We Own The World
16/03/08 "ZNet " - -- -You all know, of course, there was an
election -- what is called "an election" in the United States --
last November. There was really one issue in the election, what
to do about U.S. forces in Iraq and there was, by U.S.
standards, an overwhelming vote calling for a withdrawal of U.S.
forces on a firm timetable.
As few people know, a couple of months earlier there were
extensive polls in Iraq, U.S.-run polls, with interesting
results. They were not secret here. If you really looked you
could find references to them, so it's not that they were
concealed. This poll found that two-thirds of the people in
Baghdad wanted the U.S. troops out immediately; the rest of the
country -- a large majority -- wanted a firm timetable for
withdrawal, most of them within a year or less.
The figures are higher for Arab Iraq in the areas where troops
were actually deployed. A very large majority felt that the
presence of U.S. forces increased the level of violence and a
remarkable 60 percent for all of Iraq, meaning higher in the
areas where the troops are deployed, felt that U.S. forces were
legitimate targets of attack. So there was a considerable
consensus between Iraqis and Americans on what should be done in
Iraq, namely troops should be withdrawn either immediately or
with a firm timetable.
Well, the reaction in the post-election U.S. government to that
consensus was to violate public opinion and increase the troop
presence by maybe 30,000 to 50,000. Predictably, there was a
pretext announced. It was pretty obvious what it was going to
be. "There is outside interference in Iraq, which we have to
defend the Iraqis against. The Iranians are interfering in
Iraq." Then came the alleged evidence about finding IEDs,
roadside bombs with Iranian markings, as well as Iranian forces
in Iraq. "What can we do? We have to escalate to defend Iraq
from the outside intervention."
Then came the "debate." We are a free and open society, after
all, so we have "lively" debates. On the one side were the hawks
who said, "The Iranians are interfering, we have to bomb them."
On the other side were the doves who said, "We cannot be sure
the evidence is correct, maybe you misread the serial numbers or
maybe it is just the revolutionary guards and not the
So we had the usual kind of debate going on, which illustrates a
very important and pervasive distinction between several types
of propaganda systems. To take the ideal types, exaggerating a
little: totalitarian states' propaganda is that you better
accept it, or else. And "or else" can be of various
consequences, depending on the nature of the state. People can
actually believe whatever they want as long as they obey.
Democratic societies use a different method: they don't
articulate the party line. That's a mistake. What they do is
presuppose it, then encourage vigorous debate within the
framework of the party line. This serves two purposes. For one
thing it gives the impression of a free and open society
because, after all, we have lively debate. It also instills a
propaganda line that becomes something you presuppose, like the
air you breathe.
That was the case here. This is a classic illustration. The
whole debate about the Iranian "interference" in Iraq makes
sense only on one assumption, namely, that "we own the world."
If we own the world, then the only question that can arise is
that someone else is interfering in a country we have invaded
So if you look over the debate that took place and is still
taking place about Iranian interference, no one points out this
is insane. How can Iran be interfering in a country that we
invaded and occupied? It's only appropriate on the
presupposition that we own the world. Once you have that
established in your head, the discussion is perfectly sensible.
You read a lot of comparisons now about Vietnam and Iraq. For
the most part they are totally incomparable; the nature and
purpose of the war, almost everything is totally different
except in one respect: how they are perceived in the United
States. In both cases there is what is now sometimes called the
"Q" word, quagmire. Is it a quagmire? In Vietnam it is now
recognized that it was a quagmire. There is a debate of whether
Iraq, too, is a quagmire. In other words, is it costing us too
much? That is the question you can debate.
So in the case of Vietnam, there was a debate. Not at the
beginning -- in fact, there was so little discussion in the
beginning that nobody even remembers when the war began -- 1962,
if you're interested. That's when the U.S. attacked Vietnam. But
there was no discussion, no debate, nothing.
By the mid-1960s, mainstream debate began. And it was the usual
range of opinions between the hawks and the doves. The hawks
said if we send more troops, we can win. The doves, well, Arthur
Schlesinger, famous historian, Kennedy's advisor, in his book in
1966 said that we all pray that the hawks will be right and that
the current escalation of troops, which by then was approaching
half a million, will work and bring us victory. If it does, we
will all be praising the wisdom and statesmanship of the
American government for winning victory -- in a land that we're
reducing to ruin and wreck.
You can translate that word by word to the doves today. We all
pray that the surge will work. If it does, contrary to our
expectations, we will be praising the wisdom and statesmanship
of the Bush administration in a country, which, if we're honest,
is a total ruin, one of the worst disasters in military history
for the population.
If you get way to the left end of mainstream discussion, you get
somebody like Anthony Lewis who, at the end of the Vietnam War
in 1975, wrote in retrospect that the war began with benign
intensions to do good; that is true by definition, because it's
us, after all. So it began with benign intentions, but by 1969,
he said, it was clear that the war was a mistake. For us to win
a victory would be too costly -- for us -- so it was a mistake
and we should withdraw. That was the most extreme criticism.
Very much like today. We could withdraw from Vietnam because the
U.S. had already essentially obtained its objective by then.
Iraq we can't because we haven't obtained our objectives.
And for those of you who are old enough to remember -- or have
read about it -- you will note that the peace movement pretty
much bought that line. Just like the mainstream discussion, the
opposition of the war, including the peace movement, was mostly
focused on the bombing of the North. When the U.S. started
bombing the North regularly in February 1965, it also escalated
the bombing of the South to triple the scale -- and the South
had already been attacked for three years by then. A couple of
hundred thousand South Vietnamese were killed and thousands, if
not tens of the thousands, had been driven into concentration
camps. The U.S. had been carrying out chemical warfare to
destroy food crops and ground cover. By 1965 South Vietnam was
already a total wreck.
Bombing the South was costless for the United States because the
South had no defense. Bombing the North was costly -- you bomb
the North, you bomb the harbor, you might hit Russian ships,
which begins to become dangerous. You're bombing an internal
Chinese railroad -- the Chinese railroads from southeast to
southwest China happen to go through North Vietnam -- who knows
what they might do.
In fact, the Chinese were accused, correctly, of sending Chinese
forces into Vietnam, namely to rebuild the railroad that we were
bombing. So that was "interference" with our divine right to
bomb North Vietnam. So most of the focus was on the bombing of
the North. The peace movement slogan, "Stop the bombing" meant
the bombing of the North.
In 1967 the leading specialist on Vietnam, Bernard Fall, a
military historian and the only specialist on Vietnam respected
by the U.S. government -- who was a hawk, incidentally, but who
cared about the Vietnamese -- wrote that it's a question of
whether Vietnam will survive as a cultural and historical entity
under the most severe bombing that has ever been applied to a
country this size. He was talking about the South. He kept
emphasizing it was the South that was being attacked. But that
didn't matter because it was costless, therefore it's fine to
continue. That is the range of debate, which only makes sense on
the assumption that we own the world.
If you read, say, the Pentagon Papers, it turns out there was
extensive planning about the bombing of the North -- very
detailed, meticulous planning on just how far it can go, what
happens if we go a little too far, and so on. There is no
discussion at all about the bombing of the South, virtually
none. Just an occasional announcement, okay, we will triple the
bombing, or something like that.
If you read Robert McNamara's memoirs of the war -- by that time
he was considered a leading dove -- he reviews the meticulous
planning about the bombing of the North, but does not even
mention his decision to sharply escalate the bombing of the
South at the same time that the bombing of the North was begun.
I should say, incidentally, that with regard to Vietnam what I
have been discussing is articulate opinion, including the
leading part of the peace movement. There is also public
opinion, which it turns out is radically different, and that is
of some significance. By 1969 around 70 percent of the public
felt that the war was not a mistake, but that it was
fundamentally wrong and immoral. That was the wording of the
polls and that figure remains fairly constant up until the most
recent polls just a few years ago. The figures are pretty
remarkable because people who say that in a poll almost
certainly think, I must be the only person in the world that
thinks this. They certainly did not read it anywhere, they did
not hear it anywhere. But that was popular opinion.
The same is true with regard to many other issues. But for
articulate opinion it's pretty much the way I've described --
largely vigorous debate between the hawks and the doves, all on
the unexpressed assumption that we own the world. So the only
thing that matters is how much is it costing us, or maybe for
some more humane types, are we harming too many of them?
Getting back to the election, there was a lot of disappointment
among anti-war people -- the majority of the population -- that
Congress did not pass any withdrawal legislation. There was a
Democratic resolution that was vetoed, but if you look at the
resolution closely it was not a withdrawal resolution. There was
a good analysis of it by General Kevin Ryan, who was a fellow at
the Kennedy School at Harvard. He went through it and he said it
really should be called a re-missioning proposal. It leaves
about the same number of American troops, but they have a
slightly different mission.
He said, first of all it allows for a national security
exception. If the president says there is a national security
issue, he can do whatever he wants -- end of resolution. The
second gap is it allows for anti-terrorist activities. Okay,
that is whatever you like. Third, it allows for training Iraqi
forces. Again, anything you like.
Next it says troops have to remain for protection of U.S. forces
and facilities. What are U.S. forces? Well, U.S. forces are
those embedded in Iraqi armed units where 60 percent of their
fellow soldiers think that they -- U.S. troops, that is -- are
legitimate targets of attack. Incidentally, those figures keep
going up, so they are probably higher by now. Well, okay, that
is plenty of force protection. What facilities need protection
was not explained in the Democratic resolution, but facilities
include what is called "the embassy." The U.S. embassy in Iraq
is nothing like any embassy that has ever existed in history.
It's a city inside the green zone, the protected region of Iraq,
that the U.S. runs. It's got everything from missiles to
McDonalds, anything you want. They didn't build that huge
facility because they intend to leave.
That is one facility, but there are others. There are
"semi-permanent military bases," which are being built around
the country. "Semi-permanent" means permanent, as long as we
General Ryan omitted a lot of things. He omitted the fact that
the U.S. is maintaining control of logistics and logistics is
the core of a modern Army. Right now about 80 percent of the
supply is coming in though the south, from Kuwait, and it's
going through guerilla territory, easily subject to attack,
which means you have to have plenty of troops to maintain that
supply line. Plus, of course, it keeps control over the Iraqi
The Democratic resolution excludes the Air Force. The Air Force
does whatever it wants. It is bombing pretty regularly and it
can bomb more intensively. The resolution also excludes
mercenaries, which is no small number -- sources such as the
Wall Street Journal estimate the number of mercenaries at about
130,000, approximately the same as the number of troops, which
makes some sense. The traditional way to fight a colonial war is
with mercenaries, not with your own soldiers -- that is the
French Foreign Legion, the British Ghurkas, or the Hessians in
the Revolutionary War. That is part of the main reason the draft
was dropped -- so you get professional soldiers, not people you
pick off the streets.
So, yes, it is re-missioning, but the resolution was vetoed
because it was too strong, so we don't even have that. And, yes,
that did disappoint a lot of people. However, it would be too
strong to say that no high official in Washington called for
immediate withdrawal. There were some. The strongest one I know
of -- when asked what is the solution to the problem in Iraq --
said it's quite obvious, "Withdraw all foreign forces and
withdraw all foreign arms." That official was Condoleeza Rice
and she was not referring to U.S. forces, she was referring to
Iranian forces and Iranian arms. And that makes sense, too, on
the assumption that we own the world because, since we own the
world U.S. forces cannot be foreign forces anywhere. So if we
invade Iraq or Canada, say, we are the indigenous forces. It's
the Iranians that are foreign forces.
I waited for a while to see if anyone, at least in the press or
journals, would point out that there was something funny about
this. I could not find a word. I think everyone regarded that as
a perfectly sensible comment. But I could not see a word from
anyone who said, wait a second, there are foreign forces there,
150,000 American troops, plenty of American arms.
So it is reasonable that when British sailors were captured in
the Gulf by Iranian forces, there was debate, "Were they in
Iranian borders or in Iraqi borders? Actually there is no answer
to this because there is no territorial boundary, and that was
pointed out. It was taken for granted that if the British
sailors were in Iraqi waters, then Iran was guilty of a crime by
intervening in foreign territory. But Britain is not guilty of a
crime by being in Iraqi territory, because Britain is a U.S.
client state, and we own the world, so they are there by right.
What about the possible next war, Iran? There have been very
credible threats by the U.S. and Israel -- essentially a U.S.
client -- to attack Iran. There happens to be something called
the UN Charter which says that -- in Article 2 -- the threat or
use of force in international affairs is a crime. "Threat or use
Does anybody care? No, because we're an outlaw state by
definition, or to be more precise, our threats and use of force
are not foreign, they're indigenous because we own the world.
Therefore, it's fine. So there are threats to bomb Iran -- maybe
we will and maybe we won't. That is the debate that goes on. Is
it legitimate if we decide to do it? People might argue it's a
mistake. But does anyone say it would be illegitimate? For
example, the Democrats in Congress refuse to put in an amendment
that would require the Executive to inform Congress if it
intends to bomb Iran -- to consult, inform. Even that was not
The whole world is aghast at this possibility. It would be
monstrous. A leading British military historian, Correlli
Barnett, wrote recently that if the U.S. does attack, or Israel
does attack, it would be World War III. The attack on Iraq has
been horrendous enough. Apart from devastating Iraq, the UN High
Commission on Refugees reviewed the number of displaced people
-- they estimate 4.2 million, over 2 million fled the country,
another 2 million fleeing within the country. That is in
addition to the numbers killed, which if you extrapolate from
the last studies, are probably approaching a million.
It was anticipated by U.S. intelligence and other intelligence
agencies and independent experts that an attack on Iraq would
probably increase the threat of terror and nuclear
proliferation. But that went way beyond what anyone expected.
Well known terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul
Cruickshank estimated -- using mostly government statistics --
that what they call "the Iraq effect" increased terror by a
factor of seven, and that is pretty serious. And that gives you
an indication of the ranking of protection of the population in
the priority list of leaders. It's very low.
So what would the Iran effect be? Well, that is incalculable. It
could be World War III. Very likely a massive increase in
terror, who knows what else. Even in the states right around
Iraq, which don't like Iran -- Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and
Turkey -- even there the large majority would prefer to see a
nuclear armed Iran to any U.S. military action, and they are
right, military action could be devastating. It doesn't mean we
won't do it. There is very little discussion here of the
illegitimacy of doing it, again on the assumption that anything
we do is legitimate, it just might cost too much.
Is there a possible solution to the U.S./Iran crisis? Well,
there are some plausible solutions. One possibility would be an
agreement that allows Iran to have nuclear energy, like every
signer of the non-proliferation treaty, but not to have nuclear
weapons. In addition, it would call for a nuclear weapons free
zone in the Middle East. That would include Iran, Israel, which
has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and any U.S. or British forces
deployed in the region. A third element of a solution would be
for the United States and other nuclear states to obey their
legal obligation, by unanimous agreement of the World Court, to
make good-faith moves to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely.
Is this feasible? Well, it's feasible on one assumption, that
the United States and Iran become functioning democratic
societies, because what I have just quoted happens to be the
opinion of the overwhelming majority of the populations in Iran
and the United States. On everything that I mentioned there is
an overwhelming majority. So, yes, there would be a very
feasible solution if these two countries were functioning
democratic societies, meaning societies in which public opinion
has some kind of effect on policy. The problem in the United
States is the inability of organizers to do something in a
population that overwhelmingly agrees with them and to make that
current policy. Of course, it can be done. Peasants in Bolivia
can do it, we can obviously do it here.
Can we do anything to make Iran a more democratic society? Not
directly, but indirectly we can. We can pay attention to the
dissidents and the reformists in Iran who are struggling
courageously to turn Iran into a more democratic society. And we
know exactly what they are saying, they are very outspoken about
it. They are pleading with the United States to withdraw the
threats against Iran. The more we threaten Iran, the more we
give a gift to the reactionary, religious fanatics in the
government. You make threats, you strengthen them. That is
exactly what is happening. The threats have lead to repression,
Now the Americans claim they are outraged by the repression,
which we should protest, but we should recognize that the
repression is the direct and predictable consequence of the
actions that the U.S. government is taking. So if you take
actions, and then they have predictable consequences, condemning
the consequences is total hypocrisy.
Incidentally, in the case of Cuba about two-thirds of Americans
think we ought to end the embargo and all threats and enter into
diplomatic relations. And that has been true ever since polls
have been taken -- for about 30 years. The figure varies, but
it's roughly there. Zero effect on policy, in Iran, Cuba, and
So there is a problem and that problem is that the United States
is just not a functioning democracy. Public opinion does not
matter and among articulate and elite opinion that is a
principle -- it shouldn't matter. The only principle that
matters is we own the world and the rest of you shut up, you
know, whether you're abroad or at home.
So, yes, there is a potential solution to the very dangerous
problem, it's essentially the same solution: do something to
turn our own country into a functioning democracy. But that is
in radical opposition to the fundamental presupposition of all
elite discussions, mainly that we own the world and that these
questions don't arise and the public should have no opinion on
foreign policy, or any policy.
Once, when I was driving to work, I was listening to NPR. NPR is
supposed to be the kind of extreme radical end of the spectrum.
I read a statement somewhere, I don't know if it's true, but it
was a quote from Obama, who is the hope of the liberal doves, in
which he allegedly said that the spectrum of discussion in the
United States extends between two crazy extremes, Rush Limbaugh
and NPR. The truth, he said, is in the middle and that is where
he is going to be, in the middle, between the crazies.
NPR then had a discussion -- it was like being at the Harvard
faculty club -- serious people, educated, no grammatical errors,
who know what they're talking about, usually polite. The
discussion was about the so-called missile defense system that
the U.S. is trying to place in Czechoslovakia and Poland -- and
the Russian reaction. The main issue was, "What is going on with
the Russians? Why are they acting so hostile and irrational? Are
they trying to start a new Cold War? There is something wrong
with those guys. Can we calm them down and make them less
The main specialist they called in, I think from the Pentagon or
somewhere, pointed out, accurately, that a missile defense
system is essentially a first-strike weapon. That is well known
by strategic analysts on all sides. If you think about it for a
minute, it's obvious why. A missile defense system is never
going to stop a first strike, but it could, in principle, if it
ever worked, stop a retaliatory strike. If you attack some
country with a first strike, and practically wipe it out, if you
have a missile defense system, and prevent them from
retaliating, then you would be protected, or partially
protected. If a country has a functioning missile defense system
it will have more options for carrying out a first strike. Okay,
obvious, and not a secret. It's known to every strategic
analyst. I can explain it to my grandchildren in two minutes and
they understand it.
So on NPR it is agreed that a missile defense system is a
first-strike weapon. But then comes the second part of the
discussion. Well, say the pundits, the Russians should not be
worried about this. For one thing because it's not enough of a
system to stop their retaliation, so therefore it's not yet a
first-strike weapon against them. Then they said it is kind of
irrelevant anyway because it is directed against Iran, not
Okay, that was the end of the discussion. So, point one, missile
defense is a first-strike weapon; second, it's directed against
Iran. Now, you can carry out a small exercise in logic. Does
anything follow from those two assumptions? Yes, what follows is
it's a first-strike weapon against Iran. Since the U.S. owns the
world what could be wrong with having a first-strike weapon
against Iran. So the conclusion is not mentioned. It is not
necessary. It follows from the fact that we own the world.
Maybe a year ago or so, Germany sold advanced submarines to
Israel, which were equipped to carry missiles with nuclear
weapons. Why does Israel need submarines with nuclear armed
missiles? Well, there is only one imaginable reason and everyone
in Germany with a brain must have understood that -- certainly
their military system does -- it's a first-strike weapon against
Iran. Israel can use German subs to illustrate to Iranians that
if they respond to an Israeli attack they will be vaporized.
The fundamental premises of Western imperialism are extremely
deep. The West owns the world and now the U.S. runs the West,
so, of course, they go along. The fact that they are providing a
first-strike weapon for attacking Iran probably, I'm guessing
now, raised no comment because why should it?
You can forget about history, it does not matter, it's kind of
"old fashioned," boring stuff we don't need to know about. But
most countries pay attention to history. So, for example, for
the United States there is no discussion of the history of
U.S./Iranian relations. Well, for the U.S. there is only one
event in Iranian history -- in 1979 Iranians overthrew the
tyrant that the U.S. was backing and took some hostages for over
a year. That happened and they had to be punished for that.
But for Iranians their history is that for over 50 years,
literally without a break, the U.S. has been torturing Iranians.
In 1953 the U.S. overthrew the parliamentary government and
installed a brutal tyrant, the Shah, and kept supporting him
while he compiled one of the worst human rights records in the
world -- torture, assassination, anything you like. In fact,
President Carter, when he visited Iran in December 1978, praised
the Shah because of the love shown to him by his people, and so
on and so forth, which probably accelerated the overthrow. Of
course, Iranians have this odd way of remembering what happened
to them and who was behind it. When the Shah was overthrown, the
Carter administration immediately tried to instigate a military
coup by sending arms to Iran through Israel to try to support
military force to overthrow the government. We immediately
turned to supporting Iraq, that is Saddam Hussein, and his
invasion of Iran. Saddam was executed for crimes he committed in
1982, by his standards not very serious crimes -- complicity in
killing 150 people. Well, there was something missing in that
account -- 1982 is a very important year in U.S./Iraqi
relations. That is the year in which Ronald Reagan removed Iraq
from the list of states supporting terrorism so that the U.S.
could start supplying Iraq with weapons for its invasion of
Iran, including the means to develop weapons of mass
destruction, chemical and nuclear weapons. That is 1982. A year
later Donald Rumsfeld was sent to firm up the deal. Well,
Iranians may very well remember that this led to a war in which
hundreds of thousands of them were slaughtered with U.S. aid
going to Iraq. They may well remember that the year after the
war was over, in 1989, the U.S. government invited Iraqi nuclear
engineers to come to the United States for advanced training in
developing nuclear weapons.
What about the Russians? They have a history too. One part of
the history is that in the last century Russia was invaded and
practically destroyed three times through Eastern Europe. You
can look back and ask, when was the last time that the U.S. was
invaded and practically destroyed through Canada or Mexico? That
doesn't happen. We crush others and we are always safe. But the
Russians don't have that luxury. Now, in 1990 a remarkable event
took place. I was kind of shocked, frankly. Gorbachev agreed to
let Germany be unified, meaning join the West and be militarized
within a hostile military alliance. This is Germany, which twice
in that century practically destroyed Russia. That's a pretty
There was a quid pro quo. Then-president George Bush I agreed
that NATO would not expand to the East. The Russians also
demanded, but did not receive, an agreement for a nuclear-free
zone from the Artic to the Baltic, which would give them a
little protection from nuclear attack. That was the agreement in
1990. Then Bill Clinton came into office, the so-called liberal.
One of the first things he did was to rescind the agreement,
unilaterally, and expand NATO to the East.
For the Russians that's pretty serious, if you remember the
history. They lost 25 million people in the last World War and
over 3 million in World War I. But since the U.S. owns the
world, if we want to threaten Russia, that is fine. It is all
for freedom and justice, after all, and if they make unpleasant
noises about it we wonder why they are so paranoid. Why is Putin
screaming as if we're somehow threatening them, since we can't
be threatening anyone, owning the world.
One of the other big issues on the front pages now is Chinese
"aggressiveness." There is a lot of concern about the fact that
the Chinese are building up their missile forces. Is China
planning to conquer the world? Big debates about it. Well, what
is really going on? For years China has been in the lead in
trying to prevent the militarization of space. If you look at
the debates and the Disarmament Commission of the UN General
Assembly, the votes are 160 to 1 or 2. The U.S. insists on the
militarization of space. It will not permit the outer space
treaty to explicitly bar military relations in space.
Clinton's position was that the U.S. should control space for
military purposes. The Bush administration is more extreme.
Their position is the U.S. should own space, their words, We
have to own space for military purposes. So that is the spectrum
of discussion here. The Chinese have been trying to block it and
that is well understood. You read the most respectable journal
in the world, I suppose, the Journal of the American Academy of
Arts and Sciences, and you find leading strategic analysts, John
Steinbrunner and Nancy Gallagher, a couple of years ago, warning
that the Bush administration's aggressive militarization is
leading to what they call "ultimate doom." Of course, there is
going to be a reaction to it. You threaten people with
destruction, they are going to react. These analysts call on
peace-loving nations to counter Bush's aggressive militarism.
They hope that China will lead peace-loving nations to counter
U.S. aggressiveness. It's a pretty remarkable comment on the
impossibility of achieving democracy in the United States.
Again, the logic is pretty elementary. Steinbrunner and
Gallagher are assuming that the United States cannot be a
democratic society; it's not one of the options, so therefore we
hope that maybe China will do something.
Well, China finally did something. It signaled to the United
States that they noticed that we were trying to use space for
military purposes, so China shot down one of their satellites.
Everyone understands why -- the mili- tarization and
weaponization of space depends on satellites. While missiles are
very difficult or maybe impossible to stop, satellites are very
easy to shoot down. You know where they are. So China is saying,
"Okay, we understand you are militarizing space. We're going to
counter it not by militarizing space, we can't compete with you
that way, but by shooting down your satellites." That is what
was behind the satellite shooting. Every military analyst
certainly understood it and every lay person can understand it.
But take a look at the debate. The discussion was about, "Is
China trying it conquer the world by shooting down one of its
About a year ago there was a new rash of articles and headlines
on the front page about the "Chinese military build-up." The
Pentagon claimed that China had increased its offensive military
capacity -- with 400 missiles, which could be nuclear armed.
Then we had a debate about whether that proves China is trying
to conquer the world or the numbers are wrong, or something.
Just a little footnote. How many offensive nuclear armed
missiles does the United States have? Well, it turns out to be
10,000. China may now have maybe 400, if you believe the hawks.
That proves that they are trying to conquer the world.
It turns out, if you read the international press closely, that
the reason China is building up its military capacity is not
only because of U.S. aggressiveness all over the place, but the
fact that the United States has improved its targeting
capacities so it can now destroy missile sites in a much more
sophisticated fashion wherever they are, even if they are
mobile. So who is trying to conquer the world? Well, obviously
the Chinese because since we own it, they are trying to conquer
It's all too easy to continue with this indefinitely. Just pick
your topic. It's a good exercise to try. This simple principle,
"we own the world," is sufficient to explain a lot of the
discussion about foreign affairs.
I will just finish with a word from George Orwell. In the
introduction to Animal Farm he said, England is a free society,
but it's not very different from the totalitarian monster I have
been describing. He says in England unpopular ideas can be
suppressed without the use of force. Then he goes on to give
some dubious examples. At the end he turns to a very brief
explanation, actually two sentences, but they are to the point.
He says, one reason is the press is owned by wealthy men who
have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. And
the second reason -- and I think a more important one -- is a
good education. If you have gone to the best schools and
graduated from Oxford and Cambridge, and so on, you have
instilled in you the understanding that there are certain things
it would not do to say; actually, it would not do to think. That
is the primary way to prevent unpopular ideas from being
The ideas of the overwhelming majority of the population, who
don't attend Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge, enable
them to react like human beings, as they often do. There is a
lesson there for activists.
Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author, most
recently, of Hegemony or Survival Americas Quest for Global
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