Who Rules the World?

Noam Chomsky needs no introduction. A professor emeritus of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he is also widely known as an acerbic critic of U.S. foreign policy. As Chomsky himself has stated on numerous occasions over the years, it is his duty as a citizen of the United States to speak out against the atrocities committed by his country on foreign shores, especially when it is responsible for 2% of such atrocities in the world. Who Rules the World? is the author’s latest effort to do precisely that in the dispassionate and lucid manner that characterizes his writings. This brilliant analysis of the current international scene has been published as part of The American Empire Project,[1] a series of books challenging the concept of “empire, long considered an offense against America’s democratic heritage.” Chomsky contributes to this project by denouncing this imperialistic trend that “now threatens to define the relationship between our country and the rest of the world.”

This book is divided into an introduction and twenty-three chapters, with a wealth of annotated references at the end. The following are some examples:

The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux, is a call for intellectuals not to serve government or corporate masters but to purely serve the truth as they understand it. As examples of intellectuals who did not toe the official line, Chomsky mentions Bertrand Russell, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, not to forget Zola, who was sentenced to prison. He also denounces the assassination, “as the Berlin Wall fell,” of liberation theologists in Latin America “defeated with the assistance of the U.S. army.” Another example of U.S. violent involvement in international affairs is what in Latin America is often called “the first 9/11,” when democratically elected President Salvador Allende was ousted and General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship installed. Chomsky points out that the first 9/11 was much more devastating than the second one, considering “the economic destruction and the torture and kidnappings” that ensued.

Terrorists Wanted the World Over: In this chapter, the author outlines how the horror of the hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro and the brutal murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a crippled American, “was a retaliation for the bombing of Tunis ordered a week earlier by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Among other atrocities, his air force killed seventy-five Tunisians and Palestinians with smart bombs that tore them to shreds… Washington cooperated by failing to warn its ally Tunisia that the bombers were on the way…”

The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia: This chapter is a reminder of how American imperialism “is often traced to the takeover of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii in 1898.” It also explains how “over the past sixty years, victims worldwide have endured the CIA’s ‘torture paradigm.’” It also states unequivocally that “Obama did not shut down the practice of torture… but ‘merely repositioned it.’”

The Invisible Hand of Power explores the link between U.S. energy requirements and the fate, for better or for worse, of any country that has the resources to meet such needs.

American Decline: Causes and Consequences: This chapter is a tacit recognition “that the United States…is in decline, ominously facing the prospect of its final decay.”

Magna Carta, Its Fate, and Ours: In this very important chapter, Chomsky points out that in only a few generations “the millennium of Magna Carta, one of the greatest events in the establishment of civil and human rights, will arrive. Whether it will be celebrated, mourned or ignored is not at all clear.” He also highlights a companion charter, the Charter of the Forest, which demanded the protection of the commons from external power. “The commons were the source of sustenance for the general population: their fuel, their food, their construction materials, whatever was essential for life.” On a note of optimism, Chomsky celebrates the current struggles of indigenous populations in India as well as in Bolivia, Venezuela and other Latin American countries, to protect the commons. He notes the irony that the poorest countries are doing the most to protect natural resources while the richest countries are hastening their destruction.

The Week the World Stood Still refers to the nuclear crisis of 1962. Chomsky urges us to heed the warning of Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein: “that we must face a choice that is stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?”

The Oslo Accords: Their Context, Their Consequences challenges the notion that “meaningful Israel-Palestine negotiations can be seriously conducted under the auspices of the United States as an ‘honest broker’ – in reality a partner of Israel for forty years in blocking a diplomatic settlement that has near-universal support.”

Nothing for Other People: Class War in the United States is a denunciation of NAFTA and other “free-trade agreements” that protect the rights of corporations, not of workers.

Whose Security? How Washington Protects Itself and the Corporate Sector is Chomsky’s take on what he terms “the appeal of plundering the poor.” No security is provided for the general population.

The U.S. Is a Leading Terrorist State is perhaps the most provocative chapter in this book. The names of countries such as Angola, Nicaragua, and Cuba are invoked as examples of what global polls show: “that the United States is regarded as the biggest threat to world peace by a very large margin.”

Obamas Historic Move refers to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba. Obama’s “historic move,” notes Chomsky, was no doubt influenced by domestic opinion, although the public has been in favour of normalization for a long time. “The imperial mentality is wondrous to behold,” Chomsky notes wryly.

Masters of Mankind, the final chapter of the book, poses a question in addition to the title of this book:  “What principles and values rule the world?” Chomsky suggests that this question should be foremost in the minds of “the citizens of rich and powerful states, who enjoy an unusual legacy of freedom, privilege, and opportunity thanks to the struggles of those who came before them, and who now face fateful choices as to how to respond to challenges of great human import.”

[1] A Macmillan series of books in which leading writers and thinkers “mount an immodest challenge to the fateful exercise of empire-building” and “explore every facet of the developing American imperium, while suggesting alternate ways of thinking about, confronting, and acting in a new American century.” http://us.macmillan.com/series/americanempireproject

Maya Khankhoje, Montréal Serai contributing editor, likes to share the insights she gains by reading books such as the one reviewed here.