Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 7/33
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Laqueur refers to North Vietnamese-guided terrorism in South Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s, avoiding the basic facts of the matter, available in any reputable scholarly study: that Hanoi authorized violence only after several years of pleas by southerners who were being wiped out by the U.S.-Diem terrorist assault that had decimated the anti-French resistance, that "the government terrorized far more than did the revolutionary movement" and well before violence was authorized in response to U.S.-sponsored terror, and that this authorization of force came long after the United States and its client had undermined the Geneva Accords that established a temporary demarcation line between North and South Vietnam.43
Laqueur also discusses narco-terrorism on the part of Soviet-bloc countries, notably Laos, which even grows opium, an extreme proof of Soviet iniquity, the reader is to understand. He concedes that "there were some rumours -- and perhaps more than rumours -- about links between the production of drugs in the `golden triangle' in South-east Asia and various local warlords and insurgencies." But his discussion of narco-terrorism carefully skirts the leading role of the CIA in the drug trade, particularly in Laos and the golden triangle. The facts would be useless for the intended goals, so they are again consigned to the memory hole and Laos becomes an example of Soviet-backed narco-terrorism. One must at least admire the audacity. Laqueur is not the only scholar to voice concern over a possible Soviet role in the drug trade. To mention another, Oxford history professor Norman Stone, warning that the West should not be carried away by Gorbachev's trickery, refers ominously to "the alleged Soviet involvement in the drugs trade, to demoralise the West," but not to the well-established U.S. government involvement in the drug trade since shortly after World War II.44
Terrorism in the Western democracies became a problem in the 1960s, Laqueur continues, when "political violence became intellectually respectable...in some circles," and the terrorist groups, mostly left-wing, launched a "terrorist wave" with foreign support. He does concede that right-wing terrorism existed, even noting that "the terroristic outrages which involved most victims in Europe," one in Munich and two in Italy, "were not carried out by left-wing groups" -- his way of saying that this was right-wing terror. He adds that "the Munich bomb had almost certainly exploded inadvertently," so presumably the right is at least partially exculpated; left-wing bombs always aim directly at civilians. Despite the fact that the worst terror in Europe was attributable to the right wing, "it could still be argued," he goes on, that right-wing terror "was far less frequent and systematic." This serviceable argument is facilitated by entirely ignoring the exploits of right-wing extremists, for example in Italy, where fascist elements integrated with the military and the secret services may have almost come within reach of taking over the state during a period of "terrorist outrages" for which the right was largely responsible.45
Left-wing terror in the United States, apart from Blacks, was apolitical, Laqueur explains. It grew from "the crisis of identity, suburban boredom, the desire for excitement and action, a certain romantic streak -- in short terrorism as a cure for personality problems." So Laqueur has determined, doubtless on the basis of profound psychological study of the participants. In particular, this was true of the Weathermen. Surely they were merely suffering from "personal hangups" enhanced by "immense intellectual confusion" and "an absence of values," not reacting to such trivialities as the treatment of Blacks, the U.S. wars in Indochina, or the kinds of values exhibited by the Laqueurs who supported aggression and massive atrocities until they became too costly to the perpetrator, or simply kept their silence.46
A problem in dealing with terrorism is that the media provide such a favorable image to the terrorists, whom they so admire. Thus, "the attitude of television to terrorism has spanned the whole gamut from exaggerated respect to sycophancy," apparently not including a critical word. As throughout, evidence is eschewed in favor of obiter dicta that are useful for ideological warfare.
There "has been no Western equivalent of terrorism of the kind practised by the various Abu Nidals and Carlos" and other official terrorists; surely nothing like the car bombing in Beirut in March 1985, the attacks on agricultural cooperatives in Nicaragua, or the achievements of Operation Mongoose in Cuba, for example. Rather, "state-sponsored terrorism" is directed against democratic societies. The reasons for the abstention from terrorism on the part of the United States and its allies is that "the Western countries are status-quo orientated" and "want to prevent insurgencies and other forms of destabilization." This explains why the United States has been so scrupulous in preserving the status quo in Cuba, Chile under Allende, and Nicaragua, among many other cases, and has refrained from intervention and other forms of destabilization throughout its history. Furthermore, the Soviet Union can make use of proxies "such as Cuba or Bulgaria," but America "has no such substitutes," and is therefore reduced to rank "amateur[ism]" in comparison with the "professionals" of the Soviet bloc. The United States cannot turn to the neo-Nazi generals of Argentina, or to Taiwan, Israel, and other client states to aid the contras (perhaps that was the lesson of the Iran/contra hearings) or to support state terrorism in Guatemala, and is thus unable to compete with its Soviet opponent.
If international terrorism increases, this highly regarded expert advises, "the obvious way to retaliate is, of course, to pay the sponsors back in their own coin," difficult as such legitimate response may be in the Western societies that find it so hard to comprehend that others do not share their "standards of democracy, freedom and humanism." Legitimate response does not, however, include the bombing of Washington and Tel Aviv, thanks to the familiar utility of interpretations.
It is necessary to recall that all of this is taken quite seriously in the media and general intellectual culture. In reality, Laqueur's scholarship, not untypical of the genre, is an ideological construction, only occasionally tainted by the world of fact. Not surprisingly, it is highly welcomed for its contribution to establishing the images required for state propaganda. The media can then refer to the scholarly literature and call upon the practitioners of the art for solemn commentary and advice, as they serve their own function.
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43 See, among others, Jeffrey Race, War Comes to Long An (California, 1972, 197, and particularly chapter 3).
44 See Alfred W. McCoy et al., The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (Harper & Row, 1972). For some recent discussion, see Jonathan Kwitny, The Crimes of Patriots (Norton, 1987). Stone, "Is the Cold War really over?," Sunday Telegraph (London), Nov. 27, 1988.
45 On these matters, also virtually ignored in the U.S. media, see Herman and Brodhead, Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection, 81f.
46 For critical discussion of the Weathermen at the time, see Harold Jacobs, ed., Weatherman (Ramparts, 1970).