Some things you can count on: death, taxes, and Noam Chomsky having an unkind word to say about his country. The assassination of Osama bin Laden is the most recent occasion for the MIT professor emeritus to partake in a presumably cathartic two-minute hate.
“We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic,” Chomsky suggested in the online journal Guernica. “Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a ‘suspect’ but uncontroversially the ‘decider’ who gave the orders to commit the ‘supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole’ (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.”
Within a few lines, the bestselling author managed to compare George W. Bush to Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler. Was Genghis Khan’s name unavailable?
Chomsky contends that the raid violated “elementary norms of international law.” He writes, “There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim.” When not calling the mass murderer a “victim,” the octogenarian academic refers to bin Laden as a “suspect” that deserved a fair trial. But Chomsky shows he is agnostic on the question of the suspect/victim’s involvement in the 9⁄11 terrorist attacks: “There is much talk of bin Laden’s ‘confession,’ but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.”
The professor’s anti-Americanism has become so reflexive that hyperbolic comparisons of Bush to Hitler and flirtations with 9⁄11 Trutherism appear as almost obligatory expressions in his writings and interviews. Far from making Chomsky a marginalized character, the venomous language has increased the linguist’s popularity as a political commentator—particularly within academia. The conditioned anti-Americanism endears him to like-minded audiences. It doesn’t endear him to the truth.
For several decades, Noam Chomsky’s tic has led to a series of easily rebuttable factual claims.
In 1977, Chomsky, and co-author Edward Herman, infamously dismissed charges of a Pol Pot-engineered genocide in Cambodia as a hoax suited for Western propaganda. “The ‘slaughter’ by the Khmer Rouge,” the pair announced in The Nation, “is a [Robert] Moss-New York Times creation.”
After the 1998 bombing of Sudan by the U.S., which confused a medicine factory for a weapons of mass destruction plant, Chomsky maintained that the attack resulted in “tens of thousands of immediate Sudanese victims.” Alas, the misguided strikes resulted in a handful of casualties. The medicine shortage highlighted by Chomsky simply escaped the notice of every credible aid organization. Pressed, Chomsky cited Human Rights Watch and the German embassy in Sudan as sources. The former denied making any such estimate and the latter never investigated the matter—instead making what the former ambassador termed as a “reasonable guess.”
“At this point,” Chomsky told a radio interviewer in the days following 9⁄11, “we are considering the possibility of a war that may destroy much of human civilization.” Repeatedly, the professor loosely charged that a war in Afghanistan would result in millions of deaths. One estimate of the expected carnage was as high as three to four million. As any good MIT student could have told Chomsky, his numbers were off by a factor of more than 100. As the NATO campaign in Afghanistan progressed, Chomsky observed: “Looks like what’s happening is some sort of silent genocide”—so silent, in fact, that even the Afganis haven’t heard about it.
One would think that Chomsky’s credibility would now be somewhere between Richard Heene in the wake of his “balloon boy” stunt and Geraldo Rivera’s after opening Al Capone’s vault. But if you shoot at the right target, frequent misses will not undermine your sharpshooter reputation. Fantastical charges against an unpopular target may actually increase one’s popularity.
Chomsky’s anti-U.S. broadsides have so inflated his reputation that more than three dozen institutions of higher learning have bestowed honorary degrees upon him. By one count the number of citations to his work in academic publications in the humanities stands higher than any other living source. As the UK’s Guardian noted in 2001, “Chomsky ranks with Marx, Shakespeare, and the Bible as one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities—and is the only writer among them still alive.”
The namedroppers aren’t limited to academia. After Matt Damon’s “Will Hunting” touted Howard Zinn in the Academy Award-winning Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams, portraying the title character’s psychiatrist, played booster to Chomsky. And a foreign admirer remarked last year that “Noam Chomsky was correct when he compared the U.S. policies to those of the mafia.” The speaker? Osama bin Laden.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.