I picked up “Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy” by Noam Chomsky. I don’t find the book as lucid as “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic” by Chalmers Johnson. But, it could be that I’ve spent reading the likes of Ayn Rand and Michael Pollan recently, so it just might be that I’m more used to a more conventional style. However, I will be be the last person to accuse Mr. Chomsky of incorrect grammar, since his academic contributions in that arena are important and uncontroversial despite objections ones may have to his politics. It may be this very fact that he feels the need to use [sic] in his quotations, lest he be accused incompetence in his area of expertise, which I have no doubt people have tried. Possibly, it is simply intolerance of the ignorance of proper sentence structure. Or maybe he is trying to cheaply discredit them. I find [sic]’s interrupt my flow, and am left trying to find the area of grammatical complaint rather than digesting what was said.
It is also hard to read because he tries to expose the hypocrisy of government action, although he seems to take other quotations from government officials at face value. I can’t tell if he is trying to be sarcastic. Although, it is hard to fathom that to be the case, since anyone that has been exposed to the Internet should have learned that sarcasm does not work well in a written medium (queue the need for <sarcasm></sarcasm> tags). Regardless, sarcasm is a horrible rhetorical device, since the perceived opposite of your point is left to interpretation rather than clarification. So, for a few points he tries to make, I’m just left baffled, which is a shame since he seemed to take great effort to add end notes everywhere.
As for the content that I can discern, I agree with much of what he says. I don’t know why the idea that the U.S. should submit itself to international law is treated as if it is such an inconceivable proposition. The U.S. would benefit to be seen as one voice in many in a condemnation of a country, rather than acting through unilateral actions. Dismantling some of our immense nuclear arsenal would add teeth to non-proliferation treaties.
America needs to be seen as a country that obeys the rule of law. In that respect, there cannot be an American exception. While, Noam Chomsky and I are in agreement on this viewpoint, I find it frustrating when there are U.N. actions such as the Iraqi embargo and Kosovo that he seems to lay entirely at the feet of the U.S. I am not arguing with the fact that they were U.S. led, but rather there is no condemnation of the countries that went along with it. We can blame Bush for starting the Iraq war, and the democrats for failing to set a timetable for withdraw in ending our involvement in it, but some blame has to be laid at the feet of the American people for reelecting Bush in 2004.
Another point of contention are Clinton’s interventions in Bosnia and Somalia. These were complex situations, and even today, I don’t believe there are perfect answers. Should we not get involved, or do we use our military and political might to try to bring peace instead of continuing genocide, suffering and bloodshed? What obligation do we have as a free and moral people to stop another holocaust from occurring? Not that the government has always conducted itself in this way, and certainly much of our history is tainted. However, to condemn everything is equally reckless and unfair. Is South Korea more prosperous than the North? Are the French not grateful for our help in freeing them from Nazi rule? Could Noam Chomsky write a book so critical of the government which he resides, if he happened to be China? Would I be able to write this blog? I make no conjectures on America’s total national karma since we are certainly in a deficit, in company with almost every other nation now or in history of the planet. Could we do better? Yes. Must we do better? Yes, if we want to survive to the 22nd century and beyond. But, some credit must be given and some blame must be placed elsewhere, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when the young pay for the transgressions of the old.