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59

History and Memory

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Chomsky, N. (2002). History and Memory. In Chomsky, N. Class Warfare: Interviews with David Barsamian. Pluto Press, pp. 59-96

62

[...] The main issue of contention was that the U.S. insisted that the Asian system be an open one, meaning everybody had a right to participate freely. So the U.S. had to maintain its rights in China. Japan at the end finally agreed to that, but they insisted that this be worldwide so that the Western Hemisphere would be open. Cordell Hull, who was a terrible racist, considered this outrageous, as did other American commentators.

This picks up a theme that goes way back through the 1930s. The Japanese from the beginning, from the time they began to expand, this particular phase of expansion, had said that they were trying to create in Asia something comparable to the Monroe Doctrine. That touched a nerve in the U.S., because there was more than a little truth to that. And there were all kinds of efforts through the 1930s to distinguish the Monroe Doctrine from the Japanese new order in Asia. They’re worth reading. I reviewed them in an article (“The Revolutionary Pacifism of A.J. Muste: On the Backgrounds of the Pacific War”) about thirty years ago. They are amazing to read, up till the end. They end up by saying, How can they dare make this comparison? When we exert our power in the Caribbean and the Philippines it’s for the benefit of people. It’s to improve them and uplift them and help them, whereas when the Japanese do it, it’s aggression and atrocities.

[...]

It’s kind of interesting. This article of mine has occasionally been mentioned in the U.S., and it’s regarded as an exculpation of Japan. It’s regarded as justifying the Japanese, comparing them to what we were doing in Vietnam, which tells you something about the American psyche. If you compare something to the horrifying atrocities that the U.S. was conducting in Vietnam, then that shows that you’re an apologist for them. How can anybody criticize us? What we’re doing must be magnificent.

—p.62 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago

[...] The main issue of contention was that the U.S. insisted that the Asian system be an open one, meaning everybody had a right to participate freely. So the U.S. had to maintain its rights in China. Japan at the end finally agreed to that, but they insisted that this be worldwide so that the Western Hemisphere would be open. Cordell Hull, who was a terrible racist, considered this outrageous, as did other American commentators.

This picks up a theme that goes way back through the 1930s. The Japanese from the beginning, from the time they began to expand, this particular phase of expansion, had said that they were trying to create in Asia something comparable to the Monroe Doctrine. That touched a nerve in the U.S., because there was more than a little truth to that. And there were all kinds of efforts through the 1930s to distinguish the Monroe Doctrine from the Japanese new order in Asia. They’re worth reading. I reviewed them in an article (“The Revolutionary Pacifism of A.J. Muste: On the Backgrounds of the Pacific War”) about thirty years ago. They are amazing to read, up till the end. They end up by saying, How can they dare make this comparison? When we exert our power in the Caribbean and the Philippines it’s for the benefit of people. It’s to improve them and uplift them and help them, whereas when the Japanese do it, it’s aggression and atrocities.

[...]

It’s kind of interesting. This article of mine has occasionally been mentioned in the U.S., and it’s regarded as an exculpation of Japan. It’s regarded as justifying the Japanese, comparing them to what we were doing in Vietnam, which tells you something about the American psyche. If you compare something to the horrifying atrocities that the U.S. was conducting in Vietnam, then that shows that you’re an apologist for them. How can anybody criticize us? What we’re doing must be magnificent.

—p.62 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago
64

[...] the U.S. was pretty supportive of Japan right through the 1930s? As late as 1939, Ambassador Grew, who was the leading specialist on Japan, was defending the Japanese conquest in China. In fact, the big debate then was, Are they going to cut off our access to China? What is going to be said about the 1932 Ottawa Conference, where Britain, at that point unable to compete with much more efficient, not cheaper labor, but more efficient Japanese production, simply abandoned the laissez-faire doctrine, free trade, which they had instituted when they figured they were going to win the game because they were richer than anyone else? They couldn’t compete any longer, so they abandoned it and closed off the Empire. For a country like Japan, without resources, dependent on trade, for the British to close off the Empire, meaning at that time India, Australia, New Zealand, Borneo, Malaya—it was not technically closed off but they raised tariffs so high that Japan couldn’t get in. The Dutch did the same in the East Indies, what’s now Indonesia. The U.S. did the same. We were a much smaller power then, but in the Philippines and Cuba, that was closed off, in effect. And here is Japan saying, We’re latecomers in the game, admittedly, but we want to play the game the same way you guys do. If you block trade, we’ll just have to use force, the same way you did in the first place. They specifically compared it with the Monroe Doctrine.

—p.64 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago

[...] the U.S. was pretty supportive of Japan right through the 1930s? As late as 1939, Ambassador Grew, who was the leading specialist on Japan, was defending the Japanese conquest in China. In fact, the big debate then was, Are they going to cut off our access to China? What is going to be said about the 1932 Ottawa Conference, where Britain, at that point unable to compete with much more efficient, not cheaper labor, but more efficient Japanese production, simply abandoned the laissez-faire doctrine, free trade, which they had instituted when they figured they were going to win the game because they were richer than anyone else? They couldn’t compete any longer, so they abandoned it and closed off the Empire. For a country like Japan, without resources, dependent on trade, for the British to close off the Empire, meaning at that time India, Australia, New Zealand, Borneo, Malaya—it was not technically closed off but they raised tariffs so high that Japan couldn’t get in. The Dutch did the same in the East Indies, what’s now Indonesia. The U.S. did the same. We were a much smaller power then, but in the Philippines and Cuba, that was closed off, in effect. And here is Japan saying, We’re latecomers in the game, admittedly, but we want to play the game the same way you guys do. If you block trade, we’ll just have to use force, the same way you did in the first place. They specifically compared it with the Monroe Doctrine.

—p.64 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago
67

[...] there’s a question about the legitimacy of an invasion. Why did we have to occupy Japan? Maybe it was right, maybe it was wrong, but it’s not obvious. For example, the fact that Japan had attacked two military bases in two U.S. colonies hardly gives us a justification for occupying it. Of course, Japan had carried out plenty of atrocities. But we didn’t care about the worst ones in the 1930s. We paid very little attention. There was some criticism, some embargoes, this and that. But they were mostly not because of the atrocities. During the war Japan carried out tons of atrocities. The Bataan Death March, the treatment of prisoners, and so on. But that’s in the context of the war, and we weren’t too pretty either if you look at what was happening. So there is a question about the invasion of Japan. You can give an argument for that, too, even from the Japanese side. There were plenty of Japanese who, I think, wanted that invasion. It’s a complicated story.

One thing that the invasion did was it restored the imperial system. MacArthur and the Americans purposely covered up Emperor Hirohito’s crucial role in the war and the atrocities because they wanted to keep the imperial system as a way of controlling Japan. And they did cover it up. It’s a pretty horrible story.

—p.67 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago

[...] there’s a question about the legitimacy of an invasion. Why did we have to occupy Japan? Maybe it was right, maybe it was wrong, but it’s not obvious. For example, the fact that Japan had attacked two military bases in two U.S. colonies hardly gives us a justification for occupying it. Of course, Japan had carried out plenty of atrocities. But we didn’t care about the worst ones in the 1930s. We paid very little attention. There was some criticism, some embargoes, this and that. But they were mostly not because of the atrocities. During the war Japan carried out tons of atrocities. The Bataan Death March, the treatment of prisoners, and so on. But that’s in the context of the war, and we weren’t too pretty either if you look at what was happening. So there is a question about the invasion of Japan. You can give an argument for that, too, even from the Japanese side. There were plenty of Japanese who, I think, wanted that invasion. It’s a complicated story.

One thing that the invasion did was it restored the imperial system. MacArthur and the Americans purposely covered up Emperor Hirohito’s crucial role in the war and the atrocities because they wanted to keep the imperial system as a way of controlling Japan. And they did cover it up. It’s a pretty horrible story.

—p.67 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago
68

Aside from that, there’s the question of the Russians. The Russians came in, I think, around August 8. That was a terrible blow to the Japanese. They could not withstand a Russian land invasion, and they knew it. It’s very likely that a large part of the motive in the atom bombing was to cut off the possibility of Russian participation in control over East Asia. The U.S. took a very strong line on that. We not only kept the Russians out, we kept the British and the French and the Dutch and everyone out. The Far Eastern Commission, which was supposed to oversee Japanese affairs, the U.S. ruled with an iron hand. They wouldn’t let anyone in. Kind of like the Monroe Doctrine. In the Middle East at least the U.S. let the British in. But in Japan, nothing. There are good studies of this. So this is going to be our show. And certainly not the Russians. You can debate exactly the extent to which the atom bomb was motivated by those considerations, but it was certainly not trivial.

—p.68 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago

Aside from that, there’s the question of the Russians. The Russians came in, I think, around August 8. That was a terrible blow to the Japanese. They could not withstand a Russian land invasion, and they knew it. It’s very likely that a large part of the motive in the atom bombing was to cut off the possibility of Russian participation in control over East Asia. The U.S. took a very strong line on that. We not only kept the Russians out, we kept the British and the French and the Dutch and everyone out. The Far Eastern Commission, which was supposed to oversee Japanese affairs, the U.S. ruled with an iron hand. They wouldn’t let anyone in. Kind of like the Monroe Doctrine. In the Middle East at least the U.S. let the British in. But in Japan, nothing. There are good studies of this. So this is going to be our show. And certainly not the Russians. You can debate exactly the extent to which the atom bomb was motivated by those considerations, but it was certainly not trivial.

—p.68 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago
72

[...] The book has a kind of ring of honesty about it. What it reads like is an extremely narrow technocrat, a smalltime engineer who was given a particular job to do and just tried to do that job efficiently, didn’t understand anything that was going on, including what he himself was doing.

But you’re right. There’s only one criticism that he sees, or that any of his critics see, or even his supporters, the whole range of discussion, including people who were very active in the peace movement, I should say. I’ve been shocked by this, the people who are active in the peace movement who are saying, We’re vindicated because he finally recognized that we were right. It was an unwinnable war.

What about the maybe, if you count them up, four million Indochinese that died, something on that order. What about them? [...]

i love this. on Robert McNamara's (lack of) apology/regret re: Vietnam

—p.72 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago

[...] The book has a kind of ring of honesty about it. What it reads like is an extremely narrow technocrat, a smalltime engineer who was given a particular job to do and just tried to do that job efficiently, didn’t understand anything that was going on, including what he himself was doing.

But you’re right. There’s only one criticism that he sees, or that any of his critics see, or even his supporters, the whole range of discussion, including people who were very active in the peace movement, I should say. I’ve been shocked by this, the people who are active in the peace movement who are saying, We’re vindicated because he finally recognized that we were right. It was an unwinnable war.

What about the maybe, if you count them up, four million Indochinese that died, something on that order. What about them? [...]

i love this. on Robert McNamara's (lack of) apology/regret re: Vietnam

—p.72 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago
72

[...] They unleashed the American air force against Vietnamese villagers, authorized napalm, started crop destruction. They also started attacks against the North, which was not involved seriously at the time. That was the first big decision. He doesn’t even mention it. I don’t think he’s concealing anything. I don’t think he thought of it as a decision. Because after all, we’re just slaughtering South Vietnamese, and that doesn’t harm us at all. So why shouldn’t we do it? Nobody’s going to get angry. Nobody’s going to harm us if we kill South Vietnamese. So when we send U.S. planes to napalm Vietnamese villages, what could be the problem? So that’s not even mentioned.

think about this re: sovereignty and jurisdiction

—p.72 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago

[...] They unleashed the American air force against Vietnamese villagers, authorized napalm, started crop destruction. They also started attacks against the North, which was not involved seriously at the time. That was the first big decision. He doesn’t even mention it. I don’t think he’s concealing anything. I don’t think he thought of it as a decision. Because after all, we’re just slaughtering South Vietnamese, and that doesn’t harm us at all. So why shouldn’t we do it? Nobody’s going to get angry. Nobody’s going to harm us if we kill South Vietnamese. So when we send U.S. planes to napalm Vietnamese villages, what could be the problem? So that’s not even mentioned.

think about this re: sovereignty and jurisdiction

—p.72 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago
75

[...] The misgivings were that it might not succeed. Suppose that some Nazi general came around after Stalingrad and said, I realized after Stalingrad it was a mistake to fight a two-front war, but I did it anyway. That’s not the Nuremberg defense. That’s not even recognizing that a crime was committed. You’ve got to recognize that a crime was committed before you give a defense. McNamara can’t perceive that. Furthermore, I don’t say that as a criticism of McNamara. He is a dull, narrow technocrat who questioned nothing. He simply accepted the framework of beliefs of the people around him and that’s their framework. That’s the Kennedy liberals. We cannot commit a crime. It’s a contradiction in terms. Anything we do is by necessity not only right, but noble. Therefore there can’t be a crime.

still McNamara (responding to a prompt that he had taken the Nuremberg defense, which Chomsky rejects)

—p.75 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago

[...] The misgivings were that it might not succeed. Suppose that some Nazi general came around after Stalingrad and said, I realized after Stalingrad it was a mistake to fight a two-front war, but I did it anyway. That’s not the Nuremberg defense. That’s not even recognizing that a crime was committed. You’ve got to recognize that a crime was committed before you give a defense. McNamara can’t perceive that. Furthermore, I don’t say that as a criticism of McNamara. He is a dull, narrow technocrat who questioned nothing. He simply accepted the framework of beliefs of the people around him and that’s their framework. That’s the Kennedy liberals. We cannot commit a crime. It’s a contradiction in terms. Anything we do is by necessity not only right, but noble. Therefore there can’t be a crime.

still McNamara (responding to a prompt that he had taken the Nuremberg defense, which Chomsky rejects)

—p.75 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago
84

There are plenty of things wrong with the government. But what’s harmful to people about the government is that it’s a reflection of something else. And that other thing you don’t see. Why don’t you see that other thing? Because it’s been made invisible. [...]

There’s a reason why attention is focused on the government as the source of problems. It has a defect. It’s potentially democratic. Private corporations are not potentially democratic. The propaganda system does not want to get people to think, The government is something we can take over and we can use as our instrument of public power. They don’t want people to think that. And since you can’t think that, you get what’s called populism, but is not populism at all. It’s not the kind of populism that says, Fine, let’s take over the government and use it as an instrument to undermine and destroy private power, which has no right to exist. Nobody is saying that. [...]

hmm good point. corporations are instantiated as insulated from democracy by definition so we're less likely to contest their nature. brilliant way to let undemocratic institutions grow

—p.84 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago

There are plenty of things wrong with the government. But what’s harmful to people about the government is that it’s a reflection of something else. And that other thing you don’t see. Why don’t you see that other thing? Because it’s been made invisible. [...]

There’s a reason why attention is focused on the government as the source of problems. It has a defect. It’s potentially democratic. Private corporations are not potentially democratic. The propaganda system does not want to get people to think, The government is something we can take over and we can use as our instrument of public power. They don’t want people to think that. And since you can’t think that, you get what’s called populism, but is not populism at all. It’s not the kind of populism that says, Fine, let’s take over the government and use it as an instrument to undermine and destroy private power, which has no right to exist. Nobody is saying that. [...]

hmm good point. corporations are instantiated as insulated from democracy by definition so we're less likely to contest their nature. brilliant way to let undemocratic institutions grow

—p.84 by Noam Chomsky 3 years, 1 month ago