Noam Chomsky interviewed by Stuart Alan Becker
Bangkok Post, July 14, 2008
BECKER: You opposed the Vietnam War long before it was fashionable. When and why did you make that decision? Do you feel you made a difference?
CHOMSKY: I opposed the Vietnam war from the mid-1940s, when the French invaded, a few years later receiving direct US support. But I did not do much beyond signing statements and the like until 1962, when the back pages of the New York Times casually reported that the US Air Force was flying a large proportion of the bombing missions against South Vietnam, with the planes disguised with SVN markings. At that point I realised that I had better learn more about this, began to look into it more carefully, and had to make a hard decision. I had enough experience with political activism to know that if I became involved, it would soon grow to be a major undertaking, with few limits, and I would have to give up a lot that meant a great deal to me. I decided to plunge in, not without reluctance. It took years of hard and painful work of protest and resistance before a real anti-war movement developed. There is no doubt that it made a difference. One illustration comes from the Pentagon Papers, the final section, dealing with the immediate reaction to the Tet revolt; in imperial terminology, it is called the “Tet offensive”, on the tacit assumption that a revolt against our military occupation is aggression. The government considered sending several hundred thousand more troops to South Vietnam, but decided not to because of concern that they would need the troops for civil disorder control at home in the likely event of a mass uprising of unprecedented proportions. We also know that by then 70 per cent of the US population felt that the war was “fundamentally wrong and immoral”, not “a mistake” – while intellectual elites debated whether Washington’s “bungling efforts to do good” were a “mistake” that was becoming too costly to us (Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, at the outer limits of dissidence within the mainstream).
How much any one individual contributed to the radical change of consciousness and understanding, and the willingness to do something about state crimes, it is hard to say.
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