Chomsky v. Bennett

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

[CNN Transcript, May 30, 2002]

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: They are two best selling authors with two very different takes on terrorism. In his book,
“9-11,” Noam Chomsky accuses the United States of being a
terrorist state. He says the war in Afghanistan is wrong,
states that in recent history, America has committed acts of
terrorism, and maintains that America’s foreign policy is

In Bill Bennett’s “Why We Fight,” he says the war on terror
is morally just. He maintains that democracy and human
rights are America’s noblest exports, and that we must be
prepared to respond to anti-American critics. Talk about a
war of words. Well, Bill Bennett joins us now from New York,
and Noam Chomsky joins us from Boston. Welcome, gentlemen.
Great to have both of you with us.

BILL BENNETT, AUTHOR, “WHY WE FIGHT” (Amazon Rank 507): Thank you.

NOAM CHOMSKY, AUTHOR, “9-11” (Amazon Rank: 220): Hello.

ZAHN: I would like to start off, professor, by reading a
very small excerpt from your book where you write that
nothing can justify crimes such as those of September 11,
but we can think of the United States as an innocent victim
only if we adopt the convenient path of ignoring the record
of its actions and those of its allies, which are, after
all, hardly a secret. What are you referring to here?

CHOMSKY: Well, for example, the United States happens to be
the only state in the world that has been condemned by the
World Court for international terrorism, would have been
condemned by the Security Council, except that it vetoed the
resolution. This referred to the U.S. terrorist war against
Nicaragua, the court ordered the United States to desist and
pay reparations. The U.S. responded by immediately
escalating the crimes, including first official orders to
attack what are called soft targets — undefended civilian
targets. This is massive terrorism. It is by no means the
worst, and it continues right to the present, so for

ZAHN: Bill Bennett, your response to what the professor
said, and then we will let him pick up from there.

BENNETT: It’s quite extraordinary to hear a supposedly
learned person call the United States a leading terrorist
nation, one of the leading terrorist nations in the world.
It’s false and very treacherous teaching. In the situation
Mr. Chomsky is talking about, of course, the United States
supported the Contras in Nicaragua. The condemnation or
judgment by the World Court was not that it was terrorism,
but that we supported some unlawful activity. However, when
there were free elections in Nicaragua, and Mrs. Chamorro
took office, all the lawsuits, all the complaints against
the United States were dropped, when you had a
democratically elected country.

We have done more good for more people than any country in
the history of the world. What I want to know of Mr. Chomsky
is if he believes we are a leading terrorist state, he is
obviously welcome in the United States, why do you choose to
live, sir, in a terrorist nation?

CHOMSKY: First of all, the World Court condemned the United
States for what it called “the unlawful use of force and
violation of treaties.”

BENNETT: Which is not terrorism.

CHOMSKY: That’s international terrorism.

BENNETT: No, it is not.

CHOMSKY: Yes, it is exactly international terrorism.

BENNETT: No, it is not, sir.

CHOMSKY: Furthermore, the escalation to attack undefended
civilian targets is just a classic illustration of
terrorism. And furthermore, it continues right to the
present, as I was saying, so for example…

BENNETT: It’s quite…

CHOMSKY: May I continue?


CHOMSKY: In the late 1990s, some of the worst terrorist
atrocities in the world were what the Turkish government
itself called state terror, namely massive atrocities, 80
percent of the arms coming from the United States, millions
of refugees, tens of thousands of people killed, hideous
repression, that’s international terror, and we can go on
and on.


ZAHN: Before you go further, let’s give Bill a chance to
respond to respond to the Turkish string (ph) of this — go
ahead, Bill.

BENNETT: America responsible for hideous repression and
refugees? Why is it, Mr. Chomsky, whenever there are
refugees in the world, they flee to the United States rather
than from the United States? Why is it on balance, Mr.
Chomsky, that this nation, when it opens its gates, has
people rushing in? Why is it that it is this nation the
world looks to for support and encouragement and help? We
rebuilt Europe twice in this century, after two world wars.
We liberated Europe from Nazi tyranny. We have liberated
Eastern Europe in the last few years from communist tyranny,
and now we are engaged in a battle against something else.

When we went in to Kabul, even the “New York Times” in mid-
November showed pictures of people smiling at the presence
of American troops, because this country was once again a
force for freedom, and a force for liberation. Have we done
some terrible things in our history? Of course we have. But
as Senator Moynihan has pointed out, our people find out
about them from reading the newspapers and watching
television. When you look at this nation on balance, in
terms of what good it has done and what bad it has done, it
is grossly irresponsible to talk about this country as a
terrorist nation, and to suggest, as do you in your book,
that there is justification, moral justification, for what
happened on 9/11. For that, sir, you really should be

CHOMSKY: You should be ashamed for lying about what is in
the book, because nothing is said — in fact, the quote was
just given, nothing can justify the terrorist attacks of
September 11. You just heard the quote, if you want to
falsify it, that’s your business.

BENNETT: No — well, I…

CHOMSKY: Just a minute — did I interrupt you? Did I
interrupt you?

ZAHN: Professor, let me jump in here, but implicit in that
— aren’t you saying that you understand why America was

CHOMSKY: Do I understand? Yes, so does the U.S. intelligence
services, so does all of scholarship. I mean, we can ignore
it if we like, and therefore lead to further terrorist
attacks, or we can try to understand. What Mr. Bennett said
is about half true. The United States has done some very
good things in the world, and that does not change the fact
that the World Court was quite correct in condemning the
United States as an international terrorist state, nor do
the atrocities in Turkey in the last few years — they are
not obviated by the fact that there are other good things
that happen. Sure. That’s — you are correct when you say
good things have happened, but if we are not total
hypocrites, in the sense of the gospels, we will pay
attention to our own crimes. For one reason, because that’s
elementary morality — elementary morality. For another
thing, because we mitigate them.

ZAHN: All right, professor, I’m going to have to leave it
there with you, Bill Bennett, and we have got to leave it to
about 20 seconds.

BENNETT: It there any nation that acknowledges its errors
and its sins and its crimes and the things it has done that
are not consistent with its principles more than the United
States? No, there is not.

This is also the man, just let it be said for the record,
who said that the reports of atrocities by the Khmer Rouge
were grossly exaggerated. This is the man who said when we
engaged the Soviet Union that we…

CHOMSKY: No, it’s not. But that is…

BENNETT: I didn’t interrupt you — that we were continuing
the Nazi effort against Russia. Go through the Chomsky work,
line by line, argument by argument, and you will see this is
a man who has made a career out of hating America and out of
trashing the record of this country. Of course, there is a
mixed record in this country, why do you choose to live in
this terrorist nation, Mr. Chomsky?

CHOMSKY: I don’t. I choose to live in what I think is the
greatest country in the world, which is committing
horrendous terrorist acts and should stop.

BENNETT: I think you should say greatest — I think you
should say greatest a little more often.

CHOMSKY: If you want to be a hypocrite…


BENNETT: I think you should acknowledge its virtues a little
more often, Mr. Chomsky.

CHOMSKY: And you should acknowledge its crimes.

BENNETT: I do. Read my book. You will see it.

CHOMSKY: No, you never do. No, sorry. And if you want to…

BENNETT: I am reading other people’s books.

CHOMSKY: If you want to know what I say, do not listen to
Mr. Bennett’s falsifications of which I just gave an

BENNETT: Read both books.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, we are going to have to cut off both of you
there. Noam Chomsky, Bill Bennett, thank you for both of
your thoughts, and I think probably the best course of
action anybody can take out there, is buy both of your books
so they can make their own judgment.

BENNETT: That’s fine.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch. Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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