Noam Chomsky, who is 80 now, has undoubtedly had a very difficult year. A few months ago his wife Carol, a brilliant woman in her own right, died from cancer. They had known each other forever, since Carol was five, and the two had been married for 60 years. I often hope he’s able to push on, having been such a remarkable source of information for so many, in multiple fields—and that he remembers and is energized by the important gift of his great intellect and work ethic.

Anyway, he wrote a powerful and sobering article that was published on his site the other day, and elsewhere. Even if you largely disagree with Noam’s political stance, it is highly recommended for the little reminders of historical facts that it gives—before such facts fall down the memory hole.

Entitled The Torture Memos, an excerpt:

Let us then turn to “reality itself”: the “idea” of America from its earliest days.

The inspirational phrase “city on a hill” [to describe the common American ideal of her own birth] was coined by John Winthrop in 1630, borrowing from the Gospels, and outlining the glorious future of a new nation “ordained by God.” One year earlier his Massachusetts Bay Colony established its Great Seal. It depicts an Indian with a scroll coming out of his mouth. On it are the words “Come over and help us.” The British colonists were thus benevolent humanists, responding to the pleas of the miserable natives to be rescued from their bitter pagan fate.

The Great Seal is a graphic representation of “the idea of America,” from its birth. It should be exhumed from the depths of the psyche and displayed on the walls of every classroom.

The current difficulties of indigenous people in both America and Canada (in Canada, an indigenous person is nine times more likely to be incarcerated than a non-indigenous person) may also be a reflection of curious “benevolence,” past and present.

And another:

In a 1980 study, Latin Americanist Lars Schoultz found that US aid “has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens…to the hemisphere’s relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights.” That includes military aid, is independent of need, and runs through the Carter years.

Broader studies by Edward Herman found the same correlation, and also suggested an explanation.

Not surprisingly, US aid tends to correlate with a favorable climate for business operations, and this is commonly improved by murder of labor and peasant organizers and human rights activists, and other such actions, yielding a secondary correlation between aid and egregious violation of human rights.

These studies precede the Reagan years, when the topic was not worth studying because the correlations were so clear. And the tendencies continue to the present.

Small wonder that the President [Obama] advises us to look forward, not backward—a convenient doctrine for those who hold the clubs. Those who are beaten by them tend to see the world differently, much to our annoyance.

The man is still going strong, unstoppably, speaking as he does for the “wretched of the earth”, and whomever isn’t heard. I appreciate it—and learn from him—greatly.

The full article is here.

I had the privilege of interviewing Noam a few years ago. That interview is here.

Lots of love, and remembering, and action,




  1. Sue says:

    Hi Pete. Thanks for posting this article by Noam Chomsky. My beloved and I could have done with this article oh back at about Sunday afternoon! My beloved found himself immersed (Okay–chose to involve himself) in a rather interesting online discussion/argument about the validity of using torture. My beloved’s viewpoint is that not only is torture never justified, but that its effectiveness in eliciting valid/useful information is highly questionable anyway. (Heck, you can extract any information you want out of a person if you bias–oops I mean phrase– the questions in the “right” way, while repeatedly inflicting excruciating pain on an individual to eventually break them down; it doesn’t mean the information is either true or correct. A historical example that goes back to the middle ages is the “evidence” collected from women who were accused of witch-craft: The stories all corroborated one another because the women were all asked the same questions–under torture–and all that the questions really reflected were the warped ideas/misconceptions that two Dominican monks held about what it meant to be a ‘witch’.)

    Anyway, the other person in this online argument with my beloved kept insisting that while he generally didn’t agree with using torture to extract information, for all the reasons listed in all of the articles posted by my significant other, it was still a good idea not to completely rule out as such interrogation methods might come in handy in a real emergency or very dire straits. I’d say the consistency in that piece of logic was right up (down?) there with the pretzel like logic (i.e., twisted!) of the historian mentioned in Chomsky’s article who insists that it is the “potential of the idea” that is reality and that the many egregious actions carried by certain country’s administrations are the “abuses of reality”.

    I kept wondering why it was hurting so much to try and wrap my mind around the kind of thinking espoused by Morgenthau and then I realized–my mind was objecting to the mere thought of having to “wrap” itself around this kind of thinking as it had no desire to take on the same twistedness, even temporarily. Those kind of mental and moral gymnastics are just too painful to contemplate! It’s crazy-making behaviour, no matter how one tries to justify it or cover it with fancy illusions .

    Anyway, here’s to eternal truth and that eternal part of us that has the courage to speak out against dangerous illusions, crazy-making explanations and other slippery contortions of truthfulness.

    Peace and bright blessings,

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