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2008-02-28

William F. Buckley Dies at 82; A Look Back at his 1969 Debate with Noam Chomsky on Vietnam

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Noam Chomsky, appearing on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line in 1969. This excerpt is from the documentary "Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media" (Zeitgeist Films).

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William F. Buckley, Jr. died yesterday at the age of eighty-two. He was the founder of the conservative magazine National Review and the television show Firing Line. In 1969, he invited Noam Chomsky on his show to discuss the Vietnam War. We play an excerpt.
[includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We end today’s show marking the death of William F. Buckley, Jr. He died yesterday at the age of eighty-two. He was the founder of the conservative magazine National Review and the television show Firing Line. In 1969, he invited Noam Chomsky on his show to discuss the Vietnam War. This is part of their discussion.

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: I rejoice in your disposition to argue the Vietnam question, especially when I recognize what an act of self-control this must involve.

    NOAM CHOMSKY: It does.

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: Sure.

    NOAM CHOMSKY: It really does. I mean, I think that it’s the kind of issue where —-

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: And you’re doing very well. You’re doing very well.

    NOAM CHOMSKY: Sometimes I lose my temper. Maybe not tonight.

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: Maybe not tonight, because as you would, I’d smash you in the goddamn face.

    NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s a good reason for not losing my temper.

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: You say the war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men.

    NOAM CHOMSKY: Including all of us, including myself.

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: Well, then -—

    NOAM CHOMSKY: Including every —- that’s the next sentence.

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: Yeah.

    NOAM CHOMSKY: The same sentence.

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: Oh, sure, sure, sure. Sure, because you count everybody in the company of the guilty.

    NOAM CHOMSKY: I think that’s true in this case.

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: Yeah, but then -—

    NOAM CHOMSKY: You see, one of the points I was trying —-

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: This is, in a sense, a theological observation, isn’t it?

    NOAM CHOMSKY: No, I don’t think so.

    WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: Because if someone points out if everyone is guilty of everything, then nobody is guilty of anything.

    NOAM CHOMSKY: No, I don’t -— well, no, I don’t — I don’t believe that. See, I think that — I think the point that I’m trying to make and I think ought to be made is that the real, at least to me — I say this elsewhere in the book [American Power and the New Mandarins] — what seems to me a very, in a sense, terrifying aspect of our society and other societies is the equanimity and the detachment with which sane, reasonable, sensible people can observe such events. I think that’s more terrifying than the occasional Hitler or LeMay or other that crops up. These people would not be able to operate were it not for this apathy and equanimity, and therefore I think that it’s in some sense the sane and reasonable and tolerant people who should — who share a very serious burden of guilt that they very easily throw on the shoulders of others who seem more extreme and more violent.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, invited on William Buckley’s Firing Line in 1969 to discuss the Vietnam War. William F. Buckley, Jr. died yesterday at the age of eighty-two, founder of the conservative magazine National Review and the television show Firing Line.

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