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Sunday, June 27, 2010


I remember back in the 90s I could find all Chomsky's books, interviews, etc., all in one place on the web, called, iirc, Chomsky Library; maintained, I believe, by a guy I used to work with, Tom Lane was his name. Then somehow that online library simply disappeared off the face of the earth.

What happened? Did he (Chomsky) decide to enforce the copyright? His publishers? This is very unfortunate and disappointing, I must say.

Yes, odd that someone might actually want to receive royalties for his work, rather than just having it all put up on the Internet for free....

Anyway, I did make the mistake of sending my father a copy of Manufacturing Consent; it was probably the wrong thing to start off with. Maybe The Umbrella of U.S. Power would have been a better choice. Especially given that he thinks Chomsky is a communist and a traitor to start with.

Oh, well.

I have often thought about sending something by Chomsky to my career military brother, now retired. Then I realized that Chomsky can be read two ways: the way Chomsky wants to be read and the way that someone who thinks the US status quo is under attack from the left (and doesn't like that) would read it. Chomsky shows the left to be ineffectual. My brother would take it that way. He would be encouraged by Chomsky not 'converted'.

I can hear him saying "You want to give the country back to the Indians? That wouldn't work." Or something to the same effect.

When I read "Towards a New Cold War", and it was not fresh when I read it, I wanted to get my hands on more Chomsky pronto. But then I was seditious to begin with. As a Vietnam vet, I think I am rare as a portion of the population. And I think that Victor Agosto is rare and that Chomsky will find fairly few military converts in Afghanistan. The imperial project will have to screw things up even more obviously in the USA itself than it has to date before large numbers of people here will consider imperialism criminal or even impractical. Some may agree with Agosto that the absence of US moral superiority is a fatal flaw in the argument for US foreign projects. Many, many more will either strive to get some of that contractor lucre... if they have 'initiative'... or they will blindly follow the military career (I'm thinking of enlisted and non-coms primarily) for its !!!! security !!! if they lack 'initiative'.

Look at Britain. As a society they have gone from the leading imperialist nation to an American fig leaf in the last 70 years and they still have a government that goes along with every cockamamie scheme the US proposes. They still have sufficient reserves of patriots to man their regiments and fleets (fewer and smaller though they be than formerly). The British peace movement is probably larger and better organized than our peace movement but the government's imperial tag-along continues. The leading classes demand it and the regular folks, used to discipline and obedience (like here) participate, seeing no other way to survive.

Lordy, what a screed!

I don't know if Goff even endorses his book anymore, but "Full Spectrum Disorder" is perfect for uniformed soldiers.

I didn't link it before, sorry:


How about Smedley Butler's "War is a Racket"?

Laurence Vance has written a lot of good stuff that is easy to read, though generally from a Christian perspective.

"Killing Hope" by Bill Blum

I loved The Shock Doctrine for making the last 40 years of world history comprehensible in a way no other single volume had. Though it doesn't treat Afghanistan, it does demolish U.S. moral superiority pretty completely.

I second Smedley Butler — no one like a Marine general to command respect.

William Blum is probably too harsh for anyone not already well over the line into crimethink.

Chomsky turned me upside down, but though I was a center-left New Republic trusting Democrat before, I was already getting suspicious and even as a kid I had always taken for granted that the US was the bad guy in the Indian wars. Somehow I thought things changed in the 20th century. But after Noam I realized how strange an assumption I was making and the similarities between 19th century America and the present became obvious.

Someone closer to the mainstream might be better for people who would go into shock if they read Noam or if they are conservative. Andrew Bacevitch might be a good start for that kind of person. He's a conservative Catholic, but anti-Empire from what little I've read and seen of him. And he's ex-military, which might give him more credibility.

Oddly enough given where he ended up, Walter Russell Mead's book "Mortal Splendor" would have been a good choice twenty years ago for someone who was liberal, but not quite ready for Noam. Jonathan Schwarz and I talked about this via email once because he had the same reaction--Mead used to be a very good guy, based on that Mortal Splendor book, and it came as a total shock to me several years ago when I started seeing him on PBS's Newshour and heard the prowar crap he was spouting. It's almost as big a switch as happened to Hitch.

Chomsky's first book "American Power and the New Mandarins" probably had the biggest influence on me since it introduced me to anarchism which really changed my world. I knew nothing of anarchism before that book even though I was philosophy major in college and of course knew all about Marx and Marxism. There wasn't one word about anarchism in any course I took. Which I guess is understandable given all the teachers were Marxists!

Anyway, I think I would recommend Zinn's "A Peoples History of the United States" if I had to choose one book to give to others in the hopes that it would encourage people to adopt a leftist progressive view point.

I also agree with one of the comments above that a military person reading one book and then questioning militarism and empire and all that that means is quite rare and not the norm.

Love this idea. Let me share some brain-food that has had a significant affect on how I perceive the world around me.

Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman

The Outsider by Camus because I feel that nihilism is a good first step on the road to questioning the status quo.

Also loved The Shock Doctrine and think that No Logo is also a great place to start as people are more suspicious of the corporatocracy that government so this could also be a good first step and Naomi Klein is a fantastic writer.

Though I haven't read it I have heard on many occasion that Zinn's A Peoples History of the United States is astounding but as I'm not from the US I have other more international ports of call first.

There are many more, maybe we could start a reading list and counter-cultural book circle.

Since Emma Goldman was mentioned....anything by Alexander Berkman, especially "ABC of Anarchism". He wrote clear, precise books.

Uh, no one has suggested Dreams from My Father yet?!?! The audacity!

I can't help noticing that Victor Agosto said he was already getting uneasy about the American empire before he "read some books." So it's not exactly surprising that if you've got a gung-ho militarist friend or relative who isn't experiencing such qualms already, neither Chomsky nor Zinn nor Goldmann nor Klein is likely to have much effect on him or her.

Ooh yes, ABC of Anarchism.Lent that to a friend once and never got it back, not sure if this is a good or a bad thing.

I think many of you folks are missing the mark. None of these recommendations speak the language of the regular soldier.

Red Emma is great, but you really do need context to get a lot of her references, nowadays. You need to study the era, and in the same way that Ingersoll cannot be separated from his epoch, neither can Emma (or even moreso, Berkman).

Books which challenge the military doctrine itself, from the inside, are where (I believe) you would really have to start.

Something with relevance.

So again, whether or not Goff would even agree with it anymore, his "Full Spectrum Disorder" is the prime example.

Another ex-military writer with a knack for stripping the gloss off the empire is Howard Zinn.

Agreed, Setty.

I'd send Zinn's "People's History," Butler's "War is a Racket" and Goff's "FSD."

Accessible language. Critiques which account for the attitudes of "just folks," and very little in the way of the over-arching meta-narrative common to the rather Kantian and often opaque Chomsky, or the naive enthusiasms of a Berkman.

I think many of you folks are missing the mark. None of these recommendations speak the language of the regular soldier.

And yet the concrete example we're looking at here is Agosto, who understood Chomsky perfectly well (and I'd guess we all know about Pat Tillman as well). Accessible writing is good, but it's not always necessary to speak down to someone's level in order to convince them.

Also, the question was "Assuming someone really was just one book away from an epiphany, what book do you feel would be most likely to get them there?" That wasn't just about soldiers--I wanted to hear what people felt was the best single book for changing anyone's entire world view (possibly from their own experience), assuming that the person in question is at all open to it.

I guess I don't assume that speaking to soldiers (or any non-professional) in everyday language is "speaking down."

In fact, I find Chomsky the most condescending of all locutors/writers - as if he's droning to a class hall of ingrates who just cannot get him.

Understanding your original question, my response remains the same. I was just following the specific example given.

My reading of Chomsky is that he's speaking condescendingly of the liberal elite who read (or edit) the New York Times, but his own readers are assumed by him to understand his point, because his points are obvious once you free yourself of the idiotic assumptions that are beaten into our heads.

I agree, Donald. Chomsky does quite well at talking to 'ordinary' people, and is widely respected by many of them all around the world. It is mostly educated liberals who have trouble understanding him, because to them it is just unthinkable that the US could be doing awful things. On the other hand, I suspect that many of the 'ordinary' people who follow Chomsky misunderstand what he's saying, just as many of his other fans do. I recently read New World of Indigenous Resistance, which consists of some interviews with Chomsky and responses to the interviews by indigenous activists from Latin America; most of them misread him at one point or another -- but then, most of them were also academics. But it is worth stressing as John does that Agosto, Tillman, and probably other military people have read and been affected by Chomsky -- they didn't think he was talking down to them. And I don't see where Jack Crow gets that "the over-arching meta-narrative common to the rather Kantian and often opaque Chomsky"; Chomsky's political writings aren't like that at all, and then there are the books of interviews with him which are even more accessible.

I'm still kinda bothered by the evangelistic tone I'm seeing here, though. "One book away from an epiphany"? Oh noes! What if they stumble on Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck and have that kind of epiphany? I'd certainly agree that Zinn's People's History is a good thing to recommend, and I'd add James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me. People sometimes do ask me to recommend books to them, and it generally makes me nervous. My recommendations, when I make them, are usually based on what they tell me about where they are. No one has ever told me that they were one book away from an epiphany, though, so it's difficult. I usually tell people they should look around in a bookstore or a library and pick something that looks interesting to them. Sometimes they see something I'm reading and decide to have a look at it themselves. That's the important thing anyway: to encourage them to think for themselves.

Oh, and I meant to say: lots of good recommendations, y'all, and thanks for that. I guess I should finally get around to reading that copy of The Shock Doctrine I picked up a few months back.

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