Monday, April 8, 2013

I Asked Noam Chomsky His Thoughts on the North Korea/US Situation: He Sent This

Noam Chomsky
Most (who know of him) would agree that Noam Chomsky is one of the greatest minds of our time. Besides being the "father" of modern linguistics, if you've ever seen him in interviews or debates, you'll know he's like a polymath of old. Science and philosophy, theory and practice, current events, history and the future. If you want to take him on, you'd better have an encyclopedic grasp of it all, because he does.

Which is why I contacted him. I've been seeing lots of heat from the media regarding North Korea, but (as usual) little light. Since Chomsky has a knack for clarifying these things, both from an analytic as well as moral perspective - and I hadn't seen anything from him on it - I sent him an email:

"John Lindsey
to Noam Chomsky:

Have you publicly commented about the North Korea/United States situation? Media is shedding heat but not light."

His reply:

"Noam Chomsky
to Me:

Happened to give a talk a couple of nights ago (in Ireland) that touches on the matter. Attached."

OMG, my Gmail has this in it now!
Now, I can't ever interact with Bertrand Russell, or Thomas Jefferson, or Bakunin, or Aristotle for that matter. But I've now spoken to Chomsky, albeit virtually. Rad!

Anyway, what followed was me asking if it was okay to publish the excerpt he attached (since it's not on the interwebs, as far as I know.) He said he "guessed it was OK", but that I needed to be sure to note that it was "an excerpt from an unedited talk – though in fact most of it is in print in various books of mine."

Well, of course most of it is in your books, sir.

But public comments on current events can be hard to find when it comes to Chomsky, because the media doesn't like him (might have something to do with his constant work to undermine their power.)

Anyway, here's the excerpt he sent me regarding the North Korea/US situation:

* Excerpt from unedited talk. *

Excerpt; Cork, NK

Skipping to the present, war clouds are now spreading in Northeast Asia and the
Middle East. On the Korean peninsula, North Korea is issuing wild and dangerous
threats, attributed in the West to the lunacy of its leaders. They are arguably the
worst in the world, but there are some questions that are ignored.

We might ask how we would react if a superpower that had virtually leveled our
country were right now carrying out simulated nuclear attacks on our borders by
the most advanced and sophisticated bombers in the world, stealth B-2s and B-52s.
North Korean leaders can also presumably read official US military publications,
for example the enthusiastic descriptions of the exciting military operations a
month before the 1953 armistice, when everything above ground in the country
had long ago been destroyed. This “object lesson in air power to all the
Communist world” was an attack in the major irrigation dam – a crime that led to
the death sentence at Nuremberg. It was highly successful, causing a flash flood
that “scooped clear 27 miles of valley below. Along with other attacks on dams,
this devastated 75% of the controlled water supply for North Korea’s rice
production. It sent the commissars “scurrying to the press and radio centers to
blare to the world the most severe hate-filled harangues to come from the
Communist propaganda mill in the three years of warfare.” To the Communists,
“the smashing of the dams meant primarily the destruction of their chief
sustenance – rice. Westerners can little conceive the awesome meaning which the
loss of this staple food commodity has for the Asians – starvation and slow death.
Hence the show of rage, the flare of violent tempers, and the threats of reprisals
when bombs fell on five irrigation dams.”

The stupid gooks just cannot perceive the elegance of western technological

Perhaps they even reacted with the same primitive incomprehension a few years
later, in 1961, when President Kennedy launched the direct attack on South
Vietnam, including chemical warfare to destroy food crops. And they might have
also had some thoughts about their superpower adversary at the most dangerous
moment in history.

There’s also a recent history that’s worth recalling.

In 1993 North Korea was about to strike a deal with Israel to end missile exports to
the Middle East in return for diplomatic recognition. The US pressured Israel to

reject it, and North Korea retaliated by carrying out its first test of a medium-range
missile. A US-North Korean “framework agreement” was then signed. Neither
side observed it completely, but they mostly kept to it. When President Bush took
office, “the North Koreans had stopped testing longer-range missiles. It had one or
two bombs’ worth of plutonium and was verifiably not making more,” according
to Leon Sigal, one of the leading US specialists on the topic. Bush’s aggressive
militarism quickly led to a revival of NK’s missile and nuclear programs. By
2006, North Korea had developed 8-10 nuclear weapons, and had resumed long-
range missile tests, one of many neocon successes.

A year earlier, an agreement had been reached under which North Korea would
abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing weapons programs” and allow
international inspections, in return for international aid and a non-aggression
pledge from the U.S., along with commitments by the two sides to “respect
each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize
relations.” The Bush administration immediately undermined the accord,
disbanding the international consortium set up to provide the promised light-water
reactor, renewing the threat of force, and pressuring banks to freeze North Korea’s
hard currency accounts, including proceeds from legitimate foreign trade. North
Korea reacted predictably, in their own strange ways.

There have been other interactions since. Sigal concludes that North Korea “has
been playing tit for tat—reciprocating whenever Washington cooperates and
retaliating whenever Washington reneges.” It’s doubtless a horrible place, but the
record suggests directions that could be taken to reduce the threat of war. Not
military maneuvers and simulated nuclear bombing.

* End of excerpt from unedited talk. *

That's Chomsky's definition of "touching" on something.

Heat as usual, but light as well. We have very little influence over North Korea, but we have a lot of influence when it comes to what our government does. That's our responsibility.

Will we allow the government to increase the chances of war and suffering in Korea? That's up to us.

So, that's it. Back to making music.
Follow me on Twitter.


  1. Thanks, man. I love Chomsky and i saw Russell's photograph in his MIT office, it was pretty cool, cos i always thought there were connections between him and Russell, Aristotle, Voltaire et cetera; and yeah, i'm amazed either that he answered your email, he's pretty down-to-earth and he's my intellectual hero, what an intellectual, in my view, should be.

    1. What an intellectual should be, indeed, sir. Been on the lookout for similar great minds for a while, to no avail. Let me know if you find any!

  2. dude, wow, I'm so impressed.

    1. Hi Lana. Yeah, how cool is it to get an email from Chomsky? ^^

  3. It's hard to tell which is Chomsky's words and which are you own.

    Are you quoting the excerpt verbatim between the bold links?

    1. Hi! Yup, the text between the bold lines are verbatim from Chomsky.

  4. Late on this comment, but thanks for quoting this. You have opened up an area for discussion that the US government is reluctant to have. There is merit--a lot of it--in the North Korean position, and we simply just do not like them or their form of government. Well, guess what? There are lots of governments we do not agree with, and we have relations, trade with them, and even visit their countries! Why not North Korea and Cuba? Because that would mean we would have to tell the truth about what we have done, and continue to do in and to those countries. And we are not good about admitting our mistakes when it comes to foreign affairs. The US is always on the side of "freedom" and "democracy"--right!

    1. Yo Dave, totally agree with you. Now if we can just figure out how to get the news media to accurately report this stuff instead of being government lackeys...

  5. Thanks dude. Nothing like a little help from Chomsky to get some perspective. Though I agree with the man (how could you not?) I am still concerned about the human rights abuses going on in the country. The famine, the concentration camps, the fact that if you are caught trying to escape they can now arrest/execute 4 generations of your family. Is this all Western propaganda? I don't think so.

    1. NK's definitely one of the more hideous countries a person could have the misfortune of living in. I think Chomsky's rightly pointing out, though, that if we really care about the abuses there, threats and posturing (let alone force) are the wrong way to go. If anything, they make things worse.

  6. There is no way in the world Chomsky would ever utter the phrase, "The stupid gooks just cannot perceive the elegance of western technological achievements."

    1. Sure there is, if he's quoting or speaking from the perspective of someone he's criticizing - which he's obviously doing here.

      Feel free to email him if you want to verify my source; he's quite approachable.