You turn to us for voices you won't hear anywhere else.

Sign up for Democracy Now!'s Daily Digest to get our latest headlines and stories delivered to your inbox every day.

In Rare Joint Interview, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn on Iraq, Vietnam, Activism and History

Media Options

In a Democracy Now! special from Boston, two of the city’s leading dissidents, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, sit down for a rare joint interview. Noam Chomsky began teaching linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge over 50 years ago. He is the author of dozens of books on linguistics and U.S. foreign policy. Howard Zinn is one of the country’s most widely read historians. His classic work, “A People’s History of the United States,” has sold over 1.5 million copies, and it has altered how many teach the nation’s history. Chomsky and Zinn discuss Vietnam, activism, history, Israel-Palestine, and Iraq, which Chomsky calls “one of the worst catastrophes in military and political history.” [includes rush transcript]

Related Story

Web ExclusiveSep 11, 2012The 9/11 Decade: Voices of Dissent on Democracy Now!
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting today from Boston. It’s Patriots’ Day here in Massachusetts, a state holiday to mark the start of the Revolutionary War. In a Democracy Now! special, we’re joined today by two of the city’s leading dissidents: Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.

Noam Chomsky began teaching linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge over 50 years ago. He’s the author of scores of books on linguistics and on U.S. foreign policy. His most recent book is called Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.

Howard Zinn is one of the country’s most widely read historians. He taught political science at Boston University from 1964 to 1988. His classic work, A People’s History of the United States, has sold over one-and-a-half million copies. It’s altered how many teach the nation’s history. Howard Zinn’s latest book is called A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.

Today, an hour with Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky in a rare interview with them together. And I welcome you both to Democracy Now!

NOAM CHOMSKY: Pleased to be with you.

HOWARD ZINN: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: What a day to be here. This is the day of the Boston Marathon. It is raining. It is a major storm outside, and tens of thousands of people—well, were either of you planning to run today?

HOWARD ZINN: We were, yes, but—yeah, we were ready.

NOAM CHOMSKY: You made it impossible for us.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry to pre-empt that.

HOWARD ZINN: It was a choice of running in the marathon or having an interview with you. What’s more important?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today is Patriots’ Day, Howard Zinn. What does patriotism mean to you?

HOWARD ZINN: I’m glad you said what it means to me, because it means to me something different than it means to a lot of people, I think, who have distorted the idea of patriotism. Patriotism, to me, means doing what you think your country should be doing. Patriotism means supporting your government when you think it’s doing right, opposing your government when you think it’s doing wrong.

Patriotism, to me, means really what the Declaration of Independence suggests, and that is that government is an artificial entity. Government is set up—and this is what a Declaration of Independence is about—government is set up by the people in order to fulfill certain responsibilities—equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. And when, according to the Declaration of Independence, the government violates those responsibilities, then—and these are the words of the Declaration of Independence—”it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish” the government. In other words, the government is not holy. The government is not to be obeyed when the government is wrong. And so, to me, patriotism, in its best sense, means thinking about the people in the country, the principles for which the country stands for, and it requires opposing the government when the government violates those principles.

So, today, for instance, the highest act of patriotism, I suggest, would be opposing the war in Iraq and calling for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, simply because everything about the war violates the fundamental principles of equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, not just for Americans, but for people in another part of the world. So, yes, patriotism today requires citizens to be active on many, many different fronts to oppose government policies on war, government policies which have taken trillions of dollars from this country’s treasury and used it for war and militarism. That’s what patriotism would require today.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, the headlines today, just this weekend, one of the bloodiest in months in Iraq. The number of prisoners in U.S. jails in Iraq has reached something like 18,000. Who knows if that’s not an underestimate? An Associated Press photographer remains in jail, imprisoned by U.S. authorities without charge for more than a year. The Health Ministry has found 70 percent of Baghdad schoolchildren showing symptoms of trauma-related stress. Your assessment now of the situation there?

NOAM CHOMSKY: This is one of the worst catastrophes in military history and also in political history. The most recent studies of the Red Cross show that Iraq has suffered the worst decline in child mortality, infant mortality—increase in infant mortality known, but it’s since 1990. That is, it’s a combination of the effect of the murderous and brutal sanctions regime, which we don’t talk much about, which devastated the society through the 1990s, strengthened Saddam Hussein, compelled the population to rely on him for survival. It probably saved him from the fate of other whole long series of other tyrants who were overthrown by their own people, supported by the U.S. And then came the war on top of it, which has simply increased the horrors. The decline is unprecedented—the increase in infant mortality under five unprecedented. It’s now below the level of countries in—worse than the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s one index of what’s happened.

The most probable measure of deaths, in a study sponsored by MIT, incidentally, carried out by leading specialists in Iraq and here last October, was about 650,000 killed. Soon it will push a million there. Several million people have fled, including a large part of the professional classes, the people who could, in principle, help rebuild the country. And without going on, it’s a hideous catastrophe and getting worse.

It’s also worth stressing that aggressors do not have any rights. This is a clear-cut case of aggression in violation of the U.N. Charter, the supreme international crime, in the words of the Nuremberg Tribunal. Aggressors simply have no rights to make any decisions. They have responsibilities. The responsibilities are, first of all, to pay enormous reparations, and that includes for the sanctions—effect of the sanctions. In fact, it ought to include the support for Saddam Hussein during the 1980s, which was torture for Iraqis and worse for Iranians. The paid reparations hold those responsible accountable and attend to the will of the victims. It doesn’t necessarily mean follow it blindly, but certainly attend to it. And the will of the victims is known. There are regular U.S.-run polls in Iraq, government and polling institutions. It’s just an overwhelming support for either immediate or quick withdrawal of U.S. troops. About 80 percent think that the presence of U.S. troops increases the level of violence. Over 60 percent think that the troops are legitimate targets. This, incidentally, is all of Iraq. If you take the figures for Arab Iraq, where the troops are actually deployed, it’s considerably higher. And these figures keep going up. They are unmentioned, virtually unreported, scarcely alluded to in the Baker-Hamilton critical report. That will be our prime concern, along with the concerns of Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Cheney saying this war can be won?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah. There’s an interesting study being done right now by a former Russian soldier in Afghanistan in the late 1980s—he’s now a student in Toronto—who’s comparing the Russian press and Russian political figures and military leaders, what they were saying about Afghanistan, comparing it with what Cheney, others and the press are saying about Iraq. And not to your great surprise, change a few names and it comes out about the same.

Yeah, they were also saying the war in Afghanistan could be won, and they were right. If they had increased the level of violence sufficiently, they could have won the war in Afghanistan. They were also pointing out—of course, they describe, correctly, you know, the heroism of the Russian troops, their efforts to bring assistance to the poor people of Afghanistan, to protect them from U.S.-run Islamic fundamentalist terrorist forces, their dedication, the rights they have won for people in Afghanistan, and the warning that if they pull out there will be total disaster, mayhem, they must stay and win. Unfortunately, they were right about that, too: When they did pull out, it was a total disaster. The U.S.-backed forces tore the places to shreds, so terrible that the population even welcomed the Taliban when they came in. So, yes, those arguments can always be given.

The Germans could have argued, if they had the force that they didn’t, that they could have won the war, the Second World War. I mean, the question is not, can you win? The question is, should you be there?

AMY GOODMAN: You say, in talking about Afghanistan, sure, the Russians could have won if they had—could have tolerated the level of violence. What are you saying about Iraq? Do you feel the same way?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It depends what you mean by “win.” The United States certainly has the capacity to wipe the country out. I mean, there’s no question about that. If that’s winning, yeah, you can win. In terms of the goals that the United States attempted to achieve—the U.S. government, not the the United States—to install a client regime, which would be obedient to the United States, which would permit military bases, which would allow U.S. and British corporations to control the energy resources and so on, in terms of achieving that goal, I don’t know if they can achieve that. But that they could destroy the country is beyond question.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn on this Patriots’ Day that’s celebrated in Massachusetts. We’re in Boston, Massachusetts, and we’ll be back with them in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We continue today talking about the state of the world with two of the leading dissidents here in this country: Howard Zinn, legendary historian, author of many books, A People’s History of the United States, as well as—well, his latest is A Power Governments Cannot Suppress; we’re also joined by Noam Chomsky. Noam Chomsky, linguist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his latest book is Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.

Howard, you went to North Vietnam. Can you talk about how the Vietnam War ended and also your experience there, why you went?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, I went to North Vietnam in early 1968 with Father Daniel Berrigan, and the two of us went actually at the request of the North Vietnamese government, who were going to release the first three airmen prisoners, American fliers, who were in prison in North Vietnam, and the North Vietnamese wanted to release them during the Tet holiday, also the Tet Offensive, sort of as a gesture—I suppose a goodwill gesture. And they asked for representatives of the American peace movement, and so Daniel Berrigan and I went to Hanoi for that reason. And, of course, it was an educational experience for us.

Noam was talking about, in response to your question about victory and winning, and the question is, of course, why should we win, if winning means destroying a country? And there are still people who say, “Oh, we could have won the Vietnam War,” as if the question was, you know, “Can we win, or can we lose?” instead of, “What are we doing to these people?” And, yes—and Noam said yes—we could win in Iraq by destroying all of Iraq. The Russians could have won in Afghanistan by destroying all of Afghanistan. We could have won in Vietnam by dropping nuclear bombs and killing—instead of killing two million people in Vietnam, killing 10 million people in Vietnam. And if that would be considered victory, you know, then who would take satisfaction in that?

What we saw in Vietnam is I think what people are seeing in Iraq, and that is huge numbers of people dying for no reason at all. And what we saw in Vietnam was the American Army being sent halfway around the world to a country which was not threatening us, and we were destroying the people in the country. And here in Iraq, we’re going the other way, also going halfway around the world to do the same thing to them.

And our experience in Iraq contradicted, as I think the experiences of people who are on the ground in Iraq contradicted again and again, the statements of American officials, the statements of the high military, statements like, “Oh, we’re only bombing military targets,” “Oh, these are accidents when so many civilians are killed,” and, yes, as Cheney said, “Victory is around the corner.”

What we saw in Vietnam was horrifying, and obviously it was horrifying even to GIs in Vietnam, because they began to come back from Vietnam and to oppose the war and to form Vietnam Veterans Against the War. So, you know, we saw villages, as far away from any military target as you can imagine, absolutely destroyed, and children killed—and their graves still fresh—by American jet planes coming over in the middle of the night.

You know, when I hear them talk about John McCain as a hero, I say to myself, “Well, yes, he was a prisoner, and prisoners are maltreated everywhere, and this is terrible, but John McCain, like the other American fliers, what were they doing? They were bombing defenseless people.”

And so, yes, Vietnam is something that, by the way, is still not taught very well in American schools. I spoke to a group of people in an advanced history class not long ago, a hundred kids, asked them, “How many people here have heard of the My Lai Massacre?” No hand was raised. We are not teaching Vietnam. If we were teaching the history of Vietnam as it should be taught, then the American people, from the start, would have opposed the war, instead of waiting three or four years for a majority of the American people to declare their opposition to the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, you went to Cambodia after the bombing.

NOAM CHOMSKY: I went to Laos and North Vietnam.

AMY GOODMAN: When and why?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Two years after Howard, early 1970. I spent the week in Laos, a very moving week. I happened to be in Laos right after the CIA mercenary army had cleared out about 30,000 people from the Plain of Jars in northern Laos, where they had been subjected to what was then the most fierce bombing in human history. It was succeeded shortly after by Cambodia. These are poor peasant society. Probably most of them didn’t even know they were in Laos. There was nothing there. The planes were sent there, because the bombing of North Vietnam had been temporarily stopped, and there was nothing for the Air Force to do, so they bombed Laos. They had been living in caves for over two years, trying to farm at night. They had finally been driven out by the mercenary army to the surroundings of Vientiane. And I spent a lot of time interviewing refugees with Fred Branfman, who did heroic work in bringing this story finally to the American people, and saw more interesting things in Laos.

Then I went to North Vietnam, where I—also, as Howard had been—had been invited by the government, but I was actually invited to teach. It was a bombing pause, a short bombing pause, and they were able to bring people in from outlying areas back to Hanoi and the Polytechnic University, or what was left of it, the ruins of the Polytechnic University. They came, and I lectured on just about anything I knew anything about. These were people who had been out of touch with—the faculty, students and others had been out of touch with the world for five years, and they asked me everything from what’s Norman Mailer writing these days to technical questions and linguistics and mathematics and whatever else I could say anything about.

I also traveled around a little bit, not very much, but a few days, but enough to see what Howard described, right close to Hanoi—I never got very far away—which was the most protected area, because in Hanoi there were embassies and journalists, and so the bombing, though severe, was nothing like what it was much farther away. But even there, you could see the ruins of villages, the shell of the major hospital in Thanh Hoa, which had been bombed—by accident, of course—areas that were just moonscapes, you know, where there had been villages, in an effort to destroy a bridge and so on. So those were my two weeks in Laos and North Vietnam.

AMY GOODMAN: You were a linguistics professor at MIT at the time?


AMY GOODMAN: So why did you go? What drove you to? And what was the response here at home?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I was able—actually, I had intended to go only for one week to North Vietnam, but the—if you really want to know the details, the U.N. bureaucrat in Laos who was organizing flights was a very bored Indian bureaucrat who had nothing to do, and apparently his only joy in the world was making things difficult for people who wanted to do something. Not untypical. And fortunately for me, he made it difficult for me and my companions, Doug Dowd and Dick Fernandez, to go to North Vietnam. So I had a week in Laos, which was an extremely valuable week. I wrote about it in some detail. But I was teaching at the time. I was to be away. It was a vacation week. And so, actually, I taught linguistics in the Polytechnic University.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the opposition here at home and your level of protest at MIT? What did you do?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, MIT was a curious situation. I happened to be working in a laboratory, which was 100 percent supported by the three armed services, but it was also one of the centers of antiwar resistance. Starting in 1965, along with an artist friend in Boston, Harold Tovish, we organized—tried to organize national tax resistance. It’s 1965. Like Howard, I was giving talks, taking part in demonstrations, getting arrested. By 1966, we were becoming involved directly in support for a draft resistance, helping deserters, others. And it just continued.

It’s worth remembering—one often hears today justified complaints about how little protest there is against the war in Iraq, but that’s very misleading. And here, as Howard was saying, a little sense of history is useful. The protest against the war in Iraq is far beyond the protest against the war in Vietnam at any comparable level. Large-scale protest against the war in Vietnam did really not begin until there were several hundred thousand U.S. troops in South Vietnam. The country had been virtually destroyed. The bombing had been extended to the north, to Laos, soon to Cambodia, where, incidentally, we have just learned—or rather, we haven’t learned, but we could learn if we had a free press—that the bombing in Cambodia, which was known to be horrendous, was actually five times as high as was reported—greater than the entire Allied bombing in all of World War II—on a defenseless peasant society, which turned peasants into enraged fanatics. During those years, the Khmer Rouge grew from nothing, a few thousand scattered people to hundreds of thousands, and then that led to the part of Cambodia that we’re allowed to think about. That was the first part.

But the real protest against the war in Vietnam came at a period far beyond what has yet been reached in Iraq. First few years of the war, there was almost nothing—I mean, so little protest that virtually nobody in the United States even knows when the war began. Kennedy invaded South Vietnam in 1962. That was after seven years of efforts to impose a Latin American-style terror state, which had killed tens of thousands of people and elicited resistance. 1962, Kennedy sent the U.S. Air Force to start bombing South Vietnam—under South Vietnamese markings, but nobody was deluded by that—initiated chemical warfare to destroy crops and ground cover, and started programs which rounded ultimately millions of people into what amounted to concentration camps, called strategic hamlets, where they were surrounded by barbed wire to protect them, as it was said, from the guerrillas, who everyone knew they were voluntarily supporting, [inaudible] an indigenous South Vietnamese resistance. That was 1962. You couldn’t get two people in a living room to talk about it.

In October 1965, right here in Boston, maybe the most liberal city in the country, there were then already a couple hundred thousand troops there. The bombing of North Vietnam had started. We tried to have our first major public demonstration against the war on the Boston Common, the usual place for meetings. I was supposed to be one of the speakers, but nobody could hear a word. The meeting was totally broken up—by students marching over from universities, by others, and hundreds of state police, which kept people from being murdered. The next day’s newspaper, The Boston Globe, liberal newspaper, was full of denunciations of the people who dared make mild statements about bombing the north.

In fact, right through the protests, which did reach a substantial scale and were very significant, especially the resistance, it was mostly directed against the war in North Vietnam. The attack on South Vietnam was mostly ignored. Incidentally, the same is true of government planning. We know about that from the Pentagon Papers and now many subsequent documents. There was meticulous planning about the bombing of the north—just where should you bomb and how far should you go and so on. The bombing of the south, in the internal documents, almost nothing. A very simple reason for it: The bombing of the south was costless. Nobody is going to shoot you down. Nobody’s going to complain. Do whatever you want. Wipe the place out, which is pretty much what happened. North Vietnam was dangerous. You could hit Russian ships in the Haiphong Harbor. As I said, there were embassies in Hanoi. People could report you were bombing an internal Chinese railroad, which happened to pass through North Vietnam, so there could be international repercussions and costs. So, therefore, it was very carefully calibrated. If you look at, say, Robert McNamara’s memoirs, a lot of discussion of the bombing of North Vietnam, virtually nothing about the bombing of South Vietnam, which even in 1965 was triple the scale of the bombing of the north and had been going on for years. Now, there is a great deal more protest.

Actually, one interesting illustration—and I’ll end with that—is Arthur Schlesinger, the perhaps best-known American historian. In the case of the war in Vietnam, in the early years, he supported it. In fact, if you read his A Thousand Days, his story of the Kennedy administration, it’s barely mentioned, except just a wonderful thing that’s happening. By 1966, as there was beginning to be concern about the costs of the war, we were reaching a situation rather like elite opinion today about Iraq: It’s too costly, we might not be able to win, and so on. Schlesinger wrote—I’m almost quoting—that we all pray that the hawks will be right in believing that more troops will allow us to win, and if they are right, we’ll be praising the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government in winning a war in Vietnam after turning the land, turning it into a land of ruin and wreck. So we’ll all be praising their wisdom and statesmanship. But it probably won’t work. You can translate that into today’s commentaries, which are called the doves.

On the other hand, greatly to his credit, when the bombing of Iraq started, Schlesinger took the strongest position of just about anyone I’ve seen in condemnation of it, first stated so strong that it was almost never—did appear in the press, but I haven’t heard a word about it since. As the bombing began, he said, “This is a date which will live in infamy.” And he recalled President Roosevelt’s words at Pearl Harbor, a date that will live in infamy, because the United States is following the path of the Japanese fascists. A pretty strong statement. And I think that sort of reflects a difference that you see in public attitudes, too. Opposition to aggression is far higher than it was in the ’60s.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn, how did Vietnam end, the war end, and what are the parallels that you see today? Do you see parallels today?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, I suppose if you believe that Henry Kissinger deserved the Nobel Prize, you would think that the war ended because Henry Kissinger went to Paris and negotiated with the Vietnamese. But the war ended, I think, because finally, after that slow buildup of protest, I think the war ended because the protests in the United States reached a crescendo, which couldn’t be ignored, and because the GIs coming home were turning against the war, and because soldiers in the field were—well, they were throwing grenades under the officers’ tents, you know, the fragging phenomenon. I mean, there’s a book called Soldiers in Revolt by a man named David Cortright, and he details how much dissidence there was, how much opposition to the war there was among soldiers in Vietnam, and how this was manifested in their behavior and desertions, a huge number of desertions. And, essentially, the government of the United States found it impossible to continue the war.

The ROTC chapters were closing down. In some ways, it’s similar to a situation now, where the government in Iraq, the government is finding—our government is finding that we don’t have enough soldiers to fight the war, so they’re sending them back again and again, and where the recruiting sergeants here in the United States are going to enormous lengths and lying to young people about what will await them or what benefits they will get. The government is desperate to maintain the military force today in Iraq.

And I think in Vietnam this dissidence among the military and its inability to really carry on the war militarily was a crucial factor—of course, along with the fact that we simply could not defeat the Vietnamese resistance. And resistance movements—and this is what we’re finding out in Iraq today—resistance movements against a foreign aggressor, they will get very desperate, they will not give in. And the resistance movement in Vietnam would not surrender. And so, the U.S. government found it, obviously, impossible to win without, yes, dropping nuclear bombs, destroying the country and making it clear to the world that the United States was an outlaw nation and impossible to hold the support of the people at home.

And so, yes, we finally did what a number of us had been asking for many, many years, to withdraw from Vietnam, and the same arguments were made at that time. That is, when we called in 1967—well, I wrote a book in 1967 called Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, and the reaction to that was, you know, we can’t withdraw; it will be terrible if we withdraw; you know, there will be civil war if we withdraw; there will be a bloodbath if we withdraw. And so, we didn’t withdraw, and the war went on, you know, for another six years, another eight years—six years for the Americans to withdraw, eight years totally. The war went on and on, and another 20,000 Americans were killed. Another million Vietnamese were killed.

And when we finally withdrew, no, there was no bloodbath. I mean, it wasn’t that everything was fine when we withdrew, and there were, you know, re-education camps set up, and Chinese people were driven out of Hanoi on boats, so it wasn’t—but the point is that there was no bloodbath. The bloodbath was what we were doing in Vietnam, just as today, when they say, “Oh, there will be civil war, there will be chaos, if we withdraw from Iraq,” there is civil war, there is chaos, and no one is pointing out what we have done to Iraq, with two million people driven from their homes and children in dire straits, no water, no food.

And so, the remembrance of Vietnam is important if we are going to make it clear that we must withdraw from Iraq and find another way, not for the United States, for some international group, preferably a group composed mostly of representatives of Arab nations, to come into Iraq and help mediate whatever strife there is among the various factions in Iraq. But certainly, the absolute necessary first step in Iraq now is what we should have done in Vietnam in 1967, and that is simply get out as fast as ships and planes can carry us out.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and come back to this discussion. Howard Zinn, historian, he’ll be speaking in Faneuil Hall tonight at 7:00, an historic site in Boston, where we’re broadcasting from, in Boston. And he’ll be launching A Power Governments Cannot Suppress. Noam Chomsky is our guest. We’ll be back with him, as well. His book, latest book, is Failed States. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: My guests here in Boston, as we broadcast from Massachusetts on this Patriot’s Day, are Noam Chomsky—Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—and Howard Zinn, legendary historian, taught at Spelman for years ’til he was forced out because he took the side of the young women students, then went to Boston University, and only recently, in the last few years, was—what, given an honorary degree by Spelman?


AMY GOODMAN: Did you feel vindicated?

HOWARD ZINN: I always feel vindicated.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, what did you think of Nancy Pelosi, House speaker, third in line in succession for the presidency after Dick Cheney, going to Syria, together with the first Muslim congressmember in the United States, Keith Ellison from Minneapolis?

NOAM CHOMSKY: The only thing wrong with it, it was that it was the third person in line. I mean, if the United States government were sincerely interested in bringing about some measure of peace, prosperity, stability in the region, instead of dominating it by force, they would, of course, be dealing with Syria and with Iran, pretty much the way the Baker-Hamilton report proposed, except beyond what they proposed, because they proposed they should be dealing with it in matters concerning with Iraq, but there are regional issues.

In the case of Syria, there are issues related to Syria itself, but also to Lebanon and to Israel. Israel is in control of, in fact, has annexed—in violation of Security Council orders—has annexed a large part of Syrian territory, the Golan Heights. Syria is making it very clear that they are interested in a peace settlement with Israel, which would involve, as it should, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territories.

AMY GOODMAN: Are there secret negotiations going on between Israel and Syria now?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, we never know what’s going on in secret, but so far Israel has been flatly refusing any negotiations. In fact, the only debate that’s going on now is whether it’s the United States that’s pressuring Israel or Israel’s pressuring the United States to prevent negotiations on the Golan Heights and, in fact, on the Occupied Territories altogether.

I mean, this is called a very contentious issue, Israel-Palestine, which is kind of surprising. It’s a contentious issue only in the United States, and even not among the American population. It’s a contentious issue because the U.S. government and the Israeli government are blocking a very broad international consensus, which has almost universal support, even the majority of Americans, and which has been on the table for about 30 years, blocked by the U.S. and Israel.

Everyone knows who’s involved in this, what the general framework for a settlement is. It was put on the—it was brought to the Security Council in 1976, by the Arab states—Jordan, Syria and Egypt, the so-called confrontation states and the other Arab states. They proposed a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border, a settlement which included the wording of U.N. 242, the major resolution, recognition of the right of each state in the region to exist in peace and security within secure and recognized boundaries. That would include Israel and a Palestinian state. It was vetoed by the United States, and a similar resolution vetoed in 1980. I won’t run through the history, but throughout this whole history, with temporary and rare exceptions—there’s a couple here and there—the U.S. has simply blocked the settlement, still does, and Israel rejects it.

Sometimes it’s dramatic. In 1988, the Palestinian National Council, the head governing body, formally accepted a two-state settlement. They had tacitly accepted it before. There was a reaction from Israel immediately. It was a coalition government—Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir. Their reaction was—quoting—that “there cannot be an additional Palestinian state between Jordan and Israel”—”additional” implying that Jordan already is a Palestinian state, so there can’t be another one—”and the fate of the territories will be settled according to the guidelines of the state of Israel.” Shortly after that, the Bush #1 administration totally endorsed that proposal—that was the Baker Plan, James Baker Plan of December 1989—fully endorsed that proposal. Extreme rejectionism. And so it continues, with rare exceptions.

Just moving to today, the Arab League proposal has been reintroduced. It’s 2002, but they brought it up again a couple of weeks ago. That goes even further. It calls for full normalization of relations with Israel within the framework of the international consensus on a two-state settlement, which might involve, to use official U.S. terminology from far back, minor and mutual modifications, like straightening out the border a little where it’s in the wrong place or something. And then there are technicalities to be resolved, plenty of them. But that’s the basic framework supported by the Arab world, by Europe, by the non-aligned countries, Latin America and others. It’s supported by Iran. It doesn’t get reported here, as one loves Ahmadinejad’s crazed statements, but do not report the statements of his superior, the Ayatollah Khamenei, who’s in charge of international affairs—Ahmadinejad has nothing to do with it—who has declared a couple of times that Iran supports the Arab League position. Hezbollah in Lebanon has made it clear that they don’t like it, they don’t believe in recognizing Israel, but if the Palestinians accept it, they will not disrupt it. They are a Lebanese organization. And Hamas has said they would accept the Arab League consensus. That leaves the United States and Israel in splendid isolation, even more so than in the past 30 years, in rejecting a political settlement. So it’s contentious in a sense, but not in that there’s no way to resolve it. We know how to resolve it.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it will change?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Depends on people here. If the majority of the American population, who also accept this, decide to do something about it, yeah, it will change.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s changing, for example, with Carter’s book coming out?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I think it’s one of the signs of change, and there are many others. There’s just a change in mood in the country. I mean, anybody who’s been giving talks about this just knows it from personal experience. I mean, not very long ago, if I was giving a talk on the Middle East, I mean, even at MIT, you know, let alone anywhere else, there would be armed police present, or at least undercover police, to prevent violence, disruption, the breakup of meetings, and so on. Now, that’s a thing of the past. By now, it’s much easier to talk about this.

The reaction to part of Carter’s book is quite interesting. I mean, Carter’s book was essentially repeating what is known around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah. There were a couple of errors in the book. They were ignored. The only serious error in the book, which a fact checker should have picked up, is that Carter accepted a kind of party line on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Israel invaded Lebanon, killed maybe 15,000-20,000 people, destroyed much of southern Lebanon. They were able to do it because the Reagan administration vetoed Security Council resolutions and supported them, and so on. The claim here—you know, you read Thomas Friedman or someone—is that Israel invaded in response to shelling of the Galilee from—by Palestinians, Palestinian terror attacks. And Carter repeats that. It’s not true. There was the border—there was a ceasefire. The Palestinians observed it, despite regular Israeli attempts—sometimes with heavy bombing and others—to elicit some response that would be a pretext for the planned invasion. When there was no pretext, they invaded anyway. That’s the only serious error in the book, ignored.

There are some very valuable things in the book, also ignored. One of them, perhaps the most important, is that Carter is the first, I think, in the mainstream in the United States to report what was known in dissident circles and talked about, namely that the famous road map, which the Quartet suggested as steps toward settlement of the problem, the road map was instantly rejected by Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to interrupt you here, because we’re going to have to end the broadcast. We’re going to bring folks part two of this conversation in the next few days. But I want to end with Howard. Tonight, you’ll be at Faneuil Hall in Boston. Do you have hope right now, as a man who has been part of dissident movements for many years, led them, chronicled them, in these last few minutes of this first part of our discussion?

HOWARD ZINN: By the way, you’re going to be with me in Faneuil Hall, tonight. I won’t go without you, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: I am going to be with you tonight at 7:00 in Faneuil Hall here in Boston.

HOWARD ZINN: But do I have hope? Is that what you’re asking? Well, I do. I think the American people are basically decent and good people, and if they learn the facts, and as they are learning the facts, they become aroused, as they did during Vietnam, as they did in the years of the civil rights movement.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to leave it there now, but part two later in the week. Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, thank you very much.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

The 9/11 Decade: Voices of Dissent on Democracy Now!

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.
Make a donation