Noam Chomsky is a pioneering linguist and political analyst who has been called the most important intellectual alive. He’s spent decades documenting the crimes of US imperialism and corporate power, and how the US government and corporate media engage in propaganda that he compares with totalitarianism. He risked prison in the 1970s by working with Daniel Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers, a document trove exposing massive US crimes in Southeast Asia that at least three US presidents had lied about or covered up.
He’s the author of more than 150 books on linguistics and politics. His latest release is Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change.
I’ve been interviewing people a long time, but the first major interview I secured was through CJSR FM radio in Edmonton, and it was with Noam Chomsky back in 1993. To be completely honest I was extremely anxious. Like plenty of people in my circles I revered Chomsky for his accomplishments and his relentlessness. I was so nervous that when he answered my telephone call and asked me how much time I needed, I couldn’t bring myself to say “an hour,” so he kindly just offered an hour.
To put that in perspective, I some times struggle to get minor celebrities and authors no one has ever heard of to give a few minutes to help me promote their work. Chomsky, one of the most-interviewed scholars alive and one of the most quoted in history, had nothing to gain for himself by giving me an hour. I’ll always be grateful for his generosity.
When we spoke by telephone twenty-six years ago, we discussed:
The world has changed in uncountable ways in the twenty-six years since Noam Chomsky and I spoke by telephone. So, a few reminders about the changes, and some expressions:
Many Americans assumed that following the one-term presidency of George H.W. Bush, the US would become a less violent superpower. But even after the first US-Iraq War of 1990 to 1991, the US continued to bomb Iraq regularly to enforce its aerial occupation. Under Clinton the US attacked Somalia, waged war in the former Yugoslavia, invaded Haiti, and bombed Sudan and Afghanistan. But as Chomsky notes, these attacks were not in the style of its war against Vietnam.
The term “propaganda model” as created by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman is the analysis of how corporate media works: through concentration of ownership among the super-wealthy, being subordinate to wealthy advertisers, and relying on government and corporate mouthpieces to present their claims about society to the exclusion of almost all voices that challenge US government and corporate power systemically.
“Intervention” means assassination, bombing, invasion, overthrowing governments, and even reducing countries to slavery, as France, the US, Canada, and others did to Libya when Barack Obama was the US president.
Chomsky also cited an earlier US attack against Libya, the 1986 US bombing code-named Operation El Dorado Canyon. Mobutu refers to Mobutu Sese Seko, the Western-backed dictator of Zaire, which is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Finally, I posed a question to Chomsky in which I said that because US invasions were declining, there would not likely be a case in which the US was overstretched due to fighting three simultaneous wars, or what Che Guevara called “three Vietnams,” but I hadn’t anticipated that under a then-unimaginable Obama presidency, the US would be engaged in five simultaneous wars and imperial occupation wars in 2011: against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and Somalia.
I apologise for whistling feedback during first 2 minutes; after that, the audio is pretty good, especially considering the technology we had in 1993.