Message from Dr. Chomsky


Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky, born in 1928 in Pennsylvania, USA, is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is known as the linguist who developed the concept of universal grammar – “an innate set of linguistic principles shared by all humans”. He has also been active as a political thinker, outspoken in his criticism of the injustice of war.

Interview : Saori Tanaka

In the office of Dr. Chomsky, we saw a small dog with curly grey fur. Apparently it belonged to his secretary. Visitors were constantly coming in and out of Dr. Chomsky’s office and every time the door opened, the dog started running in circles in the open space in front of the office. One of the visitors before us was wearing a black cowboy hat. While waiting, I started petting the dog who immediately rolled over exposing his tummy. When the visitor with the cowboy hat was about to leave, the dog blocked his way, so he stepped carefully along the edge of the dog’s path, slightly lifted up his hat, smiled and went out. After that we were invited into the office of Dr.Chomsky.

We had been granted a 30 minute interview with the renowned linguist and thinker Dr. Chomsky who receives hundreds of e-mails every day. At the end of this precious time, Tetsugaku Radio was given 5 minutes to ask Dr. Chomsky a few questions. We recorded his soft voice, meandering now and then and flowing like a stream. That voice carried a message that we need to spread widely. We are eternally grateful to Mr. Masaki Hitosugi who gave us this wonderful opportunity and Prof. Masaya Kobayashi who accompanied us.



–My question is based on my experiences as a visiting scholar at an University in Connecticut from 2003 to 2005. 
As you know, that was just in the middle of the Iraq war. Interestingly, there
 was no big protest movement except some debates among students at the department. It was strange for me because the
 department was supportive of your ideas and was promoting your theory of generative 
grammar. But there were no strong anti-war sentiments in the department. Could you please share with us your opinion on how we can utilize our innate rational faculty and make rational judgements, especially in times of political crisis.

There are no secrets that are being kept from everyone. We understand what has to be done as well as we can. It’s extremely difficult in any war-like nation to stand up against state power.

The state has the capacity to engender fear and people huddle under the umbrella of power – you could see it very clearly in the case of the Iraq war – within a few months the war propaganda just frightened the population so that the majority felt: “ We have to invade Iraq or they are going to destroy us”. The Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, you know:
“… The next time we hear from Saddam, it will be a mushroom cloud over New York…”

Well, that frightens people, especially when they don’t hear anything else. So, when people are frightened they support violence and power, they feel they are doing it in self-defence and it’s hard work to overcome that.

However, in the case of the Iraq war it was done pretty well. I don’t know about Connecticut but right here for example, my students here insisted on canceling classes and joining an anti-war demonstration the day that the war was declared, a big demonstration in downtown Boston.

I’d say almost everyone was against the war, you couldn’t find anyone who was in favor of the war. In fact, it is interesting that the Iraq war is the first aggressive war in history where there was massive protest before the war was even officially declared.

That, for example in Vietnam, that never happened. Only after many years, five or six years of war we finally had an anti-war movement. But this was before the invasion and it had the effect of limiting the extent to which the US could use violence – it didn’t do anything like what it did in Vietnam for example. There were no B52 saturation bombings of , you know, settled areas, no chemical warfare – I mean, all the things they did in Vietnam, they couldn’t do there, there was too much opposition.

But it’s just hard work to keep it going and to build it up. There’s constant propaganda they have to face, there’s powerful sectors that have an interest in supporting violence and expansion, after all in the US there are forces behind the fact that the US spends as much on the military as the rest of the world combined, has 800 military bases all over the world, has fleets in every ocean, you know, it’s the only country in the world that has anything like that. And it’s going to be a hard thing to dismantle. The public sentiment here is that we somehow need it to protect ourselves and the fear is astonishing.

So, for example sometimes it’s almost comical – like in 1985, 25 years ago, Ronald Reagan who was President, declared a national emergency in the United States because the United States was threatened by the government of Nicaragua which had forces 2 days away from Texas. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when you hear that but people didn’t laugh. It’s a frightened country, it always has been. And so, yes, there is a lot of work.

–Do you think that the current young generation faces more difficulties than young people at the time of the Vietnam war?

So for example take, say the Vietnam war – the biggest war in the post war period. Vietnam was actually attacked by John F. Kennedy in 1962. A very serious attack – bombing, chemical warfare, destroyed crops, driving people out of the countryside to put them into concentration camps. No protest, none! It was years before protest developed.

The attitudes have changed. By now, direct aggression is not easily acceptable as it was then. Still there’s too much support for it, too much fear but there’s been a lot of improvement. It just takes a lot of work to create more.

–Thank you, thank you very much.

Thank you !


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