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American Terror The 1969 Firing Line television debate between William F. Buckley and Noam Chomsky

Libretto by Jeffrey Lependorf

American Terror

The 1969 Firing Line television debate between William F. Buckley and Noam Chomsky Libretto by Jeffrey Lependorf To begin, both men seated, wearing suits. Buckley has a clipboard on his lap and a pencil grasped between the middle and ring finger of one hand, generally with palm toward chest and arm outstretched when making various points. Ideally, chairs are swivel chairs of the period. ACT ONE William F. Buckley

Noam Chomsky

Uh, Professor [cough] Noam Chomsky [cough] is listed in anybody’s catalogue as among the half dozen top heroes of the New Left. This standing he achieved by adopting over the past two or three years a series of adamant positions projecting at least A- American foreign policy, at most America itself. Uh, his essays and speeches are collected in his new book, “American Power and the New Mandarins.” Uh, usually Mister Chomsky writes non-political books. For instance, “Syntactic Structures,” in nineteen fifty-seven, “A Cartesian Linguistics,” [cough] in nineteen sixty-six, and “Topics in the Theory of Generative Grammar,” nineteen sixty-five. He is a highly esteemed,

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


uh, student of modern language and linguistics, who teaches nowadays at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has taught before at Berkeley, Columbia, uh, and, other, uh, strife-torn universities. He is a member of many organizations and learned societies, including— I am sure he would want me to mention— the Aristotelian Society of Great Britain. In one of his essays, Mister Chomsky writes, quote, “By accepting the presumption of legitimacy of debate on certain issues, such as this one, one has already lost one’s humanity.” I should like to begin by asking him why, under the circumstances, if by being here he stands to lose his humanity, he decided to appear in the first place. Because, that, first of all, I, I didn’t quite put it in those terms, I don’t think. I think that by…

Of course, of course. [cough]

Yeh, but I think that there are… I said that there are certain issues, for example Auschwitz, such that by consenting to discuss them one degrades oneself and to some degree loses one’s humanity, and I think that that’s true.

Nevertheless, I can easily imagine circumstances in which I would have been glad to debate Auschwitz. American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


For example, if there were some chance, that, by debating Auschwitz, it might have been possible to, eliminate it, or to at least mitigate the horror that was going on.


And I think I feel the same way about Vietnam. And I really think that there is no— fundamentally there is no— argument anymore. On, on, in, at an intellectual level in my opinion, but I think, uh, very important to discuss it nevertheless. At what level, uh, is there an argument?


Well, there, uh, the, uh, there is a policy, which I think is a destructive and devastating policy, it’s continuing, and, uh, the policy, the continuation of the policy is, uh, to some extent based on the fact of public apathy or public acceptance. Hence, there still is the necessity to, convince people that, uh, that they should act strongly to put an end to this policy.

At what point, um, was there an intellectual argument? At which point

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Yeh. 4

did an intellectual argument, in favor of our intervening in Vietnam cease to exist? Well, as I say there, I think that there may have been a time when there was something to debate. For example, I think that in the middle fifties, though I was opposed to the policy and I think that it was right to be opposed to it, nevertheless I think it was a debatable issue, in a sense in which it is, it is no longer a debatable issue. Why is that? [cough]

Because at the moment I think it’s really an issue of the survival of the existence of Vietnam as a, as an entity, as a social and cultural entity. I think that’s what’s at stake.

But even that could be intellectually argued, couldn’t it? Well, in the same sense in which Auschwitz could be intellectually argued. Well, no, I mean in a different sense. Well…

No, I think in the same sense. In fact, don’t forget that there were people who, who argued in favor of Auschwitz, who gave…

No, no, I ha- hadn’t done that at all. Um, uh, I, um, hadn’t had any such on this program nor do I intend to, but it seems to that, um, even if what you’ve said were correct, there could be a perfectly legitimate argument over, for instance, the continuation of the State of Anguilla,


or the continuation of the State of Biafra, or the continuation of the State of Gaur, but… I, I didn’t, I didn’t, men-, say, talk about the existence of the state, American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008



I talked about the existence of the society as a social and cultural entity. I think that’s what’s at stake.

Oh, OK, but what if it’s the stake, uh, uh, mighten there be two points of view, about, uh, how to help it evolve into, uh, its natural forms, right? Oh, there are many different points of view, but I think there are very legitimate But now, now how could it… there are very legitimate argu-… See that, see that, there are very legitimate i-issues that can be argued as to how the United States ought to, most efficaciously, put an end to its destructive actions in Vietnam, there are many different alternatives that might be thought of as… Yeh, but, but what, but one way of course to put an end to America’s necessary intervention is to, uh, conclude the war successfully. That’s a way… Yeh, one possible way is by OK, destroying Vietnam, but you, but you… which I think is probably the most likely outcome. Yeh. Well, now, for instance, one way in which we put an end to the Nazi occupation of France was by destroying the Nazis in Germany, correct? And uh, uh, it seems to me that, uh, this was a position, which is a tenable position, and mutatis mutatis it’s a tenable position. But it changes why, it changes why, American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

That’s right, yeh.

No, because mutachanges everything.


because, as, as you now it’s not only I,

In this case… Yeh.

but people with whom I disagree with; I guess the odd person who disagrees with your theological certitude, and your liberal application of them to, uh, every subject in which you touch.

Yeh. Yeh.

So the subject of your own intolerance ought to be, from people’s point of view, is, I think, itself, linguistically interesting. First of all, I don’t accept that, uh, criticism. You see if, if you look at that quotation you’ll notice that I put it in there, and—recall the context— I said that when I argue the issue, I feel a tone of moral and emotional falseness, which I want to explain,

Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

but then I go ahead to argue the issue. So that’s a side remark intended to explain my own feeling of emotional and moral falseness, which is real, I do feel it.

Sure, yeh.

But nevertheless I then go ahead for three hundred pages or so to discuss this in relation…

Yeh. Uh-huh. In fact,

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So I don’t, I don’t really believe that it’s fair to say that I’m not willing to tolerate a position. 7

surely you don’t end the book by saying, “ I’m kind of odd in, in feeling this.” you say, “E- everybody is odd who doesn’t agree with me.” Right? No, I don’t think so. But this is certainly the burden of your book, uh, which…

I, I wasn’t aware of that, um, I mean I, I think I’ve given, you know, an argument that…

Well, maybe this is, maybe this is a, uh, universal difficulty you’re having. Not being aware of certain people’s reading of your position.


Well, then let me say I think there are, for example, I think I take a very qualified and temperate position on many, many issues in this book. [cough] Mm-hmm.

For example, take the issue of, uh, the background of the Second World War, because I have a lot of time on it, and if you notice I end up with a statement saying that I don’t see any way to give a clear, sharp resolution, clear sharp answer, to the question what we should have done in such ‘n such circumstances.

I discuss someone who did take a very strong, and I think very honorable position, namely A. J. Muste. Mm-hmm. [cough]

And I say that I wish I could come out, I wish I could answer the question for myself whether I feel that I would have taken or would have rejected that position, but I don’t see any way to do it

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because the issue is mixed. Did you…

There are many issues, I, I feel that way. On the other hand, see when the issue is, the, uh, you know, when the issue is, let’s say, three million tons of bombs dropped on Vietnam, I don’t feel that way anymore. Nevertheless, I’m still perfectly willing to argue the issue.

Yeh. Calmly, quietly, and…

As you would have, say, the dropping of the bombs in Dresden?

Exactly. Yeh. Yeh.

Or the atom bomb, which is … See, I would have been willing to argue that dropping the atom bomb… but I do feel that it’s a war crime.

Sure. But I, I do think that you put some people at a disadvantage, by, uh, your a priori assertion that any position that disagrees with your own is intellectually, uh, barren. Well I didn’t mean that really. Let me explain.


Maybe it didn’t come across. What I mean, what I meant was something else. I wanted to honestly state, uh, my own emotional,

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


and, my own, my own feeling about entering into a debate over this issue. So, Portno-, uh, Portnoy-wise?


No, uh, I think, the point is that I think it’s only fair to an audience of readers to say this is the way I approach the issue, and you read me on the basis of this understanding, the best I can give as to the way that I’m approaching this issue, and it’s perfectly true that when I do— if you notice, what I say is that increasingly over the years, in discussing this issue, I felt this feeling of emotional and moral falseness, and I think it would only be honest to express it, then to go ahead and, and discuss it.

Oh, oh, quite so, uh, but you also say that you hate yourself for not having come to that position, uh, earlier. Uh, that’s a… Well, I hope to give you a little solace then.

Yeh, I do. I think that it’s a very great, great, great… [chuckle]

But uh, th- th- the reason I do raise this, and I, I rejoice in your disposition to argue the Vietnam question. Especially when I recognize what an act of self-control this must, uh, Involve. It does, American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008



it really does.

Sure, and then you, you think, you think…

I mean, I think had it been the kind of issue where, well it was. Sometimes I lose my temper. Maybe not tonight.

Maybe not tonight. Uh, because if you would I’d smash you in the goddamned face. The um, [cough] you say, you say in the, uh,

It’s a good reason for not losing my temper.

you say, “the war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men.”

Including all of us. Including myself,

Well, then… Sure, oh, sure-sure-sure, sure, because you count everybody in the company of the guilty.

including every— that’s the next sentence; the same sentence…

I think that’s true in a sense.

Uh, yeh. This is in a sense a theological observation, isn’t it, uh, because at some of the points, I think, that if everybody is guilty of everything than nobody is guilty of anything. That’s true intellectually.


But one of the points I was trying… No, I don’t think so.

No, I don’t, well, no, I don’t, I don’t believe that. See, I that, I think, I think the point that I’m trying to make, and I think ought to be made,

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is that the real, uhhhh, at least to me— I say this elsewhere in the book—the, what seems to me, uhhh, uh, a very, in a sense terrifying aspect of our society, and other societies, is the equanimity and the detachment with which sane, reasonable, sensible people can observe such events. I think that’s more terrifying than the occasional Hitler or LeMay, or other of the that crops up. These people would not be able to operate were it not for the, this apathy and equanimity,

and therefore I think that it’s, in some sense, the sane and reasonable and tolerant people who, should, who, who share the, a very serious burden of guilt that they very easily throw on the shoulders of others who seem more extreme and more violent. Though I agree, but, uh, but surely the emotional temperature, of uh, of yourself, or of myself, or, or of other people Hmm. is not in and of itself an index— an automatic index— to the righteousness of emotions. For instance, for a, for a people who are approximately equally brought up in the late thirties, or whether or not America should help American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

Certainly not. Certainly not. I wouldn’t make…


the Western powers that defend themselves against the axis of powers, and I think it is incorrect to suppose that people of either side were necessarily, uh, right, simply because they weren’t exercised. Oh, I’d agree with that totally. Yeh. There’s no connection whatsoever I mean, uh, whatever, uh… to the degree of emotion and degree of correctness. But if you understand the existing situation, uh, it ought to be in your judgment, a transparently evil thing that we are engaged in and you are derivatively concerned, uh, because there isn’t, a, uh, you, because there is not a shared sense of indignation Yeh. like your Right. like your own. Now I don’t say that I am right because I am indignant, Mm-hmmm.

rather, I say that I, I think I, that in this case I have the right to be indignant. Which is different. I have to prove that.

You are right to be indignant if you are right. That’s right. And that has to be demonstrated. That’s why That has to be demonstrated which is why in most cases… Sure. Sure. Sure.

I have dozens of pages of argument, which may or may not convince people. It convinces me. [BELL] But I, I agree.

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


ACT TWO Quite. Well, le- let me then… Excuse me, did I interrupt you? I’m sorry. Uh, uh, let me ask you this: uh— uh, if in fact your concern, is to communicate, uh, your moral concern. To what extent have you spent, um, uh, time, uh, thinking about your techniques? I, I, I say this seriously, because, uh, it is probably true, that under, uh, certain circumstances, the communication of one’s own indignation and fury, and, and, uh, uh, strength is, is best communicated emotionally, i.e. to one’s own satisfaction, right, by, uh, screaming and yelling, if, uh, it becomes, uh, observable, that this doesn’t bring people around, then you’ve got to, uh, consider the problem of communication, which is visu-, which becomes a moral problem, just as you consent to argue Auschwitz or Buchenwald with somebody, if there was a chance of, of, of dissipating something of this sort. Now, when, if you have given, that problem any thought,

Yeh, yeh, go ahead.


Sure. Sure.

do you, do you, well how come that you, you end up saying, as you do in your book,

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that, uh, Senator Mike Mansfield is supposed the kind of man who is the terror of our age? Well, let me put that in its context as well. What I say is, I, I believe that, and what I say is that Senator Mansfield is an American intellectual in the best sense: a sane, reasonable, uh, scholarly man; the kind of man who is the terror of our age.


And that’s essentially what I was saying before. I think that the terror of our age is the, the sane, responsible, serious, quiet man who watches these things unfold and doesn’t react to them. I include myself in that as I made, as I tried to make clear there in the earlier statements.


Well, if, um, uh, uh, put it this way: your counsel is surely a counsel of despair. Uh, if, on the one hand, you accost us with your own, uh, uh, uh relative moral superiority, and yet end up despising yourself, uh, uh, appealing to scrupulosity, for your own shortcoming, but in this makes, this makes, case, uh, pretty, uh, uh…


not really, I don’t think, no, I don’t feel any relative moral superiority, and I try— I may have failed— but I tried very hard to express that in the book.

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008



Th-, I said somewhere in the book that if there is any tone of self-righteousness or anything like that its unintended and certainly undeserved, and I mean that very much. See, I mean, after all, given feelings that I have, which I’ve just expressed, you know, in which you perceive, uh, uh, I should be doing really strong things, which I don’t think I am doing, so you see there’s no, there’s no sense of moral superiority, and I’m not interested in simply, you know, throwing blame around or giving people marks.



I think that the beginning of wisdom is, in this case, to recognize something about wh- what we stand for in the world; what we’re doing in the world, and I think when we do recognize that we will feel an enormous sense of guilt and I say somewhere in there that one should be very careful not to let confessions of guilt, uh, overcome the possibility of action. I say that confessions of guilt can be very good therapy, yes they can, as is well known.

Uh, they, they’re also very good preventatives to action and I think one should be very wary of the fact that, Um, I think that, I think we should. and I have some remarks that… I think that your, uh, formulation of it is, uh, uh, at least saintly. But, uh, uh, it still, uh, is, uh, uh, dislocating, at least

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[cough] 16

to people who fancy themselves as spending an equal amount of time, uh, attempting to refine their whole apparatus of moral discrimination and who come up with conclusions directly at variance with your own. Now, mmm, the reason I haven’t asked you at this moment to s- say, you know, why are we in Vietnam in the sense of all of this is because we’ve all been arguing about this for four, five, six years

Yeh. and the chances of our coming up with anything . especially new are, uh, small. Yeh, that’s one of the respects in which I think it is sort of an unarguable issue, and Yeh. you know, the issues, which, one has been over them and over them over and over. Yeh, but, th- there, there are perhaps certain, uh, aspects of the quarrel in Vietnam, uh, that, uh, touch especially on your thesis and your concern and the whole nature of it. Mm-hmm. Uh, and that is, uh, the suspicion that some people have, of a, of a double standard, of selective indignation. For instance, you refer to the “heroic”— heroic—“Vietnamese resistance to American power.” Yeh, sure. Now, I, I, I understand it. I understand enough about language to understand the use of “heroism” American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

Resistance? I think it’s absolutely heroic. I mean it’s…


in that way.

Sure, sure, yeh, right, yeh.

If you notice, there are a few lines, uh, below, uh, where I say, or above, where I say that quite apart from any question of politics… Right.

Now, suppose I were to write about, uh, the heroic resistance of the Nazis to the liberation army. For instance their use of torture, their use of mass reprisals. Their…

I don’t consider that heroic. Reprisals?

But why not? That means that they were doing everything…


Yeh, sure. No, I don’t that “heroism”doesn’t… Why not? Yeh, but we in Vietnam

Well then, I think we do disagree on the use of the language… I’m saying that re- reprisals against…

have used, have used, uh, uh, have used, uh, fire weapons to destroy whole villages of children, that they have disemboweled mayors and so on and so forth, and hung them up and all that kind of stuff. Now this is a rare fantasy…

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Well that’s… No, no that is not. 18

That’s, uh, depraved.

That’s depraved? So that… It, it… Why is it marginal?

In my opinion. That’s very, very marginal, thaIf in fact it’s marginal. That’s a question of fact.

Yeh, uh, um.

In fact, in fact, you know this, uh, it’s quite a, uh, uh, I think there’s perfect unanimity about this in this in the people who’ve studied it. For example, if you look at someone like, say, Douglass Pike, you know, the American Foreign Service agent who’s the chief expert on the VietVietnam, uh, on the Vietcong, and you read his book carefully, you discover that he points out that it was, uh, in response to the American military effort that the Vietcong turned from their attempt to build mass popular support by, uh, through, or through the organizational methods that involved giving people an actual role in, uh, organizing and controlling their own, uh, society and institutions. They turned from that to physical force in reaction to the American intervention.

Well, heh [chuckle].

When you read, in fact, many examples of this quote in the book from aid documents, let’s say,

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


or from classification manuals, where people point out… Yeh, yeh, but by the, by the same token you can say that the Nazis turned to torture in France, uh, uh, uh in reaction to Eisenhower’s landing in, in Normandy. The answer is a people so disposed to act, or certain kinds of people, that I yearn for a recognition of this in your writings, whereas Douglass Pike as a matter of… Douglass Pike, as you know, uh, has, uh, certain difficulties with the fact, that it is acknowledged, that up to twenty-five, fifty thousand people, uh, were individually killed by terrorists, uh, before America’s, uh … It was between nineteen-fifty, nineteen hundred and sixty-two.

Well, then, uh…


When was that? I think, uh, nine thousand is the figure that’s given usually. Right. And amazing, and it’s interesting to see what it was.

Uh, what they, what one really wants to point out about Vietcong terror during the period prior to the American intervention, then, again, I think, just about all commentators— uh, Dennis Warner, Bernard Fall, whoever you like— has agreed that, uh, American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


by and large, this was terror directed extremely selectively against oppressive and external village officials.

[cough] Uh, look, the burning of Joan of Arc was selective.

Pardon? The burning of Joan of Arc was selective, too. But I think one is… It was, it was intended to establish a universal point. It was the… Eichman was selective.

It was intended to… Well, but you see there is a very big, I think, see, if you want… Uh, personally, I’m against all forms of terror, no question,

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

but if you want to understand the Vietcong situation, then let’s recognize a very great distinction, at least I recog-, let’s see what the point of the political terror was. See, after all, there were during that period there were about nine or ten thousand, uh, according to American sources, there were maybe nine or ten thousand village officials of one sort or another, uh, killed by the Vietcong, largely with the support of the villages. That’s what, American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


but, at the same time recall there were perhaps a hundred and sixty thousand Vietnamese, if we accept Bernard Fall’s figures again, killed by the Saigon government and the Americans. This is prior to nineteen sixty-five. That was a very different kind of terror, both in quantity and also in its political content.

Yeh, I know, but if, if, the, look, it seems to me that you are, uh, attempting here to match up things which are not, uh, uh, uh which are not, uh, equal.

Mmm, uh, nine-thousand and a hundred and sixty thousand are by no means equal, nor is it, uh, the political point.

Sh, sh, sure. No, I, I, I didn’t say that. Yeh, well, let me repeat my answer. My point is that, uh, one presumably distinguishes between an act of terror-tive, terrorism, which you called “depraved” a moment ago, uh, and a, uh, uh, a military action.

But what you described, the burning of a village, is depraved.

Yeh, a military action, which is equally part of a military operation. What, well let me finish my example. Yeh.

Which is even more depraved, for example… Well, uh, uh, uh, let me give you some examples of what I consider depraved.

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

Uh, Malcolm Brown, back in 22

nineteen, nineteen sixty-two or three, I don’t remember, reported, it was an A., I think an A.P. or E.P. correspondence, reported that, uh, Saigon officials were sending American skyhawks, you know, airplanes, over to, uh, over Viet, uh,Vietnamese villages to wipe them out with napalm raids in order to cover instances of graft, for example. That’s, I think, depraved. Incidentally, I don’t condemn that, because, you see, uh, just to mention this matter of double standard, there are really three kinds of terror in Vietnam: there’s Vietcong terror, there’s the Saigon government terror, and there’s American terror. And if you read what I’ve written, I say practically nothing about either Vietcong terror or terror carried out by the Saigon government.

Uh, uh, uh, I don’t think

Uh, now if one wanted to talk about that one would have to point out that the terror carried out by the Saigon government is incredibly greater in extent, and has a very different political purpose, which one could discuss, but, I restrict myself to discussing American Terror.

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


one can make that generality. I gather that you believe it. Go ahead. Yeh, sure.

Well, but… Yeh, I do. Well, that then does become a matter of fact which one can discuss, but I— as a matter of principle almost— uh, restrict myself to the discussion of American terror; Neither, not the terror carried out by the various sides in Vietnam, for many reasons. For one thing, because it’s just qualitatively different in scale, and for another thing because I, I feel that we have some responsibility for it.

Mm-hmmm, mm-hmmm.

See, I don’t, uh, in the same sense, you know, in the same sense, I don’t talk about, I’ve never written about the terror carried out by both sides in Nigeria, let’s say. Uh, uh, I don’t like it, obviously, but I don’t see any point in my giving them good or bad marks for it.


On the other hand, if we were carrying out the terror I would very definitely write about it.


So there’s no double standard as far as I can see, at least, let’s say I have a standard in mind one may or may not accept. [cough] We will explore that. [BELL]

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


ACT THREE Uh, Mi- Mister Chomsky, we were talking there about, A-, A-, American, uh, terror, and I think you make a very accurate observation, that we are responsible for what we do, but hardly responsible for what, uh, other people do, except in so far as we are in a position to influence them. That’s right. For instance, if there is a mass starvation in, uh, uh, Biafra. Even though we did not cause it, there is a sense in which we are responsible if we don’t do something to attempt to alleviate it. Now by the same token, uh, if we are prepared to agree, uh, that, uh, uh, it is not always easy to taxonomize military action into that which is terroristic and that which is purely a military operation, uh, we, we are left with, uh, uh, with, doubt, for instance, about, uh, the bombing of Germany, in nineteen forty-two forty-three forty-four.

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

Mmm, right.

Mm-hmm. 25

You might contend that this was terroristic and unnecessary, and you might be right Hmm. although you’re not a military expert and neither, neither am I, uh, But I do think there’s a point to that. uh, yeh, but I do judge that, uh, even if we all agreed that we did invest in was inexcusable, uh, uh as a moral question it’s got to be understood in the context of what was it that brought us to Dresden in the first instance. Absolutely. And what brought us to South Vietnam in the first instance, uh, in my judgment, was clearly, uh, a, an, uninterested, or I should say disinterest, of concern for the, uh, uh, stability and possibilities of a region of the world to which we were… What, uh, what period are you talking about? Uh, uh, what period do you feel we had this disinterested relationship to Vietnam? Well, right now!

Well… [cough] Well, uh, uh, I, personally wish, in order to increase my vulnerability, I wish we had, uh, helped the French.

No, at what period did we have it, did it begin, let’s say, in nineteen fifty-one, for example, when we, when the State Department Bulletin points out that we must help the French, uh, re-conquer their, uh, former colony and we must eradicate all Vietnamese resistance down to its last roots in order to re-establish the French in power. Was that disinterested?

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We did, 26

we swo-, we swore to.

Well, not sufficiently, not sufficiently. There’s no point in helping somebody…

Well, well, that’s not the point. It was hardit was hardly disinterested, when we attempted, as you know, with tremendous, uh, uh, support, in fact, to reinstate French imperialism in South Vietnam.

Now it was disinterested in this sense, and I, I think this is an important distinction, which you do touch on in your book. It’s a disinterested act, uh, if, of my attempt to help, or your attempt to help a particular nation, is in order to spare you the possibility of a great ordeal in the future,



uh, which will harm you, your family, your children and your republic. Yeh, now do you… Yeh, that’s right. Sure. Well, no no no, look, that’s, that’s, look, I follow you.

Uh, that’s true, and in that sense Nazi, Nazi Germany was also disinterested. After all, after all Nazi Germany was conquering Eastern Europe only in order to advance the, uh, values of Christian spiritual civilization , and to, to restore the Slavs to their rightful home and so on and so forth

I follow you, but, uh, if you want me to pursue that digression I will. But, uh, well, American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


OK. [chuckle] Hmmm. 27

let’s suspend it for a moment. OK. I, I’m distinguishing that kind of disinterestedness between the kind of, w- with… But that’s not a kind of disinterestedness, you see, that’s, that’s some-, that’s something that includes, as a special case that includes every case of military aggression and colonial militarism in history. It’s all disinterested in your sense. Well, al- alright, let me simply rest my case by saying that there is an observable distinction by intelligent men between a country, uh, that reaches out and interferes with the affairs of another country uh, because it has reason to believe that a failure to do so will result in universal misery, and that country which reaches out and interferes with another country because it wants to establish Coca-Cola plants there, and Chase National Banks, and, and whatever, and exploit it. Now, that is an observable

Uh, it’s a conceptual…


Now, let’s distinguish between a conceptual distinction and a factual distinction.

OK. I’m prepared to do that.

Yeh. [cough]

Alright, it is a conceptual distinction, but in actual fact, the history of colonialism shows that these two motivations can concur, uh—coincide. That it’s practically every… Um, um, there are exceptions,

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


uh, you know, probably the Belgians and uh, the Congo are an exception, but by and large, the major imperialist ventures have been

Yeh, I’m not interested in the mathematics of it, but what, what is … You have already conceded that it is not merely a conceptual difference, but… Yeh, but there are exceptions.

in the economic, uh, in the material interest, or in the perceived material interest… but, but, let me, let me finish. I say, I say it is. There are few exceptions.


There are, th-…

OK, OK, let’s talk about the exceptions then. Hmm. Mm-hmm.

We’re, we’re… No, but the exceptions are at the difference. No, wait a minute, the exceptions are, for example, I mentioned the Belgians in the Congo.

There they didn’t have, they didn’t even pretend to have a civilizing mission. Mm-hmm.

There it was purely material self-interest, that uh; these are the exceptions. There are as far as I know no exceptions on the other side. There are, there are, uh, maybe I’ve left out a case of history, but as I see the history of colonialism, the great, massive cases, are cases where a powerful country was working in its perceived material self-interest

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


and was covering what it was doing to itself and to the world with, uh, very pleasant phrases about, uh, preserving Christian values, or helping the poor benighted natives or one thing or another. Now, there are a few exceptions where there was pure predatory imperialism; no, not even any pretense of doing anything, but these are quite rare. But not all, not, not, but not all that rare.

And we’re in the main stream of imperialism.

The, uh, the, uh… Pure predatory imperialism? Sure, I think that’s right. the, the, uh, history of the Roman Empire, uh… Well, let’s take an example since the Industrial Revolution. S- since the Industrial Revolution. Well, if, You know, the history’s quite... if, if you say people were refining the art of apologetics I don’t deny it. But, uh, it is, it is also true, and I think manifestly, uh, true, uh, that uh, uh, there have been interferences with the affairs of other nations whose purposes were, in my judgment, manifestly benign. For example? Well, for ex-, for instance the Truman Doctrine.

Well, the Greeks’ was benign. I think…

Oh, I don’t think that was manifestly benign at all. That was an attempt to develop an… The Greek situation was benign? Not at all,

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


I say the Greeks’ testimony is more interesting to me than even yours.

we were trying to…

Which Greeks’ testimony? The testimony of the thousands of people who were thrown into jail? And, uh, uh, people…

The testimony, the testimony…

Well, not, not, not, I, I, grant not the testimony of the Greek communists who were beaten. W- w- well I, th- there again, is it a conceptual difference that, uh, uh, between the person who desires a life under some kind of freedom and one who desires life under some kind of, under communism?

Or the Greek peasants who were beaten.

Now who, who? It, w- well, uh, no, fir- because there’s no, there’s no such opposition in Greek, uh, in Greece.

There was a distinction between a very repressive regime, which we instituted in nineteen forty-six, and another regime—I don’t know what it would have been— that would have grown out of the victory of the so-called communists.

This is, this is absolutely a historical romantic, and I think so because… Alright, take the number, the number of people who were slaughtered in Greece— first by the communist insurgency, then by the Nazis, then again by the communists, at an enormous… Uh, uh, the conquest. American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

Now, if, uh, you see, what we did was, had nothing to do with freedom. What we instituted was a very… No, no I don’t believe that… Take a look at, take a look at the…

Nazi, communist insurgency before the Nazis?


Communist conquest before the Nazis in Greece?

Uh, communist insurgency.

Prior to the Nazis? In Greece?

This is, this is… Yes. The civil war of the, uh, early forties. My point, my point is that the Greeks…

The early forties? Prior to the Nazis? Your history is quite confused there…

No, no here’s what I, uh, actually…

There was no, there was no communist insurgency prior to the Nazis. There were communist resistance bands who fought against the Nazis.

But this is again, this a matter of nomenclature. The point is, that the, the forty year-old, or the forty five-five year-old Greek has fought three times uh, in, uh, certain ventures there, in one of which, they, uh, acknowledge that we bailed them out. Uh,


Who is “they”? Who is “they”? The, uh, the rulers of Greece acknowledge that.

well, no, no, also the people.

Well, even, American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

Oh, I, I am quite unaware of it. I am quite unaware that the people of Greece have spoken of it. 32

even, even Papendreou? You like him I assume, because he hates us [chuckle]. Pa- Papen-…

Oh, oh, I’m talking about, I’m talking about Andrea, who makes it even…

No, no, not at all. Oh, George Papandreou? That was one of the people that we who we instated…

Is Andreas Papandreou… Both vary, both on record as being grateful to President Truman for his intervention in that part of the world in nineteen hundred and forty six… In that case I forty-seven. disagree with him on that issue. Yeh, I think that… I really do. I think we had no right to intervene in Greece in nineteen forty-seven. Though, now we’re talking about rights, and, which gets us, which gets us away from the discussion. Well, certainly… The discussion is whether or not, whether or not there, there is, there is such a thing as relatively disinterested international interference, and it seems to me that the American was rather good. We went through an imperialist phase, but we, we pulled out of it faster than any country in the history of civilization. Why did we pull out of the Philippines, for instance?

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

I don’t think that in any… Alright, let’s talk about, right, let’s talk about whether we did it as a disinterested, as a disinterested…

Well, that, in that case it is certainly not…

No, no, I don’t think— I think we’re very deep into it right now.


We pulled out of the Philippines because it became a bad investment. Why? Because American, uh, America, if you look, American agricultural interests were very much opposed to the, back in the, the mid-thirties they were very strongly opposed to the, uh, free trade relationships which allowed Philippine crops to compete with them. That’s why we pulled out of the Philippines. Why did they, Why did these agricultural interests authorize us to intervene in South Vietnam? Well, they didn’t. If you consider this is, this is, uh, this is a critical intervention.

I’m aware of that.

Because we didn’t intervene on the basis of… No, I say that in the Philippines it was the critical intervention. Look, the world was a complex place. There are certain, certain interests that were involved…

MIT is a complex place. Well, there were certain interests that were involved in our Philippine venture, [cough] there were different interests that were involved in our Vietnam venture. You see our Vietnam Mm-hmmm. venture. Don’t forget that with the Second World War, America’s imperial interests expanded enormously. I mean, prior to the Second World War we were sort of a marginal imperialist power, except for the, uh, Monroe Doctrine. But since the Second World War we became the world’s major imperialist power.

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


And Vietnam is simply one piece of an attempt to construct a very large integrated world system Yeh. of which Greece was another piece. Yeh, we became an imperial power, Mister Chomsky, in this sense: in the sense that we inherited primary responsibility for, uh, a, any chain of action that might involve us in a third world war. And, and, something that might involve the entire world in holocaust. Now under the circumstances… Well, now I know you don’t believe it, but, but, uh… It might be refreshing to listen to this point of view, which is, uh that there are people who do believe

Uh, I don’t believe that’s what happened. No, I don’t believe that’s what happened. In fact, I think that our, our… Yeh.

Oh, true. that, that America unhappily, and certainly not desiring it, inherited the responsibility for trying to abort international holocaust, and, uh, has from time to time done so by such ventures as the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Aid, and things like that. Uh, I don’t agree with that. Was Marshall Aid just a… No, Marshall aid is quite different. [BELL] First of all, Marshall… I’m sorry.

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008



ACT FOUR I interrupted you, I’m sorry.

Yeh, well, first of all, the, uh, you’ve now mentioned Marshall aid for the first time, and Marshall Aid ha- — Marshall Plan Aid— has to be distinguished quite sharply from the Truman Doctrine.

Why? Why? Because the Truman Doctrine was a doctrine of military intervention and the Marshall Plan was our first But you do, you do understand that attempt at a major aid program. sometimes a, But just a, just a minute... a soldier can be as useful as a bushel of wheat, don’t you? Now, look.


Nevertheless, if we’re going to be at all clear about the American role, we’re certainly going to distinguish between military intervention and economic intervention. They’re very different in the way that they function. Now the fact of the matter is that neither was disinterested in your sense I don’t think, but they’re very different in the impact that they had.

But how do you, how do you explain the schizophrenia? How do you explain American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

Uh, the Truman Doctrine, I think, was a disastrous venture; I think the Marshall Plan, uh, w- was arguable. I mean, one understood what it was for and… Uh, I don’t agree with its consequen… 36

the schizophrenia of a public, which willed both more or less simultaneously? On the one hand you say that the public isn’t capable of acting disinterestedly, absolutely disinterested. Well, the government, the government, well, alright, the government,

The public didn’t will either. The public didn’t will either. The public didn’t will either. But the government, oh, because, because both were…

uh, the government backed by the public, how’s that? Ho- How do you explain that the same government on, on Monday, uh, did the Truman Doctrine, which you consider simply to be a sort of a projection of the evil impulses of the government, and on Tuesday did something which you consider to be very good? How did you?… I didn’t say that. What’s happened to the government Now wait just a minute. between Monday and Tuesday? First of all, I didn’t say I consider it to be very good. I said it’s very, it’s rather different, and, and one, one has to bring different standards to bear in evaluating it. But why, why is it different? Let me give you an example. Suppose you’re a farmer, and, and temporary… and you need agriculture.


Because there’s a difference between receiving…

Uh, you need fertilizer,


so you apply to me for fertilizer, but just before I get it to you, somebody comes up with a bayonet, and is about to, uh, uh, i- i- is about to, to make it impossible for you to continue, uh,

But it,

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


your farming. Now, in that particular instance, is there a strategic difference

but you see you’re begging…

between my giving you the fertilizer and my giving you, the, the soldier, who routes… Mm-ha-ha…

That’s not, your talking about dream world, because the real world is one in which the alternatives were bringing uh, coming with a bayonet, which is on an American rifle, held by an American-backed, uh, Greek soldier, and the alternative to that was giving the kind of aid which was used in fact to construct the kind of society in Western Europe that we wanted to see developed there. Now, these are two very different things.

Mm-hmm. Why do you say, “imposed”? Why do you say, “Imposed”? Is it because your presumption here is, your presumption here is that,that the Greeks would like the kind of regime which resulted,

It’s a very different thing to introduce, uh, ih, to run for the Greek army, uh, a counter-insurgency program with, uh, military support and many military men involved. That’s one kind of thing, one sort of repression imposed on the Greek population through American intervention. One might argue whether it’s right or wrong, but that’s, but that’s to be very sharp to distinguish. Be-…

M- my, my presumption here is to… Well let me tell you so that you don’t have to… Now look, my, my inter-,

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


my assumption resolves itself… is that all intervention is imposed by any country, that is, any, Alright, you see, Well, uh, I, I believe that quite generally. did we impose on the French when we liberated the-, them from the Nazis? Was that an imposition? We didn’t conquer France, we moved the re- the Germans out of, from a, from an outside invading force. But we didn’t conquer it from its own people.

The hell we didn’t. Yeh, we invaded France.

See in Greece we were trying to conquer it from its own people.

Uchch… But there you’re willing to credit the anti-Nazis as their own people, but you’re not in Greece willing to credit the anti-German, the anti-German people. Yes, the German, B- but, the German army was there. There was no outside army in Greece other than ours. look, there are modalities of outside intervention. Now, B- but look, well. There’s a very sharp difference between… Yeh, there, i- it is… Now just a minute, there’s a very sharp difference between… Laval was not a, a Nazi, and, But Laval wouldn’t have lasted for five minutes without the German army. and nor, nor would, nor would Makarios have lasted for five minutes without the help of Russian aid. In fact, as you know, when Stalin got tired of Paris he pulled out.

Uh, but, wait a minute. No, no Russian troops, no Russian troops… Uh, but now look, now let’s be, let’s be careful again.

I mean there’s a difference between, ehhh, uh, first of all I’m opposed to military aid to other countries, American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


whether by us or by the Soviet Union. Why?

Well, let’s come back to that, because there’s a more important thing, and that is that, um, I’m even f- far more opposed to the, uh, imposition of regimes by foreign troops. Now, in the case of Germany, let’s say, in the case of France, the, uh, the, uh, Pétain govenerment, uh, the Pétain-Laval government, the Vichy government, was supported by German troups.


Had the German mili-, they weren’t throughout the country necessarily, because there was certainly indigenous support, but there’s no question that if German military force had been withdrawn to the other side of the Rheine, uh, then there would have been a, an overthrow of the Vichy government and France would have had some different form of, uh, government. Now, in that case, our invasion of France was, uh, whether one likes it or not, was in, was in reaction to an occupying external force. It’s just pure confusion to, identify that with the case of Greece, when we were trying to liberate, uh, w- we were trying to, uh, select the kind of society the, that Greek, that Greece would have and we were trying to save, uh, the rulers that we had designated as appropriate to save Greece from their own population. There were no outside forces. But don’t you realize you, uh, American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


that in your book, and that’s where you’re not willing to, to be consistent in carrying out this argument. You, you’re constantly talking about our satellizing of places like uh, uh Cuba, and the Dominican Republic and so on and so forth, and yet we never occupied Hmm. them Oh, yeh, we, in the sense in which you are talking about. well, well, we never occupied the Dominican Republic? No no, I’m talking about pre-, I’m talking about…

We sent twenty-five thousand troops there in nineteen sixty-five, in an occupation.

Well, well, alright, let me, look, I, I think you’re being evasive and I don’t think you want to be. Let me ask you this. Is it possible that, is it possible,

Well, the American marines were in there dozens of times.

Evasive? No, I, not at all.

I’m not being evasive at all. You know, we simply repeatedly sent troops to Nicaragua, to the Mediterranean, to Cuba, to the Dominican Republic, etcetera, etcetera.

is it possible to sattelize a nation without having an occupying army there?

Yes it is. Alright, then there goes your French, your tedious French explanation for… Yeh, yeh.

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

Oh, not at all, because that doesn’t happen to be the, you see, we’re talking about a real situation… We could talk about some ideal situation, and, 41

I’m saying therefore it is possible for North Vietnam to sattelize South Vietnam, presumably, without even, uh, uh, occupying it militarily in any formal sense. Yeh. Well, uh, this is an argument considering in which there is, there are two points of view, uh, uh, uh, historically.

you know, have an academic discussion about it. The real situation in France.

It’s, its’ logically possible to… Uh, uh, but it didn’t happen, though, so there’s no point in discussing it.

Let’s discuss it then. Yeh, uh, in fact you see, there’s much more, if you, if you want to be serious about it, there’s more evidence that South Vietnam tried to colonize North Vietnam than conversely. In fact, South Viet-, well, look, South Vietnamese commandoes were going, uh, military forces—regular military forces— were going north, uh, considerably earlier than, than the time when we even proclaimed that the infiltration began from north to south.

Did they bump into the refugees coming south? [chuckle] The refugees were coming south in nineteen— were going both directions in fact— Uh, huh. in nineteen fifty-four fifty-five and according, at least according to Bernard Fall, the, uh, the commandos began going north in fifty-six or fifty-seven. Hmmm.

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008

The first claimed infiltration from the north was in fifty-nine, and that was South Vietnamese coming south, 42

so if we, you know, if one wants to talk about, again, the real world, But, yeh, the, the trouble is, the first emotion of, the first emotion of… you don-, you’re al-, your difficulty, Mister Chomsky, is you, in my judgment, you never know where neatly to begin your historical, uh, uh, Hmm, well, sequence of… well, well you choose the point of beginning. Well, well the point, the point really is that, uh, if you st-, if you’re starting to say that nineteen fifty-nine was a provocation because there were, No, it wasn’t a provocation; the south was going north. I say I definitely don’t claim that a provocation begins… OK, but how about the people who were going from north to south who were talking about the misery that had been brought about by Ho Chi Minh and so forth? When? When, when was that? What’s that? Now which people are you talking about? I don’t know. Well, well, I’m talking about the Vietnamese, north and south. You, your, your trouble, I think, Do you?… is neatly captured in, in, in the remark made recently by Czechoslovakia, that, uh, Czechoslovakia is, after all, the most neutralist country in the world, since it declines to interfere even with it’s own internal affairs, and, and, uh… I’m afraid I don’t support that— see the relevance of— Well, uh, wha-, wha-, that remark. what the relevance of that remark is simply that, uh, that you, you, you start your line of discussion at a moment that is, uh, historically useful for you, You, you, that’s what I was saying, at it’s most, that you, you pick the beginning. the post-war world You pick the beginning. is that the communists— communist-imperialists— by the use of terrorism, by the use of, by deprivation of freedom, American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


uh, have contributed to the continuing bloodshed, and the sad thing about it is not only the bloodshed, but the fact that this seems to dispossess you of the power of rational obseva-… Alright, may I Sure. say something? Yeh, yeh, sure. I think that’s about five percent true, Mm-hmm. and about, or maybe ten percent true. It certainly is W- why do you give true… uh, that? May I complete a sentence? Sure. It’s perfectly true that there were areas of the world, in particular Eastern Europe, where, uh, Sta-, where Stalinist imperialism, uh, uh, very brutally, uh, took control and still maintains control, but there are also very vast areas of the world where we were doing the same thing, and, uh, there’s quite an interplay in the cold war. You see the, what you just described is a, I believe, a mythology about the cold war, which might have been tenable ten years ago, but which is quite inconsistent with contemporary scholarship. Ask a Czech. Ask, ask a Guatemalan. Ask a Dominican. Uh, re-, ask the President of the Dominican Republic; ask, uh, you know, ask a Well, uh, young person from South Vietnam. I obviously You know, ask a Thai, can’t get a word in if you can’t distinguish between the nature of our, ask a… uh, venture in Guatemala and the nature of the Soviet Union’s in Prague. American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


Then we have real difficulty.

I’m sorry.

What’s the, but explain to me the, explain to me the difference. [BELL] - END ________________________

American Terror libretto © Jeffrey Lependorf 2008


Profile for Jeffrey Lependorf

American Terror  

opera libretto by Jeffrey Lependorf based on the 1969 "Firing LIne" television debate between William F. Buckley and Noam Chomsky on America...

American Terror  

opera libretto by Jeffrey Lependorf based on the 1969 "Firing LIne" television debate between William F. Buckley and Noam Chomsky on America...