From El Salvador to the Shores of Tripoli: The Empire and Ourselves

A Solidarity Pamphlet

“I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”
– Mark Twain

By Noam Chomsky

LET ME BEGIN by asking a question.  Why are we having this
meeting about Central America today and not, say, ten years
ago?  Was it, for example, that ten years ago democracy was
flourishing in Central America and the population was so
happy, free, prosperous and well fed?  Well, obviously not.
Ten years ago they were living under brutal military
dictatorships.  We were directly responsible for what was
happening to them then, exactly as we are now.  But order
reigned and profits flowed, and therefore there was no
interest here.

Or let’s ask a second question.  Why are we meeting about
Central America and not, say, about the Caribbean?  Is it
that nothing is happening there?  Yes, things are happening
there.  Take Haiti, for example.  Haiti is now in the news.
It has been in the news for the last couple months, but
about a year ago it wasn’t, although interesting and
important things were happening.  For example, the Haitian
legislature passed a law unanimously which read as follows,
and I am quoting from it: “Every political party must
recognize in its statutes the President for Life as the
supreme arbiter of the nation.”

The new electoral law excluded the Christian Democrats, and
it stated that the state can suspend any political party
without reason.  This was ratified by 99.98 % of the vote.
There was indeed a reaction in the United States.  The
American ambassador described the new law on political
parties as “an encouraging step forward.”

The Administration then certified to Congress that
democratic development was proceeding, and that allowed them
to release $50 million in military and economic aid.  The
economic aid primarily aided Baby Doc; it went straight into
his bank accounts.  The United States at that point was
pursuing what the House Foreign Affairs Committee called the
basic principle of U.S. policy, namely, to maintain
friendly relations with Duvalier’s noncommunist government.

Haiti is a country of about six million people in which four
thousand families have 80% of the wealth, 87% of the
children suffer from malnutrition, there’s 82% illiteracy,
60% of the population have an annual per capita income of
$60.  There torture, state terror and slave labor conditions
are the common lot.  But that’s perfectly okay.  No concern

By December of last year things began to change.  There was
turbulence, demonstrations, killings.  And at that point the
United States began to show some concern about what was
happening.  Here is the way it was described in the Wall
Street Journal: “The White House concluded that the regime
was unraveling.  U.S. analysts learned that ruling inner
circles had lost faith in Duvalier.  As a result, U.S.
officials, including Secretary of State George Shultz, began
openly calling for a “democratic process in Haiti.”‘

Well, that’s an interesting comment.  The cynicism is quite
extraordinary.  Of course it wouldn’t be noticed in a highly
indoctrinated society like ours.  But the point is that
before, everything was quite satisfactory while now we
suddenly needed a democratic process.  The same cynicism was
illustrated in our behavior in the Philippines about the
same time, also evoking great self-congratulation and much
awe about our general magnificence.

Now there is an official explanation for the lack of
attention when order reigns and profits flow, One version of
that was given by Jean Kirkpatrick, the chief sadist-in-
residence of the Reagan Administration, in the article that
propelled her to fame and into the Administration in 1979. 
She had the following to say:

Because the miseries of traditional life are
familiar, they are bearable to ordinary people
who, growing up in the society, learn to cope and
therefore accept the fact that wealth, power,
status and other resources favor an affluent few
while traditional autocrats maintain the masses in
misery.  So therefore our lack of concern is quite
proper; indeed, quite decent and moral because the
lower orders feel no pain.

That, incidentally, is quite a classic view of imperial
power.  In Central America, however, by the late 1970s,
problems were brewing.  What was happening was that the pack
animals forgot that the miseries of traditional life are
quite bearable in luxury apartments in Washington, and they
tried to overcome them.  That was a threat to order and
profits in Nicaragua, in El Salvador, and Guatemala.  So
therefore there was great concern here and much sudden
rhetoric about the need for democracy; an increased U.S.
involvement; and meetings like this one which don’t take
place when U.S. interests are not threatened.  All of that
teaches us something about ourselves.

Looking Ourselves in the Face
in the Mirror of Our Dominions

If you want to learn something about the nature of the
Soviet Union, what kind of a government it is and what kind
of a society they run, one of the best things to do is look
at Eastern Europe.  That tells you what they do whey they
have a chance, when something is under their control.

Central America and the Caribbean have been in the iron grip
of the United States for a century and therefore they tell
us a lot about ourselves.  What you find if you look is one
of the world’s worst horror chambers.  There’s starvation,
slave labor, torture, massacre by U.S. clients.  Virtually
every effort to bring about some constructive change has led
to a new dose of U.S. violence.

It’s an illuminating picture if we want to learn.  As an
example of how little we want to learn, you might take a
look at last Sunday’s “New York Times Magazine” where
there’s a cover article by James Lemoyne.  He has the
following to say:

Virtually every study of the region, including the
Kissinger Commission Report, has concluded that
the revolutions of Central America primarily have
been caused by decades of poverty, bloody
repression, and frustrated efforts at bringing
about political reform.

Well, that’s true.  Virtually every study has concluded
that.  But why?  What has caused the decades of poverty and
bloody reparation?  That question is unanswered.  His article
goes on to talk about the Soviet Union and Cuba and Bulgaria
and North Korea and the PLO–all sorts of countries who are
involved in the region and causing all sorts of turmoil and

But there is one country that is mysteriously missing from
the discussion–namely, the major one, the one that has
the responsibility for the tragedy and for the turmoil, And
that is a revealing example of the cynicism and the quite
astonishing moral cowardice of the American elites.  And in
this it is very much like every official study of the region
and a great many of the unofficial ones.

A couple of months ago the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
published its annual human rights report for Latin America. 
It selected, as the worst governments in Latin America for
1985, El Salvador and Guatemala, the only two governments in
Central America “that abducted, killed, and tortured
political opponents on a systematic and widespread basis.” 
This, incidentally, is the sixth successive year that they
obtained that honor, and in that period they have succeeded
in killing, those two governments, roughly a hundred and
fifty thousand people, and causing several millions of

There was, in fact, one other contender for first place in
the Council on Hemispheric Affairs report; namely, the
Contras–what even their supporters call an American proxy
army, that is attacking Nicaragua from its Honduran, and in
part Costa Rican, bases.  There are also thousands of
civilians murdered, tortured, and mutilated by them.  They
carry out no other noteworthy military operations.  The
only reason they don’t achieve first place is that they
don’t have quite the strength to do it.

Now these atrocities are not the ordinary garden variety
kinds of murders.  In El Salvador it means, for example,
elite American-trained battalions going through a town,
destroying, and leaving behind them women hanging by their
feet with their breasts cut off and their facial skin peeled
back, bleeding to death.

It means in Nicaragua, for example, the Contras going into a
town, shooting it up, killing people, taking a fourteen-year-
old girl, raping her, slitting her throat, cutting her head
off and putting it on a pole to intimidate the rest of the
population.  To pick one example.  That one from an American
priest who has been working there for many years.  One
example from a list a mile long compiled by human rights
organizations, barely noted here and quickly forgotten.

It’s rather interesting that American reporters in Nicaragua
are remarkably incapable of discovering any of these facts,
though every investigating group that goes down quickly
comes up with a gory and grisly series of them.

In Guatemala it means, for example, troops going into a
village, collecting the population in the central town
building, taking out the men and beheading them, raping and
then killing the women, taking out the children and smashing
them to pieces against rocks in a nearby river.  These are
the kinds of things that we are talking about.  This is a
record that bears comparison to Pol Pot, both in scale and
in character.

It’s also notable that we are talking about three close U.S.
allies, in fact clients, which have been supported by the
United States throughout.  With one exception.  In the case of
Guatemala, Congress put some restrictions on the Executive
limiting its capacity to participate in genocide to the
extent that it wanted, and therefore it was necessary to
call upon other client states to help.  First were Argentine
neo-Nazis, but that was lost with the unfortunate return to
democracy in Argentina; and since, primarily Israel, which
has lent itself with great enthusiasm to the cause.

To that record we may add Nicaragua, where in 1978 and 1979,
in the last days of Somoza, about fifty thousand more people
were killed.  Contrary to many lies, the Carter
Administration supported that massacre to the very end. 
It’s very much like the Haiti and Philippines case.

When it was clear that Somoza could no longer be maintained,
the Carter Administration tried to retain control of the
country by the National Guard, which the U.S. had installed
in the first place and had trained and maintained ever
since.  And when even that didn’t work, the United States
shortly after began organizing the National Guard again,
outside Nicaragua, to attack the country, now as a proxy
army.  Well, all of this also teaches us something about
ourselves if we care to learn.

Kennedy’s Paradigm: Better a Trujillo Than a Castro

What is the reason for this very systematic behavior?  And,
indeed, it is quite systematic.  There is an official answer
to that, or kind of answer.  The answer was perhaps given in
its clearest form by John F.  Kennedy.  He said that we
would be in favor of decent democratic regimes, as he put
it, but, and then comes a rather big but: if there is a
danger of a Castro we will always support a Trujillo.

Well, what do those terms mean?  What did he mean by a
Castro?  It is important to understand that he did not mean
a Communist or a Russian ally, but rather the category of
Castro is vastly broader.  As for Trujillo, we know what he
meant by that.  Trujillo was the murderous and brutal
dictator of the Dominican Republic who was installed with
U.S. support and who tortured, murdered, and robbed for
thirty-five years with American support until we finally
turned against him because his robbery began to extend to
U.S. corporations and their local clients.

In fact the Dominican Republic serves as a kind of
illuminating case study to answer what I think is the
crucial question: what Kennedy and the other planners mean
when they say we have to avoid the danger of a Castro.  The
first Marine landing on the Dominican Republic was in the
year 1800, so there’s a long history.

I won’t run through the nineteenth century but the most
serious interventions began under Woodrow Wilson.  Woodrow
Wilson, as you all learn in school, was the great apostle of
self-determination and he celebrated this doctrine, among
other things, by invading the Dominican Republic and Haiti. 

In the Dominican Republic his warriors fought for six years
to suppress the “damn Dagoes” as Theodore Roosevelt had
described them.  This was a vicious counterinsurgency
campaign that has essentially disappeared from American
history.  The first major scholarly study of it just
appeared in 1984, by Bruce Calder, University of Texas
Press.  Calder, in keeping with the conventions of American
scholarship, regards this as a kind of an odd exception, an
inexplicable departure from our path of righteousness.  But
he does describe what happened and I’ll give you some of his

He says that Wilson intervened in the Dominican Republic in
1916 to block constitutional government and insure complete
U.S. economic and military control.  The behavior of the
Marines, he says, was brutish by Dominican standards.  They
murdered, destroyed villages, they tortured, they created
concentration camps which served as a slave labor supply for
the sugar corporations.  The end result was that the sugar
companies, overwhelmingly American, owned about a quarter of
the agricultural land while the population sank into misery
and starvation.

Now, of course, all of this was done in self-defense. 
Everything we always do is in self-defense.  But who were we
defending ourselves against?  Well it started in 1916 so we
couldn’t be defending ourselves against the Bolsheviks.  So
it turned out that we were defending ourselves against the
Huns.  There didn’t happen to be any Huns there but that
didn’t matter.

When the Marines left, they placed the country in the hands
of a National Guard trained by the United States.  Trujillo
quickly emerged and he became the dictator, one of the most
rapacious and brutal of the many dictators that we’ve
established under similar conditions throughout the region
of our control.

Well, everything was okay for thirty or thirty-five years. 
Trujillo was praised in the United States as a forward-looking leader; for example, after he massacred fifteen or
twenty thousand Haitians in one month in 1937 and carried
out other similar actions against his own population. 
However, by the late 1950s this love affair was beginning to
turn sour.  Trujillo owned at that time about 70 to 80% of
the economy, which means that the proper owners, mainly
American-based corporations, were being pushed out.  The CIA
was authorized, or instructed, to carry out an assassination
plot.  Whether they did it or not, somebody did.  He was

At that point there was a democratic election, in 1962. 
Juan Bosch was elected.  Juan Bosch was a Kennedy liberal. 

His policies were essentially those professed by John F.
Kennedy.  Kennedy immediately committed himself to undermine
and destroy him.  U.S. aid was stopped.  The United States
blocked the removal of Trujilloist officers.  The U.S.
military maintained their close contact with them.  It was
quite obvious that there would be a military coup given this
U.S, insistence on maintaining the Trujilloist military

Bosch fought corruption, he defended civil liberties, he
stopped police repression.  He began programs to educate
peasants and workers for true democratic participation.  He
actually succeeded under awful conditions in initiating an
economic revival.  It was plain that we had to “let him go,”
as Ambassador Martin said, and so we did.  There was a
military coup, quickly recognized by the United States. 

Well, at that point an economic decline set in, corruption
increased, the repression increased–and all of this was
fine.  No objections.

That incident helps us get some understanding of the meaning
of the term “Castro.”  Juan Bosch was one of those Castros
who we have to oppose in favor of a Trujillo.  Juan Bosch
was not a Communist, he was a liberal democrat.  He tried to
institute a capitalist democracy, and that was intolerable
to Big Brother.

Well, that’s not the end of the story.  In 1965 there was a
constitutionalist military coup, attempting to return the
Dominican Republic to constitutionalist rule to reinstate
the legally elected president, Juan Bosch.  Twenty-three
thousand Marines were sent, who fought against the
Constitutionalist forces.  And then they stood by while the
Dominican military, whom they had rescued, carried out a
substantial slaughter of civilians.  They stood by because
the official line was that it would violate U.S. neutrality
for them to intervene at that point.  So, the threat of
democracy was averted and the traditional order was

The result this time was more serious.  It was death squads,
torture, mass starvation, the flight of about 20% of the
population to the United States, and outstanding
opportunities for U.S. investors who bought up pretty much
the rest of the country–Gulf and Western being one, among

A Pattern for the Region

In El Salvador in 1932 there was a huge massacre they called
“the Mantanza.”  The first Mantanza; the second one being the
one that’s going on now.  Some ten to thirty thousand
peasants were murdered in a few weeks.  The United States
Navy was standing off-shore at the time but, as the Chief of
Naval Operations testified before Congress, it was not
necessary to intervene because he said the situation was
well in hand.  So we just watched.

Turning to Nicaragua, the first major U.S. military
intervention in Nicaragua was in 1854.  That’s a hundred and
thirty years ago, a little over that.  At that time the U.S.
Navy burned down a town to avenge an alleged insult to an
American millionaire, Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Through a good
part of the first half of this century the country was under
Marine rule.  That left the National Guard under Somoza, and
we maintained it until the very end.

In Guatemala there had been one interval in the traditional
history of brutal military dictatorships, 1944-1954, when
there was a democratic, capitalist regime.  It was initiated
by Arevalo who was modeling himself on Roosevelt’s New Deal
and immediately aroused bitter American enmity.  In 1954
that experiment was overthrown by a CIA coup.  That
initiated thirty years of military dictatorship in a state
which probably resembles Nazi Germany more closely than any
other in the contemporary world over this period.

In 1963 it looked as if there might be a danger of a
democratic election.  When they thought that Arevalo was
going to be allowed back into the country and that might
have meant a democratic election, Kennedy supported a
military coup to forestall that.  This act initiated a
really huge massacre, maybe ten thousand people or so were
killed in the late 1960s.

At that point there was direct U.S. support.  U.S. Green
Berets were involved.  According to the Vice President of
Guatemala, U.S. planes, based in Panama, were carrying out
napalm raids.  Things were then quiet for a little while but
in the late ’70s it got serious again and since that time,
maybe since about 1978, current estimates are that about a
hundred thousand people were killed, with U.S. support

I should say that among the other lies that you read
constantly one is that under the Carter Administration
military aid to these Guatemalan Himmlers was terminated. 

That’s false.  In fact, U.S. military aid continued just
barely below its normal level right through this time.

Under Reagan, support for what at that point even the
conservative Guatemalan bishops were calling genocide,
became absolutely euphoric.  The worst of these monsters,
Rios Montt, who was in charge, for example, during the
incident that I mentioned before.  Reagan described him as a
man totally committed to democracy who is getting a bum rap
by human rights groups.

The Death Squads: Legacy of Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress

Now this apparatus of repression and murder and death squads
and torture, that was an essential component of John F.
Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress.  And that’s worth
understanding.  In 1962 the Kennedy Administration made a
decision which in terms of its consequences is one of the
most important in recent history, barely known here.  They
effectively switched the mission of the Latin American
military from hemispheric defense to internal security. 

Internal security means war against their own population. 
And that’s what happened as in country after country
national security states were established modeled on the
Nazis, often using Nazi war criminals who we had spirited
out of Germany and settled in Latin America.  People like
Klaus Barbie.  It ended up being what a commission headed by
Sol Linowitz called “a plague of repression without parallel
in the history of the continent.”  In El Salvador the Kennedy
Administration established the basic structure of the death
squads, the intelligence apparatus which was then put to

The Alliance for Progress, which is much lauded here as
another exhibition of our benevolence, was a totally cynical
operation.  The Alliance for Progress was initiated in order
to stop “the virus of Castro from spreading contagion
throughout the region”–that’s very common, typical
terminology.  It did favor a certain kind of economic
development, geared to export crops for the benefit of U.S.-based
agribusiness and fertilizer and pesticide companies.

During that period there was statistical growth.  So, for
example, in all of the Central American countries under the
Alliance for Progress and as a result of its programs, beef
production increased.  But, at the same time, in every
single one of these countries, beef consumption decreased. 

The reason was that croplands that had been used for
subsistence crops for the population was being eliminated in
favor of grazing lands for wealthy ranchers tied to American
agribusiness who were producing beef for export.  In fact,
throughout this period while there was statistical growth,
there was also increased misery and increased starvation.

Now that kind of economic development carries a corollary. 
That kind of economic development does inevitably arouse
dissidents and that requires an apparatus of repression to
still it.  In this precise and clear respect the death
squads, for which the basic structures were established by
the Kennedy Administration, are part and parcel of the
Alliance for Progress and an essential component of it.  In
fact, the death squads are the only lasting element of that
system apart from the enrichment of U.S. agribusiness and
related corporations.

Popular Organizations and State Terror in El Salvador

Let us examine that legacy in the recent history of El
Salvador.  In the 1970s some things were happening.  There
were elections in 1972 and 1977.  The 1972 election was won
by Duarte and Ungo.  It was stolen by the military.  Duarte
was captured and tortured.  He was finally released and came
to the United States.  Nobody even wanted to talk to him. 

In fact, in Congress there were exactly two people,
apparently, Edward Kennedy and Tom Harkin, who were willing
even to talk to him.

That reveals with utter clarity the absolute loathing of
American elites for democracy as long as order is being
maintained, as long as profits are flowing.  It also reveals
with absolute clarity the utter cynicism of the contemporary
pretense of concern for democracy.  It’s a very thin cover
for state terrorism.

The same thing happened in 1977, again arousing very little
interest or concern here: repression, torture, starvation,
the normal aspects of the American semi-colonies continued,
so everything was essentially fine.

There were, however, two problems.  The first problem was
what was going on in Nicaragua.  In 1979 Somoza was
overthrown and that was serious because Nicaragua had been
the major base for the projection of American power in the
region.  It was a base for the successful overthrow of
Guatemalan democracy in 1954, for the Bay of Pigs attack on
Cuba in 1961, for the Dominican Republic invasion in 1965,
and also even for the overturning of the election in El
Salvador in 1972, when Nicaraguan troops intervened.

This base was now lost.  There was a second, even more
immediate, concern in El Salvador itself.  And that was that
in the 1970s, what they called popular organizations were
beginning to develop.  Many of them were church-based,
beginning with Bible study groups, turning to self-help
groups, peasant associations, teachers unions, and so on.

That really was a danger sign, because it meant that there
really was a threat of meaningful democracy.  That is, not
what we call democracy, which is a system that allows a
population every once in a while to choose between selected
business and landowner groups who share control of the state
between them, while the military makes sure that nobody is
causing any trouble.  That’s what we call democracy.

But the Salvadoran popular movement could have been an
effective and meaningful democracy which would have given
people the actual opportunity to participate in a democratic
process.  Something which we don’t have here, incidentally,
and which we certainly are not going to tolerate in a colony
like El Salvador.  Something had tube done about that, and,
in fact, it was.

In February 1980 Archbishop Romero sent a letter to Carter. 
“The aid,” he wrote to Carter, “will surely increase
injustice here and sharpen the repression that has been
unleashed against the people’s organizations fighting to
defend their most fundamental human rights.”

Romero had seized upon what was, in fact, the essence of
U.S. policy, namely, to destroy the popular organizations,
so Carter naturally sent the aid with a message to Congress,
saying that the aid was “to help the army’s key role in
reforms.”  That’s one that would have made Orwell gasp.

At that point the obvious consequences followed.  A few
weeks later the Archbishop was assassinated.  In May the war
against the peasants was unleashed in full violence.  This
was done under the guise of land reform, incidentally.  A
state of siege was established which remains until today. 

We hear a lot of complaints here about the Nicaraguan state
of siege, initiated just last October!

The peasants were the main victims of the Carter-Duarte war
in 1980–10,000 or so.  In June the University was destroyed;
the army moved in, killed a lot of people, burned the
library, destroyed equipment, and so on.  In November the
political opposition was simply massacred by the security

Meanwhile the media were destroyed.  We don’t believe in
censorship in the United States, as you know, and we have
become quite irate when a country under attack by the United
States censors a newspaper that is openly subsidized by the
country that is attacking it and has expressed support for
the attack launched against their country.  Of course we
would never do anything of that kind if we were under attack
from some unimaginable superpower, from Mars or somewhere. 
If a newspaper here was supporting the attacker and the
editor was expressing support for the attack we certainly
wouldn’t have any censorship under those circumstances.

In fact that is true.  Because anyone even remotely
connected to the newspaper would either have been killed or
put in concentration camps–as you may recall was done here
under much less onerous circumstances, here in California,
when it was found useful to steal land from domestic
Japanese.  And that was at a time when the United States
itself was not under attack.  American colonies had been
attacked, not the United States itself.

Anyway, we are very irate about censorship.  We don’t
believe in censorship.  What we believe in is what is lauded
in El Salvador, where there has been no censorship.  It is
perfectly true that there has been no censorship.  The
reason is there is no media.  The editor of one journal was
found decapitated, after torture, in a ditch.  The editor of
another journal fled after assassination attempts.  The
church radio stations were blown up.  So now you don’t have
any censorship.  Everything’s fine.

Two Elections: El Salvador and Nicaragua

After a sufficient dose of terror, what we like to call free
elections were carried out in El Salvador.  In the words of
a British parliamentary human rights delegation which
observed them, the elections were carried out “in an
atmosphere of terror and despair, macabre rumor and grisly
reality.”  Well, the American press hailed this triumph of
democracy exactly as Pravda does under comparable

That same parliamentary British human rights group observed
the recent Nicaraguan elections, which it found “fair and
honest.”  This was the same report given by numerous
observers in Nicaragua, one of which was an Irish
parliamentary delegation including representatives from two
conservative parties.  Their report was full of praise for
the elections.  The American professional Latin American
Studies Association described the elections as “among the
best held in Latin America.”  But none of this was reported
in the American press.  The elections didn’t take place. 

There were no elections in Nicaragua.

So you constantly read that one of the crimes of the
Sandinistas is that they didn’t allow elections.  And
therefore unless they allow elections we have to do this
mad, horrible thing to them.  Meanwhile, in El Salvador,
where the elections were carried out in an atmosphere of
“terror and despair, macabre rumor and grisly reality,”
that’s fine.  In fact, it’s a great triumph.

The person who translated the plea of Archbishop Romero into
English was a leading Central American Jesuit priest.  He
was originally Guatemalan, but he fled from the American-backed
death squads in Guatemala to El Salvador, where he
then was forced to flee from the American-backed death
squads in El Salvador to Nicaragua.

I was honored to be his guest a couple of weeks ago.  He’s
part of the quite wonderful exile community that is in
Nicaragua.  People such as Christian Democrats who have
escaped the death squads in El Salvador.  The Guatemalan
Human Rights Group, which of course can’t function in
Guatemala.  And many others who fled from the various U.S.
torture chambers to the one place in Central America where a
decent person can live with some dignity and hope.  Although
“we” are going to take care of that!

Why Reagan Hates Nicaragua: “The Threat of a Good Example”

In January 1981 Reagan was sworn in as President.  The
massacres in El Salvador escalated, in sadism and scale. 
Direct U.S. participation increased.  The U.S. Air Force,
flying from Honduran bases, coordinates air strikes against
Salvadoran villages.  Night attacks, much more accurate
attacks given the U.S. participation, have increased the
kill rate among defenseless villagers and fleeing peasants. 
These horrors continue.

The reaction to them here is interesting.  They have led to
a mounting applause in the United States as the terror has
seemed to be achieving some results.  And in fact it is a
success.  It has very largely succeeded in destroying the
popular organizations, as it was intended to do.  The threat
of democracy has been overcome.  Correspondingly there has
been great awe and high regard for our achievement there. 
It is one of the most sordid episodes in American history.

American rhetoric throughout this period is very noble and
elevated.  But the reality that it obscures is something
rather different.  The official enemy is what president
Kennedy called the “monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that
is attempting to thwart our benevolence.”  The “monolithic
and ruthless conspiracy” was renamed “the Evil Empire” by
the Kennedy clone Ronald Reagan.  The real enemy has always
been the indigenous population.  And the principle under
which we have defended ourselves from indigenous populations
throughout the world has been our freedom to rob and

If we cannot destroy such elements by force, as we typically
try to do, then the next best thing is to drive them into
the hands of the Russians so we can then provide a
retrospective justification for the violence and terror that
we launch against them for quite different reasons.

This very familiar story is being re-lived in Nicaragua
today.  The United States is not concerned by the useless
tanks in the streets of Managua, nor is it concerned by the
censorship of a journal that is supported by the aggressor
and supports the aggression.  What it is concerned about is
the early success, and quite substantial success, of social
reforms–thankfully aborted, thanks to the Contra war.

This is well understood by independent agencies that work in
Nicaragua.  Oxfam America reports that among the four
countries in which it has worked in Central America for the
last twenty years or so, “only in Nicaragua has substantial
effort been made to address inequities in land ownership and
to extend health, educational, and agricultural services to
poor peasant families.”

But the Contra war has slowed the pace of social reform and
it has compounded the hunger in the northern countryside
exactly as intended, and it has compelled Oxfam to convert
its development aid to a war relief, which is a great
success for American policy.

The title of one Oxfam report on Nicaragua, incidentally, is
“The Threat of a Good Example.”  That explains the reason for
the American attack against Nicaragua.  The reasons that are
offered by Washington are too ridiculous to merit rebuttal
among sane people.

Julia Preston in the “Boston Globe”, a month or so ago, says
that “few U.S. officials now believe the Contras can drive
out the Sandinistas soon.  Administration officials say they
are content to see the Contras debilitate the Sandinistas by
forcing them to divert scarce resources towards the war and
away from social programs.”

The cruelty and savagery of that policy is impossible to
discuss, as I can’t find words to describe the cynicism of
the fact that it is reported without arousing any concern
here.  The point is, the United States will not tolerate any
constructive development in its own domain, any developments
that will harm the interests of the elites who run this
place, and hence we are going to destroy them if they happen
anywhere else.  Throughout, the real concern is the threat
of a good example.

Now, there is no reason at all for us to allow this horror
story to continue.  In a country as free as this one, there
is a great deal that can be done to reverse this course.  It
basically requires two things.

The first thing is that it requires a certain amount of
honesty.  Enough honesty to learn who we are and what we do
in the world and what we’ve been doing for a long, long
time.  Secondly, it requires a certain degree of courage and
commitment, namely to devote ourselves to changing a world
of terror and suffering that we have helped to create and
now maintain.  (Applause)

From the Question Period: Nicaragua and the Russians

Q: Professor Chomsky, with due respect to your erudition,
your lecture to me came across as somewhat one-sided.  We
cannot fail to recall that the United States was the largest
donor to independent Zimbabwe whose leader is an avowed
Marxist.  We also should not overlook the fact that the
United States has given substantial aid to Tanzania whose
leader has also been an avowed socialist and practices
socialist policies.  Also, the other major point which I
think needed some emphasis is that Russia and its allies,
which play a substantial military role in places like Cuba
and Central America, are the antithesis of democracy insofar
as the political process goes.  We need not deny the
economic improvements that have taken place in the
respective countries.  But I do think that these countries
are not lovers of democracy and that there is some basis for
the current Administration’s policies being predicated on
concern for Russian and Communist intervention as well.

Chomsky: Okay, just to save time let me keep to Central
America and put aside the African case.  If we were to look
at the African case we would discover that the aid is being
given in the same manner and for the same purposes.  That
is, to prevent meaningful social reform and to insure that
the countries will be penetrable by U.S.-based institutions.

There is no question at all that the Soviet Union is the
antithesis of democracy, plainly.  But does that mean that
the United States has a right for a concern over Russian
military aid to Nicaragua?  That’s the crucial thing.  That
mistakes totally what is going on.

The United States is pleading, is working with almost
fanatical determination, to try to get Nicaragua to rely
solely on Russian aid.  That’s the purpose of the America

We are sending a military force to attack a country and at
the same time are cutting off every source of aid to them. 
So, for example, France was sending military aid to
Nicaragua but we put pressure on France to stop–we want
the Soviet Union to support them.  Not only have we cut off
every kind of military aid, but we have also cut off every
other kind of aid.

Let’s take an actual look at the figures.  In May 1985 when
the U.S. imposed the embargo on Nicaragua, total Nicaraguan
trade with the Soviet Bloc countries was about 20%.  That’s
roughly the same as U.S. trade with the Soviet Bloc
countries, a little less in fact.  And much less than
European and general Third World trade.  Now the figure is
much higher.  A big surprise.  We cut off our trade and
we’ve put pressure on client states to cut off trade,
including most of Europe.  And we’ve cut off support from
the international lending institutions.

So big surprise, the country that we are attacking turns to
the one country that is willing to give them aid, the Soviet
Union.  And then we have the hypocrisy to accuse them of
taking Soviet aid and of claiming that this is a reason for
concern on our part.

There’s only one thing more to say about that.  And that is,
why are we doing this?  Why did we do it in the case of
Cuba?  Why did we do it in the case of Vietnam?  Why do we
always do it?  The answer is quite obvious.  Because that
allows people to ask questions like the one you’ve asked.

That allows the newcasters on TV to get up and make
breathless comments about the Soviet Bloc arms used by these
Communists after we’ve sent an army to attack them and cut
off every other supply of arms.  In fact, as I said, it
gives retrospective justification for the attack that we are
carrying out against them for entirely different reasons. 
Namely, because they are the threat of a good example.

Having said this, let me take a look at your question from
another point of view.  Suppose that, contrary to fact,
Nicaragua had wanted to have primarily Soviet aid, which it
did not.  We want them to be a Soviet client so we can have
a justification to destroy them.  But suppose they had
wanted Soviet aid.  Then they would be very much like
Denmark.  Denmark gets its military support from us.  Now
suppose that the Soviet Union took a position like yours:
What right does Denmark have to get aid from the United
States?  We’ve got to send an army to attack Denmark and
destroy it and torture people and murder them because, look,
they’re getting aid from the United States, our great enemy. 

How would we react to that?

We take it for granted that these countries are our domains.
They are not allowed to do anything that we don’t tell them
to do.  And if they decide to be pluralistic, no, we kill
them.  And if they would decide to be as dependent on the
Soviet Union as Denmark is on us, well, then, obviously we
kill them.  And that’s taken for granted.  That again is a
sign of the lawlessness and thuggery of mainstream American

You know, if the Soviet Union said, Look, we’ve got to
contain Denmark by sending an army to attack it–how would we
react?  Well, that’s the way we ought to react to ourselves.

“Retaliation” in North Africa

Q: Could you please comment on the recent Israeli and U.S.
acts of aggression in North Africa against specifically
Tunisia and Libya and how this will affect the struggle for
Palestinian justice?

Chomsky: Well these are important cases.  Let’s take Tunisia
first.  Israel, with U.S. complicity, obviously, sent
bombers to attack Tunis where they killed fifty-five
Palestinians and twenty Tunisians.  Nobody who was attacked
had anything to do with the action to which this was
allegedly a retaliation.  Tunis was attacked because it was
defenseless.  That’s typical, incidentally.  You attack
people who are defenseless.  You want to make sure you don’t
attack ones who can fight back.

The attack that it was supposedly in retaliation for was in
Larnaca, Cyprus, where three Israelis had been murdered. 
The murderers had been caught and were facing trial. 
Israeli intelligence and American intelligence conceded that
nobody in Tunis had anything to do with it.  They said it
was organized in Syria.  But, of course, if you attack Syria
you’re in trouble.  They have a missile defense system and
the Russians might do something and so on.  Tunis is
defenseless so it is easy to attack.

The United States government officially applauded them for
carrying out this attack and said it was a legitimate
response to terrorism.  Then, after the world reaction to
that, the United States backed off a little.  It abstained
on the Security Council resolution denouncing what the
Security Council unanimously, except for the United States,
called an act of aggression.  And then the U.S. government
was criticized here for being anti-Semitic for abstaining on
that resolution.  That again tells you something about
American culture.

I mentioned that the U.S. government was obviously involved
in this raid.  That’s certain.  The Israeli planes came
right across the Mediterranean.  They were refueled in
flight.  The U.S. government’s official position is that
they were unable to detect them.

This is the most sophisticated surveillance system in the
world and they were unable to detect planes that were even
being refueled on the way.  If that’s really true, anybody
who believes that tale ought to be calling for a
congressional investigation of the total incompetence of the
American military, which plainly leaves the country
completely open to attack by anybody.  You may believe that
story, but no sane person will.  In fact, part of our
complicity in the attack was that we didn’t even inform the
Tunisians that the killers were on their way.

This morning’s “L.A.  Times”, just to take another example,
has a story about international terrorism, the great scourge
of the modern age.  They quote as authorities
representatives of several of the leading terrorist states,
the United States and Israel in particular.  And they talk
about all the horrible terrorist acts that have taken place. 
They don’t mention this one.  The Tunis attack does not
count.  That is because that was, in our terms, a legitimate
response to terrorism and therefore it’s okay.

What was it a response to?  Let’s admit what is absurd,
that the attack on Tunis was a retaliation for the Larnaca
killings, which were certainly terrorism.  But why were the
Larnaca killings carried out?  Was it just crazy Arabs?  No,
they claimed it was retaliation.  And in fact in that case
the claim is a little more plausible than the Israeli one.

They claimed it was retaliation for the hijacking of ships. 
Now Israel freely hijacks ships in the Mediterranean that
are in transit between Cyprus and Lebanon.  And it captures
people on them.  It’s been doing this certainly since 1976. 
It quite freely and openly takes the ships into Israeli
ports and does anything it wants to the people.  Captures
them and puts them in jail.  Back in 1976 it was sending
them to its Christian allies in Lebanon, who killed them.

Now the hijacking of ships is considered a crime when it’s
done by the wrong people.  You know we get all upset about
it.  But this hijacking is considered quite okay because
it’s done by an American client state, which inherits the
right of terrorism from us, and therefore the acts that they
carry out are not terrorism.

I don’t say we can condone the murders in Larnaca.  But they
had a reason that they gave.  They claimed that these yachts
in Cyprus were being used for surveillance that was sending
information for the ship hijackers.  Well I don’t know if
that is true or not.  But that was an act of retaliation. 
However, that’s not the way we look at it.  It’s our side
that retaliates and their side who are terrorists.

If you’ve read “The City of God” by St.  Augustine, you may
recall that he describes a case where Alexander of Macedon
captured a pirate.  And he asks him, How dare you disturb
the seas with your crimes?  And the pirate responds, How
dare you disturb the world with your crimes?  The pirate
says, I have a small boat so I’m a thief, you have a navy so
you are an emperor and not a thief.  St.  Augustine says
that was “an elegant and accurate response.”  And it is.  If
you have a navy and you disturb the world you’re not a
terrorist.  But if you’re small and you have a little boat,
you’re a terrorist.  That’s essentially the criterion.

We could go back, you know, stage after stage after stage,
and we’ll find plenty of terrorism.  Most of it being
carried Out on Our side in the Middle East with direct
American responsibility.  That’s, incidentally, by an
overwhelming margin in numbers killed, in preemptive
strikes, and so on.  Just overwhelmingly.

Let’s talk about Libya.  That’s again the same story.  Why
did we attack Libya?  [Chomsky is referring here to the
first attack on Libyan ships.  The U.S. bombed Libya a few
days later–ed.]

Well, Libya plays a very special role in American policy. 
We regularly attack Libya because it is easy.  The Reagan
Administration has to maintain war fever.  Has to maintain
confrontation.  And the reasons for that have to do with its
domestic policies.  The major domestic policies of the
Reagan Administration were to effect a substantial transfer
of resources from the poor to the rich.  To provide a huge
state Subsidy to the system of advanced technology.

The ratio of state spending to GNP has risen faster under
the Reagan Administration than since World War II.  The way
you force the public to invest in high-technology industry,
the way you arrange the system of public subsidy for private
profit, is through the military system.  Every time it’s
felt necessary to force the public to invest in high
technology, what you do is say, the Russians are coming and
we’ve got to have a big military system and lots of
missiles.  And accidentally you are able to build the next
generation of computers with public funds.

The beneficiaries are not military industry primarily, it’s
just high-technology industry.  Associated with that is
increased intervention throughout the world.  So you’ve got
to get the public scared and that means you have to have
confrontations and war fevers.

Theoretically the enemy is supposed to be the Soviet Union. 
But it’s tricky to get involved with them.  They can fight
back.  So it’s best not to have confrontations with them. 
That might blow up the world.  It’s best to find somebody
you can attack who can’t fight back.  Well, Libya is made to
order.  I mean, you know, to talk about a confrontation
between Libya and the United States is–I won’t even talk
about it.  It’s only in a country as brainwashed as this
that one could even talk about the topic.

Furthermore, Khadafi is very easy to hate.  He is a
terrorist.  In fact, Libya has killed dozens, according to
Amnesty International.  The last Amnesty International
figure was, I forget the exact number, maybe 20 or some
number of Libyan dissidents throughout the world, and that
sure is terrorism.  If you look you’ll notice that Amnesty
International was able to list them and give their names.

In the case of our client states, like, say, El Salvador and
Guatemala, they can’t list them.  There isn’t enough paper
to list them.  Besides they don’t know their names because
they run to a hundred and fifty thousand or something.  But
undoubtedly Libya is a terrorist state.  Even if it’s a kind
of retail terrorism by our standards.  (Laughter and

Anyhow, it is involved in terrorism and Khadafi is easy to
hate.  So therefore it is very easy to set up confrontations
with Khadafi, and also cheap.  We’ve done it repeatedly. 
We’ve done it about four or five times in the last four
years.  Every time that it is necessary to strike manly,
heroic poses we invent something like a Libyan invasion of
the Sudan across six hundred miles of desert and we’re going
to stop them by a manly show of resolve.  George Shultz can
get up and strike heroic poses on television.

Some of the cases are so ludicrous you can barely believe
them.  There was the story in 1981 that Libyan hit men were
roaming the streets of Washington to assassinate our leader. 

They put tanks around the White House.  It requires an
extraordinarily brainwashed country not to have collapsed in
ridicule over that story.

The ultimate end of that story was that the U.S. transmitted
throughout the world a list of the hit men.  They didn’t
want to identify them here, but there was a secret list
circulated.  And in England it surfaced.  It leaked to the
press and it was published.  And it turned out that the list
of Libyan hit men was Lebanese Shiites, including the leader
of the Lebanese religious community, who I think is about
eighty.  To compound the idiocy, these people are
fanatically anti-Libyan because Libya probably killed their
major religious figure.  Anyway, the American press was
loyal enough not to report any of that.

Now take a look at that incident.  It tells you something
else about the lawlessness and thuggery of the current
Administration; in fact, of all of elite opinion.  If you
look at the confrontation with Libya you’ll notice that what
everybody discusses is the U.S. right to send ships, as
granted by the law of the sea.

There are two points to notice about that.  One thing is
that Libya didn’t attack our ships.  So therefore any
question that may be raised about the law of the sea is
totally irrelevant.  Libya attacked our planes.  So what’s
involved is the right of hostile aircraft to intrude.

Now the United States has a position on that.  There is no
law about that.  States take unilateral positions.  And the
United States has a position.  We have what we call an 11
air identification zone” under which we claim the right to
shoot down hostile aircraft within a two-hundred mile range
of our shores.  Now it’s kind of hard for us to claim that
other countries don’t have the same right if we claim that

Our planes had intruded with obviously hostile intent well
within a two-hundred mile limit.  So by our standards Libya
had a right to shoot them down.  We then committed an
illegal act by retaliating against Libyan ships.  Now all of
this is suppressed in the discussion and people talk
learnedly about the law of the sea and twelve mile limits,
which is totally irrelevant to what happened.  This was
simply an act of international lawlessness on the part of
the United States.  That’s point number one.  By our own

Point number two, suppose that some confrontation had taken
place on the sea, which it didn’t until we attacked Libyan
ships.  Well, suppose you and your neighbor have an argument
over whether some plot in your backyard belongs to him or
belongs to you.  There are two ways of dealing with that. 
One way is to take a gun and shoot him.  The other way is to
go to the courts.  Now that is the difference between the
Mafia and law-abiding citizens.  And exactly the same is
true in this situation.

If there is a dispute over the Gulf of Sidra there is a way
to deal with it.  There’s the World Court, for example. 

That’s the way to deal with it.  Now there is plainly no
urgency.  You know, nothing turns on whether ships can sail
there tomorrow or two years from now.

But for a lawless, violent state you don’t use legal means. 
What you do is shoot your way through.  That’s exactly what
we did.  We did it because we needed a confrontation and we
want to elicit terrorism so that we can then scream about
terrorism.  And it was very well-timed, long planned, and
it’s not the first time.  It’s the fourth or fifth time. 

That’s what the Libya thing is about, and there’ll be more
like Libya.

This text is based on a speech by Noam Chomsky to more than
1,000 students and faculty at the University of California
at Los Angeles, April 9, 1986.  The topic of the lecture was
Central America.  Though the talk was given a few days
before the American bombing raid on Tripoli, Chomsky in the
question period examined the issue of “international
terrorism” and the growing U.S. confrontation with Libya. 
Noam Chomsky is professor of linguistics and philosophy at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He has also been
a long-time activist in the movement against U.S. military
intervention abroad.