Essays On The Current Crisis And How We Got There
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Ever since American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), Chomsky has been obsessed with uncovering the pernicious relationships between state power, intellectuals, and the media (especially print). In this collection of 13 previously published essays--plus a new introduction and two new afterwords--he is still on the scent. Loosely grouped, eight of the selections deal with the Cold War, four with the Middle East, and one with East Timor. In Chomsky's view of the world, there is the truth, which he culls from a stupefying amount of news and documentary material; and then there is propaganda and falsehood, which amounts to most of what everyone else has to say about the truth that Chomsky knows. Much of what he contends makes a good deal of sense, but it gets twisted through the vehemence with which he says it. For example, he rails against American indifference to the Indonesian invastion of East Timor (and subsequent massacres), rightly pointing out that the Indonesians are supplied with American weapons and would be susceptible to American pressure: the US could mitigate the suffering. By contrast, the American media have made a great deal of events in Cambodia, a situation similar to that in East Timor--which, however, the US cannot influence, because Washington refuses to enter into diplomatic relations with Hanoi. Thus Chomsky concludes that there's a virtual conspiracy of silence in the media over East Timor and a highly effective propaganda campaign to exploit the situation in Vietnam. Given the blinkered approach of the American press to world events, US involvement in Southeast Asia goes a long way to explain why the media pay attention to any "good story" there; but Chomsky gets so exercised that he winds up pushing "his" national tragedy over the official one: forget about Cambodia, what about Timor? Sometimes, true, Chomsky's stridency is almost justified--Henry Kissinger's memoirs are "vacuous," Guenther Lewy's pseudo-scholarly whitewash of American actions in Vietnam is a "squalid tract"--but overall it undercuts his arguments. In essence, Chomsky is an anti-statist, and his enemies are his fellow-intellectuals who fail to see the catastrophic effects of state power and who, knowingly or not, aid and abet the interests represented by the state. His first book of political essays was an important assault on those foes, but the subsequent ones have grown increasingly high-strung, which helps neither Chomsky nor his cause.
Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1981
ISBN: 1565848594
Page count: 539pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1981


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