excerpts from the book

The Culture of Terrorism

by Noam Chomsky



P. 1: "The central - and not very surprising - conclusion that emerges from the documentary and historical record is that U.S. international and security policy, rooted in the structure of power in the domestic society, has as its primary goal the preservation of what we might call 'the Fifth Freedom,' understood crudely but with a fair degree of accuracy as the freedom to rob, to exploit and to dominate, to undertake any course of action to ensure that existing privilege is protected and advanced."
P. 2: "The internal documentary record of U.S. planning and, more importantly, the unfolding historical events themselves, yield ample evidence to evaluate the significance attached to the Four Freedoms (speech, worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear) in doctrine and in practice, and to demonstrate their subordination to the Fifth Freedom, the operative principle that accounts for a substantial part of what the U.S. government does in the world...to pursue programs that are conceived and applied in these terms, the state must spin an elaborate web of illusion and deceit, with the cooperation of the ideological institutions that generally serve its interests - not at all surprisingly, given the distribution of domestic wealth and power and the natural workings of the 'free market of ideas' functioning within these constraints. They must present the facts of current history in a proper light, conducting exercises of 'historical engineering,' to use the term devised by American historians who offered their services to President Wilson during World War I: 'explaining the issues of the war that we might the better win it,' whatever the facts may actually be'...[and] thus the respected historian Thomas Bailey explained in 1948 that... 'Because the masses are notoriously short-sighted and generally cannot see danger until it is at their throats, our statesmen are forced to deceive them into an awareness of their own long-run interests,' a view recently endorsed by the director of Harvard University's Center of International Affairs, Samuel Huntington, who wrote in 1981 that 'you may have to sell [intervention or other military action] in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting."
P. 3: "In general, it is necessary to ensure that [1] the domestic population remains largely inert, limited in the capacity to develop independent modes of thought and perception and to [2] formulate and press effectively for alternative policies - even alternative institutional arrangements - that might well be seen as preferable if the framework of ideology were to be challenged.
"As the latest inheritors of a grim tradition, we should at least have the integrity to look into the mirror without evasion. And when we do not like what we see, as we most definitely will not if we have the honesty to face reality, we have a far more serious moral responsibility, which should be obvious enough."

The Public and State Violence

P. 5: "The 1986 'scandals' and their aftermath are instructive for those who are concerned to understand American society, and particularly, for those who hope to change its character and course...these developments encouraged moves within Central America towards the kind of political settlement that would long have been possible had it not been for the commitment of the United States to establish its own terms by force...[these] problems that result in no small measure from earlier U.S. intervention in the region, where the U.S. has been the dominant outside influence through the century.
"The scandals of 1986, in turn, are a tribute to the popular movements that developed in the 1960's and that have not been tamed, despite major efforts by business, government and intellectual elites in the post-Vietnam period. This important fact will not be the topic of books and articles, and indeed will not penetrate to official history, just as the comparable lesson of the Vietnam years can hardly be recognized within an ideological system dedicated to the service of power."
P. 6: "During the Vietnam years, the public played a significant though indirect role in influencing policy...but as the Vietnam war escalated through the stages of subversion, state terrorism, and outright U.S. aggression, disaffection and protest among the public became a significant force, preventing the government from declaring the national mobilization that would have been required to win what was becoming a major war...it was fear of the public that led to the expansion of clandestine operations in those years, on the usual principle that in our form of democracy, if the public escapes from passivity, it must be deceived - for its own good."
P. 6-7: "Similar factors inhibited U.S. intervention in Central America in the 1980's. The scale of domestic dissidence was greater and it was more broadly based than at comparable stages of the Indochina wars. The Reagan administration was therefore unable to carry out the Kennedy-Johnson transition from state terrorism to direct aggression. Had the public been quiescent, it would have been possible for Reagan to send the Marines in the style of Lyndon Johnson when it became necessary to avert the threat of [popular movements] in the Dominican Republic in 1965, or to emulate John F. Kennedy, who sent the Air Force to bomb and defoliate South Vietnam to counter what his administration called 'internal aggression' there...[now however] direct aggression is now impeded by the...domestic population [here in the U.S.], and the resort to indirect means brings with it inevitable problems. Devious means are less efficient than the direct exercise of violence...[and]domestic dissidence was the essential factor that forced state terror underground in the 1980's, leading to problems when certain of its facets were exposed to a broad public during the scandals of 1986.
"The most important conclusion to be drawn from these events is that they demonstrate, once again, that even in a largely depoliticized society such as the United States, with no political parties or opposition press beyond the narrow spectrum of the business-dominated consensus, it is possible for popular action to have a significant impact on policy, though indirectly. That was an important lesson of the Indochina wars."



P. 11: "The scandals that erupted in the Fall of 1986 and the reaction to them cast a revealing light on the political system and the intellectual culture that interprets it and sustains it. As we shall see...these events demonstrated that the United States remains dedicated to the rule of force...barely concealed beneath deceptive rhetoric. These conclusions can readily be drawn from the actual record, if we face it honestly and without illusion.
"With regard to Central America, the scandals disrupted a tacit elite consensus, troubled by some tactical disagreements over generally shared goals...[the scandals] imposed new demands for the ideological system, which must control the domestic damage and ensure that it is confined within narrow and politically meaningless bounds...[the ideological system] must then dedicate itself anew to the major and continuing task: to fashion an appropriate version of the real scandals of the 1980's so as to place U.S. actions in a favorable light...[and consequently] to ensure that similar policies can proceed [in the future] without serious impediment...
This task gained new urgency in June 1986, when the World Court issued its long-expected judgment condemning the United States for its attack against Nicaragua, [while] congress voted aid for the Contras, [thus] endorsing the illegal use of force [under the pretext that] 'it was the only way to get the Sandinistas to negotiate seriously' [although it had been] just five days after Nicaragua had accepted the latest draft of the Contadora treaty, rejected by the U.S. and its clients" (note: the Contadora treaty would have barred arms imports and removed foreign military advisors from the region - a fact virtually suppressed in the U.S. media).
P. 13 "These topics (the particulars of U.S. policy and CIA-sponsored violence in the region) are generally ignored, despite their obvious significance, in conformity with the principle that the state sets the agenda of concern for respectable opinion. Within that framework, tactical debate is legitimate, but the bounds must not be transgressed. This principle is a corollary to the requirement that the public must be deceived, if it is not quiescent." (lessons from the Vietnam years).
"Given that the comparative advantage of the United States lies in its unparalleled means of violence, while [lacking] any political appeal in the region (apart from favored military personnel and other wealthy elites, to whose rule and privilege it is committed), it is natural that the U.S. government should consistently prefer the arena of force to that of diplomacy, and so it has."
P. 15: "The doctrinal truths must be driven home forcefully and incessantly, because more is at stake than merely providing a justification for what has been done. A basis must be laid for the continuing resort to violence in the likely event that a political settlement will not suit U.S. demands...[therefore it follows that] this political settlement [should be] "undermined" by enemy treachery, [a] required conclusion whatever the facts may actually be, and therefore the one that must be established as doctrine...furthermore, similar situations are bound to arise in the future, and historical engineering must ensure, without delay, that the proper arsenal of lessons will be available, to be deployed when needed."
P. 16: " In pursuit of these objectives, the current situation [whatever it may be] may be obscured by the usual technique of selective focus and interpretation that adheres to approved principles, or simply by outright falsification or suppression of unacceptable fact. As for the past, it is plainly irrelevant, since we (the United States) have undergone a 'miraculous conversion and have changed course' (sardonic comment by Chomsky)- despite the fact that the institutional structures and planning system that lie behind past atrocities remain intact and unchallenged, and there is little recognition in the intellectual or popular culture of what has happened in reality...
"The doctrine of 'change of course,' which allows any past horror to be cheerfully dismissed, is highly functional within a terrorist culture...a more sophisticated version of this valuable doctrine is offered by the editors of the conservative London Spectator...[who write] '...the case for a war against Nicaragua is apparent to all but western marxistant visitors, dazzled as they always are by the glories of low-cost housing projects, women's groups and universal measles vaccination'...
(Chomsky speaking, sardonically) "Enjoying this happy state as a result of our virtue and good works, we are entitled to sneer disdainfully at ridiculous attempts to save children dying of disease, provide housing for the poor and starving, offer women the possibility of escaping from slavery and degradation, and other such childish nonsense in 'hungry nations' unsatisfied with their proper lot."
P. 21: "The leveling of discourse within the ideological system is an extremely important matter. Part of the genius of American democracy has been to ensure that isolated individuals face concentrated state and private power alone, without the support of an organizational structure that can assist them in thinking for themselves or entering into meaningful political action, and with few avenues for public expression of fact or analysis that might challenge approved doctrine...adherence to doctrinal truth confers substantial reward: not only acceptance within the system of power and a ready path to privilege, but also the inestimable advantage of freedom from the onerous demands of thought, inquiry and argument. Conformity frees one from the burden of evidence, and rational argument is superfluous while one is marching in an approved parade...we are not dealing here with the sciences, where it is at least an ideal, and [an ideal] often honored, that ideas are to be judged by their merits rather than their utility within a system of power.


P. 27: "Reagan also launched a war against Nicaragua with another mercenary army, an operation that at the very least must be 'characterized as terrorism, as State-sponsored terrorism' (former CIA director Stansfield Turner, testifying before congress in April 1985), and possibly as the more serious crime of aggression, as implied in the World Court judgment."
P. 29: "In Central America, the Reagan Doctrine deserves a large share of the credit for a most impressive slaughter. The death toll under Reagan in El Salvador passed 50,000 and in Guatemala it may approach 100,000. In Nicaragua, the terror was less successful, amounting to only some 11,000 civilians killed under Reagan by 1986; the problem is that in Nicaragua the population has an army to defend it from U.S.-organized terrorist forces, whereas in El Salvador and Guatemala the terrorist force attacking the civilian population is the army. The death toll under Reagan in this region alone thus amounts to 150,000 or more. This was, furthermore, not ordinary killing, but rather Pol Pot-style atrocities, with extensive torture, rape, mutilation, 'disappearance,' and similar measures to ensure that the populations would be properly traumatized. We may add over 20,000 killed during the U.S.-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, mostly civilians, and untold additional victims of international terrorism, starvation, disease and brutal labor.
Other exercises of the 'activist' policy include the bombing of Libya in April 1986 with about 100 reported killed, the worst single act of international terrorism of the year."
P. 32: "There were also disciplinary problems at home, where much of the population was also out of control. The Vietnam war [had] contributed to the politicization of American society. The naive might call this democracy, but sophisticated Western thinkers (Chomsky's sarcastic term for ideological managers) understood that it was, as they called it, 'a crisis of democracy,' which [had to be] overcome by returning the generally marginalized population to the passivity that is their 'proper state.' This [was] necessary if 'democracy' [were] to survive in the Orwellian sense of proper discourse, where the term refers to unhampered rule by business-based sectors, a system of elite decision with public ratification, but crucially, no significant public role in the formation of state policy. It was thus necessary to return the population to apathy and obedience, to restore discipline in the institutions responsible for 'the indoctrination of the young' (i.e., the education system, including the college and university system), to exclude the limited forms of dissent that had appeared in the media, and in general, to bar any serious challenge to elite rule."
P. 33: " It was also at that time (reference to many years earlier, during the Woodrow Wilson administration) that liberal democratic theorists such as Walter Lippmann began to discuss the importance of 'the manufacture of consent' as a means of controlling the population in societies in which the state lacks the requisite force for internal coercion (i.e., a free society such as the United States). These ideas were to become a major theme in the academic social sciences and the public relations industry."
"The point is that wars and other periods of turmoil tend to make people think, to involve them in social and political action, creating a 'crisis of democracy,' that is, a threat that there might be meaningful steps towards [real] democracy. Dominant elites must rally to prevent this threat to their privilege and power."(very simply, there's a lot more poor people than there are rich people).


P. 39-40: "Four important features of domestic U.S. society relevant to the issues we are considering are:
(1) the effective exclusion of the majority of the population from meaningful participation in the political system;
(2) the subordination of the intellectual establishment to the system of state/private power;
(3) the limits on the capacity of the state to control its citizens by force;
(4) the substantial improvement in the moral and intellectual level of the general population [which was a result of the] mass popular movements of the 1960's and 1970's.
The interplay of these factors has complex effects...
"Consider the attack against Nicaragua by the U.S.-organized contra armies. The public generally opposes aid to the contras...[but] central policy issues are largely excluded from the corporate [dominated] media and barely arise in the political system, one reason why voting continues to decline, to barely 37% in the November 1986 elections.
"Nevertheless, popular dissidence remains significant and cannot be controlled by force...[this] compelled the Reagan administration to devise a complex array of covert means to maintain its mercenary army attacking Nicaragua...[notorious] international terrorists were enlisted in the cause, for example, Luis Posada Carriles, a CIA-trained Cuban exile sprung from a Venezuelan prison, where he had been charged with planning the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner with 73 civilians killed...[he was then] taken to El Salvador to help organize the contra supply network from the U.S. controlled Ilopango Air Base...
"In such ways, the Reagan administration constructed an international terrorist network of impressive sophistication, without parallel in history to my knowledge, and used it for a variety of purposes in conformity with the Reagan Doctrine..."
P. 41-42: "It is important to bear in mind that the reliance on clandestine terrorism and proxy forces was undertaken to evade public opinion...
It is normal for the state to regard the domestic population as a major enemy, which must be excluded, repressed or controlled to serve elite interests. This contempt for the citizenry..has been a notable feature of the Reagan administration, revealed with some clarity in the congressional hearings, despite their narrow focus and evasion of such matters. [For example],an intriguing case arose when the questioning of Col. North by Rep. Jack Brooks touched upon his plan to suspend the Constitution and impose martial law in the event of 'national crises' such as 'violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition to a U.S. military invasion abroad.' In this event, control of the United States was to be turned over to the national crisis-management unit FEMA, directed by Louis Guiffrida. [Guiffrida] is a close associate of Reagan...[and while] at the Army War College in 1970, wrote a memorandum recommending interment of all 'American Negroes' in 'assemble-centers or relocation camps,' in the event of civil disorder. Chairman Daniel Inouye quickly intervened to terminate this line of questioning, and these crucial disclosures were also evaded by the national media..."
P. 51: "While exercises of international terrorism cause problems among the allies, there are compensations as well. The state managers are naturally not unaware of the image they present abroad, and they have sought to exploit it for the furtherance of their terrorist operations. [For example], a few weeks after its bombing of Libya in April 1986, the Reagan administration sought to line up the Western powers in its anti-Libyan crusade. To this end, it circulated a position paper at the Tokyo summit in May warning of 'the need to do something so that the crazy Americans won't take matters into their own hands again.' The strategy was successful, and Reagan's aides were quite clear about the reasons:
'We've got the madman factor going for us,' said one U.S. official, referring not to Kaddafi but to Reagan. 'You know, "Keep me from killing again."


P. 63- 64: "Oliver North's performance was a particularly chilling illustration of the fanatic commitment of latter-day 'conservatism' to state power and violence, and its fear and hatred of democracy..."
P. 66: "But the committee carefully steered away from the obvious CIA connections. That they would do so was evident from the start, when they selected as senior investigator none other than Thomas Polgar, an active member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (an organization that lobbies congress on behalf of the CIA), whose many years in the agency include service in Indochina, where he worked closely with such CIA figures as Theodore Shackley, who was involved in the arms sale to Iran. This rather striking case of conflict of interest was of no concern to the media...[the] committee also steered clear of the ample evidence of CIA-contra drug connections, some of it revealed during the course of their inquiry."
P. 67: "In short, the investigating committees sought to narrow the investigation, evading crucial but unwelcome areas, and keeping to questions of procedure or 'management style' [which were] of limited significance."
P. 69-70: "Similarly, during the Watergate farce, largely a damage control operation by congress and the media, there was much outrage over the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters, but not over the far more serious crimes of the Nixon and earlier administrations, exposed at exactly the same time, including the use of the FBI to undermine the Socialist Workers Party by repeated burglaries and other illegal acts from the early 1960's - not to speak of other FBI operations designed to forment violence in the ghettoes, undermine the civil rights movement and other forms of popular action, etc. The Democratic Party represents domestic power, the Socialist Workers Party - a legal political party - does not; hence the predictable difference in response to the major scandal concerning the SWP and the minor thuggery involving the Democrats. Nixon's 'enemies list' was a scandal, but not the FBI involvement in the assassination of Fred Hampton by the Chicago police, exposed at the same time; it is scandalous to call powerful people bad names in private, but not to assassinate a Black Panther organizer. The Cambodia bombings were not part of the Watergate indictment. The issue arose in the congressional inquiry, but the crime alleged was the failure to notify Congress, not the bombing of Cambodia with tens of thousands of peasants killed."


P. 75: "We learn more about our moral and intellectual culture by a closer look at the debate, or lack of it, over Central America."
P. 77: "We therefore should feel no surprise when we learn that the U.S. command is proud of its success in directing its terrorist proxy forces to attack 'soft targets'...[which include] health centers, medical workers and schools 'targeted' by the contra forces with some success as noted, and civilian farms, which, as contra leader Adolfo Calero has explained, are legitimate targets."
P. 78: "The 'most important military action we have carried out in the northern part of the country,' according to contra spokesman Bosco Matamoros,...turned out to be slightly different as a New York Times correspondent later discovered on the scene: [another] attack on 'one of the most isolated villages in Nicaragua's northern mountains' in which the attackers never came close to 'either the town's dirt airstrip or the small collection of shacks that serves as local headquarters for the Nicaraguan Army,' but did succeed in burning down most of the houses in a nearby grain cooperative, stealing cattle from distraught peasants who report that 'we came down here from the mountains to escape the contras' and cannot return 'because they'll kill us,' and killing three children and a pregnant woman with 18 other civilian casualties by shooting machine guns into houses as they ran by in this "major military victory."
P. 79-80: "U.S. international terrorism has by no means been confined to Central America. As noted earlier, the worst single act of international terrorism in 1986 was the U.S. bombing of Libya, killing some 100 people according to Western reports. The pretext was fraudulent, as was known but concealed by the media at the time, though the point is tacitly conceded - without, however, any capacity to draw the obvious conclusions. At the time, the most extreme critics of Reagan were enthusiastic, arguing that it is quite proper to kill 'innocent civilians, or murderous states would never fear retribution' (Anthony Lewis). And though it is now conceded that the pretext was a fraud, respected commentators such as the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Krauthammer continue to laud this 'self-enforcement action' by the United States, which must play its role as global 'enforcer,' he blandly asserts. He goes on to denounce the United Nations for daring to condemn the attack as a violation of international law. The UN even stooped to the level of 'condemning Western retaliatory actions such as the raid on Libya' without mentioning 'the provocation' - conceded to have been a fabrication, a matter of no account."


P. 113-114: "The partial exposure of Washington's international terror network in late 1986 necessitated a project of damage control to ensure that nothing significant would be perceived or learned, not a simple matter in the light of what we have done in Central America in the past decade...[all] problems must be blamed on the failings of incompetent individuals, not traced to their institutional roots (after all, even the most magnificent system may contain a bad apple or an overzealous patriot).
"In conformity with these overriding principles, as we have seen, many crucial issues are simply off the agenda: [1] the historical and documentary record that reveals the general and largely invariant guidelines for U.S. policies; [2] the institutional setting within which policy develops; [3] the recent (1980's) application of these policies in Guatemala and El Salvador; [4] the normal conditions of life within the Caribbean and Central American domains of long-term U.S. influence and control, [and] what these teach us about the goals and character of U.S. government policy over many years; and [5] similar matters elsewhere that might yield a degree of understanding of the origins and nature of the problems that must now be addressed. Such matters are not fit topics for reporting, commentary and debate. Rather, the agenda must conform to elite requirements, generally set by state propaganda, though debate is permissible insofar as dominant elites disagree on tactical and procedural matters. Within these limits, basic doctrines are beyond question and controversy. [For example], the firm commitment of U.S. policymakers to "democracy," economic development and human rights. Contemporary events must be reported and discussed in these terms, and historical memory must be shaped so that these doctrines are not called into question, or even considered controversial."
P. 115: "It is an important feature of American culture that these doctrines serve as the presuppositions of discourse, entirely beyond the reach of discussion."


P. 131: "In its interactions with the Third World, the United States faces the recurring problem already discussed: while militarily strong, it is politically weak. One consequence [of this condition] is the regular need to resort to violence to demolish 'popular organizations' (i.e., labor organizations, peasant cooperatives, teachers' unions, political organizations, etc.) Another [consequence of this condition of political weakness] is the constant effort to evade diplomatic settlement. These facts being unacceptable (to the American public), the ideological institutions have the task of portraying them as the opposite of what they are. In particular, the diplomatic record must be recast in such a way as to justify further resort to violence rather than political settlement on the principle that the enemy cannot be trusted, whoever it happens to be..."

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