Refutations from a Stalinist Commissar-Lookalike

May 24, 2011

This response to a response to a response to a response takes George Scialabba and Noam Chomsky to task for seemingly hasty analogies and false accusations.
By Christopher Hitchens

"George Scialabba confidently and effectively re-states the differences between Noam Chomsky and myself as they stood almost ten years ago. In my more recent article for Slate, however, I had briefly sought to bring attention to some fresh disagreements (at any rate new to me) arising from Chomsky’s comments on the killing of Osama bin Laden."

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THP said...

From the Guernica response to a response to a response to a response:
Hitchens: "In plain terms, he first said that I had accused him in Slate of saying that Clinton’s attack on Sudan was worse than 9/11"
"a glance at my Slate column will show that I specifically did not make that charge"

From the Slate Column:
Hitchens: "Ten years ago [..] he (Chomsky) wrote that it (9/11) was no worse an atrocity than President Clinton's earlier use of cruise missiles against Sudan"

So, instead of 'worse then 9/11' we're left with 'no worse then 9/11' making the Sudan bombing at equal footing with 9/11 AT THE LEAST, meaning that more carefull investigation could reveal it being even worse.
The whole thing seems like a play with words, the obviously underlying meaning surely reveals Hitchens intent on displaying Chomsky's intention on downplaying 9/11 in relation to the Sudan bombing in that the latter is actually the more worse an atrocity. And in THAT sense Hitchens surely can be found to be saying that Chomsky has been caught remarking that "Clinton’s attack on Sudan was worse than 9/11".
Anyone still following me?
So technicallly saying, Hitchens is right and Chomsky's wrong. loosely saying, neither is.

1st LT.L.Diablo said...

Look, a couple of points here:

1. Hitchens is correct about one thing, the notion that he said the Sudan attack was worse than 9/11 seems far-fetched and I cannot find any reference to it online or in print that would buttress Chomsky's claim.

2. Chomsky was saying that a trial for OBL is indeed warranted for all types of reasons and bragging about shit aint a good enough reason to assume someone is guilty. Are we a nation of laws or men? Laws? Ok, then a trial is necessary unless OBL was armed when attempting to apprehend him-- then dispatching his ass would seem reasonable. This is an elementary ethical point and not too esoteric for Htichens to get-- so I don't get what the Hitch don't get about this shit. Duh.

3. Bush is a war criminal in Chomsky's view because his motives for the invasion of Iraq are not as noble as Hitchens'-- i.e., Bush did it for vengeance, oil, strategic power grab, Frankly this case can be made. Hitchens' case vis-a-vis democracy and removing the tick that was Hussein seems plausible too and I more or less subscribe to it (although, I do think it could have been handled morally and intelligently-- and it was not). But it is not cut and dry-- and Bush did commit war crimes cuz if the rubric 'war crimes' means anything it means: Abu Grahib/Gitmo waterboarding/torture, civilian massacres by Marines and Blackwater alike that went unprosecuted, use of DU munitions that irradiate the whole town; use of cluster bombs and napalm (yes, that napalm) which is illegal and/or unethical in the extreme. So Chomsky is correct, Bush is a war criminal; and Hitchens is correct too, Saddam had to go and we had a right to make that call.

4. But Chomsky is also correct in saying that under the Bush doctrine (harbor a terrorist you are a terrorist) then the US is a legitimate target for Cuban reprisals due to our harboring of Bosch (and there a many more examples of this shit). So we may be a more ethical society in many ways than the countries' we attack, but not always; and if one is going to be taken seriously, then this must be acknowledged. So we either stop supporting terrorism against leftist governments we hate (e.g., Cuba, Venezuela, or we repudiate the Bush doctrine.

Both men are right on several points, and why neither of them can see the other's point is beyond me.

falterer said...

THP, the difference between arguing that Al-Shifa was worse than 9/11, and saying that Al-Shifa was _no_ worse than 9/11, may seem subtle, but Chomsky actually said the latter, and it's the latter Hitchens specifically accused him of, which is why Chomsky chose to deny saying the former, which Hitchens didn't accuse him of. Effectively, Chomsky was "playing with words" so he could deny a strawman. That said, it's hard to see why he bothered being so squirmy after he went on to tell such an obvious lie about Hitchens' record of statements re. 9/11 (see Diablo's first point).

Hitchens certainly thinks 9/11 is more abominable than Al-Shifa (and he did condemn Al-Shifa), but that doesn't provide a sense in which he could have been caught saying something he didn't. You've wandered into non sequitur with that bit. Arguing moral equivalence is what Hitchens accused Chomsky of, and Chomsky had to twist the accusation into something it was not before he could deny it.

THP said...

I see I did confuse something there, my apologies
the "no worse then 9/11" should have read "no worse than sudan" (or al-shifa)

So again:
According to Hitchens, Chomsky said '9/11 is no worse than al-shifa'
which leaves open the suggestion that Chomsky might think that al-shifa could be worse than 9/11 if more investigation would be allowed. And silently Hitchens does invoke this thought, rightly so I should add.

I'm still left with a void of evidence for either quotations.

Anonymous said...

This is just a case of intellectual silver back alpha male'in. Chomsky is interfering on what Hitchens sees as his patch and thus you have this stag like huffing and puffing. It's got very little to do with the actual details and everything to do with who is seen to win ground.

What's interesting is that the real large scale killers, the tobacco industry, of which Mr. Hitchens will soon be a victim to, kills over 5 million humans every year, (that's a nice Holocaust size kill number), and how much do we hear from hitches in relation to this, none.

Shout from the roof tops about the threat of a global Jihad while you're paying the sickest group of real tobacco Jihadists money directly from your own pocket to ultimately cut your life short. How can someone so smart be so stupid and blind.

Anonymous said...

re: tobacco jihad

why not add booze and red meat to your list of self-inflicted wounds? alcohol abuse costs society more in terms of loss of health and enablement of violent crime than any wacky tabbacky... beef and pork are clear cut nutritional bad boys, not to mention their agriculture an environmental abomination. you could also add to the jihad white sugar, responsible for the plague of diminished IQ, western fatsos, diabetes, and a host of other functional disorders.

type 2 diabetes, a completely reversible, lifestyle-induced disease, kills about a quarter of a million people every year and costs the US about 148 _billion_ annually. heart disease, also a completely reversible, lifestyle induced disease, kills more people than cancer, and costs the US more than 400 _billion_ annually.

the extent of our willful denial as to evidenced and obvious consequences to our stupid i-want-what-i-want habit is completely grotesque. we dwell on wank discussions of enemies abroad and the crack-head criminal in the street when every day we commit holocaust on our own cells, thinking we're just doing what comes naturally, what feels good and what's our god- or reason-given right.

dumbest dumb-ass civilization ever.

CD said...

THP said... "The whole thing seems like a play with words"

At a first glance it may, but if you carefully consider the context. Chomsky specifically refers in terms of body count and this is nothing more then fact. As Chomsky is famous for delivering "boring" facts to the public.

Weather it was worse in terms of ethic's, he makes a powerful argument, but suggests it's meaningless. This is where he excels as a powerful moral figure for future generations and one of the most quoted intellectual ever.

For Hitch to attack him (obviously aware of the context, he's a smart guy) shows his willingness to distort for controversy, and perhaps personal endeavor 'not to become boring' as he contemplates his mortality.

A crime is a crime, the problem is avoiding and or committing such crimes where hitch fails ethically, morally,intelligently and realistically. Not to mention contradicts half his life's work in favor of an easy solution, but history tells us nothing is easy, especially if we prefer to preserve our values with human dignity or simply repeat the past.

Anonymous said...

Re: dumbest dumb-ass civilization ever

I'm anonymous guy no. 1.

To Mr. anonymous guy no. 2, I hate to disappoint you but I couldn't have said it better myself, I 100% agree with you.

I lost a parent to the tobacco industry (which is why I have a seething hatred of it), I've also known 2 alcoholics, 1 heroin couple, and a person who just had joint replacements caused by type 2 diabetes. I would say this would be not too untypical for an average person to know these people in their immediate and wider circles. All these were self inflicted, and all have huge negative impacts on all those involved, both the person directly and those around them.

I have several friends, smokers, who continually use Bill Hicks quotes to justify their on going smoking addiction, 'I'll have a pack of Low Birth Weights please, titter titter titter', it drives me mad. Hitchens like several billion others bought into the whole - place this object; some leaves raped in paper, into your gob and you'll gain an allure of sexual attraction and enigmatic gravitas. Just look at a lot of Hitchens press and promo shots, popped collar, cig in mouth. How can he roll play to the whims of such a blatantly obvious scam. Is that not the very definition of an Orwellian form of mind control?!?!

We have industries within our very boarders who cause colossal suffering and death on the population, and then all this fuss for what is in relative terms a benign threat. Look at the amount of television hours dedicated to it. How many people have terrorists killed in the last 10 years, say 50 thousand, compare that to how many people killed by the tobacco/alcohol/food industries - 200 to 500 million, compare the numbers and weep. This is the real Orwellian nightmare where no one is even aware of what's going on. I've never heard Hitchens nor Chomsky address these matters. Political nit picking while ignoring the real death mongers right under your noses.

Where is Hitchens (or Chomsky) in condemning this?

I like many others have great admiration for many qualities in Hitchens but I'll come out and say the big taboo which I haven't heard anyone else say (and I say this as I sadly watched the death of my own parent)..... Christopher Hitchens death will be 100% his own fault, with him knowing what he was choosing to put into his own body ---- is that not a protracted form of suicide. How can someone who holds the mantel for the anti Orwellian society end up dying in the most Orwellian like manner.

Anonymous said...

To Mr. anonymous guy no. 1:

i'm neither a guy, nor disappointed.

a further point... this thanatos is nothing new under the sun. as long as there's been this thing 'human', distinguished from the purely animistic by its separative self-consciousness and facility for abstraction, there's been this dance with danger, self-destruction and arrogant doomsday caprice with respect to habitat and other life forms.

this unruly portrait of our dumb-ass civilization taking it to a high point of realization where we're literally choking on our own way-of-life shit can either be cause for defeatism or optimistic hope. i'll go with the latter, since one can't engage an opponent one can't see or take stock of. the essence of learning, or so the clever tell us, lies in the ability to stand outside and apart from what you're looking at, see it in a fresh, dissociative context that liberates one from identification with the object, or mere participation mystique where one is held in thrall to its force, as it were.

therefore, it seems this root disease of ours is finally emerging from the fog in all its garish grotesquerie ... and we're like the cliched babysitter in a horror movie chillingly putting it together in a moment of time suspending that the death knell phone calls are actually coming from _inside_ the house.

the inconvenient fact is this: nature not only abhors a vacuum, it periodically fancies a good cull... as population figures start to exceed their own grasp with respect to available resources and collective ableness to orient in peace and love, its more than slightly ironic to notice the obvious manner in which we're also quietly killing ourselves off.

in the final analysis, there's time for everything and nothing. may we be brave, be love, and be the dance... zero else matters.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Osama Bin Laden actually fond of quoting Noam Chomsky?

Greg Marks said...

Anonymous 1 asks: "[H]ow many people [are] killed by the tobacco/alcohol/food industries.... I've never heard Hitchens [or] Chomsky address these matters."

Chomsky has addressed it, in various places. For example, see Chomsky's book Deterring Democracy (Verso, London, 1991), Chapter 4, particularly pages 121–127.  Here Chomsky points out that tobacco was causing some 300,000 deaths annually in the U.S., compared to fewer than 4000 deaths in a typical year due to illegal drugs.  In a section titled "The Narcotraffickers," Chomsky notes that the tobacco industry tried to force Thailand to drop import restrictions on U.S. tobacco with the threat of sanctions; he also points out efforts by British American Tobacco to market super-addictive cigarettes in Africa, with nicotine levels well in excess of what U.S. regulations permit.  Chomsky notes then–Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's vigorous objections to Reagan administration efforts to push Asian nations to accept importation of U.S. tobacco.  Chomsky discusses the economic underpinnings of this narcotrafficking drive.

The book is worth reading in full; even the section just cited contains far more information than I can summarize here.


Christopher reads from Hitch-22: A Memoir