Despite all the handwringing over Phi Psi, the Robert George event, and last semester’s free speech debacles, Noam Chomsky arrived on campus Nov. 12 without a peep of protest from any student groups. The infamous linguist-cum-foreign policy critic delivered his talk to a packed LPAC theater.
No one seemed particularly troubled that this is a man who has equivocated on the evils of Pol Pot, praised China in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, suggested Eastern Europe under the USSR was a “paradise,” and collaborated with Holocaust deniers. Instead, the Cooper Foundation, Linguistics Department, Lang Center, and a host of other Swarthmore departments and programs offered Chomsky a warm and weirdly uncontroversial welcome.
Professor of Linguistics, Donna Jo Napoli, who studied under Chomsky at MIT, offered the introduction. Lest any eager Swatties get the wrong idea, Napoli started on an anti-egalitarian note, stipulating that no one was to ask Chomsky to sign any books, though we could attempt to send a prepaid envelope to MIT. She then began by praising Chomsky’s commitment to the scientific method to language. “Simply through rational reasoning, Chomksy arrived at the truth.,” said Napoli. Ironically, Chomsky’s talk had positively nothing to do with linguistics and, breezing through about 70 years of foreign policy conspiracy theories, was quite short on facts. When he took the state, Chomsky called Napoli’s introduction “irrelevant.”
Chomsky explained that his talk would be a critique of “Really Existing Capitalist Democracy,” or rather, America’s “radical kleptocracy.” From here, he commented on just about every leftist cause imaginable: the minimum wage, unions, nationalized healthcare, abolishing standardized tests, and staving off environmental catastrophe.
Chomsky accused the Republican Party of “a neoliberal assault on the population” and said the Party’s “nativist” base is “still fighting the Civil War.” He then drew a comparison between the present day United States and the Weimar Republic.
Chomsky next pivoted to the “dark shadow of nuclear war” and asserted that the idea that “governments exist to protect national security in international relations—that’s a myth.”
“As you all know,” said Chomsky, President Obama’s drone campaign, “is the greatest terrorist campaign in history.” Not to outdo himself, Chomsky asserted that the U.S. retaliation on Osama bin Laden was a violation of the Magna Carta “that could have escalated nuclear war.”
At 7:55pm, Professor Napoli moved toward the podium and urged Chomsky to shorten his remarks. “I’ll cut some stuff,” he responded, before bemoaning America’s absence of a free press and presenting a disjointed theory that President Kennedy rebuked Nikita Khrushev’s attempts at diplomacy before the Cuban Missile crisis. Chomsky posited that the true reason behind the Missile Crisis was “a terrorist campaign Kennedy was running—Operation Mongoose.”
Without pausing to explain, Chomsky soldiered-on to a critique of Henry Kissinger, 1973-era Israel, and a supposed nuclear war scare in 1983 Russia, without bothering to substantiate any of these episodes with historical facts.
Before wrapping up, Chomsky made sure to defend Iran’s enrichment of uranium. “Of course they have that right,” said Chomsky. Iran is “developing uranium as part of a deterrent strategy against the U.S. and Israel.” Iran’s enrichment is just a “Western obsession,” insisted Chomsky because “[N]onaligned countries vigorously support Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Almost no one regards Iran as a threat besides the U.S. and its allies.”
Encouraged once more to finish his remarks, Chomsky defended China’s actions in the South China Sea and then dourly concluded that, under our current capitalist system, the “prospects of survival are pretty dim.”
Some conservative Swatties, attempting to deduce any thesis in Chomsky’s rant, suggested that a more coherent lecture title would have been “America sucks.” But critics of Chomsky were few and far between. According to the Phoenix, Chomsky’s reception was “extremely enthusiastic.”