Noam Chomsky: “My Reaction to Osama bin Laden’s Death”

In case you've been lying awake at night, wondering "What Would Noam Chomsky Have to Say about the Whole Osama bin Laden Affair?," you now have your answer. He writes in Guernica:

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.

Find the full piece here. And don't miss Christopher Hitchens' retort in Salon: Chomsky's Follies: The professor's pronouncements about Osama Bin Laden are stupid and ignorant.

PS: we've added for good measure Obama's lengthy interview that aired last night on 60 Minutes. The last seconds offer, we guess, Obama's implicit response to Chomsky:


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  • Guest says:

    I would like to request a name change for this website. I’ve been an RSS subscriber for multiple years and it seems to me that Open Culture is no longer “open”. Changing the name to “Far Left-Wing Atheist Culture” would be less deceiving.

  • Jon T says:

    What nonsense. Without action we would have been living in world full of jihadi action. So get real, face some responsibility for your fate people.

  • Sinjin Smythe says:

    That Mr. Chomsky would pin his remarks to ex-President Bush and ignore current President Obama speaks volumes about his character and credibility.

    That Open Culture would advance Mr. Chomsky’s view in this forum as it has, likewise speaks to Open Culture’s credibility and character.

    Both Mr. Chomsky and Open Culture have important things to say, but lets not kid anyone grotesque left leaning bias is just as repulsive as grotesque right learning bias. At the end of the day all bias is grotesque and has no place in honest debate.

    • Anonymous says:

      That Chomsky is a left-leaner is universally known. This has no bearing on the truth of what he says about Bush. He may selectively omit criticism of Obama because of his “bias” (though elsewhere Chomsky is extrememly critical of Obama, fyi), but when he makes factual claims about Bush, we people of high character should first look to see whether those claims are true. In this case, they certainly seem to be. The facts don’t switch from being “true” to being “false” because Chomsky’s left-leaning speaks volumes about his “credibility”. Above all, credibility is determined by how factual the statements he makes are. If the claims are factually true, Chomsky (here at least) is being quite credible. What a fine and dreamy world it would be if we could know that everyone who has a different political/social philosophy than we do always spoke falsely just by that fact alone! Sadly for you, it’s not the real world.

  • I’ve often wondered if there was a place in your ‘OpenCulture’ for my views. Apparently not.

  • Open Culture says:

    For the record, we’re not particularly partial to Chomsky’s remarks. Or at least they don’t sit well with me personally. And that seemed a bit implicit in the lead sentence. But, regardless, Chomsky is an important public intellectual commenting on a major world event. And so his comments seem worth a mention.

    We try to keep politics out of the conversation. But sometimes culture and politics inevitably collide. And, when that happens, we deal with it. It’s probably a 100% certainty that we will again post something you don’t like. That’s bound to happen. So, if you need to leave, we understand. But if you can deal with the occasional idea you disagree with (heck, I disagreed with this particular opinion), then we’re always happy to have you along for the ride. Obviously the choice is yours…

    Dan

    • Sinjin Smythe says:

      Mr Chomsky is a difficult character. Much of what he says I am intersted in. I just get put off when he resorts to crude anti-republican character attacks.

      Not that everyone’s reaction to Bin Laden’s death has to pass some test it doesn’t.

      It isn’t, or shouldn’t be easy, to react to Bin Laden’s death. It is absurd to use a person’s death to make a callous political attack.

      Bin Laden’s death had to happen for a vareity of reasons non of which bring joy and happines to the rational, intelligent, and civil minded person.

      President Bush or President Obama had to do what they did and I’m fairly sure both would have. I’m thankful to have had both Presidents when it comes to a discussion of Bin Laden.

  • asgerd says:

    Well I for one can cope with and (within reason) do want to see & hear serious views that might or might not chime with mine (obviously – how else do we learn?) so thanks for this.

    • Sinjin Smythe says:

      @asgerd So you learn mainly from the radical biased fringe? The sharply polarized are your primary sources of information? Those views that don’t “chime” with yours have to be extreme in order for you to learn? Sorry, I find that peculiar. I don’t find that Mr. Chomsky’s vulgar accusations about President Bush being a Nazi has anything to do with Bin Laden’s assasination.@c31b7117a027e9cef6e46cd9067b47c3:disqus

      • asgerd says:

        “Mainly”? “Primary”? Where did I say that? I don’t only learn from extreme views but if those views are out there and held by any relevant group*, I want to read them. A bit at least.

        Also Chomsky doesn’t say Bush is a Nazi.

        *Feel free to argue that he is neither relevant nor a group, but he’s not the only person on the planet to think this way.

        • Sinjin Smythe says:

          @asgerd You have me dead to rights, I was paraphrasing your post back at you. Mr. Chomsky’s view, as you have chose to call it, isn’t actually a “view” of Bin Laden’s death. It is a vulgar political comment about President Bush.
          @c31b7117a027e9cef6e46cd9067b47c3:disqus
          The “view” as you have described it is laced with pathetic reference to the “Nuremberg Tribunal” and makes mention of hanged “Nazi criminals”.
          And yes you are correct Mr Chomsky isn’t they only person to think this way. Unfortunately for the progress of humanity the world is littered with people that stuff in a snide comment, an ad hominum attack, whenever they have the opportunity.

  • asgerd says:

    Well I for one can cope with and (within reason) do want to see & hear serious views that might or might not chime with mine (obviously – how else do we learn?) so thanks for this.

  • Benjamin Lobato says:

    Ouch. I’m usually fairly supportive of Mr. Chomsky, and take what he has to say more seriously than most people, but in this case.. I’m gonna have to say that he is full of it. ”
    Uncontroversially, [Bush’s] crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’,
    ” does he seriously think that such a statement is uncontroversial?

    • Open Culture says:

      Chomsky is a complicated figure. At times (and perhaps we haven’t seen those days for a while), he can be an important oppositional figure that helps keep the government honest. At other times, I find him stretching credulity with his arguments and simply criticizing because, after 82 years, it’s what he’s apparently conditioned to do. In this case, I’m in the latter camp. Not terribly impressed with his approach.

  • Anonymous says:

    One thing I find insidious: whenever a “leftist” view is offered (here, on tv, the radio, the print media), members of the right scream “BIAS” faster than Pavlov’s dogs ever dribbled. They go on to either claim that the media outlet is, generally, biased to the left, or else they demand “equal time” to “rebut” the view expressed. Or both.

    The upshot of this neverending tactic is that gradually the messages are overwhelmingly anti-leftist as hundreds of rightist views are espoused unchallenged, but when a leftist view arises, it’s attacked as being unfair.

    These are the tactics of people who favor totalitarian regimes IMO

  • Anonymous says:

    One thing I find insidious: whenever a “leftist” view is offered (here, on tv, the radio, the print media), members of the right scream “BIAS” faster than Pavlov’s dogs ever dribbled. They go on to either claim that the media outlet is, generally, biased to the left, or else they demand “equal time” to “rebut” the view expressed. Or both.

    The upshot of this neverending tactic is that gradually the messages are overwhelmingly anti-leftist as hundreds of rightist views are espoused unchallenged, but when a leftist view arises, it’s attacked as being unfair.

    These are the tactics of people who favor totalitarian regimes IMO

  • Hanoch says:

    Possibly the most important lesson one can draw from reading Chomsky’s comments is that intelligence does not necessarily lead to either wisdom or cogency.

  • Dvoss41 says:

    I never thought that I would ever ……ah hem, defend W. Bush but comparing his war crimes to Bin Laden is nothing short of douchbaggery.

    I have a lot of respect for Mr. Chomsky, and usually agree with him, but not this time.

    Christopher Hitchens’ response is more than worth checking out by the way.

    • Luke Stefanowicz says:

      Very astute and enlilghtening, saying “doucbebaggery,” misspelling it, and assuming that anyone other than someone who already shares your precise feelings on the topic even knows what you mean.

      Secondly, as someone “happy” that binLadin is dead but upset that he wasn’t brought to justice and imprisoned but instead got what he wanted–a martyr’s death through an extra-judicial killing, I am still objective enough to state two things.

      One: binLadin caused only a fraction of the human suffering that George W. Bush is responsible for.

      Two: binLadin attempted to seriously harm America. George W. Bush succeeded at just that quite extraordianril
      y.

  • Anonymous says:

    Since so many are appalled at the idea of even remotely and indirectly comparing Bin Laden’s crimes to Bush’s, and I agree they are incomparable…let’s at least discuss intelligently the scope of what Bush’s crimes actually were. I suspect that, leaving comparisons to Hitler, Stalin, Bin Laden, etc etc, out of it, Mr Bush would not do well in a court of law with a charge of crimes against humanity. I know, it’s not impeachable like lying about sex, but it ain’t innocence. Ask a few million Iraqis…

  • “It is absurd to use a person’s death to make a callous political attack.”
    Funny, ’cause a lot of people think that timing for this operation fits very well in Obama’s political agenda…

  • A black hawk down, By Ben Laden’s wife who attacked with a cassrol after taking a Viagra Pill ! :D what a mess!

  • A black hawk down, By Ben Laden’s wife who attacked with a cassrol after taking a Viagra Pill ! :D what a mess!

  • “Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair”: That explains everything!

  • Twaikuer says:

    Since it was so clear that Bin Laden deserved the death penalty, then why not determine that in a court of Law? Why not show the world that we really are what we claim to be? Why keep reinforcing the image of the USA as autocratic violent bully that is the real recruitment tool for terrorists?
    Terrorism is not only evil, but an idiotic counterproductive tactic. Bin Laden was the worst thing that could have happened to those who felt Colonial (and now Corporate) oppression and manipulation of the Middle East must end. This killing has given closure and now written in stone the stupid idea that “they hate us because we’re free”. And it has further blinded the apathetic American public to: the fact most terrorist suspects are killed by bombing villages, would it be OK to kill a bad guy with scores of innocent “collateral damage” in your town by dropping bombs on it? And most of the detainees in Guantanamo are now thought to be innocent, yet are still denied any of the legal rights candidate Obama vowed to reinstate, along with his continuing Extraordinary Rendition.

    All of these hypocritical acts will continue to recruit more terrorists than they destroy. We should be asking why that has been such an appealing “strategy” to both Bush and Obama? It seems to me the Cold War needed to be replaced with the Forever War Against Terrorism, to keep the dollars flowing to the same people.

  • Sinjin Smythe says:

    @
    LeonardoWeber
    C
    @bd6c7adbf1a919cf210ae7dadf7a88e4:disqus
    omsky Factual? Really? Why that is remarkable. I’d always thought his lack of widespread acceptance was precisely due to his fast and loose handling of facts. Well I’ve been schooled?

    With all of the evidence spilling all over the place with regard to Bin Laden’s guilt and the shear lack of evidence, none sufficient to even bring a single charge against President Bush, I find he isn’t exactly” turning to the facts”.

    Of course you may also be part of the anti-war left whose

    Tourette’s syndrome has you nervously repeating “Bush Lied”. You know the type, strange paranoid conspiracy theorists. No matter what reason you bring to these folks you can not convince them against their will.

    I think you know that it doesn’t matter how well Bush might do in a court of law regarding the crimes against humanity. Sure you will blather some silly ad hominem, I know your kind. But if “turning to the facts” matters they, the facts, just aren’t available in the form of evidence for use in your court of law.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sinjin, please read your own post and look for evidence of ad hominims. Count them. Now look for statements of fact. Count them. Thanks. I know. It’s boring.

  • Leisha says:

    This interview was immediately followed with a Viagra commercial aimed at macho guys with erectile dysfunction, so I guess that’s the intended audience of 60 Minutes. No wonder I don’t watch it.

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