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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Chomsky: The Terrorism Within BY BRYCE MILLIGAN THE CULTURE OF TERRORISM By Noam Chomsky Boston: South End Press, 1988 270 pages, $12.00 WHEN LIBYA’S Colonel Muammar Al-Qaddafi accuses the United States of being the world’s greatest practitioner of state terrorism, most citizens of the U.S. are outraged. When Third World representatives lambast the U.S. at the United Nations, we are mystified. “How,” we wonder, “can anyone take Qaddafi seriously? We are such a kind and gentle nation, committed to human rights and world peace. . . . Why are we so hated by these people?” The common opinion as expressed on radio talk shows and in newspaper letter columns at least in Texas seems to be that the Have-nots of the world are envious of us. While that may be comforting to some, it appears naive to others, aside from carrying more than a touch of hubris. There being at least two sides to every question, however, it is only fair and intellectually honest that we consider the possibility that there is some truth underlying these accusations of state terrorism on the part of the Land of the Free. Noam Chomsky is a scholar who, if nothing else, is the personification of intellectual honesty. Whether the field is speculative linguistics or disconcerting international politics, Chomsky treads regularly where angels stop to put on their waders. In his latest book, The Culture of Terrorism, Chomsky approaches this particular question: How is it that foreign and domestic perceptions of the actions of the U.S. government can be so diverse? For years, the U.S. has accused repressive regimes around the world of Big Brother tactics, primarily of manipulating the information to which their citizens have access. We, on the other hand, have taken great pride in the ability of the American free press to provide the American public Bryce Milligan is the editor of Vortex, a San Antonio-based literary journal. with accurate information. Chomsky, relying on the accuracy of hindsight, provides us with several scenarios of recent events all carefully documented in which it becomes patently obvious that what is reported as “news” is often not what happened, and that the U.S. government is so busy rewriting the diplomatic record that when the record and real events are compared, the only conclusions that can be drawn will be necessarily murky. As Chomsky puts it, “The factual record evidently lacks ideological serviceability, so it has been replaced by a mythical reconstruction crafted to satisfy doctrinal requirements.” A brief summary of a couple of instances of this “historical engineering” must suffice here. Chomsky takes us back to the year 1984. Until September of that year, “the Contadora draft treaty was supported with enthusiasm by the U.S. government.” Secretary of State Shultz called it an “important step forward” and condemned the Sandinistas for not embracing it. In June, President Reagan had informed the Congress that aid to the Contras was a necessity to drive the Sandinistas to the bargaining table. Otherwise, Reagan said, “a regional settlement based on the Contadora principles will continue to elude us.” In September of 1984, two things happened. First, Shultz telegrammed European foreign ministers attending a meeting of the European Economic Community and suggested that “no economic aid be given to Nicaragua because of its refusal to sign the Contadora Peace agreement.” The second thing that happened was that Nicaragua accepted the Contadora draft without reservations, becoming the first Central American nation to do so. Within days, the U.S. was pressuring its allies to reject the Contadora treaty; a leaked National Security Council document claimed that the effort had “trumped” the Nicaraguan effort to reach a diplomatic settlement. A similar sequence of events occurred in 1986. Costa Rican Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Gerardo Trejos Salas says that during this period, “Washington tried by all means available to block the signing of the Contadora Peace Act.” Accounts in the U.S. press, reflecting administration reports on the process, describe Nicaraguan recalcitrance as the failure of the plan. This is foreign policy that assumes that the American public is on the other side of Alice’s looking glass. Right becomes wrong becomes right at the discretion of folks who are supposed to be models of consistency. No wonder our allies avoid backing up initial U.S. pronouncements on international events. They are not waiting for independent confirmations; they are waiting for the reality revisions sure to be issued from Washington. CHOMSKY finds a certain element of vindictiveness in U.S. foreign policy as well, as when he follows up on the contradiction between U.S. words and action regarding the 1987 peace plan of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. Prior to the Arias plan, U.S. aid to Costa Rica had been running at about $200 million a year. After Arias proposed the plan, U.S. aid dropped to zero. In addition, the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica left and was not replaced for seven months, prompting one Arias aide to comment that for Washington, “this embassy is not here for dialogue or political development in Costa Rica. It’s still here with the aim of creating a southern front [for the Contras].” Chomsky presents dozens of examples of such behavior. Over and over again we see U.S. administrations favoring force over diplomacy, and wavering back and forth in support of policies that are supposed to represent the will of the government and therefore of the people you and me. He concludes from the documentary and historical record that there is ingrained within the foreign policy structure of the United States an over-riding principle of self-interest which may be understood as a sort of “Fifth Freedom,” that rides herd over the famous four freedoms espoused by Franklin D. Roosevelt as those which the Free World would uphold against all forms of fascism. This Fifth Freedom, writes Chomsky, may be “understood crudely but with a fair degree of accuracy as the freedom 18 FEBRUARY 10, 1989