filmed scenes of Indonesian warships off the coast, gunfire echoing around the buildings and shots of prisoners under guard. They ferried some refugees to safety, and then caught a ride back to Darwin on an RAAF Hercules jet. Despite coverage there was little public interest. Two months later Stone sent a team back to the island. Peters and a young journalist from Melbourne went from Sydney. Channel 7 sent three men, reporter Greg Shackleton, cameraman Gary Cunningham and soundman Tony Stewart. Apart from Peters, none of them had entered a war zone. On October 15th, Rennie sent a cable from Balibo near the border with Indonesian Timor, planning to stay for two more days to see some action. Shackleton filmed a message. The day after an Indonesian force attacked the town, and Stone never saw them again, or the trio from Channel Seven. The Indonesians covered up the incident and the Whitlam government refused to investigate. It was a shameful episode in Australian diplomacy.”
Whitlam and his successor Malcolm Fraser had knowledge from intelligence sources that the Indonesians were responsible for the Balibo executions, but did nothing. A potential diplomatic incident was diverted. Under Hawke, the Labor government recognised Indonesia’s de facto control of East Timor. Current PM Paul Keating went further, criticizing US congressmen who raised Indonesia’s human rights violations during visits to Washington; and attempting to portray the massacres at Santa Cruz, Dili in November 1991 as “an aberration.”
Legal action is being brought against the government in the High Court by Jose Ramos-Horta, Jose Guasmo and Abel Guterres to challenge a violation of international law under ‘external affair powers’ Constitutional provisions. The Commonwealth has used such provisions against the States to save the Franklin Dam and heritage listings, but this will be the first time that such provisions are used against it.
According to the Achbar/Wintonick film, Stone was one of the first journalists allowed into East Timor after the civil war in 1975 began. An article published in the London Times (September 2, 1975) attempted to verify reports of widespread atrocities attributed to Fretelin, but this angle was distorted by the New York Times version of the article published on 4 September 1975, which was subject to heavy subediting and substantial rewriting. Stone’s belief that the Australian, Indonesian and Portuguese governments all misrepresented the situation is clearly missing from the latter article.
Arriving at the Congress Centre I met Michael Petkoff, who told me that the press conference was over and that “it had been pretty disorganised.”
Apparently Chomsky had no idea that it was on his schedule, and gave an impromptu remark that “Australia is the only Western nation trying to become a Third World one,” a sentiment echoed by Samuel P. Huntington.
He then departed to Deakin University’s new Center for Human Rights which was sponsoring his public speech about democracy and market forces at the Congress Centre later that afternoon.
4000 people turned up to the World Congress Centre in Melbourne, to fill a hall that fits only 1644 people. The end of the public address degenerated into an impromptu press conference for the student press, some of whom had attempted to gain access to the official press area near Chomsky, but without press passes and clearance were unable to do so.
A journalist from the Marxist “Left Alliance” group put Chomsky on the defensive as his minder Ines Almeida attempted to draw him away from the melee. Here I caught a glimpse of Chomsky that few would see from the speeches and controlled press conference environments.
“I see that you’re a diehard Marxist. Its very romantic to think that because Trotsky broke with Lenin soon after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, that he was a martyred hero. In fact Lenin and Trotsky instituted a form of state capitalism that was just as bad as the system it replaced.
“But how do we change things besides revolution?” the persistent journalist asked.
“Well, look what I do – I give lectures, attend marches. I’ve put myself in danger on the West Bank to help Palestinians, been thrown into jail. You use a variety of methods, not just demonstrations or rhetoric. We have to take social change one step at a time and climb the next mountain.”
By this time a crowd of twenty people had formed around Chomsky, thrusting microphones and cameras into his face as he autographed books at a frantic pace.
“Who do you think assassinated Kennedy?”, another voice asked.
“I’ve written a book on it, why don’t you go and read that?”, Chomsky was visibly seething and his voice betrayed a tired frustration at having to answer a question asked many times before.
“The reality is that state institutions formulate the policies, not necessarily individual Presidents. Kennedy has been the subject of cult worship. Look I have to go, but if anybody wants to write me a letter at MIT, I’ll reply.”
Flanked by minders, Chomsky was hurriedly escorted to another destination. Behind him lay a group of bitter writers, angry at not having had the opportunity to question him further. They were too busy arguing to realise that asking the right kind of question was just as important as asking any questions at all. Some were dismayed at coming face to face with their hero and having their rhetoric rebuffed and their ‘commitment’ shown to be shallow and reactionary. They were unable to separate the man from the myth. The activists were still locked into ‘revolutionary techniques’ that were outdated by the information revolution. The diehard journalists had attempted to gain interviews or only a few minutes of Chomsky’s time, and whilst he was keen to speak to as many people as possible, his minders shielded him from direct contact in many cases.
Perhaps his minders were aware of what Eric Hoffer found in his seminal book The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (New York: The New American Library, 1958), when studying fanaticism and the impact of scholars like Chomsky on the profane masses:
“Mass movements do not usually rise until the prevailing order has been discredited. The discrediting is not an automatic result of the blunders and abuses of those in power, but the deliberate work of meno of words with a grievance. Where the articulate are absent or without a grievance, the prevailing dispensation, though incompetent and corrupt, may continue in power until it falls and crumbles of itself . . . The preliminary work of undermining existing institutions, of familiarising the masses with the idea of change, and of creating a receptivity to a new faith, can be done only by men who are, first and foremost, talkers or writers and are recognised as such by all . . . The masses listen to him because they know that his words, however urgent, cannot have immediate results. The authorities either ignore him or use mild methods to muzzle him. Thus imperceptibly the man of words undermines established institutions, discredits those in power, weakens prevailing beliefs and loyalties, and sets the stage for the rise of a mass movement.”
After considerable searching, I managed to locate Mark Achbar, who covered Chomsky for nearly five years across Europe, Japan and the United States. He spoke to me via the Internet from the Necessary Illusions production office in Vancouver, Canada about the film and East Timor.
“I don’t know if you’re aware of the latest statistics, but at the box office, the film is now Canada’s most successful documentary in history. It has played commercially in over 300 cities world wide, and in over 50 film festivals where it won 15 awards. It’s been aired by 15 national TV networks notably, not in the US. Having been turned down by all the US cable networks, a two-hour version will be offered this summer to all the PBS stations via satellite. It will be up to the individual stations to decide whether or not to air it. Some cities have embraced the film.
“When it opened theatrically in San Francisco it was the #2 grossing film in the city, topped only by Indecent Proposal. The impact has been tangible. Virtually every post-secondary educational institution in Canada has a copy, some have several copies. Practically every public library that carries video has a copy. I’ve recently moved to Vancouver and I dropped into the main public library. Out of curiosity I typed in the name of the film into the database. The video had 47 “holds” on it. This is two years after its release. We’ve now repackaged the film into 7 short films distributed on 6 tapes for use as “discussion starters” in classrooms and community groups.
“Jeremy Allaire is turning the film and my book into a World Wide Web application with live links to LBBS (Left On Line) etc. We’re in negotiation with several groups wanting to turn the film and book and Chomsky’s oevre into a CD ROM. Did you know Noam and others are giving courses online? You can read about it in the current Z Magazine.
“One of the most important impacts of the film has been around the issue of East Timor. When the film first came out, the East Timor Alert Network (Canada) and the East Timor Action Network (US) were swamped with people wanting to get involved. I remember a plea in their newsletter saying they needed extra help entering new supporters into their database because they couldn’t keep up. I think the film is in part responsible for the fact that a sentence came out of Chretien’s and Clinton’s mouths about Indonesian human rights abuses at their last APEC meeting in Jakarta.
“When I was in Australia for the commercial opening of the film, two East Timorese refugees presented me with a ceremonial shawl and thanked Peter and I for getting their story right and for bringing it to the world. That meant more to me than any of the awards the film has won.
“Keeping the film alive still takes up a fair chunk of my time. For instance, right now we have a campaign going to get the film into Blockbuster video rental stores across the U.S.A.”
Coda. A public screening of the Achbar/Wintonick film several days after Chomsky’s Congress Center speech. Few audience members notice that the 165-minute film had been cut by over 45 minutes. After the film only 20 people out of the 400 or so that attended are left to discuss the film’s relevance. The conversation veers from political tirades that “the CIA brought down the Whitlam government down so that we couldn’t intervene in East Timor,” to fierce arguments about neo-Nazism and freedom of speech.
As I left the building, it struck me that an independent voice like Chomsky’s makes enemies on both sides of the political spectrum. He is aware of media packaging, the effective use of new communication mediums and sophisticated PR strategies, whilst many New Leftists are still stuck in protest marches and revolutionary rhetoric mode. The 1960s New Left has bequeathed splinter groups and nihilism to the contemporary political landscape, but Chomsky continues with a tireless, moralistic crusade against imperialism and diplomatic doubletalk. At the very least he will thoughtfully challenge your views of the world, force you to confront, and then hopefully act on the issues yourself.
ITEM: “Australia Accused Over East Timor,” The Age newspaper, February 31st, 1995.
“Mr Jose Manuel Servulo Correira told the International Court of Justice in The Hague, The Netherlands, that from 1974 Australia had deliberately impeded Portuguese attempts to work towards East Timorese self-determination. Instead it had secretly supported Indonesia’s invasion.”
The 1989 Timor Gap Treaty divides between them the oil and gas resources on the continental shelf between East Timor and Australia. It gave no help to Portuguese attempts in 1974-5 to end the civil war in that territory.
Mr Correira, Professor of Law at the University of Lisbon, was speaking on the first day of a case taking action against Australia for the Timor Gap Treaty. Australia is expected to defend itself in February.”