Goodman: We turn now to the second part of our
conversation withNoamChomsky and HowardZinn, two of the leading dissidents in
this country today. I spoke to them yesterday here in Boston in a rare joint
interview. HowardZinn is one of America’s most widely read historians. His
classic work A People’s History of the United States has sold over a million
and a half copies, and it’s altered how many people teach the nation’s history.
His latest book is A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.NoamChomsky began
teaching linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge
over half a century ago. He is the author of dozens of books on linguistics and
US foreign policy. His most recent book is called Failed States: The Abuse of
Power and the Assault on Democracy. In a wideranging interview, we talked about
USwars fromIraq toVietnam, about resistance and about academia. I askedNoamChomsky
about PoliticalScienceprofessorNormanFinKELstein, one of the country’s foremost
critics ofIsraelpolicy, and his battle to receive tenure atDePaulUniversity,
where he has taught for six years. Professor FinKELstein’s tenure has been
approved at the departmental and collegelevel, but the dean of theCollegeOfLiberal
ArtsAndSciences atDePaul has opposed it. A final decision is expected to be
made in may. FinKELstein has accusedHarvardLawprofessor, AlanDershowitz, of
being responsible for leading the effort to deny him tenure. In an interview
with theHarvardCrimson, Dershowitz admitted he had sent a letter to
DePaulfacultymembers lobbying against FinKELstein’s tenure. I askedNoamChomsky
about the dispute.
2. Chomsky: The whole thing is outrageous. I mean, he’s an outstanding scholar. He has produced book after book. He’s got recommendations from some of the leading scholars in the many areas in which he has worked. The faculty, the departmental committee unanimously recommended him for tenure. It’s amazing that he hasn’t had fullprofessorship a long time ago. And, as you were saying, there was a huge campaign led by a HarvardLawprofessor, AlanDershowitz, to try in a desperate effort to defame him and vilify him, so as to prevent him from getting tenure. The details of it are utterlyshocking, and, as you said, it got to the point where theDePauladministration called onHarvard to put an end to this.
3. Goodman: That’s verysignificant, for one university to call on the leadership of another university to stop one of its professors.
4. Chomsky: To stop this maniac, yeah. What’s behind it, verysimple and straightforward.
wrote a book, which is in fact thebestcompendium that now exists ofHumanRightsviolations
inIsrael and the blocking of diplomacy byIsrael and theUnitedStates, which I
mentioned, verycareful scholarly book, as all of his work is, impeccable. Also
about the uses of antiSemitism
to try to silence a critical discussion . And the framework of his book was a
critique of a book of apologetics for atrocities and violence byAlanDershowitz.
That was the framework. So he went through Dershowitz’s shark claims, showed in
great detail that they are completelyfalse and outrageous, that he’s lying
about the facts, that he’s an apologist for violence, that he’s a passionate
opponent of civilliberties, which he is, and he documented it in detail. Dershowitz
is intelligentenough to know that he can’t respond, so he does what any
tenthratelawyer does. When you have a ["]rotten["] case, you try to
change the subject, maybe by vilifying opposing counsel. That
changes the subject. Now we talk about whether, you know, opposing counsel did
or did not commit this INIquity. And the
tactic is a verygood one, because you win even if you lose. Suppose your
charges against are all refuted. You’ve still won. You’ve changed the subject.
The subject is no longer the real topic. The crucial facts about Israel,
Dershowitz’s vulgar apologetics for them, which sort of are reminiscent of
theworstdays ofStalinism, we’ve forgotten all of that. We’re
now talking about whether FinKELstein did this, that and the other thing.
And even if the charges are false, the topic’s been changed. That’s the basis
of it. Dershowitz has been desperate to prevent this book from being. First of all, he tried to stop it from being published,
in an outlandish effort. I’ve never seen anything like it. Hiring a major
lawfirm to threaten libelsuits, writing to theGovernour ofCalifornia. [ArnoldSchwarzenegger]
It was published by theUCPress. When he couldn’t stop
the publication, he launched a jihad againstNormanFinKELstein, simply to try to
vilify and defame him in the hope that maybe what he’s writing will
disappear. That’s the background. It’s not,
incidentally, thefirsttime. I mean, actually, I happen to be veryhigh onDershowitz’shitlist,
hatelist. And he has also produced outlandish lies about me for years. You
know, I told him I was an agnostic about the[Nazi]Holocaust and I wouldn’t tell
him the time of day, you know, and so on and so forth.
5. Goodman: You mean that he's made that charge against you?
6. Chomsky: On and on. I won’t even talk about it. What’s the reason? It’s in print. In fact, you can look at it on the internet. In1973, I guess it was, the leading israeliHumanRightsactivist, IsraelShahak, who incidentally is a survivor of theWarsawGhetto and BergenBelsen and headed a smallHumanRightsgroup inIsrael, which was theonlyrealone at the time, came toBoston, had an interview with theBostonGlobe, in which he identified himself correctly as the chair of theIsraeliLeagueOfHumanRights. Dershowitz wrote a vitriolic letter to theGlobe, condemning him, claiming he’s lying aboutIsrael, he’s even lying about being the chair, he was voted out by the membership. I knew the facts. In fact, he’s an old friend, Shahak. So I wrote a letter to theGlobe, explaining it wasn’t true. In fact, theGovernment did try to get rid of him. They called on their membership to flood the meeting of this smallHumanRightsgroup and vote him out. But they brought it to the courts, and the courts said, yeah, we’d like to get rid of thisHumanTights group, but find a way to do it that’s not so blatantlyillegal. So I sort of wrote that. Dershowitz thought he could ["]brazen it out["], you know, HarvardLawprofessor. So, he wrote anotherletter saying Shahak’s lying, I’m lying, and he challenged me to quote from this early courtdecision. Never occurred to him for a minute that I’d actually have the transcript. But I did. So I wrote anotherletter in which I quoted from the courtdecision, demonstrating that, polite, but that Dershowitz is a liar, he’s evenfalsifying israeli courtdecisions, he’s a supporter of atrocities, and he even is a passionate opponent of civil rights. And this is like the russianGovernment destroying an AmnestyInternationalchapter by flooding it withCommunistPartymembers to vote out the membership. Well, he was, went berserk, and ever since then, I've been one of his targets. In fact, anyone who exposes him as what he is is going to be subjected to this technique, because he knows he can’t respond, so must return to vilification. And in the case ofNormanFinKELstein, he sort of went
off ["]into outer space["].
But it’s an outrageous case. And the fact that it’s
even being debated is outrageous. Just read his letters of
recommendation from literally the leading figures in the many fields in which
he works, mostrespected people.
7. Goodman: Mostinteresting, the letters of support from the leading Holocaustscholars likeRaulHilberg.
RaulHilberg is thefounder
ofHolocauststudies, themostdistinguished figure in the field. In fact, Raul says that Norman didn’t go
far enough. And it’s the same, AviShlaim is one of
the, maybe the leading israeli historian, has stronglysupported him, and thesame
with others. I can’t refer to the private correspondence, but it’s verystrong
letters from leading figures in these fields. And it’s not surprising that
thefacultycommittee unanimouslysupported him. I mean, there was, in fact they
did, the facultycommittee did, in fact, run through in detail the deluge of
vilification fromDershowitz and went through it point by point and essentially
dismissed it as frivolous.
9. Goodman: They rejected a twelvethousandwordattack pointbypoint.
10. Chomsky: Aside from saying that the veryidea of sending it is outrageous. You don’t do that in tenure cases.
11. Goodman: So, how do you think it will turn out?
12. Chomsky: Well, the usual story. This depends on public reaction.
13. Goodman: NoamChomsky and HowardZinn. We’ll come back to them in a minute.
15. Goodman: We return to my interview withNoamChomsky and HowardZinn, who joined me in the studio here yesterday. We continued to look at the issues of academia in a time of war, so I asked HowardZinn about his experience atSpelmanCollege, the historically black college for women in Atlanta. ProfessorZinn taught atSpelman for seve years before eventually being fired for insubordination. I asked him why he was pushed out.
16. Zinn: I had supported the students, and this was theCivilRightsMovement, right? My students are black women who get involved in theCivilRightsMovement. I support them. The administration is nervous about that, but they can’t really say anything publicly or do anything, because this is thefirst black president ofSpelmanCollege. They have all been white missionaries before that. And so, he doesn’t want to do anything then. But when the students come back from. You might say, "come back from jail" onto the campus and rebel against.
17. Goodman: What year was this?
18. Zinn: This was 1963. And the students rebel against the conditions that they’re living in, verypaternalistic, verycontrolling, and I support them in that, then that’s too much for the president, and so, although I have tenure and I’m a full professor and I’m chair of the department, I get a letter saying goodbye. And so, that was my, you know, what Noam was talking about when you ask him what’s going to happen, universities, colleges are not democratic institutions. Really, they’re like corporations. The people who have themostpower are the people who have the least to do withEducation. That is, they’re not the faculty, they’re not the students, they’re not even the people who keep the university going, the buildings and grounds people and the technical people and the secretaries, no. They’re the trustees, the businesspeople, the people with connections, and they’re the ones who have themostpower, they’re the ones who make the decisions. And so, that’s why I was fired from there, and that’s why I was almostfired byJohnSilber atBU, but there was a.
19. Goodman: Over what?
20. Zinn: Over a strike. We had a faculty strike. We had a secretary strike. We had a buildings and ground workers strike. We had almost a general strike, almost an IWWstrike atBostonUniversity in1977. And when the faculty had actually won, got a contract and went back to work, some of us on the faculty said we shouldn’t go back to work while the secretaries are still on strike. We wouldn’t cross their picket lines. We held our classes out on the streets rather than do that. And so, five of us were threatened with firing. But there was a great clamour among students and faculty and actually across the country. They even got telegrams fromFrance, protesting against this. And so, one of the rare occasions in which the administration, with all its power, backed down. And so, I barelyheld onto my job.
21. Goodman: You begin your book with two quotes. One ofEugeneVDebs: "While there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." And HenryDavidThoreau: "When the subject has refused allegiance and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished." You also write more about HenryDavidThoreau. You write about him going to jail.
22. Zinn: Yeah, well, Thoreau is worth reading today and remembering today, because Thoreau committed just a small act of civildisobedience against theMexicanWar. I mean, theMexicanWar had some of the same characteristics as the war in Iraq today, and that is that the American people were lied to about the reasons for going intoMexico, and they weren’t told that the real reason for going into Mexico was that we wanted mexican land, which we took at the end of theMexicanWar, just as today we’re not being told that the real reason for being in Iraq has to do with oil and profits and money. And so, the situation in theMexicanWar, against which Thoreau objected, was in many ways, you know, similar. And Thoreau saw that, and he saw that American boys were dying on the road toMexicoCity and we were killing a lot of innocent mexican people, and so he decided not to pay his taxes and spent just a veryshort time in jail, but then came out, delivered a lecture on civil disobedience and wrote an essay on the right to disobey the Government when the Government violates what it’s supposed to do, violates the rights of americans, violates the rights of other people. And so, that stands as a classic statement for americans, that it’s honorable and right to not to pay your taxes or to refuse military service or to disobey yourGovernment when you believe that yourGovernment is wrong. And so, the hope is that today moresoldiers who are asked to go toIraq, moreyoung people who are asked to enlist in the war against Iraq, will read Thoreau’sessay on civildisobedience, will take its advice to heart, realize that the Government is not holy, that what’s holy is human life and human freedom and the right of people to resist authority. And so, Thoreau has great lessons for us today.
23. Goodman: NoamChomsky, as we wrap up, that whole issue of hope and where you see things going in the currentBushadministration, what it stands for, and the level of protest in this country. Do you think that level of protest will succeed?
24. Chomsky: It depends what you mean by succeed. I mean, I have a slightlymorehopeful sense thanHoward, at least expressed. I suspect he agrees. It’s true that the country, that in terms of the institutional structure, Government for the wealthy and so on. There hasn’t been much change intwohundredsyears. But there’s been enormous progress, I mean, even in the last fortyyears, since the '60s. Many rights have been won. Rights for minorities, rights for women, rights of future generations, which is what the environmental movement is about. Opposition to aggression has increased. The first solidarity movements inHistory began in the1980s, after centuries of europeanImperialism, and no one ever thought of going to live in an algerian village to protect the people from french violence, or in a vietnamese village. Thousands of americans were doing that in the1980s in Reagan's terroristwars. It’s now extended over the whole world. There’s an international solidarity movement. The global justice movements, which meet annually in theWorldSocialForum, are a completelynew phenomenon. It’s true globalization among people, maybe the seeds of the first true international, people from all over the world, all walks of life, many ideas which are right on people’s minds and agenda, in fact, being implemented about a participatory society, the kind of work that MikeAlbert’s been doing. These are all new things. I mean, nothing is ever totally new. There are bits and pieces of them in the past, but the changes are enormous. And the same with opposition to aggression. I mean, after all, theIraqWar is thefirstwar in hundreds of years of westernHistory, at least thefirstone I can think of, which was massivelyprotested before it was officially launched. And it actually was underway, we have since learned, but it wasn’t officially underway. But it was huge, millions of people protesting it all over the world, so much so that TheNewYorkTimes lamented that there’s a second superpower, the population. Well, you know, that’s significant and, I think, gives good reason for hope. There are periods of regression. We’re now in a period of regression, but if you look at the cycle over time, it’s upwards. And there’s no limits that it can’t reach.
25. Goodman:NoamChomsky and HowardZinn, two of this country’s leading dissidents. We spoke yesterday onPatriot’sDay, which is observed here in Massachusetts, also, I believe, in Maine.