“Obama is running the biggest terrorist operation that exists, maybe in history.”
— Noam Chomsky (2013)
Published on Dec 4, 2013 (Date: December 8, 2001)
In response to US declarations of a “War on Terrorism” in 1981 and the re-declaration in 2001, Chomsky has argued that the major sources of international terrorism are the world’s major powers, led by the United States. He uses a definition of terrorism from a US army manual, which defines it as “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature. This is done through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear.” In relation to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan he stated: Wanton killing of innocent civilians is terrorism, not a war against terrorism. (9-11, p. 76)
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On the efficacy of terrorism: One is the fact that terrorism works. It doesn’t fail. It works. Violence usually works. That’s world history. Secondly, it’s a very serious analytic error to say, as is commonly done, that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. Like other means of violence, it’s primarily a weapon of the strong, overwhelmingly, in fact. It is held to be a weapon of the weak because the strong also control the doctrinal systems and their terror doesn’t count as terror. Now that’s close to universal. I can’t think of a historical exception; even the worst mass murderers view the world that way. So take the Nazis. They weren’t carrying out terror in occupied Europe. They were protecting the local population from the terrorisms of the partisans. And like other resistance movements, there was terrorism. The Nazis were carrying out counter terror.
As regards support for condemnation of terrorism, Chomsky opines that terrorism (and violence/authority in general) is generally bad and can only be justified in those cases where it is clear that greater terrorism (or violence, or abuse of authority) is thus avoided. In a debate on the legitimacy of political violence in 1967, Chomsky argued that the “terror” of the Vietnam National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) was not justified, but that terror could in theory be justified under certain circumstances: I don’t accept the view that we can just condemn the NLF terror, period, because it was so horrible. I think we really have to ask questions of comparative costs, ugly as that may sound. And if we are going to take a moral position on this— and I think we should—we have to ask both what the consequences were of using terror and not using terror. If it were true that the consequences of not using terror would be that the peasantry in Vietnam would continue to live in the state of the peasantry of the Philippines, then I think the use of terror would be justified. But, as I said before, I don’t think it was the use of terror that led to the successes that were achieved.
Chomsky believes that acts he considers terrorism carried out by the US government do not pass this test, and condemnation of US policy is one of the main thrusts of his writings which he has explained is because he lives in the United States, and thus holds a responsibility for his country’s actions.
He has also criticized stay-behind operations such as Gladio, NATO’s secret paramilitary anticommunist organizations during the Cold War.