Schlesinger, Chomsky, Abdel
To the Editor:
Dr. Chomsky is almost one’s favorite sputterer; but does he not sputter on a little long these days? Yet, in his thousands of words of explanation [“Letters from Readers,” February], he does not get round to answering the two simple questions I put to him in the December 1969 COMMENTARY. Like the squid, he covers his retreat in a cloud of black ink.
My first question had to do with his King Charles’s head, the Truman speech of March 6, 1947. In American Power and the New Mandarins, pages 318—19, Dr. Chomsky cites that speech to prove that the United States for twenty years had planned to use “its awesome resources of violence and devastation to impose its passionately held ideology and its approved form of social organization on large areas of the world.” This seems an extraordinary distortion of a speech in which, so far as I can see, President Truman was pleading with American business to renounce its traditional protectionism and permit American membership in the UN’s International Trade Organization.
One now notes that Dr. Chomsky’s most recent explanation silently abandons the claim made in his book: we hear no more about Truman’s speech as proving an American intention to impose free enterprise by fire and sword. Under his cloud of ink, Dr. Chomsky is sneaking out of his hopelessly untenable position in an effort to find a better hole. But his new hole is hardly more defensible. Rather than go on any more about this banal and unimportant speech, I would simply beg any interested bystander to read the text (it is in President Truman’s Public Papers for 1947, pp. 167—72) and decide for himself the question of veracity between Dr. Chomsky and me. I cannot resist, however, pointing out that poor old Chomsky, in his current sputter, misquotes Truman yet again (in his paragraph E). Can he not get anything right?
My second question to Dr. Chomsky was to ask why he finds the International Trade Organization and the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act such monstrous ideas and what, if he considers economic multilateralism so horrible, he would put in their place. He evades the first part of the question and answers the second by referring me to page 347 of his book. I turned eagerly to the sacred text in the hope of finding out how the prophet assesses the relative merits of multilateralism vs. bilateralism vs. autarky. So far as I can see, after prayerful reading, he does not mention the subject at all. Again I beg your readers to check for themselves. Will Professor Chomsky some time tell us straight out whether he is for or against the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act and for or against American membership in the International Trade Organization?
In another of his sputters, Dr. Chomsky asserts that I wrote that one of his statements “‘makes evident’ his belief that ‘in his conduct of foreign policy, Franklin Roosevelt was striving to serve the very moneyed interests who were fighting him so savagely at home.’” Can he get nothing right? What I wrote was that his view of American foreign policy “requires him to believe (as his footnote on the Far Eastern Policy of the 30′s makes evident) that, in his conduct of foreign policy, Franklin Roosevelt” and so on. This is what I mean by the prophet’s unbeatable instinct for distortion. Indeed, he himself almost acknowledges that his general view of American foreign policy requires him, as a matter of logic, to hold this belief about FDR; thus he writes that this thesis, “when properly reformulated,” might well be true.
There is no point in trying to deal with all Dr. Chomsky’s misrepresentations; it would make my letter as long and as boring as his. His comment, with regard to the exposure of his fake Truman quotations, about Schlesinger’s “elaborate pretense that he couldn’t find the quotes, that I had invented them,” is an easily demonstrable lie. In my review of Chomsky’s book (Book World, March 23, 1969), I traced the quotes to Fleming and Warburg, pointing out that “the first quotation does not appear on the page cited in Fleming and may well have been invented by Chomsky”—a point he has more or less conceded. Dr. Chomsky’s assertion that, in my views of Vietnam, I am to the “hawkish side of the Pentagon,” not to mention his point that I simultaneously remind him of a “Stalinist hack,” are amply illustrative of his qualities of observation and taste.
No doubt Dr. Chomsky, as the self-designated conscience of American academia, feels that any form of disagreement with him is a species of lèse majesté. But he really must understand that self-righteous sputter is no substitute for reasoned discussion, and that mindless invective is the usual resort of those who can’t think of sensible things to say.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
New York City
To the Editor:
A friend has called my attention to the role my book, The Axis Alliance and Japanese-American Relations, 1941, played in the Chomsky-Abel controversy [“Vietnam, the Cold War & Other Matters,” October 1969]. I cannot adequately express my profound indifference to this controversy—my feeling is “a plague on both your jihads”—and to the opinions of these gentlemen on my book. . . .
I am nevertheless intrigued by Mr. Abel’s reasons for finding my book superficial, slanted, and far from standard; they make me wonder whether he read it at all. He writes: “The author’s view is that the United States should have appeased the Japanese and have opposed them on China. He scarcely tries to foresee what would have happened in Europe if Japan and the other Axis powers had not declared war against the United States. And if Americans could regard China as expendable, why should they not have regarded the Soviet Union as expendable?” If this is an example of the objectivity and dispassion Mr. Abel calls for in discussion, I am not impressed. My view, clearly understood by all reviewers, was that some important leaders in the Japanese government were trying to appease us, and that we might have given them more encouragement in the attempt; that there were other ways of supporting China besides going to war with Japan; and that it would not help China to accept war over the China issue if, as was the case, we did not intend to fight the war in a way that could give China any immediate help. I described at considerable length how the United States moved into undeclared naval war with Germany in the Atlantic in late 1941, while Japan ignored her alliance obligations and Germany’s pleas to stop us; what could have happened, therefore (insofar as it is safe to “foresee” events in history), was that we could have gone to war with Germany without being attacked by Japan for it. I never said that China was expendable; I did say, and still would, that the Soviet Union was vital to the strategic interests of the United States against the main enemy, Germany, as China was not.
More important, Mr. Abel chides me for letting my preconceptions blind me to the importance of something he calls World Fascism at work in the Axis alliance. I did fail to find this. So did F. C. Jones, Japan’s New Order in East Asia; Frank W. Iklé German-Japanese Relations, 1936—1940; Ernst L. Presseisen, Germany and Japan, 1933—1941; and Joanna Meskill, Hitler and Japan: The Hollow Alliance. They all find very little ideological feeling of kinship between Germany and Japan, and emphasize the selfishness and opportunism with which both powers, especially Japan, treated each other, even during the war. Mr. Abel, apparently possessed of esoteric knowledge about profound forces at work in the world not revealed to the lowly historian dependent on documents, will presumably find these works also substandard, though, like mine, “reputable enough in a scholarly sense.” May I ask what reputability he desires other than scholarly—moral? ideological?
Paul W. Schroeder
University of Illinois
To the Editor:
I cannot help but comment on one aspect of the Chomsky-Abel exchange. . . .
I was raised on such “radical” periodicals as PM. If my memory serves me correctly, it was the Left during the 1940′s which constantly equated Japan with Nazi Germany and which did not oppose, nay even urged that we bomb Japan into submission. Indeed, checking back on PM for the period of the mass firebomb raids in 1944—1945, I find that the only concern of that selective humanitarian, I. F. Stone, was that we might reach some compromise settlement with Japan which would allow them to retain the emperor. By and large, the only people who urged that we not take a Manichean view of the situation were conservatives—with a few honorable exceptions such as Norman Thomas.
In short it was the left-wing intellectual establishment, centered in New York, which helped create the image of the Japanese as non-human monsters. If the average American, including politicians, bought this image during a time of total war, their responsibility is far smaller.
For Chomsky and others like him to berate the United States as an entity for any policies adopted during that period is the height of hypocrisy.
To the Editor:
I would like to make two observations on Noam Chomsky’s article in your October 1969 issue and on some of this scholar’s other political writings.
First, let me point out that Mr. Chomsky’s criticisms have been somewhat inconsistent. If one reads his article in Liberation [November 1969] on the Palestine Arabs and Israel, he will be impressed, if he knows the Middle East somewhat, as I do, by the difference in quality between it and the article in COMMENTARY. . . . Whereas in the COMMENTARY article and elsewhere, Mr. Chomsky expresses an attitude of extreme hostility to virtually all American leaders who are not of the Left, in the Liberation article he shows little such discrimination vis-ô-vis Arabs not of the Left. One cannot avoid feeling that Mr. Chomsky takes the Arabs very seriously and respectfully, so much so that he is willing to drop his own ideological position (more or less) at times when that hinders his effort to understand the Arabs’ attitudes. He knows full well that the very survival of Jewry in Palestine is predicated on rigorously unsentimental analysis of Arab thinking on the subject—all Arab thinking, not just that of the Left.
My second observation is that Mr. Chomsky makes no such effort in regard to American thinking—not merely that of American leadership, but that of ordinary, middle-class, suburban-oriented white Americans as well, who must number in the tens of millions. If a person were to point out this neglectfulness, Mr. Chomsky would probably state that the opinions of such middle-class Americans on the cold war and on American foreign policy (insofar as they conflict with his own opinions anyway) are of little or no “relevance” because the people who hold them are not thinking for themselves but are merely being manipulated by their leaders. But it is apparent from the Liberation article that he makes no such claim with regard to the opinions of Palestine Arabs. . . .
My own feeling . . . is that very many middle-class Americans take the war in Vietnam and other problems of the cold war very seriously indeed. Otherwise, why would they accept, however grudgingly, the sacrifice of perhaps a hundred billion dollars a year on defense, and the loss of 40,000 young men? They are not limitlessly endowed with wealth or progeny. I contend that many—tens of millions—accept these sacrifices, even as they question them, for deep-seated psychological, social, and other reasons which Mr. Chomsky does not deem worthy of exploration. If he acknowledges that they exist at all, he merely writes them off as expressions of manipulation by certain monied elements in American society which wield power. But despite the tremendous domestic opposition to the war in Vietnam and other aspects of the cold war, I believe there is quite strong support for it, however defensive or latent or agonized. I also feel that the extent and nature of this support is a subject which deserves serious debate, something more than a mere blind dismissal, or acceptance, of the phenomenon of the “silent majority.” . . .
Christopher T. Rand
To the Editor:
May I register a sense of shock in connection with Arthur Schlesinger’s attack on Noam Chomsky [“Letters from Readers,” December 1969], ostensibly on the grounds that Mr. Chomsky did not quote properly from President Truman’s speech, or did not draw sufficiently accurate inferences from what President Truman said some twenty years ago. Even assuming that Mr. Schlesinger is right and Mr. Chomsky is wrong, it is hard to understand Mr. Schlesinger’s anger—and the personal invective he chose to employ to press his case. . . .
Mr. Schlesinger’s method of debating the issues is all the more strange, since his more recent writings are easily subject to criticism for their highly selective quotation from other people’s texts. In The Crisis of Confidence, for instance, Mr. Schlesinger quotes Mr. Chomsky’s essays three times, each time with noted omissions of sentences that fail to convey to the reader the argument Mr. Chomsky develops in the actual text. I invite your readers to look at Mr. Schlesinger’s quotations of the selected phrases from The New Mandarins (Crisis, pp. 68-9) and compare them with the unexpurgated text. . . .
One may disagree with some of Mr. Chomsky’s judgments or with his overall view of American foreign policy in action. But Mr. Chomsky asks us some very important questions, which we evade or fail to answer only at our own peril. Mr. Chomsky asks us, for instance, to look at the basic assumptions of our foreign policy; at the view we have of our national interest and the policies we have followed to assert that interest throughout the world. He questions whether the theory of “inadvertence” so innocently put forward by Mr. Schlesinger to explain the depth of our involvement in Vietnam is less an explanation than an evasion. He invites us—whether we agree with him or not—to examine the reasons for our help in the overthrow of the legal government of Guatemala and our counter-insurgency forays into the Dominican Republic to fight the few Communists that were reported to be there.
It is perhaps because Mr. Schlesinger suspects that his own explanations of the more aggressive aspects of our foreign involvements have been superficial, mainly ideological, and largely devoid of the deeper historical sense, that he responds with anger rather than reason to Mr. Chomsky’s criticism, and chooses to defend Mr. Truman rather than the validity of his own views. . . .
Van Nuys, California
[The sequence of articles and exchanges to which the above letters refer is as follows: “The Position of Noam Chomsky,” Lionel Abel, May 1969; “Vietnam, the Cold War & Other Matters,” Noam Chomsky and Lionel Abel, October 1969; “Truman's Speech & Noam Chomsky,” Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Letters from Readers, December 1969; and “The Truman Speech (Cont'd) ,” Noam Chomsky, Letters from Readers, February 1970 .—ed.]